The Imitation Game directed by Morten Tyldum

The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, depicts a fascinating part of human history when war-time code encryption lead to massive breakthroughs in computing. This was thanks in no small part to the genius of Alan Turing. Understanding this history seems even more important when I think of the pervasive role of computers in my daily life: the bane and the joy.

image from google image

The history alone is deserving of a film. I would’ve loved to see even more details about how the early encryption machines worked and how the cryptologists did the work of encryption. The audience sees that they are working through a process of elimination within the limit of an 18-hour period. I’m sure that this is plenty of detail for an audience, but I was curious to know more. I also wanted to know more about how the “computer” worked–though the audience does get some idea of how the machine worked with algorithms and trial by elimination to crack the code.

In my view, Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely earned an Oscar, portraying a convincing (and interesting!) emotional transformation throughout the film. The film goes a bit awry when it forces some emotional drama and personal upheaval between Turing and Clarke, which seemed particularly forced. It follows the conventional romantic comedy pattern of connection, disagreement, and then reconnection. To be fair, Clarke and Turing’s relationship gets a bit more complicated toward the end of the film.

What’s really interesting is Turing’s emotional attachment to his childhood friend. That inner turmoil is unique and moving and, in my view, would’ve provided enough emotion to carry the film. Like the innovations in computing technology, in the relationship between Turning and Christopher, we see something new, unexpected, and complex.

blueberry, zucchini, chia seed, & walnut muffins

My refrigerator is full of zucchini—zucchini that I fully intend to cook, but don’t necessarily think I can eat, so I decided to reimagine my not-too-sweet breakfast muffin. Once school starts, I’ll want something I can easily take with me, something that is not too sweet. My solution is these muffins that are dense in seeds and nuts, which I’ll freeze and use as needed. Since they’re not very sweet, I’m fairly certain these are not a “crowd pleaser,” but they work for me.

beware the berries do explode

beware the berries do explode

Here’s what I did:

Blueberry, Zucchini, Chia Seed, & Walnut Muffins
Preheat oven at 350. Mix together dryish ingredients. Mix wet ingredients separately. Then, combine the two. Lastly, fold in chunky ingredients. Spoon dough into muffin tin. I used muffin liners, but I think those are optional. Bake at 350 for 20 about minutes or until done. (Insert and remove toothpick. Muffins are done when the toothpick comes out clean.) Let cool for 15 min.

Dry ingredients:
1 cup gluten-free flour blend
¾ cup oats
shredded flax (2 heaping tablespoons)
chia seeds (3 heaping tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ cup of light brown sugar
lightly sprinkle ground ginger and ground cloves

Wet ingredients:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
1+ egg
2 cups shredded zucchini (I just blended it this time)

Chunky ingredients:
walnuts 1+ cups
blueberries 1+ cups

Enjoy!

to love and to be loved

I am driving all over the Pacific Northwest this summer. I’m visiting my favorite people. I’m seeing famous landmarks. I’m biking, kayaking, running, and hiking. For some reason, I’ve spent half my time in wheel pose. Few things feel better than leaving Utah—pressing my foot against the gas pedal, getting my little engine up to 80 mph, and getting the heck out of town.

urdhva dhanurasana mid-summer

urdhva dhanurasana mid-summer

I try to stay optimistic about living in Utah. The mountains are beautiful, and when my schedule and weather allow, I am in them all the time. I love my job. I like teaching and practicing yoga there. When I meet people, and I tell them I am from Oregon, they always respond by saying, “Oregon is so beautiful!” I always respond by saying, “Utah is so beautiful!” Fate (to which I do not particularly ascribe) seems to want me in Utah. I, however, don’t know why. I don’t seem to fit in there.

I try not to emphasize my romantic life so much, but I am dating now, and it’s true that men in Utah don’t really look at me. And, to be fair, I don’t really look at them. The way they dress, the way they wear their hair, their hands—it all looks and feels wrong to me. And, I’m sure I’m doing all kinds of things as a woman that seem wrong to them. I’ve discussed this with friends, who all think it is a “cultural” problem. Utah men are all divorced, or religious, or violently (annoyingly) anti-religious, or too pious, or the opposite and partying way too hard. I’m none of these things.

In the past few years, this has happened several times: I cross the Idaho to Oregon border and suddenly these beautiful men start passing me on the freeway, nodding and smiling. Like, “Welcome back!” Ejc has commented that in the week I spent with her in the Pacific Northwest, I could’ve “gotten a dozen dates.” And, it’s true. So many handsome men have smiled at me, have nodded at me, have said hello, have made conversation. I look at them and think this is what men are supposed to look like. They look at me the same way.

In the Pacific Northwest, people smile and asked me for directions. I feel like I belong. I might look like I belong. In Utah, but I feel invisible and despite trying for several years, I don’t think I fit in. I’ve come away from the first leg of this trip feeling like I seriously need to examine a few things about my life and where I live and how I am loved.

brains

For most of my life I’ve felt relatively happy and well-adjusted—this despite a few run of the mill traumas and dysfunctions. Some of my beloved friends and close relatives, some with genius IQs and crazy good artistic abilities, have not always faired so well mentally. They struggle with addiction and various mental illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, a bit too much paranoia, et al. They are all wonderful and funny and great to be around and to talk to, except when they are not. They have brains they all contend with daily. I love them. They are wonderful people. The best people. Though, being around them, I’ve often wondered how I got so lucky to feel pretty good most of the time. Well, here’s the answer: I don’t.

This is a surprise to me because it’s a fairly recent discovery.  I’ve had a few dark periods in my adult life, but they were situational and could be measured in months. I was always able to improve with simple things like exercise and time. What I’m realizing, though, is that my sanity may have been a direct result of keeping my brain very very very busy. Basically, I’ve noticed that if I’m not keeping busy by practicing yoga, falling in love, playing the piano, or earning a PhD, my brain gets bored and tries to take itself to crazy town.

When I completed my PhD, I thought I was done with school forever. Now, I’m not so sure. After ten years of school, I wanted to develop other aspects of myself besides just my intellect. These days I have to practice piano, I practice yoga, I make art, and I volunteer with work that (sometimes) seems meaningful for my mental health. (Though several times in the past year I’ve been tempted to stop the volunteer.) Meaninglessness in everything is one of the tricks my brain plays on me, and so finding meaning in life is crucial to my happiness. Basically, I have to work at keeping this brain of mine happy. I love my brain, but I’m learning I have to give it what it needs or else it will punish me.

my (new to me) piano

my (new to me) piano

round 4: knitting a baby blanket (with pattern!)

For years I did not like crafting. It seemed like the antithesis of art, and art was what I was after. However, that’s shifted for me in recent years when suddenly things like tying knots with sticks and stitching little squares into aida cloth has seemed strangely satisfying and important. I’ve even developed a few philosophical justifications for crafting. (And I’ve been delighted that people in my own field of study have taken up the subject as well.)

Recently a colleague,  who takes crafting above and beyond anything I will ever do, stopped by my office to talk about the stuff we’re making, and I was motivated to put together this post about my last baby blanket. I made it as a gift for my cousin’s daughter. Her son got one when he was born, but I hadn’t made one for the older daughter. My homemade blankets have imperfections (which makes them unique! which isn’t something everyone values!)), so I was delighted when my cousin’s husband mentioned that their son loved his blanket and used it all the time.

Here’s the blanket that I made for my cousin’s daughter. I’ll be using this pattern again. I think it is my best baby blanket to date.

Loops and Looms—Lavender

skein of Loops and Looms—Lavender Blues

I used four skeins of Loops and Threads: Country Loom – Lavender Blues. To start, cast on 73 stitches and knit five rows.  Then, to create the border, knit four (mark) add increase, then knit across for 63 stitches. Add another increase, (mark) and then knit the last four. In the next row, knit four (mark), add increase, and then alternate between decrease/slip, increase/knit stitch all the way across for for 63 stitches. At the end, add increase (mark), and then knit the last four stitches.

increase/decrease stitch border

increase/decrease stitch border

For the body of the blanket, continue to knit four (to the mark), increase, knit across (for 63), increase, then knit the last four. For the next row, knit four, then decrease, purl across, decrease again, and then knit the last four. Continue to alternate between knitting/increasing rows and purling/decreasing rows. Stitch to the desired length. I ended on knit stitch (with increases on each end before moving on to border).

At the very end, knit four, decrease/slip, increase/knit (for 63), then knit the last four stitches. That creates the last border edge. Then, knit the last five rows, and cast off.

finished and folded

finished and folded

Maybe Mad Max: Fury Road Is Not So Feminist After All

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response to the new Mad Max film. The critics absolutely adore this film, and early on started claiming that the film is feminist. Social media has been blowing up with articles about the film. Mostly, I’ve been surprised and pleased that everyone else is noticing what, for a long time, felt like my own little secret.

Beyond that, I’ve been a little uncertain about the most pervasive argument. which is that the film is feminist. While there are many forms of feminism, and this film might encompass some of those interpretations, I’m not entirely convinced that this is a feminist film. In my view, simply adding female characters, and even a female lead, is not enough to make it feminist.

According to the Bechdel test, a movie has to have A) at least two women, who B) talk to each other, about C) something besides a man. Of course it’s shocking that so few films can pass the Bechdel test, but, in my opinion, just passing the Bechdel test is not enough to make it a feminist film. It’s just enough to make it not “problematic” and maybe not sexist. Sadly, however, with so few women represented in film, maybe this is all it takes to earn the “feminist” label. I, however, want a little more.

Yes, Fury Road has female characters, and yes they talked to each other, but did they ever talk about anything besides men—their captors who kept them in chains? Maybe a little bit. Not really. Their entire raison dêtre is a reaction to the men in power. The film is about reacting to a corrupt and toxic system of power, so maybe that could be construed as feminist, but a better reaction to the corrupt political system was never clearly defined (though perhaps implied here and there). We see women acting out of desperation. In my view, the film is mostly about a strong female lead with an action/reaction that may not be clearly feminist, but is (at least) not incredibly sexist.

image from collider.com

image from collider.com

Mad Max: Fury Road directed by George Miller

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road on opening night. I don’t watch many action movies, but I had to see this one. I had all kinds of weird memories like fever dreams about watching Mad Max: Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome with my brother when I was probably too young to be watching them. Through I hadn’t seen the films in decades, life often reminds me of Mad Max films. Frequently, when driving over Point of the Mountain, Utah, I feel like I am in a Mad Max film. Everyone increases their speed to about 80 miles per hour, semis barrel past me, shaking my little car, and motorcyclists with no helmets (and sometimes no shoes!) race past me in the fast lane. Once I saw a guy smoking a bong while driving. It’s just nuts out there, and it always reminds me of the apocalyptic lawless motifs of old Mad Max films.

I frequently reference Mad Max films, but don’t get a huge response from people. It had felt like I’m the only one for whom those films where impactful. In the weeks leading up to the release of Mad Max: Fury Road I rewatched both Mad Max: Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome to  prepare. The opening scene to Road Warrior is pretty great, but after that I began to doubt my ability to watch the old films. It seemed too much had changed, that they didn’t hold up over time. But, I persevered and found that, with some patience, both films do hold up in doing what they do best, which is to create a really specific and unique theme and motif that is carried through all of the Mad Max movies—and it’s a really weird motif that I absolutely love.

So, I went to see Fury Road on opening night and was blown away. I couldn’t’ve anticipated what it would be like, but I was delighted at every step of the way. Every image and moment is dedicated to building that same weird and delightful motif that George Miller creates in his other films—but even better this time. It looks like he took the time to add every layer and element that he wanted to add to the story, and it was so fun to see all of the references and connecting work throughout the piece. So, yes, I was already going to like this movie because I had a lot of nostalgia and positive bias, but even so, I still think the film is genius. It surpassed my expectations by a mile.

image from imdb.com

image from imdb.com

My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

For those of you who miss the bygone days of the grad school creative writing workshop, My Body is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta is going to be your jam. It fostered in me nostalgia for those rapid cycling days of pushing myself to the psychological and intellectual limits to produce the wildest new thing imaginable only to discover it’d already been done, and better, and then I was back to the drawing board, and I did this on repeat for a couple of years until maybe (maayyybee) I really did create a few new things.

Washuta’s book has the messy feel of a creative writing workshop. In many of the sections, you can almost imagine the writing prompts to which she’s responding. Readers unfamiliar with this kind of (independent?) prose could very well be put off by this book. And to be fair, even as far as independent presses go, this book has some clunky, first effort moments. As a reader, I was okay with these moments because I was just so glad to be reading something new and different and good and incredibly personal and raw. Maybe too raw.

It’s difficult to write about one’s own mental illness without seeming off-puttingly self-indulgent, and Washuta is aware of this problem and bravely soldiers on. Her themes are so smart—a beautifully nuanced commentary on interactions between race, gender, government, and society. It’s weird. Life’s weird.

Interestingly, both Lena Dunham and Washuta published their books last year and both sometimes use a footnote method, where they break down a piece of text (such as their online dating profile or food journal) with footnotes. The footnotes are so great and so real. It feels very intimate. The only downside (and it’s a big one for me) is that you’ll get vertigo from going back and forth between the original text and the footnotes.

Here are some words I loved:

First, the title: My Body is  Book of Rules is genius.
Next, a chapter title that she should’ve saved for the title of her next novel: “Faster Than Your Heart Can Beat.”

Her descriptions of bipolar:

“…decreased social judgement” (12).

“…a window left open to let the murderers in” (13).

Commentary on Cosmo’s “sex tips”:

“…definitely don’t forget his sack” (18).

Her literary criticism:

She nails her analysis of Catcher in the Rye (a book with which I was previously enamored) like I’ve never seen before when she writes that it “Talks about what’s wrong when that’s not really what’s wrong” (63).

Her insights on life:

“Hope is the thing that comes before the very fucking scary thing” (135).

“do it because you want to, so badly, because you can’t not” (176).

“I am enough” (177).

“Nowadays, when someone else wants to reach me, they get a perpetual busy signal while I whisper sweet nothings to myself late into the night” (177).

“Perfection is hard to stomach” (183).

a year tells you so very little

I’ve been scrolling through old pages of this blog. Writing is absolutely humiliating, but I have to write. In scrolling through old posts, I came across some of the old stuff from last winter and spring, where I was bravely trying to sort through the fog of having my life turned upside down. I was saying things like, “I feel okay,” and “This doesn’t feel wrong, necessarily,” and in hindsight I can see how hard I was trying to convince myself that I was okay, when I was not okay.

In “cycling,” I wrote “In about a year, I’m sure I’ll have much more clarity over the situation,” which makes me feel such compassion for that girl. “No,” I want to say. “No, you won’t have more clarity in a year, my dear. This year will be one of the most painful and terrible years you will endure. You will not be okay.”

One year later, maybe the only clarity I have is that I was completely undone last year, and I own that now. I’ll never be the same, and I no longer try to say things like, “I like my life now,” or “This makes sense,” because it does not make sense. The only thing I’ve learned a year later is to own that painful truth more than I could a year ago.

Outline: A Novel by Rachel Cusk

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

Outline by Rachel Cusk was something different. I haven’t read popular fiction in quite a long time, and I was worried when, in the beginning, the main character becomes engaged in a conversation with her “neighbor” on a flight to Athens. Through his line of questioning, we learn a little about the protagonist, which felt like a plot point contrived solely for the purpose of giving the reader information about the main character.

However, I liked the book and found the brilliance in that, as the protagonist meets several different characters, there are interesting and universal insights to be gained about human nature. For the most part, the characters themselves are very self-aware and analytical, sharing meaningful insights with the protagonist. Though, like all people, their assessment is not always accurate. Cusk presents these quirks and character flaws in entirely novel ways, but they resonate as true and important glimpses into the human psyche.

Interestingly, as the protagonist meets the various characters, Cusk’s voice or tone remains consistent throughout. So, there is little sense of the individuality of these characters. In many ways, the novel reads like an outline, a sketch, of the characters and ideas that Cusk is presenting.

The last character to enter the novel speaks about a troubling condition she’s gained, which she calls “summing up.” It prohibits her writing because just as she really gets in to writing a play, she finds the meaning creeping into her brain, words like “tension,” “mother-in-law,” or “meaninglessness.” Once she finds the significance of her work, she loses interest. In the summing up concept, the reader sees the ways in which Cusk has both avoided and indulged a summing up of the various characters and meanings in her own novel.

This section was also meaning to me because I’ve been stricken by the same sense of summing up since my early 20s. I was probably 21 when I realized, with a start, that every story is the same with few uninteresting variations. This is why I have a hard time with popular fiction. I have a longstanding joke, which is likely only amusing to me, that is called “I saw it the first time when it was called…,” wherein I liken every new book or movie to a book or movie that came before and grumpily deduce that it will offer nothing new.

Furthermore, I see the same patterns play out not just in movies, but in real people in real lives. I rarely think anyone is ever having a unique experience, and the result of that is, I suppose, a somewhat jaded view of the world. I’ve never known anyone else to sum things up quite like I do, and so to see it portrayed in a novel was strangely validating.

Here are a few ideas from the novel that I think render further discussion:

  • “The bump in the road hadn’t only upset his marriage; it caused him to veer off on to a different road altogether, a road that was but a long, directionless detour, a road he had no real business being on and that sometimes he still felt himself to be travelling even to this day” (15).
  • “The memory of suffering had no effect whatever on what they elected to do: on the contrary, it compelled them to repeat it” (18).
  • “We are all addicted to it, he said…the story of improvement, to the extent that it has commandeered our deepest sense of reality” (99).
  • “I had friends in Athens I could have called. But I didn’t call them: the feeling of invisibility was too powerful” (248).