Review: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Recently, I read E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime

Ragtime the musical

Admittedly, this was for a class, and I'm not sure I would have picked it up on a whim. I'd never even heard of it, even though Modern Library lists it as #86 on its list of 100 Best Novels. To be fair, I don't agree with everything on the list. I'd probably have listed Ragtime higher than that, actually.

So what's it about?

Wikipedia calls it "A unique adaptation of the historical narrative genre with a subversive 1970's slant [that] blends fictional and historical figures into a framework that revolves around events, characters and ideas important in American History."

I call it damn good fun with historical figures we know and some we don't intertwined with the destinies of an average middle-class American family at the turn of the century.

Who's in it?

What if J.P. Morgan met Henry Ford? What if Evelyn Nesbitt met Emma Goldman? What if Harry Houdini met Harry Kendall Thaw? The author takes tremendous liberties with historical figures in his novel, but somehow, it's believable. Besides the people listed above, we also meet Sigmund Freud, Booker T. Washington, Archbishop Franz Ferdinand, Emiliano Zapata, Robert Peary and Matthew Henson, among others.

In fact, the only people not named are the main characters, who are called simply Mother, Father, Mother's Younger Brother, and Boy.

No really, what's it about?

The book explores the tensions between different groups - blacks, whites, immigrants, rich, poor, etc - at a time where new technology (i.e. Henry Ford's assembly line) is changing everything. Doctorow frequently places the family in the middle of major events or the lives of historical figures, and by the end of the novel, each is forced to question his or her ideals and the common ideals of the age.

That sounds pretty dry

But somehow it's not. Through his writing, Doctorow propels the story; he both gives things away and surprises us, but never leaves us disappointed. At times he is bawdy and at times sober, but at the end of each chapter I found myself flipping eagerly to start the next. His characters are real but sympathetic, and I can't help but marvel at the skill with which he interwove so many true historical figures into his fictional - though spot-on - description of an upper-middle-class family at the turn of the century America.

So What's the Verdict?

There's humor and intrigue, unique characters and parallel story-lines, but overall Ragtime is a meditation on the mobility of America's classes and the shaping of the American Dream during a period of great scientific and technological innovation. By the end, the reader is left musing on our country's unique history and cultural system and wondering how far we've come; how far we've left to go.

4.5 stars out of 5

Windermere and the Peter Rabbit Museum

Back in October I Visited the lake district

Windermere, to be exact. At 7:45 AM on a Saturday and with a slight hangover, I trudged up the stairs of the bus that was packed with foreign exchange students and travelers leaving their hostels for a day. I picked a seat as close to the front as I could and fastened my seatbelt (proof that I'm becoming an adult?). The ride there took four hours.

When we arrived

We piled off the vehicle and into the parking lot, happy to escape the confinement of the bus on which we'd experienced more than our fair share of hairpin turns and curves that weaved a little too closely to cliffs' edges. I forced down the rest of my ham sandwich from that morning to keep the nausea at bay and headed over to the kiosk where we were told we could purchase tickets for the ferry on the lake.

Marina in Windermere, UK

I paid my £9.00 for a 90-minute tour on the Yellow Cruise, then headed off to explore the town while I waited for the boat to arrive.

Cafe Latte in WindermereI grabbed a quick bite to eat at a cute cafe called Café Latte and worked on some writing. The soup and bread was incredible, and the serving staff very pleasant. The place was packed with locals and tourists alike.

Tea aboard the Windermere FerryWhen it was time to embark

I found a nice seat on the upper deck of the boat and indulged in another pot of tea (ubiquitous in this country).

Sailboats on Lake WindermereThough beautiful, the tour was a bit monotonous, and I grew a little bored of the scenery. With more time, I'd have rented a row boat or a kayak and gone out on the lake myself. As is, though, sitting on the ferry drinking tea and watching sailboats go by was not an altogether bad way to spend an afternoon. We reached Bowness and the ship's majority disembarked. Sailboat on Lake Windermere

One-day Vacation

I relocated to a quiet seat with a table and a window on the lower level. A middle-aged couple sat in the booth in front of me - a woman with dyed blond hair, garish blue eye shadow and fuchsia lips. Her husband's gray head occasionally blocked her face from view. She seemed tired and frustrated. Maybe she'd been there too long. It'd be hard to find things to do in this town for more than a day.

Streets of WindermereSurprise attractions

When we docked in Lakeside where we'd started, there were still a few hours before we had to get back on the claustrophobic death-trap the Brits call a coach, so I decided to take a walk around town. As I strolled, I encountered a sign with a large brightly colored arrow pointing down an alley. "BEATRIX POTTER ATTRACTION" it proclaimed. I followed it.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/pixCye8_JtM]

Cultural Experience

As I arrived, I was greeted by a very unexpected sight: directly in front of the ticket desk to the Beatrix Potter Attraction, several men and one woman were performing Zulu song and dance in costume. I stood and watched for a little while, clapping my hands along with the beat. I watched until they began demonstrating dance moves piece-by-piece and encouraging the audience to repeat them. Then I suddenly felt self-conscious and slunk off to the exhibit.

Peter Rabbit in the Beatrix Potter AttractionThe exhibit itself was an elaborate walk-through of many of Beatrix Potter's books. There was a short informative film at the beginning to give some background information to the ignorant tourist (me), and after strolling leisurely (or at a brisk pace due to time constraints) through the various houses, ponds, and garden plots of Potter's characters, there was a large room dedicated to the timeline of the author's life.

A Scene from Peter RabbitMy favorite feature by far was the massive screen stretched across one wall providing panoramic views from many of the real-life Lake District settings in Potter's books. If I'd had more time, I'd have spent the rest of the day virtually traveling to castles and lake beds, and getting lost in the woods.

Hayley Peter Rabbit CardOf course, the icing on the cake was finding a Peter Rabbit Birthday card in the gift shop with my name spelled correctly in block letters across the front. I stocked up on gifts for my young niece and nephew and headed back to the coach for the four hour journey back to Edinburgh, satisfied I'd decided to explore the small lake town of Windermere.

Judy's Vintage Tea Party

Finally, a post about Edinburgh

You may or may not know that I am in Edinburgh, Midlothian (yeah, Richmonders, I live in Midlothian), UK to do a year-long masters course in Creative Writing. I've been doing my best to slog through the pre-reading for my course, but I did manage to go out and do some shopping yesterday.

You had me at "vintage"

The path connecting two main squares of Edi Uni's campus, George Square and Bristo Square (or Bistro Square as my dad kept calling it), is not long, but during Fresher's week (orientation) walking down it is like running the gauntlet. Tons of club representatives shove pamphlets at you and at least half a dozen Dominoes workers with pizza-box-shaped signs attached to their shoulders halfheartedly swing bags of coupons in front of passersby, calling, "Free pizza!"

I've gotten pretty good at avoiding eye contact and muttering terse no thank-yous whenever I'm apprehended at this intersection, but last week I got caught. One girl seemed particularly keen on blocking my way, and practically clothes-lined me with her outstretched arm and proffered handout. "No thank-" I began, but she was faster.

"Vintage clothing fair on Sunday!" she announced.

"Oh," I stopped in my tracks, taking the bright yellow flyer, "alright." I strode off, side-stepping a group of young guys waving posters and yelling, "Rock-n-roll and cheap booze!"

Judy's Vintage Tea Party

Judy's Vintage Tea Party in Edinburgh, UK September 2013

It was about a 30-ish minute walk to the event, but most of it was through the Meadows, one of Edinburgh's many large public parks, so I didn't mind the trek. It was £2 to get in, and it was worth it. I walked in to an overwhelming amount of people, vintage clothes, jewelry, items, and Folsom Prison playing over a loud speaker. Everywhere I looked there was a girl with an interesting haircut, an ill-fitting faded dress and clip-on earrings, or a guy wearing a vest and a cap carrying a leather messenger bag that was falling apart. I had found my people.

Judy's Vintage Tea Party in Edinburgh, UK

Here's What I bought

Though I was feeling a little overwhelmed by all the people and vendors, I didn't leave empty-handed.

Green Plaid Wool Poncho

Cute green plaid woolen poncho 1960s 1970s scotland Cute green plaid woolen poncho 1960s 1970s scotland Cute green plaid woolen poncho 1960s 1970s scotland

Green/Brown Plaid Wool Dress

Plaid Wool Dress 1970s Scotland Plaid Wool Dress 1970s Scotland Plaid Wool Dress 1970s Scotland

Stretchy Celtic Knot Belt

1980s Celtic Knot Stretchy Belt

I also got a pack of bridge cards from the 1960s, which is pretty cool since I collect playing cards. I haven't photographed them, though, so you'll just have to take my word on it.

Scotland's biggest vintage event

Most of the vendors were very nice and willing to negotiate, though there was one absolutely adorable baby blue coat from the 60s (à la Holly Golightly) that was a little tight through the shoulders, but had they been willing to negotiate I so would have picked it up. I chatted for a minute with Fran from shop Goodbye, Norma Jean, where I got the poncho. She said that there are Judy's Vintage events several times throughout the year in Edinburgh, and she'd come from out of town to participate. Apparently it's Scotland's biggest vintage event. Chances are you'll see me at the next one on October 6th!

Inside Source

Recently, I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Post

She claimed that she wanted to interview me for a piece "about the film industry", and skirted my probing for more specific information. We bounced a few emails back and forth, but because of the time difference and my spotty Skype connection we never chatted via phone. Finally, she sent me an email that said, "Thank you very much, but I've already published the article." OK, no biggie. I checked her twitter feed to see what this write-up was all about.

Turns out, she was trying to glean information about Emma Roberts. Most likely, she noticed I'd been involved with the film WE'RE THE MILLERS, and she was trying to make me an "inside source".

Let's get this straight

I have met Emma Roberts, and I've had maybe two brief conversations with her, but other than that I don't know a thing about her. Makes you think, when tabloids mention a "source close to" whatever celebrity they're reporting on, do they mean people like me? People who have little more than a first impression of the celebrity in question? Can you imagine what that must mean? Think about it, how many people have perceived you as a jerk over the years because of a bad day or an ill-judged comment? Now consider how many people you come into contact with on a daily basis. Certainly not everyone will remark on your presence - unless you're famous. And plenty of ordinary people want to give their two cents about famous people they have met.

What I'm getting at here

Maybe we should give celebrities a break. They're under constant pressure to look their best and be on their best behavior lest someone take something they did or said the wrong way and spill their stories to a magazine. It's interesting to me that fame is a quality so many of us strive towards without considering the significant drawbacks that accompany it. Would I want my every move and every pound lost or gained scrutinized by every single person I came into contact with? Certainly not. And do I believe everything I read in the magazines (even "reputable" ones) about famous people? Hardly. Especially now that I know how "informed" their sources tend to be.

[mediamonday] The Art of the Webseries

I was browsing Twitter the other day

Yeah, I know, BFD. But really, it was. Because I clicked on this. Having recently participated in the making of a webseries, it was easy to appreciate the points expressed in the article. The three that I'd have to agree with most are:

  1. Audition your writers
  2. Get a good sound guy
  3. Get a funny editor

1) Audition your writers

*Warning* I'm going to brag for a second. So in high school, I went through an intensive creative writing program, and in college I minored in Creative Writing. I have recently applied for MFA in Creative Writing programs. Writing's kind of my thing. BUT I still don't feel like I can just sit down and write something good. It takes effort and a lot of good editing time.

Needless to say, it frustrates me when people assume "anyone can write". You may not have to be formally trained, but writing is a difficult and time-consuming process. AND relying on your actors to come up with good dialogue is a cop-out. Take the time to write something good. If you can't do it, find someone who can. It's not easy.

2) Get a good sound guy (or girl)

All the good acting, writing, directing and editing in the world won't improve the quality of a web series with poor sound. Especially when your room tone is off (ie the background noise noticeably changes when the camera angle changes).

3) Get a funny editor

Disclaimer: I am not an editor. Ok, that's not entirely true. I used to edit promotional film for the U of Richmond Business School. On iMovie. Yeah, super complex. Not. HOWEVER, even I can appreciate the importance of a good editor. For example: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS = amazing. DJANGO: UNCHAINED = not as amazing. Fun fact, DJANGO was the first of Tarantino's films not edited by Sally Menke, who unfortunately passed away in 2010. Coincidence? Maybe not.

Happy little guillotine studios

The author of this article was none other than Yuri Baranovsky, pioneer in new media and co-founder of Happy Little Guillotine Studios. One of his first web-series, BREAK A LEG, gained a cult following and was even aired on San Francisco public Television. The Baranovsky brothers actually entered it into a sitcom contest inspired by IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. One thing that sets this series apart from others is its length. Unlike most webseries, which tend to be between 5 and 10 minutes long, BREAK A LEG is the length of a full sitcom. Check out the first part of the pilot ep below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9dlMkOFCzE]

congratulations, you now have another reason to waste time on the internet.

If you're into time wasting, I'd suggest you also watch this:

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/58741520]

Other cool stuff

My old roommate worked on this webseries a couple of years ago with mostly SCAD students. It's called Greg Prime, and I found it incredibly entertaining. Perhaps you will too.

[youtube http://youtu.be/41iqJPb4JRI]


This group of filmmakers in Charleston, SC have created a promotional webseries that chronicles the making of their film, WARRIOR ROAD. Check it out below.

[youtube http://youtu.be/P-y2PrwyoZs]

Reclaiming Valentine's Day + Online Dating Adventures

All the Single Ladies

I remember back in high school, my single friends and I proclaimed Valentine’s Day an international day of mourning and sported black clothing to school when February 14th rolled around. (Ok, so this may have only happened once, but you get the idea). Meanwhile, girls with boyfriends (or overzealous parents) strolled the halls with balloons, flowers, candy and stuffed animals toted proudly on their shoulders or clipped to backpacks like prizes won at the fair.

As I face another Valentine’s Day as a single lady, I have to ask the question: why is it that we so often measure our self-worth by who we’re with? I have spent so much of my life trying to prove I can survive on my own that it’s difficult to see a relationship as anything but a step back into the comfort zone.

We owe it to ourselves

I strongly believe that before we can commit to someone else, we have to first discover who we are. I hear so often, "He/she completes me." Or, "He/she is my other half." Since when were we not complete people on our own? I get it, you love each other, you complement each other, but shouldn't you be able to complete yourself?

So I recently joined Match.com

I know, this seems odd considering what I just wrote above. But I do think it's about time we all got over our squeemishness and just admitted that online is a good way to meet people. Now, I could give you all kinds of excuses as to why I joined the site, but I see enough of them on guys' profiles. It gets old. Bottom line, I'm interested to see what's out there, and I'm not going to limit myself because some people think online dating is weird.

The beauty about Match is its simplicity. There is no guesswork involved. No looking for wedding rings. No wondering if he's interested in you, and no mustering the courage to talk to him. You can confidently assume that all of the guys and girls on there are single. And if he sends you a message, he's interested in at least meeting you. It's that simple. Who knew such a complicated thing as dating could be streamlined so nicely?

The Catch

I think where people go wrong on Match is by using it as a "last resort". If you're desperate, you're not going to find a good relationship anywhere, least of all online. This brings me to my earlier point. Have you figured out who you are? If you're unsatisfied with your life, chances are it has nothing to do with who you are (or aren't) dating. Maybe you should start with you.

Reclaiming Valentine's Day

Having never been on a Valentine's date ever, I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of the holiday (although my bitterness has evolved into a twisted sense of pride). Valentine's Day has become a contest in a lot of ways: who got the most cards, flowers, stuffed animals, romantic dinners etc. Competition on a day that's supposed to be all about love? That's a little backwards, no?

Here's an idea: as an alternative to buying all of those useless things, why not donate that money to a charity? As Americans, we are (mostly) an incredibly selfish culture. We so often rely on material goods that most people in the world only dream about. So on this day that you would normally spend money on your honey, how about letting him/her pick a charity instead?

In the Meantime

This is still a day of love. Let's show appreciation for all of the people who are important in our lives. Give somebody a hug. Reconnect with an old friend. Say thanks and count the multitudes of blessings in your own life.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/vr3x_RRJdd4]