Friday, February 12, 2021

A meditation on South Korean entertainment

I used to joke that I didn't watch any entertainment that wasn't in Korean, only it's so frequently true that it's not really a joke anymore. Not that I'd be inclined to feel guilty about this for any reason, but even people who are shouldn't. It's too easy to snark about how unoriginal Hollywood productions are these days, and I find myself watching something made in South Korea and think, "why can't Hollywood do a story like this?"

I recently finished Delayed Justice. Two unrelated Parks -- an attorney who only went to high school, and a reporter from the wrong side of the tracks who recently lost his good-paying job -- team up to get justice for one downtrodden group of defendants after another, all connected to a corrupt judge, an uncouth businessman turned mayor of Seoul, and a kingmaker who used to be a prosecutor during the last military dictatorship. It was a fun little show, and I'd be lying if I said that some of the backstage drama -- one of the original actors got picked up for drunk driving and needed to be replaced -- didn't add to some of the appeal.

I also recently enjoyed Lucky Romance, but that was primarily because the leads (Ryu Joon Yeol and Hwang Jung Eum) are so charming and talented they could move me while reading the phone book. And A Korean Odyssey was one of the best ensemble comedies I've seen in a long time. And while sometimes I tire of derring-do in Korean action, Vagabond was AWESOME. Now if only they come back for a second season to close the loop...

K-dramas are fun, but in general they're just not as satisfying as the movies. (I don't think this is specific to Korean entertainment.) Not all movies are perfect -- I can think of more than a few that have fallen flat -- but when they're good you feel like you've spent two hours (or more) wisely. Best movie I've seen in several months is Beasts Clawing at Straws. By the title, you can guess that it's about the poor and/or desperate of South Korea trying to pull themselves up with one fever-pitched, make or break attempt, and you'd be right. The stories are intertwined, and even when you think you can see where it's going you'll still feel hit by a curve ball at least once. Can't say it had a happy ending, but most people will be satisfied by it.  

Beasts Clawing At Straws...everyone is as well-adjusted as you think they are.

I'm probably like a lot of movie viewers in that I'm prone to following good actors. Ryu Joon Yeol, mentioned above, is REALLY good. The first movie I saw him in was Believer, and he played the kind of character that made me want to hide under my covers while I hyperventilated. Then I saw him play completely different roles in Little Forest, The King, and Hit-and-Run Squad that made me feel, well, a little less panicky. He's an actor I really hope we see more from soon. 

Gang Dong Won is another compelling actor. I knew this from some of his recent films, but I was surprised at how adept he was over a decade ago in The Temptation of Wolves (look, I'm not the one who makes up these titles, okay?) and Haunters. He, like Ryu Joon Yeol, is a good actor for a director to enlist when they need someone to sell something absolutely crazy and make you believe it. 

Ryu Joon Yeol: trust me, this guy can play scary as easily as he can play charming.

No discussion of Korean cinema is complete without Song Kang Ho (you can think of him as the Parasite guy). With the glaring, horrible exception of Drug King (just...why?), he's been universally fantastic. The oldest movie I've seen him in is a ridiculous little film called Foul King, but he managed to be really touching and made the best of the material. After that, he really took off, starting with Joint Security Area and then Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. (People have probably seen him in Snowpiercer and The Host, but those just aren't my cups of my tea.) He was excellent in both The Attorney and A Taxi Driver, but my favorite of all of his roles is Age of Shadows. Basically, if you see Kang featured as an actor, it's an almost sure thing the production will be good.

Wait, aren't there Korean actresses? Um, yes, but I'm sorry to say that with few exceptions, women have better roles on television than in the big screen. Many of the movies fail the first two questions of the Bechdel test, and I've seen very few that pass the fourth question. Actresses who consistently work in movies include Kim Hye Soo, Jun Ji Hyun, Kim Tae Ri, and Kim Go Eun, but even those actresses arguably had roles with more depth on television than in film. In that regard, it's more than a little depressing that South Korea has the same problems that Hollywood does. 

Kim Hye Soo: A talented actress who should keep playing leading roles.

Deb in the City

PS Just about all of these movies are available on Netflix or Viki. Also, I am not getting any consideration from, their information is just more consistent than Wikipedia's.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Short-Term Planning and Parenting, FTW

Finished Range yesterday. The chapter about letting go of our familiar tools was surprisingly devastating. As in, by the time I realized what was actually being discussed, I gasped. And then I gasped again. Let me not spoil the surprise, but it's worth reading.

In a nutshell, the thesis of the book is that it's a myth that only those who specialize early will ever achieve success is a myth. Of course there are Tiger Woods, Mozarts, and Bobby Fischers, but no one -- individual or parent -- should feel like a failure if they haven't "arrived" by the age of thirty (or twenty). As one chapter discusses, personalities change over time, and the best way to arrive at a vocation that fits is to experiment or, as we lay people might put it, live. No one can guarantee greatness, but broad exposure to a wide range of materials does a better job of ensuring fit and, perhaps, happiness.

I feel comfortable saying Range speaks to the value of short- and medium-term planning, and in such a way that leaves us open to taking detours if we discover the path we're on isn't for us. That's good advice, but it's also lousy advice as the advice industry goes because it isn't neat and it doesn't come with easy to follow steps. That is, of course, part of the point, but I suspect that will be one reason why the plan early and thoroughly crowd will continue to have dominance in parenting circles. 

And that's a shame. When I've been able to step back from my hyperventilating paranoia that my children will never amount to anything if I don't make sure they are following the exact path proscribed by -- who again? -- I see and hear them creating magic. Do they spend too much with video games? Yes, as do most teenagers right now. But they're also making art, making music, and digging deep into the things that interest them. 

One of the best examples of someone who did it his way

 I haven't loved all of it -- there was a period a few years ago where I heard a little too much about a certain snarky "public intellectual" who used specious logic to demean non-binary people, among other things -- but conversations with us and exposure to critical reasoning and media literacy went a long way toward ending that phase. So, too, did maturing from a preteen to a teenager, but perhaps the most instructive was the sheer ugliness of what they saw. (Why this isn't working for people who aren't teenagers, I have no idea.)

Don't sweat two decades out; sometimes getting through two months is an achievement. Trust your judgment -- trust your children's need to explore -- and dig into the discoveries you make along the way.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Confirmation Bias

I've been reading Range for the last few days, and for some reason it's slower going for me than I thought it would be. I suspect those reasons have more to do with general exhaustion than the book itself, which I'm really enjoying.

I just finished the chapter "Fooled by Expertise", which I think most readers will recognize as a meditation on confirmation bias. Yes, you're right to groan when you think about a certain relative or friend who is unable to change their opinion about anything but particularly their pet subjects, evidence be damned. The solution may or may not be "education"; what this chapter and really the whole book show is that the more expert you are at one thing, the more likely you are to only be able to see a narrow perspective. 

I am also in the process of reading To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu. I still think he's an amazing writer, but of course I'm disturbed -- if not completely disgusted -- by revelations about his position on what's happening to Uighurs, as well as perhaps his orientation about the Chinese government itself. He's not opposed, let's just put it that way. I'm forming certain opinions about the man as opposed to the author based on that information, and those opinions don't improve after reading We Have Been Harmonized.

Now throw into the mix Liu's short story that I read last night, "Full-Spectrum Barrage Jamming". To be honest, my jaw dropped. I am not opposed to reading something from the perspective of the Russian military, and I'm not opposed to the Americans being villains, but OH MY GOD. The megalomania ascribed to the Americans here is excessive enough that I can't help but see some paranoia, especially when the author threw in a discursion about the South China Sea...

I felt both better and worse after I read that story. Better, because a pre-existing notion seemed to confirmed, and worse because a pre-existing notion seemed to be confirmed.

I don't like being wrong, and I like even less having someone telling me I'm wrong. Which is why when I see confirmation of something I've thought or said I feel a little lift. ("Look at me and how correct I am.") As if that somehow insulates me from criticism. But I don't like being correct -- being right -- as much as you might think an opinionated person would, and boy, do I find it irritating to be among people who constantly agree with me. It gives me the feeling that the world is much narrower than I've been told it should be, and that some important function I should be enjoying -- the one we usually call "learning" -- has been shut off from me, and I usually grit my teeth if I have to sit somewhere or with something that is too intellectually familiar for too long. I'm gratified to read in Range that I'm not alone.

Please don't take this as a recommendation that we should all be consuming "alternative" news so we can "form our own opinions". (There is a distinction between reality and fantasy, and it can usually be confirmed with a fact check.) And what Liu said about Uighurs is just plain wrong -- human rights are not subject to debate, full stop. What I am saying is that we should look at the same set of facts from a different perspective, preferably one we haven't been exposed to before. It's definitely uncomfortable, but not as much as always thinking you're right.

More reading

There I was, trying to stay heads down so I could make it through the two (or three) TBR lists I have going, and then I came across two recommendations from Austin Kleon that I had to pick up: Raising Free People: Unschooling as Liberation and Healing Work by Akilah S. Richards, and Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. 

I'm almost halfway through Range, but I already tore through Raising Free People one day last week. The description was provocative, in large part because I couldn't anticipate where it was going, but once I read it, I got it. If we send our children into constructs in which they have no voice and place an emphasis on performance of intelligence -- you know, the kind that ends with someone pinning a gold star somewhere on the child's body or psyche -- we're making it difficult for those children to grow up and become the kinds of adults that question and ultimately dismantle social and political structures that are screwing all of us. And if the children we're talking about are BIPOC, we're making it even harder than it had to be. 

Yes, of course I've been re-evaluating my family's homeschooling plans since I finished reading this last week. Stay tuned as they develop. Also, do you think Ms. Richards would think it was weird if someone followed her around like a groupie? Asking for a friend.

Let's do it already

That was a satisfying book, one that made me feel like I was being nudged into something that shifts my perspective, but unfortunately I didn't feel that way about the work of fiction I finished last week. In fairness, I'm not the target audience for Beasts Made of Night, by I think some of what got me applies across ages. I don't usually like to criticize an author's work publicly -- there's enough of that elsewhere on the internet -- but part of why I don't feel guilty here is that I'm pretty sure I'm not criticizing the author but the editorial team. There were weird spots where it looked like someone had pulled away passages that would have developed characters or explained motivations. Having written, and having been edited, I'm positive that those passages were there in the beginning but removed for length. It seemed pretty clear when I'd finished reading that the editors had chosen to prioritize plot and only kept what was necessary to make sure the reader could follow. I'm guessing this book was closer to 400 pages in its original form, and it should have stayed that way.

The book has such a cool premise, and it seems like the central question is what do we do with our sins. There's a sequel out, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to read it -- after I work through the rest of my pile.

Deb in the City

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Dreaming of May and June

If I'm honest, I get sick -- or at least feel sick -- a lot more often than I should. If I go a week without feeling some level of lousy, that's sort of amazing. While health is a multi-dimensional subject, I feel pretty good about correlating much of that to how much I get to sleep.

But it's more than that. Yesterday (or at least, the day before I wrote this), I woke up after eight hours of sleep and felt Pretty Good. Alright, awesome. Proceeded to do my day, which included a couple of errands. About four hours into it I felt awful. My limbs hurt, I was tired, and I just felt Lousy. 

This may or may not be related to the event I had later that evening and the stress around prepping for it. I'm not sure, I don't really care. The one thing that I do know is that I'm exhausted, burnt out, and I need a break.

I don't get a break, really, until late April. I've spent a long time looking forward to something -- "Everything will get better when...", but my body, mind, and literally my heart are telling me that I need to fully arrive at that day in late April and take the break I've been looking forward to in one way or another.

I think I need six weeks, and that brings us to early June. I want to find a balance between being having a schedule and feeling overwhelmed with to-dos. 

The thing I keep thinking about is walking, for a long time, in spaces I love. As we're coming out of extremely cold temperatures right now, that feels like a fantasy, but even in Boston that will be doable by May. I want walks every day, in beautiful spaces.

A little bit of heaven

It will be garden season by then, so one day of my weekend can be devoted to gardening, composting, rose bush pruning...ah. (If it sounds strange that I'm looking forward to kind of grueling physical labor, perhaps that gives you an idea of the other stresses I've been under.)

I will get to deliver my Self Care Learning Circle at that point, and it feels like I'll have a little more integrity doing so since I'll be taking care of myself. That's one night a week.

Could I go to a museum at that point? I would love to, although it's not nearly as much fun with a mask.

And then? Maybe nothing. Maybe I'll enjoy sitting at home and reading, or maybe I'll be able to sit outside and read. (Beaches are not worth even thinking about at that point here, pandemic or no.) 

I have no idea how I'll feel after that or what I'll want to do, but I know that I need this.

Friday, February 5, 2021

What an Organizer Does

I'm a born organizer...actually, no I'm not. I make myself hyper-aware of the little details that need to be done to make a vision a reality because I'm actually not innately aware of them. When I have a vision, I don't automatically see all of the steps needed to get there, which is why I have to work so hard to make them happen.

Earlier this week I put an event for Jewish Climate Action Network, Massachusetts chapter (JCAN-MA), in conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation for their Sacred Grounds program. This is how we got there:

  • A year and a half ago I asked one of my sons what he wanted to study
  • Among other things, he says "the science of climate change"
  • I find a bunch of books, including one by Judith Schwartz called Cows Save the Planet that talks about the potential of regenerative agriculture. (I'd been exposed to the concept before, but never in that detail.)
  • We read another book of Schwartz's, Water in Plain Sight.
  • I see this as a great complement to the work JCAN-MA is doing with heating/cooling/transportation, and propose it as a team.
  • People like the idea.
  • I organize one webinar on victory gardens. Not only do I find someone else to host, I find other people to attend, one of whom joins the team.
  • I organize another webinar on compost, led by the second person who told me about regenerative agriculture. People come.
  • There's enthusiasm for all things gardening and agriculture, in large part due to the pandemic. We apply for and get a grant for money to bring more programs forward.
  • The vice-president of JCAN-MA wants to talk about the limits of food and agriculture as a climate solution, and I'm all over it. (I have not saved the world with three decades of vegetarianism.) People come.
  • One of the team members hosts a webinar on how we can bring Jewish values, including caring for the earth, into our gardening. People come.
  • With some of the money from the grant (above), we host a film series and discussion including two films, Intelligent Trees and Hometown Habitat.
  • We love both films, and we all really love Sacred Grounds, a program mentioned in Hometown Habitats.

We're bringing these guys back

  • We contact the National Wildlife Federation, and they love the idea of JCAN-MA bringing this to the Northeast.
  • The president of JCAN-MA and I scramble to find people to partner with. Some people stay, some people leave, some more people come in.
  • We organize three book groups about related topics. People don't come in good numbers (mental note: it is easier for people to watch a film than to read a book), but we read Nature's Best Hope by Doug Tallamy, and I have a better idea of what we need to talk about in a Sacred Grounds session (even if I'm not totally in love with the book, and even less so after I'm reminded of what Ibram Kendi has to say about E.O. Wilson in Stamped From The Beginning).
  • We spend a lot of emails and Zoom calls trying to figure out the best way to divide the information up, as well as who can present. We settle on two programs, Why and How.
  • I get a little crazed over nailing down a date because I want to start publicizing ASAP.
  • We settle on a date and start emailing and posting.
  • Meadowmaking for Biodiversity reaches out to us, and turns out they've been doing this work in our area for about six years. They happily agree to help present at both sessions.
  • We realize we're competing with people for attendance because of another Jewish climate festival at the end of January.
  • I warn people that numbers might be low, but they're fine going forward anyway.
  • I'm trying to nail speakers for our conference in April in the midst of this.
  • I'm also setting up a presentation for said late January Jewish climate festival.
  • We have a tech rehearsal, and I start to think we're going to be okay.
  • The brilliant person who works on all of our tech, among other things, helps shape promotional slides.
  • We work up to three hours before the event. I come to the realization that almost all organizing equals admin, plus charisma. Therefore, in my case, all admin.
  • I know we're prepared, and I feel a sense of calm, if not elation.
  • The session begins! We have a lot of people. I'm an utter goofball, and so glad that I have speakers who know what they're talking about.
  • Success! But...will they come to session two?

I skipped over the items that were not part of the direct path to these sessions, but there's more work, some of which I might lay out in another post about other projects. Oh yeah, during all of this, I'm also homeschooling my sons for the last year and trying to finish the series I started working on four years ago, as well as keep track of my elderly mother and autistic sister to the best of my ability. For some reason, I keep getting sick (not with COVID-19) and I'm not getting as much exercise as I would like.

I think it would be easier to donate money.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

I don't get it

I came across a story yesterday about a company in my state that is selling four products. I won't name all of them, but one of them is for a salad dressing whose name pretty much is the recipe. I looked at the website and blog, and blinked. Apparently you can put the salad dressing on roasted vegetables or salads with grains (known as "bowls" these days), and you can take something I've always called tomato sauce and make things like vegetable parmesan with it, in addition to pasta and pizza. Don't get me started on things you can do with sandwiches or pound cake.

There was a time when I would have gotten really excited if someone had said, hey, having these four items in your refrigerator will make your life so simple while varying your dining options, and here are the recipes, and aren't they clever for the little twists on the classic versions? (If I'm honest, I do pat myself on the back for being Just So Organized and Clever when I have homemade kimchi, tomato sauce, chili, and vegetable broth in the fridge.) But if they had said "or I can sell that to you for the low, low price of $9 per jar", I would have looked at them like they were crazy. Actually, I would have just walked away and figured out how to make it on my own.

I don't mind naming Crate & Barrel in a conversation I had with one of my sons a few weeks ago. While my husband was looking for the perfect bowl (which we did not find), my son came upon jars of sauces meant for things like Chicken Marsala and Pulled Pork. When he asked me how it worked, I explained that you needed to get the chicken or pork yourself, cook it, then add the sauce and let it simmer. That didn't seem like a great trade off to him, although he did think it compared well to the cost of take out, based on what he'd seen. And I think he's right, but it's a lousy bargain compared with the cost of actually cooking at home.

My husband reminds me that I'm not their target audience because, among other things, I know how to cook and have been doing so since I was little. I'm also, judging by the marketing photos, about a decade older. But...have things really changed so much since 2011?

Excuse me, I'm going to make some salad dressing with tahini, miso, and lemon while I cleverly ponder that one.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Progress in Learning, with a Touch of Shame

Every parent has shame around parenting, I think, and it’s a separate shame for each child, no matter how many children you have. (Unfortunately, it’s possible to have more than one per child as well.) In the case of my “youngest” (by thirteen minutes), it’s the shame around how he feels about numbers. I panicked when he wasn’t as facile with numbers as he was with letters and words when he was younger; I scolded him for not applying himself, I know I made him feel bad and panicky around them. Hence, the shame, both his and mine. (For what it’s worth, his brother had the opposite learning dynamic, which meant there was a different set of shame, but that’s another story.)

When I collected myself, I had a realization – or was it a theory? – that the things they both struggled with at seven or eight would be easier to work with when they were older, and what they needed more of at that age was play. So we prioritized outside time, tried to make sure they touched words, numbers, and documentaries, but I let them be for as long as possible.

I was right. (Please appreciate how much someone who experiences so much shame on a regular basis enjoys saying that.) At sixteen, the “younger” one can multiply numbers quickly (and better than about half of the adults I’ve met), while the “older” one, though he still doesn’t love reading, can read, write, and comprehend at the level you’d expect when you hear him speak (they’re both sharp-witted, let’s leave it at that). They are, in other words, both everything they need to be and just fine.

Kids need more outside time, because math and words will come. Adults need to remind themselves that even if they don’t, it’s better that they have memories of what they can do, not what they can’t.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Recycling, but it’s never that simple

It surprises me that there are still people who are surprised that plastic recycling is, well, a joke, and always has been. I know it is, not because I’m psychic or because I’ve been digging through secret industrial reports, but because I’ve been reading things on websites and in books that have been widely available to everybody.

Well, so we’re clear – plastic recycling is a joke. This story from Planet Money does an excellent job explaining why, as well as the history of how it came to be seen as, well, not a joke.

Glass recycling is a little better in that the odds that your container will be recycled are greater than one out of two, but not bymuch. (Hint: glass breaks.) The best things to recycle are aluminum, because that doesn’t break as much, and it makes more financial sense for the metal to be melted down and reused. So recycle your cans with confidence.

I really want to say something here about how the best thing to do is to not buy packaged goods at all, and that’s the best thing for the planet. And it’s true. But I can’t help thinking about that single parent working a couple of jobs so they can hurriedly feed their children, and it’s hard for me to lecture them about buying cereal (with a coated cardboard box and plastic liner) or frozen dinners they can heat up. I’m really also not in the mood to entertain lectures on behalf of those parents about how they can batch cook on the weekends, in part because I know how easily children who are hyperaware of how many options they don’t have don’t like to have what few choices they have about food made for them a few days in advance.

So here’s a compromise: everyone who can should avoid packaging, and those of us with resources to spare (in this case, time) should lobby our federal representatives and senators to make laws forbidding the use of plastic packaging – and raising both the minimum wage and guaranteed benefits for all parents.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Learning Circles

I spent some months in lockdown working on a learning circle with a friend. I really love this model, and I think of it as something John Holt would have approved of if he could have seen what possibilities tech would open up for us in the 21st century.

My friend Jordan designed classes on writing almost from scratch; there’s plenty of linked material, but the structure and flow are all original. I love this, in part because it’s more of a guarantee that the work will remain free. (A number of places that used to offer free massive open online courses have started to charge for content.) I’m not going to belabor the obvious, but that’s hugely important for people, especially when so many are out of work, or their work is a “gig” that offers no guarantees of benefits or even continued employment.

The learning circle we worked on is on self-care, and as long as no monkey wrenches get thrown at us in the next few months, we’ll be piloting the course in May. (Yes, of course on Zoom.) I’m really excited about this, in part because I had a lot of fun researching, writing, and editing with my friend, and in part because it’s a really important topic. We live in a culture that does not prioritize taking care of ourselves; I’ll leave it to you to decide how long that’s been the case. It’s one thing to not always give ourselves the kind of food we need or as much exercise as we’ve been advised to take, but we don’t even get the amount of sleep we’re supposed to. An increasing number of us not only live with toxic levels of stress, we’re made to feel as if we should take on more. That’s bs, and again, I’ll leave it to you to determine when that started, and for whom.

It’s a cultural problem, but the only way I know how to change a culture is to start with people. I can’t promise that your job will get less toxic once you start thinking about self-care, but I can tell you that once you start thinking about the importance of your own needs, you’ve got a better chance of using the magic word “no” more often.

That’s the first course, and I’m excited. And that’s just the first in the list I have planned. I’ll be working on one – probably around the summer, but maybe the fall – on climate change and soil/agriculture, one on financial literacy, and maybe ones for media literacy and creativity (gulp). We’ll see, but expect to see a bunch from me in 2022.