Masterpiece Mountain

3

Let me tell you about one of my favourite days in Scotland.

We were in the middle of nowhere. Me, Emma, Hannah and Laura. Between two lochs. Up where the air was heavy with midges and no one took a speck of sunshine for granted.

The little castle we stayed in was decorated with bagpipes on the wall and floor-to-ceiling tartan wallpaper. The mugs featured special Scottish colloquialisms. There was a cupboard pretending to be a shop that was stocked near-exclusively with Tunnocks and Irn Bru. That’s how Scottish this Scotland was.

The sun had come out and it was our first full day of nice weather since leaving Edinburgh to travel northwest.

Behind the castle, a big Ben overlooked the grounds. It was our own mini mountain, ready to be climbed, and we were fresh off our Arthur’s Seat triumph, the world suddenly our oyster. We made up a backpack of cheese and ham sandwiches, apples and Tunnocks caramel wafers – then we set off.

It was a long old way up and I remember the girls getting caught up in the Lord of the Rings of it all, the greenery stretched out in front of us and lots of “Share the load, Mr Frodo”. We walked along singing Hamilton numbers like coach songs on a school trip. It got steeper and steeper as we climbed higher and higher; we had to use our hands at certain moments to scramble our way up, the path disappearing almost entirely at certain points on our little pilgrimage.

2

(more…)

Advertisements

Something to Tell You

IMG_4597

I haven’t updated this blog in forever but I’m back now and boy do I have something to tell you. (Three copies of it, in case you were wondering.)

If you follow me on any social media, you’ll have some idea of what I’m about to say so I’ll cut to the chase: I saw Haim, I met Haim, I love Haim.

(more…)

Thoughts on Carrie

kpnaomp

I have a strange relationship with death. We are long-distance enemies. Hateful pen pals. Despite having never been to a funeral, I worry about it more than is rational. Not my own mortality, that is, but that of the people around me.

The unknown of the experience of losing someone has built it up into my greatest fear. It can keep me up at night for no reason at all.

I’m not great at making friends so the ones I do have are obliged to outlive me. I’ve decided that no one’s allowed to die now. Not anyone I love. I’ve had a small taste of that and I didn’t much take to it.

When I say a small taste, I mean someone I love did die, but it was someone I didn’t know personally. Or directly, in person, having met. I missed that opportunity only two weeks ago. Nevertheless, I felt I knew her personally.

It feels personal.

The books she wrote and the words she spoke were so open that it seems impossible that I could know such intimate details of her life and not truly know her. She was so open. Not open in that friendly, arms-outstretched way that some people can be, but open in a way that went deeper, and darker. Carrie didn’t shy away from things that could make you uncomfortable. She didn’t dilute herself to put you at ease. She was just joyfully, heartbreakingly Carrie all the time.

Her final book, for instance, was the publication of a 40-year-old diary. If it’s edited, those edits are limited. It follows the pattern that Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic and Postcards from the Edge have laid out before it: an equation of startling honesty and self-deprecating humour. No one will ever prove so persistently that light can be drawn from even the darkest places.

As the media reported on news of her ill health on the 23rd, the phrasing – “massive heart attack” – felt so coarse. The word “massive” seemed the worst of it. It was as though those news sources sought to minimise hope amongst a group taught to hope against all odds. I couldn’t help myself.

A quote of hers kept in my mind:

 “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get yourself into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”

Show off that gift just one more time for us, I kept thinking.

If anyone was going to survive 2016, surely it would be Carrie. Indomitable Carrie. She’d bounce back and joke about being described as “stable”, because that’s how she was. She drew light from even the darkest places. She’d probably write a book about it with a Star Wars pun for a title, and spend her recovery on Twitter, liking tweets that feature weird pictures of herself, Mark and Harrison while privately DMing fans words of comfort.

On Christmas Day, I unwrapped The Princess Diarist. I was given cards with Leia’s image emblazoned on them (“Tis the season to be rebels!”), and even a Han and Leia mouse mat that my mum had sweetly made up on Vistaprint. There was a lot of Carrie, in the most bittersweet of ways. She’s all over the gifts my best friends are yet to unwrap. With our shared love for our princess and our general, we’d made it through this shitty year together.

Perhaps it’s weird I got all the way to December before feeling like this.

Death has been everywhere this year, death and bad things. So many famous people died, it’s a small miracle that I, the perpetual fangirl, didn’t already feel buried in this strange and illegitimate grief. I felt sad every time, naturally, but also detached – by necessity. Sad things are happening at an ever more alarming rate but we hide out from those things, we separate ourselves, we try to keep our heads up and push on.

I’ve had my heart broken a few times and a few ways in 2016 but through it all, I took comfort in my newfound world of Star Wars. Now, to end the year on this new heartbreak feels especially cruel given that Carrie and her galaxy far, far away had been a comfort for most of it.

I miss her. I miss her all the time. I miss her in moments that she’d never have been in anyway. Isn’t that bizarre?

How strange an experience it is to lose a personal hero.

A Few Good Presidents

I think we can all agree that so far this election season is the most insane in living memory. If this were a West Wing season, we would all be complaining that Sorkin was jumping the shark and creating only caricature Republicans to push his left-wing agenda. But it’s real. It’s all real. And whoever wins in November is going to get the keys to Air Force One for real.

The current political mess inspired me to reflect on some of our best political leaders – the fictional ones. Yes, before we had the catastrophic Selina Meyer and philanderer Fitz Grant, a few fake presidents were actually pretty good. I give you my favourites…

1. Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica

mary-mcdonnell-president-laura-roslin-battlestar-galactica

Though perhaps not the most democratic leader, with only a reluctant acceptance of the set-term presidency that Lee instates, Laura Roslin leads a dwindling civilisation to a fruitful new life: the dying leader who leads her people to the promised land. That’s pretty good going.

The Secretary of Education who has the presidency thrust upon her after a nuclear attack wipes out everyone else in the line of succession, Laura Roslin navigates her new role with increasing adeptness as the series develops. She is dealt a terrible hand when she comes into power, and handles the near-total destruction of her people with grace and poise. She’s tough, though, more than proving herself capable of handling the demands of governing a race whose survival depends on her every decision (while her own survival deteriorates). As a leader, she is compassionate, she is pragmatic and she respects the people she represents. These are, in my humble opinion, the fundamental qualities of a good president.

Also – and I realise this may not seem particularly relevant but stick with me – she is an ace at flirting. Congrats to BSG for being the first narrative to get me invested in a middle-aged love story. No matter how adorable Admiral Adama is however, Roslin keeps her eyes on the prize always. She resists his charms, always focusing on her endgame: Earth. She selflessly puts her own happiness aside and endures about twenty different cruel plot twists that would make anyone else straight-up finish Gaius Baltar and comes out the other side a moral, uncompromised, revered president. Her legacy is so much bigger than her, and she always recognises that. She is single-handedly responsible for saving every life in that poignant wide-shot of a fertile land at the end of the series finale. (I guess that also makes her responsible for the Lil Wayne myspace page that’s advertised in the ‘100,000 years later’ scene, but we’ll let her off.) Without Laura, basically all the humans would have met their nasty end. Good job, Prez.

(FYI, “How long do you have to live, Karen?” was the original “What’s good?”)

2. Jed Bartlet, The West Wing

martin-sheen

Everyone’s favourite power-walking president with a penchant for national parks trivia and a subtle air of superiority, Bartlet has often been heralded as the liberal fantasy president. No one puts on their jacket with more flair than our man Jed. And that’s what you want in a president, right? Flair? Well, he also has the best administration of any White House narrative – a charming band of idealistic lawmakers ready to make a difference and talk fast doin’ it.

Highlights of the Bartlet administration include: appointing Bill Adama Roberto Mendoza, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and the first female Chief Justice, seeming to successfully negotiate a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, his not-so-secret (or real) plan to fight inflation, that one time he rocked the debate, and probably other things involving jobs and education and, hang on, did they ever follow through on that idea about making college affordable? Or curing cancer? Anyway, point is, he did a lot of good, lefty things and said a lot of good, lefty things. Perhaps most iconic was his ‘Dr.’ Jenna Jacobs smackdown on the issue of homophobia:

Martin Sheen elevated Aaron Sorkin’s writing every time he was given a speech and together they created one of the most memorable, compelling characters on television. Bartlet was a reminder of what a president could be during the bleak days of the second Bush presidency. He revived people’s interest in the political narrative. Flawed, but so charismatic and so affable that you couldn’t help but love him.

(more…)

January in Books

IMG_2999

I always endeavour not to make New Year’s resolutions. Come on. They’re so mainstream and I’m so edgy. Actually, no. I just feel like they’re predestined to fail. It becomes the talk of February to discuss what a terrible job everyone’s done with whatever optimistic resolutions they made.

For 2016, though, I really wanted to make a conscious effort to read more books. I’m hoping that I can conclude each month with an informal roundup of my reading material. Thus far I have made my way through the books listed below, I’ve opened my Twitter up to recommendations and, on a 3am whim, I joined an online book club devoted to biographies about women. I’d call that a successful start.

Without further ado, I give you January’s selections…

 Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Taking on a book that could double as a doorstop is always a little intimidating but my escalating interest in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical persuaded me this was a must-read. After all, Hamilton’s life had to be pretty damn epic to warrant a three-hour Broadway musical. Assumption correct. The man is non-stop.

The biography opens with a prologue entitled ‘The Oldest Revolutionary War Widow’, introducing us to Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, in the latter years of her life, before we meet the man himself. In a particularly moving quote, Chernow describes that,

 [Eliza] frequently grew melancholy and longed for a reunion with “her Hamilton,” as she invariably referred to him. “One night, I remember, she seemed sad and absent-minded and could not go to the parlor where there were visitors, but sat near the fire and played backgammon for a while,” said one caller. “When the game was done, she leaned back in her chair a long time with closed eyes, as if lost to all around her. There was a long silence, broken by the murmured words, ‘I am so tired. It is so long. I want to see Hamilton.’”

Doesn’t that just break your heart? It left me wondering what kind of a man can have inspired such devotion in Eliza, a devotion, it turned out, that was not exclusive to Eliza but extended to her father, her sisters, and Hamilton’s many friends and mentors. It seems as though everyone who encountered Hamilton either became a faithful admirer or a potent enemy. If there existed an in-between, it didn’t make the biography. There may not be a more polarising political figure from the period. However, Chernow does not choose an enemy to open and close this biographical epic, but the woman who perhaps loved Hamilton most of all. The story of Eliza’s later years swiftly leads the reader into the accounts of Alexander Hamilton’s turbulent childhood, where the genius of the man quickly begins to emerge against a bleak backdrop. It didn’t take long for me to catch onto the hype. If only the unfortunate Aaron Burr had too.

It struck me that Chernow’s narrative structure, or perhaps simply the chronological sequence of events in Hamilton’s life, reflects that of the two-act ‘Into The Woods’ model. We spend the first half in the fairytale of Hamilton – he goes from an impoverished orphan living in obscurity to a self-made hero of the American Revolution, the adoring husband to Eliza and George Washington’s right hand man – until the transition into the second half begins his undoing, where the truth of Hamilton’s vices and a more cynical reality come into play. His life, both public and private, is dismantled until – spoiler alert! – he’s staring death in the face as he stands facing his long-time rival Aaron Burr, duelling pistol in hand, in Weehawken, New Jersey on that fateful morning of July 12th, 1804.

It’s hard to be concise when reviewing the life of a man who was anything but. My overriding feeling when reading Chernow’s biography was one of contentment – that Eliza’s desperate hope to ensure her husband’s legacy has been fulfilled. One of the most poignant moments in the musical comes during ‘The World Was Wide Enough’ as Hamilton, whose preoccupation with his legacy has defined him, raps, “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see. I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me.” It leads neatly into the following song’s ultimate assertion: “You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” In Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s book Writing a Woman’s Life, she notes that scholars have “lately written about how much of what passes as history is in fact evidence from the prevailing or established opinion of the age”. For so many years, it was Jefferson and a succession of Democratic-Republican leaders who controlled Hamilton’s narrative, painting him in the worst possible light. Two hundred years later, the Hamiltons are finally gifted a belated happy ending. Ron Chernow, an outstandingly comprehensive and devoted biographer, has recovered details of this impressive founding father’s many achievements that have laid the foundations to enable Alexander Hamilton’s success story to reach the masses.

As well as enriching the central Hamilton narrative with supplementary anecdotes, Ron Chernow’s biography offers fascinating nuggets about other characters such as Peggy Schuyler, Aaron Burr, Angelica Schuyler Church, George Washington, John Adams, Marquis de Lafayette and the Hamilton children. Simply put, it’s a must-read if you love the musical.

 Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

A friend suggested I read this in the wake of my sudden Star Wars enlightenment. I have to say, for a book that begins with a death, goes on to explore the dark side of celebrity, discusses drug addiction and bipolar, all before eventually concluding with PTSD, it’s a really funny read. That’s Carrie. (What a life!)

Reading Wishful Drinking was like sitting on the beach drinking cocktails, but in book form. It’s a short and sweet collection of memories from Carrie’s unusually eventful life. Now, I accept that “sweet” might seem an odd descriptor given the weight of many of the issues explored, but the openness with which every anecdote is retold makes you feel like you’re having a fun bonding sesh with your old bud Carrie Fisher. I didn’t even know I had an old bud Carrie Fisher! How thrilling. Now she’s chilling with me on this hot, sandy beach and telling me about growing up as the daughter of America’s sweethearts, and we’re laughing because, according to George Lucas, there’s no underwear in space, and she’s opening up to me about past loves and heartbreaks, and before I know it, the sun’s gone down and I’ve been so swept up in her stories that I haven’t even picked up my beach reading – except, oh wait, I’m not actually on a beach and I’ve been reading the whole time.

What I’m saying is, you’ll read this and like Carrie Fisher. If you don’t then, well, you’re weird and you don’t deserve to be Carrie Fisher’s beach bud.

(more…)

Never Seen Star Wars

tfa_poster_wide_header_adb92fa0

*whispering* There has been an awakening.

Quite a few years ago, there was a television series on the BBC that I remember my dad watching called “I’ve Never Seen Star Wars“. Celebrity guests would go on it with a list of experiences they’d never had, but these would all be things everyone has done. For example, were my friend Laura to go on it, she could put forward never having played Monopoly. The point, really, is that the epitome of these kinds of near-universal cultural experiences was considered to be Star Wars – hence the show’s title. Everybody’s seen a Star War, right?

Well, no. Not me. Or at least not until, at the ripe old age of 23, I finally relented. Anyone who’s seen my Twitter feed recently might find this hard to believe but, well, you know me: when I fall in love, it’s swift, wholehearted and usually with a heavily merchandised episodic narrative of some kind. In many ways, this was inevitable. Classic Jess.

My best friend Hannah and I were both unacquainted with the Star Wars universe, somehow reaching our twenties without ever having been indoctrinated. The two other friends who make up our friendship circle (or “squad”, as the kids are saying – and also us, to be fair, because that’s definitely our thread title) were Star Wars fans. Big ones. They were relentlessly shooting all kinds of alien terminology over our heads in fervent anticipation of The Force Awakens. When I say alien, I mean that literally – do you know what a tauntaun is?! And this was only a microcosm of the wider world. Everyone seemed to speak a language that we hadn’t yet learned. After endless indecipherable texts about The Force in our four-way group text, Hannah and I decided that we had to give it a go for the sake of our sanity.

Now, I can’t overstate how little I knew about Star Wars. You might assume that I went in with some base-level knowledge thanks to its ubiquity within popular culture, but let me review the entirety of my pre-viewing Star Wars knowledge:

  1. Leia’s cinnamon roll hair
  2. Darth Vader, iconic bad guy with voice-changer
  3. Gold bikini Leia (from that episode of Friends)
  4. “I am your father” and Luke’s eventual handlessness (remember the Toy Story parody?)
  5. Anakin hates sand (my friend Emma can’t get through 24 hours without doing her impression of Anakin Skywalker hating sand)
  6. Yoda-speak (because of Michael Scott)

This was the sum total of my Star Wars knowledge. When one of six things you know about a film is that the single female character is enslaved and forced to wear a bikini, I think it’s reasonable not to hold a whole lot of faith in said film. (Yes, in true Star Wars fashion, I had a bad feeling about this.)

As a woman, I struggle to enjoy narratives that don’t provide me with compelling, three-dimensional female characters. I don’t find it true of my world experience; therefore, it creates a barrier between the story and me. I want to feel excited and represented and emotionally invested. That’s why loving Leia was crucial for me. In A New Hope, rather than making doe-eyes at her rescuers, she is far more concerned with leading their escape and giving almost audible eye-rolls. The precise moment I knew she had won me over was, “Into the garbage chute, flyboy.” Leia is a straight-up badass, and yet the popular culture I’ve been exposed to had me imagining some helpless, sexualised damsel with pastry hair. I’m so frustrated and dismayed that the gold bikini was one of so few details I had known about this resilient, funny, resourceful character. Thankfully, I know better now.

I feel compelled to mention that my admiration for the princess-cum-general translates to real life. One of the best things to come out of this sudden Star Wars mania has been discovering the sharp, eccentric, emoji-filled mind of Carrie Fisher and her achingly short memoirs. If nothing else, it was worth discovering this long ago, far away galaxy for Carrie alone.

As for the boys… well, they are similarly delightful. Luke is as far from the antihero as you could likely get, and how refreshing! In an age where antiheroes have become so tediously de rigueur, I find myself desperate to root for any good, pure protagonists I can find. “Gritty” narratives make me weary. My heart leans towards the idealism of The West Wing, not the cynicism of House of Cards. I’m more Snow White than Walter White. And, predictably, a girl living on the light side, not the dark. A male lead with none of the machismo of your archetypal action hero, and possessing qualities more typically aligned with femininity, Luke is breath of fresh air.

And then there’s Han. My friends have admitted to me that they thought I wouldn’t like Han. …Is that possible? Who couldn’t love this hot mess? (Emphasis on the hot.) I mean, really, a total boob. Remember that scene in Jedi where he taps a Stormtrooper on the shoulder and then legs it? I’m in love. Given that, mostly to rankle my mother, I have exclusively referred to Harrison Ford as “Grumpy Curmudgeon Harrison Ford” for the last twenty years, discovering his infinite comedic talents was quite a revelation. I once nicknamed Hannah, my best friend, “Han Solo” and then worried it might be insulting, he might be a bad guy. What a fool I’ve been! Could anything be less insulting than being compared to Han Solo? Aside from the fact that young Harrison Ford is truly the peak of male attractiveness, Han is in every way – how shall I put this? – A MEGA BABE. And now those same friends who thought I’d hate him have to put up with a constant flurry of cute Han pictures in their inbox, making them wish I did. Poetic.

Leia-and-Han-Solo-leia-and-han-solo-17536221-360-270

Same, girl, same.

Once done with the Machete Order (IV, V, II, III, VI – I promise it works!), Hannah and I opted to see The Force Awakens the following day. I shan’t indulge in a dissertation-length love letter to The Force Awakens (I promise I could), but we loved it. The kind of love that they write musicals about. We left the cinema that day feeling giddy and energised. The biggest film in the world, by a thousand different measures, is also good. Good in terms of narrative, but also good in the plainest of terms: in the message it sends. The diversity of the new casting feels incredibly powerful given the film’s overwhelming financial success globally. Dare I begin to hope that other film franchises take note?

Though I can’t even begin to cover all of Episode VII’s many virtues (e.g. Finn’s everything; don’t even get me started), I was most profoundly moved by the presence of women, in major and minor roles, throughout the story. The scene between Leia and Rey, in particular, felt so unique, I found myself in shock. Surely a moment of pause to allow two women to embrace each other is unheard of in this genre? I can’t remember ever seeing it. And yet, there it was. A mother’s embrace. I’ve seen bro hugs aplenty in my time but this, this was something entirely new – and special.

In Rey, young girls finally have an action heroine deserving of their worship and it’s her movie. It’s Rey using the Force. It’s Rey’s story. Don’t let anyone convince you that these movies aren’t for girls. They are. Now more than ever.

Thank goodness the Force finally caught up with me.

10 More Websites for Creative Gift-Giving

untitled-2 copy
Warning: an onslaught of hyperlinks ahead.

Looking for some gift-giving inspiration? Look no further. My original post full of gift-giving tips seemed to go down a treat so I thought I’d follow it up with another. Since that post, I’ve been discovering plenty more websites filled with fun gift ideas that will leave your nearest and dearest in no doubt of your love for them. Old faves like Society6, Red Bubble and Etsy still stand, but allow me to introduce you to some new gems…

1. Living in La La Land (UK based)

This is my current obsession, with free UK shipping and very reasonable prices all around. I hope the collection continues to expand but, so far, their products are so bizarrely diverse in terms of the corners of pop culture to which they choose to venture. One minute you’re looking at a Breaking Bad chopping board, the next you’re like, “Do I need a notebook covered with the sassy emoji?” and eventually you conclude that it is the Jessica Fletcher “Don’t Mess With Jess” notebook that you needed all along. (You know. From Murder, She Wrote.) It’s a wild ride. With their popcult pencils collections, you also have the option to have your own message printed on pencils, should you so wish.

Fandoms encountered thus far during my adventures in La La Land include: Game of Thrones, Twin Peaks, The X Files, The Office, Mean Girls, School of Rock, Harry Potter, Murder She Wrote (still weird), Pitch Perfect, Parks and Recreation, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ryan Gosling (with pizza), Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Friends and many, many more.

Pros: Free shipping to the UK! (with no minimum spend; arrives nice and fast, too)

Cons: International shipping costs. Certain random items within the clothes section seem disproportionately more pricey, but that doesn’t take anything away from the many, many bargains the site boasts.

2. Eclectic Eccentricity (UK based)

I’m in love. Seriously. This might be The One. It’s like a sea of radiant, glittering beauty that I just want to swim in forever. If you know anybody with a predilection for all things spacey (of the stars and planets variety, not Kevin) – and isn’t everybody just a little bit mystified by the stars? – this is a wonderland for you. And, should you choose not to shoot off into the stars, you can always just float through the sky. I want to gush about all that this site has to offer because some of these pieces are transcendent and magical, with titles like, “Heading in the Right Direction” and “Spread Your Wings” (a feather necklace, because of course). Eclectic Eccentricity is a danger to me because not only is it filled with gems, but the names make me want to buy everything as a supportive gesture to all my friends who are heading in the right direction or spreading their wings. If you visit this site without a particular purpose, you will soon find yourself thinking of all kinds of reasons to buy everything. I warn you of that.

Pros: All things are bright and beautiful. Also, based in Norwich. As so many of the best things are.

Cons: You may hurt your finances due to an inability to restrain yourself. Not cheap, but prices are more than reasonable. Quick dispatch for orders and delivery only minimally more for international orders.

3. Ashley Bridget (US based)

While a little pricier than La La Land, the quality of Ashley Bridget’s collection reflects that (similarly to Eclectic Eccentricity). This is a great site if you’re looking for a special piece of jewellery and, right now, you’re likely to find some bargains thanks to the 50% off summer sale (applies to all items with the discount code: SUMMER). I discovered Ashley Bridget when looking for a gift for my Harry Potter fan of a friend and was very excited to find a wealth of bracelets, necklaces, etc. that would both tap into my friend’s HP love but would also be beautiful accessories. Currently, they have collections and pieces inspired by Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Frozen, Lord of the Rings and tennis, as well as more general interests.

Recs: The Magic Collection, The Expression Collection.

Pros: Ships internationally.

Cons: A little pricier, $50 minimum spend for free shipping (though this also applies internationally). Has recently added a Grey collection. Thank you for respecting my privacy at this difficult time.

4. Adolescent Clothing (UK based)

This site is filled with fun t-shirt, beanie and sweatshirt designs with slogans such as “You’re freaking meowt.”,  “Girls > Boys” and “Bae-con“. The collection is relatively small at the moment, but there are bargains to be found amongst what is currently available. If your bestie has a penchant for pizza or is on her way to crazy cat lady status, you might just be in luck. Definitely worth a browse!

Pros: Free shipping to the UK.

Cons: The sizing is limited to small, medium and large and I canny find a size guide!

5. Emily McDowell Studio (US based)

How to adequately articulate my love for the Emily McDowell designs that so often express my inner most feelings better than I ever can? This card just about does it. The site has a collection of cards, mugs, dish towels, prints, bags, postcards, notepads, gift tags, stickers and temporary tattoos with designs that are all both aesthetically delightful and amusingly frank. I feel like everyone should have a “basically just waiting to go home and take off my pants” work mug, or a “short, encouraging phrase” tote bag. The specialty of Emily McDowell Studio, though, is the card selection. The messages tap into the reality of what it is to be a human in 2015. While the birthday cards, the valentines and the wedding cards are all uniquely special, there are a whole host of designs for the in-betweens: a card for someone who you’ve lost touch with, a card for a friend with cancer, a divorce card, a card for your honourary mother, one for your platonic soulmate, the awkward dating card “for when you’re kind of together but it’s not a big deal”.

Pros: The selection of cards gives you plenty to choose from; really good value price-wise!

Cons: Variety of items like bags and mugs is limited. International shipping might be a bit of a faff and delivery is not free. I recently ordered three cards to the UK and the shipping came out at just under $10, but per card that’s not too bad and the actual items themselves are priced pretty fairly.

(more…)

Pawnee Forever: A Farewell to Parks and Recreation

fdgfParks and Recreation is the last remaining of NBC’s beloved, though criminally under-watched, sitcoms from their old Thursday night comedy block, but soon it too, hot on the heels of The Office (ended), 30 Rock (ended) and Community (rehomed), will conclude its run. I have to admit, I write this post with more emotion than can usually be found on this here page. As the finale date draws closer with alarming velocity (anyone ever told you, you’re the worst, NBC?), I am struck by just how missed this comedy will be. It’s rare that a cast of characters is so universally warm, energetic and loveable, reiterating the message, time after time, that no one achieves anything alone. That is Parks‘ heart and soul.

If there is one thing to take away from the critically acclaimed comedy, it’s the value of creating rich relationships with every combination of characters that you have in your arsenal. I imagine half the fun of writing this show was pick-‘n’-mixing character pairings for subplots. I mean, think about it. Think about any two characters and, if you’ve seen the whole series, you’ll know their dynamic. From Ben and April (“She’s like the little sister I never had, because the little sister I do have is normal and not terrifying.”), to the mutual respect between Leslie and Ron as they settle their differences over breakfast foods, to the juxtaposition of super-fit Chris and, well, Andy, to the inspiring masterminds behind “Treat Yo Self”, Tom and Donna, everyone fits together and, crucially, provides an endless source for comedy. One relationship above all others really steered the show and that was the friendship between Leslie and Ann, unique in its platonic nature as the focal relationship. Given how female friendship has been portrayed within the media when it’s portrayed at all, Parks was a rare treat, celebrating the way that women can support and inspire one another – often over breakfast food. This started with Leslie and Ann but quickly seeped into every female dynamic the show has to offer: the mentor relationship Leslie has with April, the love-hate-but-secretly-just-love between April and Ann, and the ladies’ casual and constant admiration for Regal Meagle.

The reason these friendships are all so special, of course, is because the characters that make them up are a wonderful bunch of weirdos, just as any comedic cast should be. When shows end, often it can be hard to say goodbye to a beloved favourite character. How do you keep it together when you’re saying goodbye to so many favourites at once? If anyone knows, share with the group. I’m desperate here. As I haven’t figured it out, here are my heartfelt goodbyes to each one of Pawnee’s finest…

(more…)

The 10 Best Moments of The West Wing’s Josh and Donna

140796482_10January has been a crazy start to the new year, with illness and assignments both sentencing me to full hermit status. As February beckons and we reach the end of my house arrest, it feels like a good time to have a big ol’ fangirl sesh and there’s nothing quite like reminiscing over the best moments of The West Wing to lift everybody’s spirits. I could watch a hundred shows and I’d still come running back into the arms of those beautiful liberals. It’s a show about the best of politics, a fantasy, an alternate world where those at the top care about those at the bottom. Within this magical universe exists the greatest love story ever told, that of Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.

Maybe you’re skeptical. Maybe you disagree with my statement of fact. Here are 10 moments that back me up big time…

10. “You’ve got health and strength.” – Guns Not Butter

vlcsnap-2013-01-09-17h14m01s124 copyAt the end of a day that has been packed full of punches, Josh walks out of the Oval Office to find Donna sat outside waiting for him. “It’s getting harder,” he says, conveying immeasurable frustration with the process that he’s devoted his life to. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were long-time marrieds as you watch their tender exchange.

Donna: You took funding for remote prayer to the president?

Josh: Oh, I did it with gusto.

Donna: That’s because you don’t know the story of Fishhooks McCarthy.

Josh: Is this a real person, or a Donna person?

Donna: Corrupt politician on the Lower East Side in the ’20s. Every morning he stopped at the St James Church on Oliver Street, and said the same prayer: “Oh Lord, give me health and strength. We’ll steal the rest.”

Josh: Not that there needs to be, but was there a point?

Donna: You’ve got health and strength – both of which, coincidentally, I prayed for after hot lead was shot into your body.

Josh: (getting agitated) Yeah, and you’re going to need some kryptonite, by the way–

Donna: Okay… settle down.

Josh: (whispers) Alright.

Donna: So you’ve got health and strength.

Josh: And we’ll steal the rest?

Donna: Bet your ass.

I feel like all Josh needs at the end of the hardest days is to stop and take stock for a minute. In a single moment, looking at Donna and listening to her, he is refuelled. Hope is restored. Whether or not you read this moment romantically or not, it’s evidence that it’s Donna who keeps him going, which should really be a shock to nobody at this point.

On Donna’s part, there is also something incredibly revealing in her reference to the shooting. Little is said about the trauma of nearly losing him but this modest comment, hidden behind the story of Fishhooks McCarthy, reminds you of her ordeal. It’s the ghost of a pain bigger than any ‘bad day’ could bring. It seems to be her point of reference when it comes to challenges or pain or disappointment. It doesn’t hurt as much as the day Josh nearly died, therefore, we can get through it. Together.

(more…)

Lessons Learned From Leslie Knope

Parks-and-Rec-2This month marks the beginning of the end for Parks and Recreation fans, as the final season starts its brief run. This wonderful show, exploring the trials and tribulations of local government, was the gift that gave generously throughout its seven years. Perhaps the biggest gift of all was its leading lady, Leslie Barbara Knope, an icon to many and the future president of the United States. In Leslie, Parks presented viewers with the warm-hearted, ambitious heroine that they had long deserved.

The fact that Leslie Knope was so impressive while still hugely relatable, a woman pushing forward in a world built for men, meant that it became easy to learn from her mistakes and heed her best advice. Here are some of the gems that Leslie Knope has bestowed unto us humble Padawans.

1. Be ambitious.

“2024. I win. We move in there. I’ll take the West Wing. You take the East Wing. You can be the First Gentleman.”

Despite her modest position as Deputy Parks Director of the parks and recreation department, Leslie had more firepower than everyone else at Pawnee City Hall put together. When the budget cut Grim Reaper came, in the form of Butch Count-sidy and the Sum-dance Kid, Leslie had one hell of a fight on her hands. Forced to go big or go home, she masterminded the Harvest Festival with great success, winning the admiration of her beloved hometown and taking the first step on a road that would eventually lead to the city council election. In the words of Leslie Knope herself, “Winning is every girl’s dream. But it’s my destiny. And my dream.” And it was. Both.

Her campaign to replace Councilman Pillner (aka my beloved Josh Lyman) was a genius move by the writers, creating a perfect season-long timeline that united the entire ensemble in one aim. Her ambition, both in this venture and always, has subverted the archetypal representation of the career-minded woman. There is no edge of coldness about Leslie; as she breaks Ben’s heart as well as her own to avoid a career scandal, the viewer remains steadfastly on her team while tearfully embarking on their own tragically futile attempt at claymation (probably). You want to see all of Leslie’s big ideas find a home. You want to see her be given the respect she deserves by the town that she adores. You want to see her face brimming with pride when she finally wins that long-desired seat on the city council. The necessary sacrifices that she is forced to make along the way do not define her as cold and ruthless, but determined and brave. Her ambition is portrayed as aspirational, not detrimental.

2. Patience pays. Sometimes.

Admirably, while the many public forums that Leslie has hosted have uniformly proved anarchic and unproductive, Leslie’s attitude remains firm: “These people are members of a community that care about where they live. So, what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” Even though that community has really not helped very much at all, it was at one of these public forums that Leslie was first introduced to Ann Perkins. There began the greatest love story of our time. It was also at this very first public forum, way back when, that the saga of the pit was introduced. Whether we ever get to enjoy the fruit of Leslie’s labours at Lot 48 remains to be seen, but without her constant patience and perseverance, it would probably still be a pit – or a fast food restaurant.

3. Don’t let people shame you for your passion.

Leslie Knope is passionate about many, many things – namely, friends, waffles and work. And let’s not forget Joe Biden. In a world where it’s become all too cool not to care, Leslie’s enthusiasm reminds us why passion is far preferable to apathy. The special thing about this show, pushing against the heavy tide of cynical television, was that in Pawnee, passion was celebrated and not mocked. Even April, who began as Parks’ representative of the apathetic youth that Leslie tirelessly seeks to inspire, is moved by the dedication of her friend and boss. As we near the end, it’s clear that over the course of the series, April’s journey has been to learn from a seasoned pro that it’s okay to care. In fact, maybe it’s actually kind of… nice?

April explains: “Where I live, there are a lot of apathetic people, people who don’t care at all about what they do or how they do it. They let the world wash over them and barely notice anyone else is even there. Leslie Knope is not one of these people. She cares about everything and everyone in our town. I don’t know how she does it. People come to her with the pettiest, stupidest problems and she cares, like really actually cares what happens to them. And if you’re lucky enough to be her friend, your life gets better every day. She spends every waking moment thinking of new ways to make her friends happy.”

4. Don’t let the haters keep you down. Bounce back.

Of course, with great passion comes great disappointment. Leslie’s taken more than a few knocks in her time in the parks department: government cuts, relationship scandals and the recall vote, to name but a few. While she’s had to deal with her professional setbacks, she has also faced a series of personal ones, with the second season charting Leslie’s often-disastrous attempts at dating. With Ann on hand to console her, it’s never long before Leslie is back on fighting form, though. Her irrepressible positivity has afforded her the dream job and the dream husband, so it seems that bouncing back has done pretty well for Leslie Knope.

The key, with Amy Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope, has been maintaining the balance between her theatrical side and her competence. ‘The Comeback Kid’ is the perfect example of one of Leslie’s turbulent attempts to bounce back. She is finally getting back on her feet but is faced with the reality that, in a town like Pawnee, the ground will always be shaky – or rather, slippery. Even when the entire cast are sliding around on the ice, the belief that Leslie can and should win the election is absolute. The viewer knows that no one should ever bet against Leslie Knope.

5. Love yourself. (Also: love Leslie Knope.)

vlcsnap-2015-01-05-23h57m00s241“I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself,” Leslie says unapologetically as Ben notices the framed picture of his girlfriend that she displays on her “wall of inspirational women”. I adore her total lack of false modesty, particularly within the context of her relationship with Ben. Women should never feel inclined to reduce themselves for the ego of a man. Despite her small stature, Leslie is a powerhouse. She should not and, delightfully, does not pretend otherwise for Ben’s benefit. Leslie’s self-assurance only makes all of her friends love her more, so it’s win-win. Leslie’s relationship with Ben works because he is not intimidated by who she is, and she allows it to flourish by not moderating herself for his benefit.

6. Love your friends. Love them a lot.

Leslie Knope loves her friends. Like, reeeeally loves them. Especially beautiful Ann. No matter how swept up she might get in her relationship with Ben (her brilliant, sexy little hummingbird), Ann always comes first: “You know my code: hoes before bros, uteruses before duderuses, ovaries before brovaries.” When we are first introduced to the colourful world of Pawnee, it is Leslie and Ann’s relationship that provides the opening chapter of our story, and their bond holds firm from that point on. To celebrate the ladies in her life, Leslie even created Galentines Day, a day of “ladies celebrating ladies”. If we take one thing away from this show, it should be that February 13th is henceforth set aside for ladies celebrating ladies.

tumblr_mc3n7kzhsR1qe9t4zo2_1280 If there’s one thing I find most relatable about Leslie Knope, it is her unabiding love for Ann. I have my own Ann, named Hannah. Her name even contains “Ann”, so it’s kismet. As Leslie declares, “Less man time, more Ann time,” I will proudly do the same (with an ‘H’ in front).

As well as her love of Ann, Leslie maintains numerous other firm friendships. Her growth, from everyone’s pain in the backside to their respected leader, has allowed every one of her friends to realise the value of having Leslie in their life. To show their gratitude for Leslie’s unwavering loyalty, they frequently team up with interventions of support and motivation. There’s nothing that that team of people wouldn’t do for her, and I promise that I’m only paraphrasing The West Wing there by accident. Remember, “one person’s annoying is another person’s inspiring and heroic.”

7. Love your hometown. Hate Eagleton.

Eagleton sucks. Pawnee forever.