Sunday, December 13, 2015

Crafts and Hamilton

I feel like I have abandoned my blog, but it's not because I haven't been doing anything fun. My hours at work have almost doubled so that's really affected my free time. It's also winter now, so it's dark early, and when I'm not at work, I've been at home knitting, reading, and baking. Which is great! But it's not always fancy photo worthy. None of the pictures in this post are fancy, actually; they were all taken with my phone because I've misplaced my camera charger. These two pictures in particular are from Snapchat (a gingerbread cream cheese cake and a lemon poppy seed bundt cake). My friends mostly get pictures of baked goods and my cats on Snapchat. I really love that app because most of the people I snap (snap is now a verb I use casually) live far away from me. I'm at a point in my life where I feel really solid in the friendships I have, and even though I text, call, and Skype these people, sending and receiving pictures of little mundane things makes me feel connected to their everyday lives. 

I'm including these pictures because it was such a delicious brunch. Tasty Thai Kitchen does fusion brunch on the weekend and it's divine. How beautiful is that iced coffee bubble tea! We also got a curry omelette, a coconut sticky rice crepe, and an English muffin with tofu, avocado, a fried egg, spinach, and peanut sauce. I feel like we haven't been eating out very much at all this fall/winter so far, so this was a nice treat. 

A lot of my spare time recently has been spent creating. I've knit several hats in the past month or so. I've been knitting during breaks at work and also at home while watching Netflix. It's a great way to keep my hands busy. I painted this little elephant for my new baby cousin, and I'm really excited about how it turned out (Conor and Stef - I'm sending this out soon, I just need to finish knitting a little baby hat!). And then one day on my lunch break I went to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on campus and spent an hour sketching the pieces I liked the most. This was a lovely life sized bronze statue, and I sketched it from several angles, which was a nice lesson in figure drawing.

I've also spent countless hours this past term at the Craft Center. I work on campus, transcribing classes, and I often have 1-2 hour breaks in between my classes, and I don't always want to bike all the way home just to bike right back. So I stay on campus in the ceramics room of the Craft Center, where I can go anytime I want for only $25/term. I really like hand building vessels versus throwing on the wheel, because I personally find it more relaxing and like I have a little more room to mess up and experiment. So I've been making pinch pots of every shape and size. But my true love is really drawing and painting, and recently I've found a way to marry my drawing skills with the clay pots. On the left, I used a special pencil to straight up doodle on the little shot glass, and it turned out great. And on the right, I painted the crows as one black blob with some slip (kind of like a thick clay based paint). And then I took a little tool and scratched away at the slip, to reveal the white underneath, to add detail. So it was kind of like reverse drawing, and I think it turned out really successfully!

Here are some more bowls done with the reverse drawing technique (called sgraffito). I love them! Some people at the Craft Center throw on the wheel and just do such a spectacular job. But I don't like the wheel. And my hand built pinch pots can't really compete with that (not that ceramics is a competition, but you know what I mean). I can sculpt things really well; I've made really nice and detailed elephants and skulls out of clay before. But in terms of vessels, I'm pretty limited. So I feel like this is a way to make my pieces special, by incorporating my drawing skills. 

I'll finish up this blog post with things I've been loving recently. 

1. My new glasses. 

2. These really sturdy work boots I got at St. Vincent de Paul for $11.

3. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I started and couldn't quite finish the 1079 page behemoth before it was due back at the library, but I'm putting it on hold again so I can read more.

4. Netflix mini reviews

a. Marvel's Jessica Jones - It was okay, but I feel like you have to get several episodes in for it to get good, aka it gets better once David Tennant is actually in it. There was a nice supportive female friendship, it took sexual assault a lot more seriously than other shows, the film noir style was interesting when they stuck to it, and the actor who plays Malcolm is a really beautiful human. It's about Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter aka Jesse's girlfriend Jane in Breaking Bad) who lives in post-Avengers New York, has super strength, and is a private eye. The villain is Killgrave (Tennant) who can will people to do whatever he says, even if it's murdering your own family or jumping off a building. This show is not a must-watch, but it's enjoyable. 

b. Broadchurch season 2 - I don't know if it was as good as season 1, but it's certainly more dramatic. Again, you can't go wrong with David Tennant. But it's really bleak, 100% of the characters are under emotional stress 100% of the time. Season 1 solves the murder of an 11 year old boy in a small close-knit English seaside town, and the detectives are Miller, the mother of the boy's best friend, and Hardy (Tennant), who's from another town and has a mysterious past. Season 2 is about the trial of the murderer (very stressful because of who it is) and brings up Hardy's past.

c. The Mind of a Chef - This is so good, and it's embarrassing how long it took me to watch, especially considering how many times it's been recommended to me. Each season follows one or two fancy chefs around, and they cook popular dishes from their restaurants, talk about their food inspirations, go and see how some of their favorite ingredients are made, and talk with other famous chefs. David Chang in season 1 is great of course, but I really love Sean Brock in the first half of season 2, and I think those are my favorite few episodes. I love his focus on the influence of West Africa in southern cooking. I thought April Bloomfield was lovely and funny and refreshing after a pretty bro-centric season 1. I love the way Ed Lee (who was also a contestant on Top Chef) thinks really academically about food and culture. Magnus Nilsson made food I had no interest in eating, but I found his episodes fascinating.

d. The Wolfpack - This documentary got a lot of buzz during Sundance and I see why. I was excited to see it on Netflix because it's been on my watch list forever, and I missed it when it was in theaters. There's some speculation on the internet that it's totally a hoax, but I don't think so. It's about six brothers (all very striking looking with long hair down to their waists) in New York who are home schooled and aren't allowed to leave their apartment growing up because of their kind of cult leader father (who I strongly suspect was sexually abusive). Their only real contact with the outside world was through movies, so they memorize movies like Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight and make costumes out of yoga mats and cereal boxes. It was a great documentary, but it was honestly really stressful to watch.

e. The Great British Bake Off - Netflix is calling this The Great British Baking Show (not what it's called in the UK) and only put up season 5, which is weird. This is a competitive baking show. All the contestants are nice and like each other. There's no cash prize. It's the exact opposite of American reality competitions, and it's really fun to watch. It's a bunch of cute British people in a big gazebo tent in the middle of a cute British field making cute British desserts and being nice and supportive to each other. This is great to watch while knitting.

(these beautiful pictures of the cast are from Vogue, with Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton on the top)

The really MVP of the last few months is Hamilton, which is a rap musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton that just recently debuted on Broadway. That may sound cheesy or weird, but I promise it's not. It was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also plays Hamilton in the show, and he won the Tony for best new musical in 2008 for In the Heights. Lin-Manuel says that hip hop is the music of revolution and he wanted the musical to talk about the America of the past, but look and sound like the America of the present. A majority of the cast is composed people of color, and it's a really beautiful thing. 

The cast recording is on Spotify, so you can listen to the show all the way through. The songs flow into one another, and very few scenes in the actual production don't show up in the cast recording, so when you listen to it, you're listening to 98% of the show. The cast recording was produced by Questlove. It took Lin-Manuel Miranda six years to write the musical; the raps are so dense and complex. Here's one of my favorite lines by Thomas Jefferson (played by Daveed Diggs, the guy with the awesome afro in the picture): I'm in the cabinet/ I am complicit in/ watching him grabbin' at power and kissin' it./ If Washington isn't gon' listen/ to disciplined dissidents, this is the difference/ this kid is out. Listen to that assonance and rhyming! And then the kind of repeating introductory line throughout the show is: How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a/ Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a/ forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence/ impoverished, in squalor/ grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

I'm going to keep talking about Hamilton because it's my blog and I can do what I want. The musical follows Hamilton from age 19 when he first came to America, to his death. He was born in the Caribbean, and was orphaned by 12. A hurricane destroyed his island, and he wrote a poem about it that was so good, the community raised money to send him to America. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said "Hamilton literally wrote a verse to get him off an island - that's the most hip hop shit ever." Once in America, he started hustling and never stopped. By 22 he was George Washington's aide de camp in the Revolutionary War, but his real talent was writing. He was extremely prolific; he wrote 51/85 essays in the Federalist Papers in just 6 months. His writing eventually got him into trouble as well. He had America's first political sex scandal, and he wrote about and published the whole affair himself! Also, most famously, he was America's first Secretary of the Treasury and essentially created the whole financial system of today including the first national bank and national public credit. He was eventually killed in a duel at age 49 by his sometimes friend, sometimes foe, political rival Aaron Burr, who was the Vice President at the time. Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr., the man kind of dancing in front of everyone else in the picture) is arguably the "villain," but in this musical he's the narrator and you really empathize with him. He'll totally break your heart, and his song Wait for It is a show stopper. 

So the musical follows Hamilton meeting Aaron Burr for the first time, as well as Hercules Mulligan, Marquis de Lafayette, and John Laurens (my favorite character). King George even has a few Elton John-esque break up songs his sings to America. It goes through the Revolutionary War, Hamilton meeting his wife, Eliza Schuyler, as well as her sister, Angelica Schuyler (who's song Satisfied is a personal favorite), being a lawyer, writing the Federalist Papers, being the Secretary of the Treasury, having an affair, writing about it and ruining his political career, losing his son in a duel, and eventually dying in a duel himself. Lin-Manuel Miranda read Alexander Hamilton's 700 page biography while on vacation and said by chapter 2 he was already Googling to see if his life had already been made into a musical because it's so dramatic. As the author of that biography said, the best way to dramatize the story is to stick as closely to the facts as possible.   

I love analyzing things, I was a Comparative Literature major, I can't help it. I don't watch a TV show unless a website like AV Club or Hitfix has reviewed every episode or (even better) I can find someone whose entire blog is dedicated to in-depth reviews of each episode. I watch an episode, I go spend an almost equal amount of time reading an analysis of that episode, then I watch another episode. Luckily Hamilton has become such a cultural phenomenon there's lots on the internet for me to read about it. But my favorite thing for Hamilton are the rap annotations on Genius which is a website with rap lyrics and people submit annotations, to track all the allusions to other lyrics and pop culture in rap songs. Almost every single line in the entire almost three hour rap musical (sometimes going as fast as 19 words in 3 seconds) has a reference to something, be it an allusion to an Eminem song or a line from a real life letter that Hamilton wrote. 

So you can listen to the cast recording, follow along with the lyrics (which is helpful because it's so fast), see which character sings which line (which is great because you can start to picture it in your head despite having never seen the show), and you can track what every single line is referring to. I've literally spent hours and hours going through the lyrics on Genius and reading all the annotations. I feel like I know 250% more about American history than I did before. So, if these six paragraphs didn't convince you, just do it as a personal favor to me. Go listen to Hamilton. Read the annotations. Learn about your history. Also, fair warning, I've listened to the first act of Hamilton (not joking) probably about 45 times. But I've only listened to the second act all the way through about 3 times because it makes me cry too much. If I'm not in the mood to sob hysterically I don't go past Stay Alive (Reprise). As you can tell, I spend a lot of time on the internet researching Hamilton and in all my research, never has someone listened to the cast recording and not cried. You've been warned. You will be obsessed. May the force be with you.

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