mar 2 2020 - romanticism, not always for the 'gram

quick spoiler-free notes on TATBILB2, West Side Story, and Portrait of a Lady on Fire

dear readers,

there’s a vein of (not necessarily untrue) thought that explains the outsized popularity of superhero movies through their propagation of narratives on the discovery of one’s exceptional power, to be used for vigilantism (ofc!) in ~dark political times.~ or the recent resurgence of rom-coms, romance, or romanticism for the lightness, the potential, and real-time escape they offer in ~dark political times.~ sure !

I was excited to watch TATBILB2 with some friends the day it came out. Lana Condor is charming and her face so expressive. I had many misgivings about the first movie, but you know, problematic faves blah blah, and I wanted to see what happened. the power of a franchise!

with a streamable rom-com that makes easy background noise (this is not a dig!), repeat viewings have helped me understand the first film through its infuriating omissions (he has to drive across town ~in his jeep~ to get the yogurt. big deal! 🙄; she still doesn’t get her scrunchie back!) as much as for its portrayal of Lara Jean’s so sincere coming of age among different characters and plot obstacles.

sequel-ing a rom-com is an impossible task and ofc, P. S. I Love You let down in more than a few ways. Besides sanitizing Gen’s pretty awful behavior, it asks us to spend an awkward amount of time watching Lara Jean and Kavinsky doing instagrammable date activities and likely, instagramming their joyous fun for their classmates whose judgement Lara Jean rejects. to be a teenager today… I couldn’t! its narrow focus on Lara Jean with Kavinsky or with the equally charming Jordan Fisher as John Ambrose made other subplots less meaningful, Lara Jean’s character development less rich.

beneath the thick aspirational sheen coating nearly every scene in the movie (that expensive retirement home, the luscious basement of the retirement home, the perfect suburban tree house and time capsule), there was also a missed opportunity for a meta-commentary about how this film celebrates the joys of being in relationship as getting to go on dates that not only look good on film, but are made to look fun to other people online in the same filmic universe. gazes on mirrors on gazes! meanwhile, millions of people, rapt, watched all this happen from their own screens. and I was one of them 😎

during the Valentine singing in the cafeteria, I heard for the first time that song that apparently catapulted a certain multiple Grammy winner to fame ‘out of nowhere.’ imagine being a white American pop star singing about "napalm skies," invoking US violent imperialism as tragically romantic backdrop for a mediocre ballad, and potentially not even being conscious (or very intentional) of how resonant such a nostalgia is for white America, how much is erased by her singing those words.

in Kavinksy’s cotton candy selfie as in the Valentine's song, one can spot a vicarious romanticism: in the former, it’s to not only be romantic but to be seen and commended being romantic by one’s peers, an act that’s partly PDA, part posting your relationship status on Facebook again (apparently, Instagram official is a thing?), and again, and again, in case someone hasn’t logged in recently.

in songs like Billie E*lish’s, it’s the idea that to have found love after trauma or violence (that in the case of ‘napalm skies’ specifically, she has not lived) is more special, more important than love found under plain blue skies. this is perhaps indicative of the supposed popularity depressive cultural content has among zoomers, who are (according to the research) miserable. (I qualify this statement not to cast my derision, but to not make a sweeping statement about another generation). BE’s skies are exaggeration, artful metaphor to capture the pain one feels (and aloso, at odds with her recent comments about ‘fiction’ in rap!). Unfortunately, the image is also indicative of white America’s obsession and performative grief over the violence and trauma it has enacted. under this lens, they get to transform their remorse into romance, use it to serenade each other for all their friends to see how deep their love is. blegh!

at the same time, I’m wary of how ‘instagram’ (and its implied shallowness and performativity) itself has become a ubiquitous ~filter~ (heh!) through which art is critiqued when it’s not always the right one.

a recent review derided Broadway’s new West Side Story as an ‘Instagram show.’ it’s not a good show, hard to justify reviving at all (see Carina del Valle Schorske’s review instead, or my tweet storm here), but I didn’t experience it as a show built for the ‘gram. It’s live theater, and the choreographed 2-dimensional choreographic images that stick out from this show conform more to musical theater and commercial dance’s compositional conventions than any image meant for us to capture with our phones and share with our friends.

that said, there is a dialectic in how instagram has trained our eyes to appreciate minimalist aesthetics as easy or beautiful—see book covers and subway ads.

but also, if I can’t go back to the beach, watching other people frolic at the beach and live in castles with just 3 people (the sparseness!), is a passable substitute for viewing beauty. I found ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ moving and appreciated Melissa Anderson’s discussion of this movie’s quieter romanticisms; a heavy-handed scene here, an easy inter-class friendship there. There were many beautiful, romantic shots featuring one or two of the actors against spare backdrops, but I wouldn’t say it was an Instagram movie. Much else has been written about how it actually resists the (male) gaze with the camera chasing after the back of Héloïse’s head. Later I realized Céline Sciamma also directed ‘Girlhood’ (2014), which, as much as she tried to center the film’s Black actors, was still an exercise in the white gaze. Awkward! Veering into a white history of white France with Portrait, Sciamma is able to talk about the male gaze and run away from her awkward responses around race from her previous film. Convenient! When I first saw the film a couple years ago, I hadn’t known who had directed it at all, so maybe I should research more before seeing things.

or perhaps, learning about the context (besides ~dark political times~) of a film’s making would’ve ruined my blissfully ignorant consumption of it. maybe it should have? That Sciamma dated Adèle Haenel, who spoke out about being sexually harassed by director Christophe R*ggia this past fall and walked out in protest of this Saturday’s César awards after P*lanski won a directing award, after working on a previous film together makes me feel ____ ?

I don’t know enough about this gossip to want to say more
but see you on the gram 😉

benedict

extra slush mush:

  • one of you noticed I didn’t send a slushie last month and asked me in person where i’ve been and I thank u so much for missing this missive. I was, of course!, drowning in this grantszn

  • and of course, happy pisces szn! today’s first quarter moon is in gemini

  • I had to delete this graf from talking about TATBILB but wanted to share my cleverness : I have not seen the famed scene, but it makes me wonder if certain multi-oscar nominated actress, one who’s been lambasted on twitter for her Very Dramatic performance in that nuptial movie, has ever expressed such subtlety but alas, I don’t remember and will not do the research to find out. I’ll just spend some words subtweeting her here instead.

  • while this is slushie reaches more towards coherence than I necessarily have before, I insist on lower-case to remind you how quickly these are written because i’m casual! this is fun!

jan 2 2020 - canonizing a year? nah

withholding some of my wittiest content !

dear reader,

i come to you from a previous decade, one you might have been in since people started frantically anticipating its arrival with the countdown’s and best of 2019’s and best of the decade lists whose integrity i questioned. how many spots were earnestly chosen? how many spots were paid for by sponsors? but ofc, most Mainstream Content has already been filtered by the Patrons - i saw that movie because everyone was talking about it, but only because the media was hyping it, but mainly because the marketing dollars got behind that film and dumped CATS (lol), which still got reverse hype notoriety, if not as many of the dollars that things/people get for being BAD (see; NYT columnists, US politicians, etc.). i was also here before this panic about the gregorian calendar moving and have already left and will be back soon ~

i’ve also been thinking about my last slushee and how those pieces of content crossed my consciousness with the right kind of relevance. here’s another succession mash up that’s very ‘on the nose’ - delusions of homoerotic american grandeur. but what fantasies and rhythms (i see you 2012 LDR) and erasures are these expressions of self-knowing white nostalgia predicated on?

i could find out perhaps, following another curiosity towards a precise unraveling of imagery, symbolism, and forms i’m not expert in. but for this object, i don’t feel deeply compeled.

this question was at the crux of the last slushee’s back half. sure, i was nervous by a few deadlines but the imposter syndrome is old. do i know enough to write enough? does ’knowing’ mean ‘knowing the white canon’ and even if it doesn’t, one could spend a lifetime reading old things and not write anything now, not that writing now is the benchmark of a life lived.

i’ve read and watched and listened to a good # of things over the last year — i started an attempt at compiling a deliberately incomplete list of some memorable and less-talked-about books, songs, TV, movies, etc. that i chose or that the algorithm chose for me that i didn’t turn down or skip. a small act of canonizing, if you will. it was cute and funny and so incomplete. i thought about this recent piece about how people don't read anything and how writers now write in a style that anticipates that and i felt nauseous at the idea of spending even more time somehow culling together what would always be an ‘imperfect’ list and, as i’ve whined before

there’s so much content !!

so in the vein of doing less, i pasted the very fun, witty, cleverly self-referential (i need to compliment myself on my labor well-spent!) multimedia list into a place that maybe (gasp!) doesn’t (eek!) need to be shared publicly on the internet b/c i do not currently possess the fortitude to contend with all the ways context spirals out gets squished in even the clearest of concise internet writings.

and you know how i tend to write ;)

in a time where it feels like most of the internet-content is meta-content about meta-content and meta-data, writing about writing, writing about reading, reading about the internet while necessarily online (don’t talk to me about clouds in this way), critiquing how our criticism has devolved, long-form pieces about short-form twitter fights, and some of this is good and important and my body is tired

today’s first quarter moon shifted from pisces to aries, so this is the best i can do:

if you wanna reply with a piece of content/culture you’re still thinking about, i’ll respond with one of mine

if i had an intention for arbitrary turns of the calendar page, one for now might be to be so intentional about spending time with gud things b/c it’d be so easy to spend all the time laughing at bad twitter memes and while that’s nice sometimes, there’s this queue of new music and articles and books that i hope to take in as well so i can gush and guffaw about it in person next time we might meet

to dialectics in context and good cheer ;)
bn

dec 4 2019 - bombastic hip thrust

mishmashing, questions on writing about art is hard lol

to Jupiter in Capricorn, to #sagittariusszn, to December, to this horrific year slowly ending for more horror

I feel like this selection captures glimmers of a certain kind of obvious absurd-doom that’s somehow still satisfying in its irreverence, or in its mis-matched and still uncanny matching of odd things. if in a few of these blips, that the delight is also laden with odd or problematic references feels even more apt - not just in the ‘yah, everything is problematic’ sense. for the hustlers/succession vid, it’s like: let’s smash these two different pieces of culture that ‘aren’t it’ but that we know you know what we mean by this humor because you still watched the source material anyway (I did, at least). see how the pleasure of stealing something, some brief reclamation of vicarious wealth and ‘having it’ that they both capture feels amplified by both of them together, synced to the same bombastic beat and hip thrust. but, as with the bullying video, what are the ____ conditions that made that feeling needed? if that’s not many of the things at once, then…

i’ve spent chunks of the last few weeks working on a few separate pieces about art and performance projects that I was experiencing/witnessing mostly within the same condensed time frame so glad that that last paragraph was so much easier to write than any of the sentences for this Work (as in paid contracted job).

not insisting it was any good, but the fact that I did it! because sometimes, that’s not good enough, but it’s enough

I've been writing as I went, trying to trust the immediate traces that made it to the page last month and the ones that rise from my notes and memory in the distanced weeks since—

but also, i’ve also had a harder time trusting the voice from which my writing comes from. i’ve been questioning its instincts and where they come from and how they’re shaped by my mood (ofc), that other piece of ‘art’ I read, watched, or listened to (eek), and just language i’m consuming all the time (ahhhh)

but deadlines are thing. to this first quarter moon in Pisces, I resolve to balance all the ‘holiday time’ socializing available over the next couple weeks with a nap and—

so, i’ve mostly been trying to think about these pieces separately but in reading versions that are closer to full draft form, I noticed eery parallels in what I chose to write down. I remember the parallels I felt in first engaging the artists/works, sure. and I questioned whether these parallels are a laziness, the result of the limitations of me as a ‘Writer,’ of me as just one person seeing very different things and remembering what they had in common as a way of making it easier for myself ….

and/or maybe these parallels are real and worth observing and documenting in my writing. even if i’m not pointing them to each other, even if i’m deleting the things they share to make them more singular, more themselves, maybe they’re still felt. but what’s important is that a piece of art work be distinct and—even if derivative or not memorable—fully itself right? is it my job to show why that is?

and/or is writing about art (or maybe anything), some weird exercise in confirmation bias. I not only see what I want to see but I get to re-confirm my perception by having (some of) the words I write be shared ‘in a public record’

to what extent is (or I should say, do I want my) art criticism to be writing to be cultural criticism to be ekphrasis to be an essay to be a snapshot to be self-assured to be …

and sometimes, things shouldn’t try to be everything at once. duh!

I share these question-doubts not to fish for a reassurance but to celebrate iteration, the loops of messy drafts and drafting again, and this particular kind of work that feels like a worthwhile confrontation of one’s ideas, satisfying in its uncertain mess …

thank ya,
benedict

nov 4 2019 - sensical synchronicity

learning donce moves and meme cultures

a cliché: write what you know

I have usually considered myself among the dancer folks who don’t retain new choreography well. i’d nearly black out in auditions and not remember learning something or attempting to recreate it in front of judgmental people around me and looking down on me from behind the gates they kept

I remember fixating on 2 dance moves, 2 counts in a 16-count phrase — at the complete loss of any of the other 20 dance moves or 14 counts lol

when I was at my dance-busiest a few years ago, i’d write everything I learned down to keep track of it. I discovered my own system for tracking movement vocabulary, sequences, spacing, etc. and made myself someone who could keep track of things.

shifting perspective:

at some point, by writing all the dance moves down, I somehow became the kind of dancer who no longer need to write the dance moves down. I am definitely not the fastest, but i’ve become a much quicker study. teach me, don’t make me nervous, and my body will show you it was sensing, absorbing,

the power of a trusting, patient environment though!

in different dance processes over the last year, i’ve been thinking about what happens when i’m not patient or trusting with myself—where I distort the dance to suit my nerves, where I hold tension. I’ve been aware of what cues help me learn and how those cues become useless in within new frameworks

embodied knowledge is pretty cool, I guess


another cliché: ‘misery loves company’

but wait: i’ve been having weird but totally sensical shared symptoms with folks. maybe it’s too easy, too true to say that folks are just having bad days all around. yayyy what a time, lol, cue #apocalypticbop

but I feel like my particularly bad days are finding resonance in folks i’m talking to or reading on the Twitter (since I'm ‘off the gram’ ya know)

last week, I was having weird chest pains and a few other folks were too

yay for this anecdotal evidence for my Big Argument that it’s disorienting and reassuring that at least some of us are suffering together


overrated and important: full moons

underrated and important: first quarter moons and the moon all the time

I was walking home sunday night at a casual 642pm and could already see in the dark sky (DST needs to end!) a pretty severe looking (almost) first quarter moon and was impressed by the clarity of this awkward half moon time

i’ll bury the notification here that i’ll be skip out on the next few third quarter moons and shift to publishing ‘first quarter moon slushees’ on … first quarter moons


meh: original thinking and inventive forms

blegh: the way that the format of this slushee has been subsumed into meme culture and I really couldn’t help myself, get me off the internet, I’m not


previous slushees: anticipating the quarter moon vibes or writing alongside the day-of feels, delivered on time

this slushee: reflecting on a weird day and sharp moon, sent late.


here’s ur bi-weekly dose of regular gossip

happy first quarter moon Aquarius - I don’t have the words to explain why right now and

oct 21 2019 - for the time being

ideas flowing from compartments to chainmail to chassis

first quarter moon slush’ (yes, always linking to myself) celebrated its 1-yr anniversary / solar return last week on oct 16 - check the inaugural post here (yes, I did it again!)

before I even started drafting this slushee, I was thinking about many of the things I was thinking about a year ago and maybe my oct 16 2018 post’s musing’s of its own existence have twirled in deeper spirals around themselves into this oct 21 2019 post and I’ve mentioned that I can self-absorbed right?

and i’ll acknowledge the latent meta-headache of artists/writers using ‘personal essays’ to question the function of personal essays by dropping this excerpt of a poem that I received in my inbox this wk;

Upward
by Tony Hoagland

[…]
I will keep eating my experience
with a certain
indigestion and
shitting out opinions
to the end.
[…]

I got it from this poetry chainmail that was revived from the early 2000s to circulate in our inboxes in this wild fall that’s happening. I read the above without much context—of how the poet organized it within a collection or who the poet is or what the poet cares about or what it means for those words to come from this specific person

I’ll say that who the Artist is, is so important. it is. Who gets to shit out opinions to the end and be listened to?

a recent article, ‘The Writer as Influencer’ by Allegra Hobbs, makes an eerie but not surprising comparison between the function of writers (supposedly the True Intellectual Artists) and influencers (supposedly the Shallow Scammers). besides making me more self conscious about the navel-gaze-y ness of some of these slushies, it made me think about how artists broadly are leveraging our lifestyles and personhood for clix and cash in a particular kind of way and

I was stumbled on to this essay by Tajja Isen that highlights patterns in work brought out by the personal essay boom of this past decade. i’ll be clear and say it can be absolutely magical for someone whose identities/cultures have been stolen and trampled on and dismissed and exotified to speak from those places with dimension. but Isen’s essay (among many others), is helping me question the economy of art that shapes the norms (and prices!) for such narrow ways for writing about/expressing them

From Isen’s essay:

“I’ve started a ritual to dispose of personal essay ideas I know I won’t write. It involves saying the phrase aloud — “personal essays I won’t write” — like it’s a punchline, or a prayer. […]

The refrain is a joke, mostly, a loving dig at how easy it is to make googly eyes at your navel. But it’s also a minor exorcism: By articulating the urge, however fleeting, to seize an idea, pin it down, and parse its innards, I make myself evaluate the kernel at its heart.”

It’s helping me articulate how/why I only seem to write about the same few things in this slushie — time passing and slipping, #freelanceflailing, burnout, lol. These aren’t neutral topics but they’ve been ones that i’ve been able to mine sentences about for the speedy rhythm of this fqms’ celestial calendar, which reminds me how quickly and slow time passes and slips. and it’s not an accident that I don’t write about other things but I wonder where the kernel of my heart is??

I wanted to share with y’all an excerpt of the poem that i’ve been sending back in the few folks that have sent me stuff:

‘on registering good feeling’ by dear one, t. tran le

II.

I’d forgotten what kind of company Delight is bulldozing shrill no one can get a word in all day Delight entertains in a room of mirrors no matter who else is in the room

^^excerpting poetry is exceptionally stressful, see the original link for the original formatting

last week, after spending 2 months reading a book (which is long for me!), I started reading a new book on the subway and, for whatever multiple reasons, have been speeding through it pretty quickly. I reached a passage and had the fleeting idea of excerpting it for this slushee but instead of noting it, kept reading and forgot where it was. when I started drafting this, I flipped through everything I read and chose this, which I think is different from the part that grabbed me last week but i’m very unsure ;)

“Or maybe none of these things will happen except in my mind and yours, because, like I told you, together we’re making magic, at least for the time being.”

—Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

^^I don’t mean this as an earnest note about some presumptuous relationship between myself and you, reader, but as a nice quote that is itself, beyond what I can say about it

This book had been on my list for awhile and the ‘algorithm’ (I know, I know, i’m a robot too) of what I read now/next favors books that have surfaced multiple times in a certain time period and more than a couple folks have some how brought this book (published in 2013) into conversation over the past few months.

i’m thankful for the in-person talks about books and the smattering of emails from strangers with poems that have a context for them, even tho they might not all say much to me

someone I recently spoke to about my slushees mentioned the lite astrology references I make feel a bit mysterious. I don’t often make it the work of the slushie to explain what it means to me that today’s third quarter moon shifts from cancer and enters Leo and the sun enters Scorpio on Wednesday (!!!). i’ll say I’m drafting this after my 3rd mtg of the morning (and 3 more to come today, lol - I definitely get to check off the #freelanceflailing box for this post ;)) and that while I didn’t plan for this day, I agreed to it - so today’s moon shift feels appropriate lol

and know that might not even mean much to you but it’s funny how this framework of astrology allows me to be very specific while also talking somewhat around things — a metonymy for big planetary feelings and galactic relationships between the multiverse and this human tapping buttons on a chassis in hopes of articulating something well

to slush,
benedict

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