The Babadook (Caution. Spoilers.)

The Babadook isn’t as much a horror film as it is a myth. In a quiet bedroom on a neighborhood block similar to yours, in the dark where the only light is from the street and telling the difference between a coat and a monster’s arm is almost impossible are where nightmares begin. If it weren’t for the Australian accents, this little family in their nondescript house and hooptie could be anywhere. But by the end of the film, the question is not whether or not the boogie man is real, but who exactly created him. Was it mom’s grief or a child’s coping mechanism? What came first: the chicken or the egg?

The film unfolds as a drama for the first twenty minutes or so and really forces you to live the real nightmare of loss within the dynamic of a mother and the son she doesn’t like. We’ve all seen this woman on the train or in the grocery store. She looks as though she hasn’t slept in a year and dutifully drifts through aisles with a shrieking child at her heels. The Babadook brings you into the nightmare of her real life before introducing the “monster”. Although Sam (Noah Wiseman) is a little hellion and Amelia (Essie Davis) visibly resents him, they’re less hateful than they are painfully vulnerable.  Amelia may be at the end of her tether but she is trying her hardest to cope, even if she is failing. Although Sam screams at the frequency children master at birth that rattles adults’ skulls in that specific maddening place, the arsenal he has built in preparation for the as yet unseen monster that would make Dutch from Predator proud. Neither protagonist is without their assets.

Then via an unassuming red children’s book, we meet Mister Babadook. This is by no means a “creature feature” film, but director Jennifer Kent firmly commits to practical effects and instead of CGI which makes the monster feel tangible. Shadows are constant players in genre films such as this, but here they serve to create that specific view seen from bed at 3 am with only street light to illuminate the room. Is that the arm of your coat in that corner, or Mister Babadook preparing to deliver a Mortal Kombat style fatality?

That you Mr. Babadook or just a poorly placed coat rack?

The real and the surreal bleed into one another despite how relatable and straight-forward the setting and characters are. As the scenes alternate between dreams and reality, the characters themselves are not trustworthy narrators and what they saw or experienced may not always be real. Coupled with the odd visuals is a specific and unobtrusive sound design. There is little in overbearing audio clues to herald a moment of madness or the arrival of Mister Babadook. Instead, even when there are swells, they’re cut off suddenly leaving you thrown off as though you’ve just awoken from a daydream with the ambient scene sounds to bring you back to reality. In fact, it’s only after the moment has passed that you truly realize your hands were clenched and your shoulders had hunched.

Of course motherhood is no picnic. It’s common knowledge that children are as terrible, selfish little creatures as they are vulnerable. As awful as they are,  even the most terrifying horror flick cannot compare to the nightmares of the kid next door. After seeing firsthand their trials and practically living with these two vulnerable characters, the arrival of that red storybook strikes real fear into the heart of the viewer. We feel for these characters and yet, all we can do is watch and hope for the best. The Babadook is not merely a psychological thriller, but a nuanced narrative of the horror show of parenthood and the destructive nature of grief. Kent reminds us that like Mister Babadook in the basement, the grief monster can be tamed and adjusted to, this does not mean it is forgotten. Every now and again, it must be acknowledged and its appetite sated before you can lock it back up and live one day at a time even if that does mean being brave enough to face it.

photo: Wikipedia

Tidal and Premium Losslessness

Everyone knows music streaming sites like Spotify simply do not create revenue for artists when the music is offered for free. It’s the nature of streaming. A flat monthly fee to stream as much as you want doesn’t exactly scream “cash-cow” for anyone. Jay- Z’s “Tidal” is a music streaming platform owned by artists and another option for pedestrians. Cool. I’m all for it especially after hearing about how negligible the returns are from Spotify for a musician friend.  Between the premium offer of access to lossless files (with a $19.99 per month subscription) and rumored potential for previously unseen content from artists, clips from live shows, interviews and an artist run blog, it’s a pretty interesting offer.  It just rings a bit hollow when the artists post tweets that sound similar to non-profit foundation support instead of a paid service.

Is the $19.99 really worth it? Depends on who you are, I suppose. Source: Warner Bros

The biggest question is, “Is this all worth $19.99 a month?” Short answer: depends on who you are.  If you’re an audiophile who prefers access to lossless files and has decent enough headphones, sure.  Now, I’m still a novice in the world of music technology but from what I understand, MP3s and other lossy formats have bytes of audio information missing from the file, making it sound not as multi-dimensional as a lossless file such as the quality found on CDs. The process of compression usually involves the removal of “unimportant” sounds and overtones seem to go first. (Somebody correct me if that’s not quite right!)

Now, that sounds all well and dandy but hearing the difference sometimes requires a little more than the file. First, you’d need some boss-ass headphones. Some tend to say even the jack will effect the quality of the sound.  Second thing is, the size of these puppies. MP3s are compressed so you can fit a bunch on a phone, iPod, computer or other device. Lossless files are fucking big. Streaming a big file on your wifi just sounds like you’d annoy your household for monopolizing so much bandwidth when your roommate is trying to watch The X-Files before Netflix removes it. The struggle is real. Streaming from your phone using a data plan just sounds fucking expensive. I mean maybe after I pay off my student loans. Sure.

It looks like this $19.99 a month subscription is primarily intended for audiophiles with pretty decent equipment to begin with. Joe who is used to hearing Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj on YouTube at work with $3.00 Walmart headphones might not give 1/10 of a fuck but a music nerd probably will.  It just doesn’t seem to be the angle they’re taking with the relaunch marketing.  It’s still relatively early but I will say how it will do compared to its competitors Spotify, GooglePlay and and Apple’s Beats Music. I’m going to enjoy this 30 day free trial for the short time I have it.

Pedestrian Swag*

All of us experience humbling moments in life when quickly and suddenly, life shows you who is fucking whom from the back with little to no lube.  The day after I got my life together and made those adult plans called doctor’s appointments, my brakes went out.  They went out while I was driving. They went out while I was driving down a hill in morning rush hour traffic. No brake pressure and having to ride up a long winding hill without knowing how you’re getting back down again just sucks.

Life and gravity in my mentions like Herman Cain.

By all accounts, I handled the incident far too calmly as the story is inevitably met with shock that it didn’t end in an accident or my death.  This problem also means two things:

  1. A tow truck and a couple hundred dollars in repairs or a new car.
  2. Since I didn’t exactly have the money or the time to have it fixed in time, SEPTA would be my means of transportation for the time being.

I’ve been driving since high school so this feeling of being carless is foreign and uncomfortable. At least there is a decent transit system where I live even if it is SEPTA who still thinks tokens and extra money to cross zones are necessary.  An extra $10.00 a week plus the $25.00 for a weekly pass for a two hour commute in the morning via public though? And the evening commute is even longer!  At least it’s a viable option.

A funny thing happened though. Despite being physically tired and emotionally weary with such a commute, I’m calmer? People still give me anxiety, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as it used to be. Plus, I’m a bit more comfortable with public transit. I should consider myself lucky that I don’t have to do this every day and remember my car privilege. Sure my anxiety has lessened, but for a non-morning person who is freshly carless, 5 AM is nothing less than barbaric. Goddammit, I miss my car.

*Pedestrian Swag is not mine and refers to a tumblr account managed by this human I know.

The Trouble with T-shirts

via CBS and Paramount

The cold hard truth is, t-shirts are like tribbles. They fucking multiply. In the grandiose minimalist wardrobe experiment, that rather vivid realization was forced upon me quickly. After all, purging and cleaning out one’s drawers and closet are part of the deal. When drawers cannot be opened without six shirts flying out at you, re-evaluation is probably in the near future. Culling. It is the painful tedious process by which the owner of the offending closet, drawers and/or wardrobe (depending on how intense the affliction) is forced to acknowledge each benign or offensive sartorial decision. They are also forced to realize that despite the fact that those university t-shirts bring the warmest of keg stand memories or all nighters doing nothing resembling studying, those same t-shirts are breeding. The risk of them overrunning the entire room single handedly is far too great to ignore.

As a recovering college student, I am one such person. My drawers were bursting with t-shirts and hoodies of various ages, qualities and dimensions. Methods of acquisition varied from first, theft from various family members and ex-boyfriends, inheritances souvenirs, organizations and “because it was funny.” Utility is the name of the game and, 5th grade t-shirts would never again be used. The stages of grief inevitably followed:

  1. DENIAL & ISOLATION: The “But I can still wear these” and the futile exercise of trying to rotate 100+ t-shirts and hoodies successfully. The “I’ll just keep them in my drawers and not look at them” stage came and went, quickly.
  2. ANGER: “Damn this attachment to mere silk screened, dyed cotton!!! Damn this endless consumerism and capitalist model with its bedfellow consumerism.” A fist was shaken at the sky.
  3. BARGAINING: “I just won’t buy anymore t-shirts again. Yeah, that’s it. And if I get rid of my work clothes, I’ll have plenty of room for these tees. Clearly this is a worthy cause!”
  4. DEPRESSION: The drawer of t-shirts not only remains ajar,, but its contents have begun to spill out onto the floor into a pile. A pile that sits, sullen in the corner haunting my room like the ghost of laundry past. They’ll never leave. I’ll never be rid of the spectral, cotton poltergeist. All is lost.
  5. ACCEPTANCE: It was not to be. We must part. All must be donated. My memories! My childhood. They’ll be scattered to the wind and I shall be alone.

Then, like the Dark Knight swooping in to save the day or autocorrect on a good day when you’re a little too drunk for words, the internet provided an answer: I’ll make a motherfucking t-shirt quilt.

Just one thing.

I can’t actually sew…

Pop Machine

Disclaimer:  This had been weighing on my mind since the Taylor Swift’s “Trademark-gate” but after Refinery29 published this, I figured it didn’t need another edit and should just be posted.

The young ingénue takes the stage, marveling at the scene before her. “Is this real? Are they really clapping for me?” The words are written on her face and the affect produces more screams of adulation.  But there at the patent and trademark office is a document certifying the very words that would be sung next assuring she the ingénue would receive returns on these words. She’s a pop machine. A carefully crafted and skillfully nuanced machine, but a machine nonetheless. We all know who I’m talking about. The news of Taylor Swift’s decision to trademark some of her some lyrics like “This Sick Beat” and “Party like it’s 1989” made people uncomfortable. It turns out, people forgot she is first and foremost a business woman.

Branding is the first step to the Pop Machine model. Hers is an accessible one where not only she is awestruck at her success, she will council you on your breakup and braid your hair while you draw hearts around the class cutie’s yearbook photo. No matter how relatable she is or appears to be, the ingénue is in reality, a powerful businesswoman. It’s just that instead of the polished perfection that is the queen diva of refreshing drinks or the cotton candy California princess, she is the girl next door. The marketing may be different, but they’re still extremely similar empires that employ legions of people in various capacities and rely on your support. Pop is manufactured. It’s commerce masquerading as art at its worst and universally accessible art at its best. Pop is a business.

In a world where making a living as a musician is nearly impossible, the successful ones know it is as much about your business acumen and merchandise sales as it is the music. As Vox points out, “One of the dominant income sources for many artists — whether they’re top sellers like Swift or tiny singer-songwriters — is merchandise sales.” No matter how much Swift brands herself as a girl making music in her bedroom for herself and her cats, she needs to pay the rent. She and her cats know that if she plays her cards right and trademarks everything from “This Sick Beat” to “1989,” she could ensure that she never needs to work again a day in her life. From a business perspective, she’s merely taking advantage of the fact that no one ever thought to do it before putting such a calculated move in opposition with her public persona.

When your shtick is accessibility but it comes out that you’ve trademarked “This Sick Beat” and countless other song titles, the effect is more than a little off-putting. This is not to decry Taylor Swift in any way as she is worth more money than I’ll ever see, let alone have. But, those who fell under the spell of the sweet ingénue must now acknowledge that sweet or not, the girl knew what she was doing. It’s not wrong, but it is factual. Beyoncé has never let us forget that she is a performing machine. She is her own brand as is Katy Perry. They may be lovely people, but they are still powerful and successful business women with empires built on what they can deliver us. To forget that is only to set oneself up for disappointment. Swift is much the same way, she just does it under the guise of sugar, spice and trademarked “sick beats.”

Minimalism and the Paradox of Choice

The “Paradox of Choice” is fairly straightforward.  Too many choices can increase anxiety and then after the choice has been made, there is a sinking feeling that a better choice could have been made.  That just explained the state of my closet.  For a human with a naturally anxious predisposition, the discovery that my wardrobe was adding to the problem was a revelation.  It also presented a problem and how best to solve said problem?  Enter minimalism…

Although there is no one solitary definition for the minimalist phenomenon in personal style, it’s general concept is becoming more prolific than I had thought.  At first it sounded like a niche market.  A blip in the normalcy of consumerism and even though it is easy to fall back into the trap under the guise of needing to find your “classics” or your flesh out your post-purge wardrobe, it’s foundations are fairly sound.  As far as I can tell, the general definition for the minimalist wardrobe is this: a closet rooted in functionality.  Everything is your closet is worn on regular rotation (some people use the 80/20 rule in that you use 80% of your shit all the time) and nothing collects dust.  Realistically, this requires cutting back.  A removal of clutter to focus on what’s more important. As a side effect, you begin to implement this into other areas of life as well.

Now my roommate would never have to use something like this to get her wardrobe in order as she essentially already operates with a closet which is much more (editor’s note: she’s a weirdo who hates shopping) conservative in the sheer number of garments.  It’s almost monk-like in comparison to mine.  Mine looked like Forever 21 and H&M had blown up inside with various casualties spilling out onto the floor and infesting my drawers.  In short, it was a lot.  Way too many choices.  Stressors on hangers.

It also revealed yet another fact of life: I spend way too much on clothes. Apparently, everyone else knew this but me.  But when $150.00 worth of assorted fast fashion garments that you never plan to wear again lie at your feet immediately after you happen to glance at your current student loan balance and notice it hasn’t lessened by much, the message gets through.  That $150.00 dollars could have gone towards the interest on those loans instead of a tight dress that was “needed” for a party and will never be touched again, let alone worn.  That being said, the little experiment has been going on off and on for a year now and I think it might have worked.  There was no adherence to any one strategy, be it the 10 piece French closet or capsule wardrobes for each season.  My closet functions now and when i do “go shopping” or stop by online shops, it’s much harder to say, “Oh, well I need that,” and actually buy it.

The Paradox of choice is real.  The “minimalist closet” requires the removal of so many choices.  There we always options and there was no deprivation, just less.  I streamlined my wardrobe choices and it’s paid off.  There’s a bit less stress involved when it comes to clothes and thusly, less anxiety.   Sure, I wear the same things over and over again, but realistically I did that already.  Now there’s more room to show for it.  Not to mention, my savings account is looking a bit more voluptuous as of late.  Hey sexy!

 

That Awkward Moment When…

…your credit card reminds you that you’re on a budget.

In an uncharacteristic moment of disorganization (likely precipitated by lots of alcohol), I lost my credit card. On New Years. In Manhattan. Let the judgement commence. All done? And back to the story. So i lost my credit card, but since I’ve been making fairly intense financial resolutions and made the oh so grown up move of making a new and aggressive budget for 2015, I made another decision.

I would allow my new credit card to be sent, but not open or activate it for two weeks. That way, I could curb my spending long enough to both get my credit card balance to zero and enjoy said balance. How quickly one forgets just how many important places have one’s credit card information saved. It slipped my mind that this would prevent access to consumerist wonderlands like Etsy, Amazon and iTunes.

Barring access to iTunes was a mistake I knew would bite me in the ass. I had intended to investigate Little Dragon long ago, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Low and behold, last night, I found them on YouTube and ended up listening to the album thrice back to back. Two replays is usually the indicator light for my “I should buy this” alert, so this clearly needed to be obtained.

There’s nothing like a well placed, “Your credit card was declined,” from iTunes to sober you up from the high of buying and supporting art and into the reality which you willingly condemned yourself. Embarrassment, shame, confusion and resignation inevitably follow declined cards. Even from behind a screen, at home, with no one watching, you will end up butthurt. What could possibly be wrong? My money is good here!!! Then, the sobering reminder that I had, in fact, lost my credit card and the replacement was currently in another state, crept back into mind. It was by my own design that instant gratification had been snatched from my grasp. Sure, it was good for bank account but I needed that album!

I’ve been playing the album on YouTube ever since. Due to this…inconvenience, I’ll have to take a stroll over to the record shop soon instead. I recall this anecdote to say, I am now becoming aware of both my small “innocuous” purchases and my utter lack of self control. First step to recovery and all that.

Function over fashion

Let’s just say, I am a lazy creature of habit in the morning.  If there is anything requiring too much thinking before 10 am, there will be trouble.  Too many colors mean too many combinations and too many choices.  Ergo, that’s way too many decisions to be made before I leave my house for work.  Capsule wardrobes keep it simple in the morning and I am here for it.

In a closet where most pieces can be rocked together harmoniously, there is no need for thinking at 6 am or the overarching need for harsh and barbaric overhead lighting.  Instead, there can be soft lamp lighting without fear of looking like my outfit had been chosen by touch instead of sight.

It is this very same wardrobe which is revealing my own affinity for the shapeless and voluminous. Over-sized shirts and wide legged pants may cease to be trendy soon, but I shall not deviate.  I have tasted of the fruit of the low crotch baggy harem pant and my eyes are now open!  “Drapey” and unstructured garments shall always have a loving place in my wardrobe.

Attempting the capsule wardrobe has made it clear that

  1. Relaxed shapes can be work appropriate while maintaining my comfort levels.
  2. The time saved by engaging in such dressing behaviors is too valuable to waste on gazing into my closet with no idea of what could possibly be worn.

Honestly, the preoccupation with how I would go about dressing myself had taken all of the fun out of clothes.  With too many options, progress cannot always be made.  Personally, self-imposed limits get the creative ball rolling and the ambition juices flowing.  Such analysis is not for everyone, especially with something which can prove to be banal like fashion.  For me, the analysis has proven rewarding and resulted in a defined plan in place of the former free-for-all.  It was an easy quandary to obsess over instead of practicing, writing or experimenting with sound design.  Instead of “What should I play,” the question was “What do I wear?”  With a designated time for the creativity of fashion, (planning just before a new season) there are fewer excuses for why my piano is still collecting dust.  From wannabe fashionista back to slacking functioning musician, I’m a work in progress.

“successful failure”

The “5 Piece French Closet” experiment was a simultaneous failure and success.  No, I did not abide by the rules set forth by those fashionable blogs I Googled that proposed only buying 5 new Pieces of clothing a season including ballet flats and the almighty white silk button up shirt. Instead, the more interesting (and achievable) idea of a “capsule wardrobe” was investigated.

Unsurprisingly, it worked better than originally intended and focused heavily on function.  Anuschka from Into-Mind.com emphasizes filling your closet with your own classics instead of the recognized classics of Vogue-ites and fashion editors to tell us precisely what we should have.  She also places priority on reusing pieces already in your possession as a starting point and from there, obtaining pieces that will last without doing too much brand name dropping.  It’s refreshing.  Not to mention she lays out the capsules visually for you.  I like pictures.

Into-Mind is the first blog that made me think of shopping and wardrobe curating as an interactive puzzle as opposed to taking from an assembly line.  Thinking before purchasing has impacted my credit statements more than I’d like to admit.   Shopping was more of an exercise in making myself feel better as opposed to buying with purpose and intention.  Now to ensure these improvements on my shopping habits are made semi-permanent.  Perhaps I’ll go buy a new tote to celebrate…

Suggested Reading:

Into-Mind.com

InnyVinny.com

Un-fancy.com

grayzine.no/deadfleurette/  (the archives of the now discontinued DeadFleurette blog)

wideeyedlegless.com/ (key phrase: style transformations)