In keeping with a few of my 2018 goals, I’ve decided to start a new series on this blog–The Culture Collection! This is a monthly round-up of my favorite cultural things I consumed and found great joy, edification, revelation, beauty in, etc….all put down in one place so I can keep track of them and share them with anyone who may be interested! Needless to say, it doesn’t include everything I read/watched/listened to, just the most notable. For the most part, it’ll just be a way for me to keep myself accountable with my intent to be a less passive consumer of media. As someone who finds herself spending an untold amount of time scrolling on Instagram, binge-watching on Netflix and YouTube, I want to take a more active part in considering, choosing, participating in, and reflecting on what is going into my eyeballs and then my brain. And I really want to read more this year. So let’s kick it off with books, shall we?
My lovely sister—my constant inspiration—gave me a book of poems for Christmas by Nayyirah Waheed, an exceptional poet who somehow perfectly distills the complex feelings of womanhood and racial identity and love and longing into gorgeous pearls of poems that you just want to hold in your hands and admire in the light or roll around in your mouth like a rich chocolate. The book, simply titled ‘Salt’, can be purchased here and you can follow her on Instagram for more immediate updates—although, I can’t recommend buying the physical book enough. There’s something very powerful about actually getting to touch her words…it makes you feel almost armed with them.
The novel I finished this month is called ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’. I devoured this book in quite literally two days—it’s suspenseful and make-your-heart-race thrilling in its plot while also being continually surprising and inventive in its narrative voice. It’s a totally unique take on a dystopian sci-fi story, with some delightfully science-rich sections that thrilled my inner biologist. It’s a book that is entertaining while also sneakily making you think about the true nature of science and, at its deepest, the future of evolution and what that means for humanity.
The last book I managed to squeeze in this month is called ‘100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater’. It’s by Sarah Ruhl, one of the most compelling playwrights of recent memory. She’s a working writer and mother of three children under five, and her collection of essays are a witty, concise, and bittersweet meditation on motherhood and art. Both down-to-earth and cerebral, her writing reflects on breaking artistic convention, the less glamorous aspects of making both children and theatre, and of bringing a female gaze and perspective to art form that, like most, has been dominated by men. This made me smile, laugh, and think in equal measure.
I was talking to my thoughtful and energizing friend, Bria Brown, the other day about our goals—we try to check in bi-monthly to chat about our progress and the actionable things we can do to keep each other and ourselves accountable as we work to make our dreams a reality. If you can find a like-minded friend to do this with, I highly recommend it, as it’s one of the best things I’ve done for my mental health and productivity. I’ve found that if I say something out loud to her, I’m ten times more likely not only to take action towards that goal, but also more likely to actually believe that I can do it—that it’s even possible. In our most recent chat, we were talking about wanting to read more this year and how we want to work on reading more nonfiction, and she said something that really stuck with me. She mentioned feeling like she had ‘nonfiction reading PTSD’ leftover from college, when we had to read copious amounts of textbook material and journal articles and always felt behind, always felt like we needed to catch up. This rang true with me as well, and I found myself noticing how much subliminal anxiety I was bringing to reading nonfiction texts now, in my life outside of education—she and I are both going to work on making this kind of reading a joyful and relaxing thing to take pleasure in again, not something that makes us feel inadequate or anxious, and I’m looking forward to the books I have lined up for February.
I can’t begin to express what an important role music plays in my life. I always have music playing: in the car, in my headphones, in my office, at home…and I’m one of those people for whom it has to be the right song for the mood, for the activity, for the emotions I’m feeling, for my outfit, or my goals for the day…it’s just an essential part of my life. This month, two artists have been on constant replay: Daniel Caesar and Khalid. Daniel Caesar’s sound is a mellifluous blend of R&B and gospel and soul and hip-hop, while Khalid’s is all of that mixed in with some elctro-pop. Caesar’s latest offering is a full-length album called ‘Freudian’, but his previous EPs, called ‘Pilgrim’s Paradise’ and ‘Praise Break’, are both excellent as well. Khalid’s first album—’American Teen’, out last year—garnered him four Grammy nominations and it certainly deserves it. Both perfectly represent January’s vibe for me. I find music to be the perfect way to describe one’s feelings. As in, the way that something feels—like an emotion, or time period, or a place, or a state of mind, or a mantra, or an aesthetic—and these were my chosen third-party expressions of feeling for the first month of January. Me, trying to start off 2018 feeling mellow but courageous and ambitious.
Two movies (of the several) I watched this month stand out to me. The first is ‘Mudbound’, available on Netflix, and which I’ve been meaning to watch since it started getting buzz around awards season. Worked on by an almost all-female crew and directed and written by women of color, it’s an arresting look at post-WWII racial politics in an American South that’s still entrenched in the structure of share-cropping, Jim Crow laws, and the rule of the KKK. It’s a hard watch, but should be required viewing for anyone who likes to say that ‘slavery was, like, such a long time ago, why are you still mad about it’, or anyone who wants to have a better understanding of America’s current racial landscape and how it’s intrinsically linked to our past.
In stark contrast, I also saw ‘Paddington 2’ in theatres, which I enjoyed tremendously. The Paddington movies are beautifully filmed and animated, almost as if they were an illustrated storybook (which I suppose is the point), and both the first and second films are love letters to London, one of my own favorite cities. I watched the first one repeatedly when I needed cheering up during my year abroad there and seeing the second one back in California brought me great joy, reminiscing on and getting to see all the places I loved walking and spending time around London. They’re clever and warm-hearted and so delightfully well-made that I truly believe anyone can enjoy them. In fact, I believe ‘Paddington 2’ just broke the record on rottentomatoes.com by being the first movie to receive a 100% positive review score.
I had a pretty bad cold this past month, and that coupled with a few long weekends means I spent some time vegging on TV. The two series I got all the way through this month were the latest seasons of both ‘Grace and Frankie’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’. ‘Grace and Frankie’ is a heartwarming and adorable—but frank—look at life for two older women. It’ll make you laugh until you pee yourself and make you want to call your grandmother. ‘Peaky Blinders’, on the other hand, is one of my all-time favorite British period dramas—in no small part because it stars Cillian Murphy, who in addition to being a stunningly beautiful human being is an endlessly fascinating performer. The series centers on a family of Birmingham gypsies who come back from WWI traumatized by the brutality and, finding themselves unable to settle in soul or in body, become some of England’s most formidable gangsters. It’s not a show for the weak-stomached, but I love it.
I’m working on seeing more live theatre and live music this year as well, so I’m excited to add those as opportunities arise. What are your favorites from this month? Let me know so I can check them out in February, or let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to review.
Catch ya next time,