Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lazy Scarfy

Hmm. Been slacking on the blog lately.

My works hours have steadily climbed higher lately, and my workweeks now include Saturdays. So, because of my slowly decreasing free time, I've been trying my hardest to relax whenever possible.

And since I'm crazy, I decided, on a whim, to start up a knitting project. I did a search on my blog and noticed that I have never mentioned knitting before. This is pretty crazy to me, as I have been knitting for a very long time. Granted, I haven't made anything in a while, but still.

I bought three balls of yarn (9 p.m. trip to Wal-Mart in flannel pajamas), dug out my knitting needles, did a mass online search for a pattern that I liked, and started. Unfortunately, I don't know where I found this pattern. I jotted down four lines in a notebook with my crazy knitting shorthand, picked up the needles, and cast on 72 stitches. I didn't take a gauge (it's a scarf, after all), I didn't test, I just started.

I've been slowly making my way on this scarf. Because I picked (of all things) a ribbed cable pattern, it's pretty time-consuming and also very yarn-consuming. I don't really mind either issue. I don't have a deadline, I'm just knitting to comfort myself.

Progress so far:

I desaturated the photo (taken on my phone) because it was morning when I took it, and the sun was making the colors all wonky. The yarn's called "ocean" and is a rather nice blue. I'll take a real picture of the scarf sometime.

I'm thinking that I'll make matching fingerless mitts once I'm done with the scarf- I should have enough yarn.

Nothing interesting going on, nothing interesting to mention. Just a scarf.


Friday, January 21, 2011


I sure do whine about weather a lot.

In my defense, I am a fair, sensitive-skinned Californian, who has never known humidity or iciness in my entire memory. (Yes, I was born in Korea, but I was three years old when we immigrated. I don't think those early summers and winters in Korea count.)

The things about winter, real winter, that I never knew:

- I am capable of not being able to feel my nose.
- I've never before in my life needed gloves or mittens, until now. All previous purchases were merely decorative, but I'm glad I bought them.
- My skin will get red, wind-chapped, turn rough, and then peel off. As though I've gotten sunburned.
- The sun in New Mexico is very deceptive. Though sunrise is later, the sun comes up and stays up, and is bright, lying to my face about how cold it is outside.
- Grocery stores actually have less produce. I never even imagined that weather would play a factor in the regular, non-seasonal produce that I buy, because nothing changes in California. Here, about half the produce shelves are sad and empty, and I can only find heartier vegetables that survive the freezing temperatures and/or the long truck rides from out-of-state.
- One pair of pants isn't enough. And though I never appreciated them before, pantyhose and nylons and even long trouser socks are my new best friends.
- Thermals WORK.
- Even my hair can feel cold.

The temperature here has actually gotten quite a bit better. Still cold, to the point that I am wearing scarves and jackets and wool socks (I have a newly found and very fervent adoration of wool), and open-toed shoes are completely out of the question. But not as cold as it was just a week ago.

The thing that amazed (still amazes) me is going shopping for fruits and vegetables. I pretty regularly visit three different stores, and all of them were sad and depleted of their stock of more delicate vegetables. Everyone's got potatoes and onions and chard, sure, but even lettuce is getting scarcer. I can't find tomatoes, even the depressing almost-red ones. I certainly can't find kale, which is surprising, since I always considered it a very tough vegetable. All things that I had no problem getting in the dead of "winter" in LA.

Nobody warns you that come winter in a city with seasons, your food shopping experience changes. It was the one thing that sort of surprised me, then confused me, and now I'm amazed by. Isn't this the reason refrigerated trucks were invented? I can buy eclairs made in Vegas, but I can't find a nice artichoke?

Winter is so weird.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Love & Marriage

This article on CNN gave me pause today. Full text, in case the link doesn't work:

Men have upper hand in sexual economy
Posted by Elizabeth Landau

It's not a new theory:  As women progress in educational and professional opportunities, their odds of finding a committed man appear to go down. Women in their 40s and 50s have long heard this, but new research finds it's true for women just entering adulthood as well.

That's one of the findings in the new book "Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying," by researchers Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker at the University of Texas at Austin.

They looked at the results from a number of national studies including the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the National Study of Youth and Religion, in addition to interviews with young people ages 18 to 23.

Researchers found that since women in the 18- to 23-year-old group feel they don't need men for financial dependence, many of them feel they can play around with multiple partners without consequence, and that the early 20s isn't the time to have a serious relationship. But eventually, they do come to want a real, lasting relationship. The problem is that there will still be women who will have sex readily without commitment, and since men know this, fewer of them are willing to go steady.

"Women have plenty of freedom, but freedom does not translate easily into getting what you want," Regnerus said.

The wide availability of pornography has also influenced the dynamics of relations between men and women, Regnerus said. A segment of 20-something men are content to have their sexual experiences by themselves, removing them from the pool of available partners. That means high-quality men - likely those who want monogamous, committed relationships - are still eligible for dating, but the overall dating pool has shrunk, meaning some women will be left unsatisfactorily single.

Researchers also found that marrying at or before age 20 constitutes the greatest risk for subsequent divorce, the data show. Early marriage doesn’t cause the divorce, but the partners are likely to be unprepared for the kinds of adjustments required, Regnerus said.

And here's perhaps some good news: Sexual behavior among this age group is less salacious than you might think. The "hookup culture" is most prominent when there is a Greek system present; otherwise, college students seem more inclined toward stable relations and have fewer sexual partners.

In case you were wondering, 16% of 18- to 23-year-olds are virgins, according to the surveys used in the book. In that age group there are more men than women who have never had sex. By age 27, the portion of virgins goes down to 8%.

This is ... true, I suppose. But it also seems oddly unflattering to women. Does this article mean that men all have the attitude of "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" or that men don't really want committed relationships and it's women that have, throughout history, forced that idea upon them?

The bit about financial independence was annoying to me. I feel as though it's been generations since women have relied on men financially. Is this not true? Are there are a whole lot of women that are hunting down men because they do not feel that they can rely on themselves, financially? That's odd. My mother, born in the early 50's, was a financially independent woman before she got married.

"Women have plenty of freedom, but freedom does not translate easily into getting what you want," Regnerus said. Well, no, duh. Anyone could tell you that. It's like saying, "if only I were rich, I would be so happy!" We might think it, wistfully, at times. But money certainly doesn't make all your problems disappear. If anything, it adds more (if different) issues to life.

I won't point out the other (weird) points in the article, because they also seem like "duh" moments (getting married before 20 leads to divorce more frequently? Really?)

The thing that really struck me, though, is this:

In my workplace (in Albuquerque, not the whole company), the men outnumber the women by far. It's about 10% women here. We women cover all kinds of age groups- most of us are in our 20's, but there's a few in their 30's, a couple in their 40's, and one in her 50's. We span more than 30 years between youngest and oldest, and I think that's a pretty wide range. Only a few of the women (all of them 30+) are married. None of us in our twenties, nor the oldest, are in long-term relationships.

The men (90% of the population) cover those same ages. There are a lot of married guys, of course, but the single ones go from early 20's to 40's. A fair range, similar enough to the girls.

Of the single people or the people that are just "dating," the men, by FAR, are the ones that want to get married, settle down, have kids, buy a house, and do the whole suburban family bit. This is true of most of the people that I know- the women don't care, really, and are fine just dating. The men are antsy, planning proposals, buying rings.

Perhaps this is just indicative of the fact that I work in a strange industry, or that most of my friends are in LA? Or perhaps this is just a study done of people that live in middle America?

Or maybe, just maybe, the author (a woman!) is one of the ones that really wants to get married?

I have to say, at least the article made me think. That's good, I suppose. Though maybe, if I want to get married, I should stop thinking and stop relying on myself financially.

... that's a big if.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Golden Globes: The Clothes

The 68th annual Golden Globes aired this evening. I watched, pretty casually, but was immediately grabbed by some of the clothes. These are the clothes that I liked and remembered (if I remember who the designer is, it usually means that I loved the dress or the dress was hideous).

Angeline Jolie in Atelier Versace.

She's wearing color! My lament from the 2009 Oscars! The dress has a great, retro feel- the sparkles, the color, the blouson top with gathered waist, the strong shoulders- it could have been cheesy but it looks very nice. I actually really like the long sleeves. And I really like her darker hair- she should never be a blonde again.

Natalie Portman in Viktor & Rolf.

Her acceptance speech was really cute. I think she comes off rather cold and aloof sometimes, and that speech just disenchanted me of that notion completely. "Mila "Sweet Lips" Kunis" was the best part. And she is obviously so in love with her fiance, it's really rather sweet.

I hate the pink color of this dress. I know the sparkly rose put off a lot of people, but on a girl that usually wears strangely unflattering clothes, I actually liked it. I just don't like it with the pale ballerina pink.

Anne Hathaway in Armani Prive.

More sparkles with strong shoulders! Definitely not as retro as Angelina Jolie's gown; this one is in a more modern color with rounded rather than pointed shoulders. Anne Hathaway seems to really favor Armani Prive, and for good reason- she can pull off head-to-toe glitter like nobody else.

Melissa Leo in Marc Bouwer.

Her acceptance speech was also rather sweet. And yes, another sparkly, strong-shouldered dress. I think this one lands somewhere between Angelina Jolie's and Anne Hathaway's. I like the cap sleeves on her- a long-sleeved black dress covered in sparkles might have been a bit much.

Olivia Wilde in Marchesa.

Yes, yes, I love sparkles. Don't judge me. I really liked this Marchesa- I like the color, the ombre effect, everything. The only thing that put me off was her hair. I mean, really? Stick-straight long hair with heavy bangs? In this fluffy confection of a gown? Olivia Wilde, please go back to "House" and regain your senses.

Helen Mirren in Badgley Mischka.

Last sparkly gown, I promise. I love Helen Mirren, she can do no wrong. Even with the sparkly gown combined with a $1.6 million-dollar necklace. And I like her sassy shorter hair.

Claire Danes in Calvin Klein Collection.

Time for the plain, non-sparkly stuff!

Claire Danes, I think, looks best in really simple dresses. Even with makeup on, she has a really sort of spare, minimalist look. I loved this dress on her, with the low back, and I loved her hair. Her acceptance speech was great, especially because Temple Grandin was there. (If I haven't mentioned it before, "Temple Grandin" was amazing.)

She looks great, even though the dress isn't insanely tight and revealing. She even managed to look elegant, despite the hot pink.

Emma Stone in Calvin Klein Collection.

I know she's naturally blond, but I hate Emma Stone as a blonde. I love her with red hair. (I know it's for the Spider-man reboot, but still. Couldn't they just have changed the character to be a redhead?) If she had her red hair, this dress (and that color!) would have looked even better on her.

Still, I love this dress. Calvin Klein Collection had a great showing between her and Claire Danes.

Michelle Williams in Valentino. 

Yes, I know. And I agree. The dress is so twee. Ruffles. Flowered straps. Daisies, for crying out loud. And yet, somehow, Michelle Williams looks adorable. I wish it was a different color- she looks good in color (remember that yellow Oscars dress from Vera Wang?) and this beige is washing her out a little.

How the sum of these (crappy) parts is so amazing, I will never know. And I love her pixie cut.

Helena Bonham Carter in Vivienne Westwood.

And here, I start the big gown-y dresses section.

It's only logical to start with my kooky favorite, Helena Bonham Carter. She's wearing shoes in different colors, for crying out loud. And say what you will about Vivienne Westwood, but her clothes are always interesting.

Catherine Zeta-Jones in Monique Lhuillier.

It was nice to see Hollywood give a standing ovation to Michael Douglas, and his dry comment "there's got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation."

I love that Catherine Zeta-Jones seems to take every awards ceremony as an excuse to wear the fairy-tale princess ballgowns that every little girl wants. This one is actually really gorgeous, with a great color and an eye-catching pattern.

I love that she wear major earrings and not a huge necklace.

Christina Hendricks in Romona Keveza.

Very "awards ceremony gown," but gorgeous. I love Christina Hendricks; she's my favorite on "Mad Men." She gets is wrong so much in terms of clothes (not on the show, of course) that it was great to see her in a well-fitted gown. And whoever said redheads shouldn't wear red was so wrong.

I love her hair like this, I love the enormously gigantic shoulder flower, and I even appreciate that the hem is trimmed in a matching fabric- the hems of dresses are always kind of sadly neglected.


She wears the same thing every day, she eats the same things every day, she is autistic. She doesn't like people touching her, but she grabbed Claire Danes in a tight hug just before Claire went up to give her acceptance speech. It brought a tear to my eye, and my undersized heart grew four sizes. 

Overall, a good Golden Globes that finished on time (with a couple minutes to spare, even!), with rather a lot of snarky quips by host Ricky Gervais, who's hilarious.


Saturday, January 15, 2011



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Shit Rolls Downhill

(Parents, family members, other sensitive people that read my blog- please excuse the use of the word "shit." It really is appropriate in this case.)

There is a saying in colloquial American English, shit rolls downhill.

We say this a lot during the production of films, as it is very true in our case. For instance, the executive of a large studio, Mr. Smith at Amazing Studios. He is technically "overseeing" all the movies that his studio is currently producing. That means that, on average, he has about five to ten minutes each day to devote to whatever film that I happen to be working on.

In those five to ten minutes, Mr. Smith will, without knowing the entire history of the single image he is viewing, judge and make comments on whatever is put in front of him. This, in turn, trickles downhill to his minions, who must relay the information to their editorial staff and all their vendors.

One of those vendors would be whatever company I am working at. There will only be a few people (the head honchos) from my company that hear the comments that have filtered down from Mr. Smith to Mr. Johnson to Mike to Joe.

Those comments become long, verbose paragraphs by the time I get them, full of emotional jargon that must be converted into technical adjustments that can be quickly consumed and regurgitated by artists.

In essence, a five-minute once-over by Mr. Smith can lead to John the Artist working for two weeks.

Hence, shit rolls downhill.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Chinese Mothers

My mother's not Chinese (in case you couldn't tell), but this article in the Wall Street Journal really made me think today about the differences between the Confucian east-Asian world and the liberal western world. The post is titled "Chinese Mothers" because that's what the article is about, not because I'm racist. Just in case the link doesn't work, the whole article here:

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?


A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.

Very thought-provoking. I'm still turning it over in my mind, and I am, more than anything else, marveling at the bravery of Amy Chua to write this essay. That's very brave of her, knowing that her audience is mostly American and mostly not going to perceive or even attempt to understand her point of view.

My parents were a mix of both "Chinese" and "Western." I like to believe that they were a combination of the best traits of each side. I grew up in a childhood that I consider to be shockingly well balanced, considering how different my two cultures are. Yes, there were things that I felt I "missed out" on in my adolescent years. Looking back, I don't regret any of the things that I thought I missed.

My poor mother will tell you if asked that I chastise her about not pushing me. I wish she had pushed me more. I played the piano, but wasn't really made to practice, because I also played the clarinet, then the oboe, the bassoon, the French horn, and then circled back to the clarinet and oboe. I had so many interests and no one made me focus them. My mother, in sharp contrast, is the oldest daughter in her family. She was forced to play the piano starting from a very young age (four? five?) and was told firmly to practice for hours a day. She did, and she still plays the piano to this day.

In one way, I could see how my mother's childhood informed her decision to give her children choices. Every choice we could ever want. She made us practice all the instruments we every picked up. We learned to read before we went to school. When I couldn't figure out math, I sat there and wrote out multiplication tables, smudgy pencil on yellow legal pads, until I dreamed of numbers. I was a lemming of a child. When pushed in one direction, I willingly went. I sat for hours, filling out workbooks, learning how to draw quarters notes and eighth notes, learning to write perfectly formed letters. I think I was the kind of kid that wouldn't have minded having a set path to follow. (My sister, on the other hand, was always meant to forge her own road. And she has, no matter what has cropped up.)

It fascinates me to think about what my life might have been like if my parents hadn't allowed me the freedom to explore my options. What if I had never picked up art? What if my mother had not lined the room that my sister and I shared with butcher paper, so we could draw to in sprawling, huge compositions that were literally larger than us? Would I be happy, should I have been told to play the piano? Would I have regrets?

I can't answer any of those questions, of course. I've lived the life that I've lived and I can only make the choices that come up in front of me now. All I know is that I don't have any regrets, so far, and I attribute much of that to my parents.


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Black Swan

I've got some sort of disease right now that is making me very hazy (maybe it's the combination of an anti-histamine and a cold medicine?) and loopy. I'm very coughy and it's pretty disgusting, but still, I dragged myself out last night to watch "Black Swan."

My sister had warned me about the fact that this was not a movie to be trifled with. Not a pretty little ballerina tale, but a rather traumatizing film that is far scarier than I would expect. I considered myself duly warned and scampered off (like a flu-stricken squirrel) to watch, unsure of what I should prepare myself for. (After all, Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," for its pretty title, was nothing if not unexpected.)


You've been warned. Spoilers galore.

First off, the cast: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel.

I was rather leery from the get-go about Natalie Portman. I suppose she is really perfect for the role, since I, too, could only imagine her as the white swan. I didn't think she would make a convincing or even interesting black swan (she didn't really cut it, for me, as Alice in "Closer.") And I could definitely see Mila Kunis as the black swan, but not, perhaps, as the innocent white swan. With their superficial resemble, it was an intriguing casting choice. By the end of the movie, I was sold on both of them. I can see why there's already so much Oscar buzz around this film.

Vincent Cassel, to me, is one of those suave Europeans that don't seem nearly as crass as an American, no matter what his words or actions. He played to that in this movie, doing some rather terrible things but with such a French manner that I found that I didn't hate him as much as I probably should have. I actually rather liked his character, which I think means that I have some mental issues.

I guess the surprise factor of this movie was that it was rather gory. The first instance of the gore (and the first clue that Nina (Natalie Portman) is losing her mind in this role) is during a party, given to usher out "old" ballerina Beth (Winona Ryder, who was just 'meh') and welcome in the newer, younger version, Nina. Nina's wearing this pristine, sparkling white gown and notices during company director Thomas's (Vincent Cassel) speech that she has a hangnail. She runs off to the bathroom and tries to get rid of the blood, but washing her hands doesn't seem to help. She finally grabs hold of the hangnail (I cringe while typing this) and yanks, pulling back a strip of skin all the way to her middle knuckle. It's shocking because it's sudden and unexpected, and something about the very red blood with her in a very white dress is jarring.

The gore just goes from there. I knew from the moment I saw a pointed nail file that no good would ever come of it, and I was right. Beth stabs herself in the face with the nail file while she is in the hospital, phyiscally (but not mentally) recovering from a suicide attempt (she jumped into the street and got hit by a car). The worst part is that Beth turns into Nina right in front of Nina's shocked eyes. She sees herself stabbing herself in the face. The stuff of nightmares.
The visual hallucinations get more frequent as the movie goes on- Nina's reflection moves indepently (and more viciously, passionately) than Nina herself is moving. Her (insanely smothering) mother's paintings, all of her daughter, begin speaking to Nina, in a babble that makes her scream and try to take down all the artwork. Nina has a (much ballyhooed) sex scene with Lily (Mila Kunis) that turns out to have been a dream or hallucination. Nina's skin breaks out into gooseflesh, at first confined in a small patch on her shoulderblade, then spreading. Small barbs begin thrusting through her skin, and she pulls one out to see that it is a still-developing feather. Nina feels something rippling over her skin on the premiere show during Act 2 (when she is the black swan) and finds that the feathers are sprouting, coating her back, shoulders, and arms, turning into large wings.
The worst, of course, is when Nina imagines that she has a physical fight with Lily, who has dressed herself up as the black swan between Acts 1 and 2 of the ballet. Nina shoves Lily into a floor-length mirror in her dressing room, shattering the glass. Nina, still costumed as the white swan, stabs the black swan with a large shard of mirror and drags the body into the bathroom. She completes Acts 2 as the black swan and goes back to her dressing room to turn herself back into the white swan. While she is doing her makeup, Lily comes by to congratulate her, and Nina realizes that Lily is not dead in her bathroom. A small red pool of blood appears on the pristine cleanness of Nina's white swan costume and she pulls out a shard of mirror from her own belly.

This movie was hard to watch because it never let up. It just kept throwing surprises in, making me feel off-balance and worried. I was tense because of the moments that made me jump in my seat and not knowing when the next shocker would come.

I was also tense because there was a time in my life (I think during college? perhaps into when I first started working?) when I used to have such vivid dreams that I really, actually thought that they had happened. For periods of one to two weeks at a time over the course of probably two years, I walked around in a fog, confusing reality with my dreams. I don't know why that didn't worry me at the time, because when I think back on it, that is an insane way to live. But I didn't worry at the time, I assumed things would get better (and thankfully, they did). I remember that confusion, that feeling of uncertainty, and this movie brought it all rushing back into my mind. I had actually forgotten about those times until last night.

It was a thought-provoking movie, for sure. I think I'll need to watch it again to really know how I feel, so that the shock value doesn't factor in as much. Not that it's the perfect film; not at all. But movies are meant to evoke emotion, make people feel something, make them think about things, and this movie did that very well. The way a failed ballerina became a smothering stage mother, swinging in wide arcs between jealousy and maternal love, was rather twisted but also so sad (Nina never called her anything but "Mommy," a creepy indication of their relationship). The way Nina's bulimia was dealt with, her contented little smile when the costumer told her "you've lost weight," was not over-wrought but matter-of-fact. The way Thomas abused his power, seduced a helpless Nina, then pushed her away, was beautifully rendered.

I certainly did not like many of the visual effects shots, which I can't help, since it's what I do for a living. Particularly bad was when Nina hallucinates that her legs snap and break so she has inverted knees, like a bird (that was just terrible- less than a second of crap visual effects). I didn't really appreciate when the goosebumps spread up and down her body in ripples, it looked odd and rubbery. Story-wise, I didn't like that Nina saw herself- she sees herself in a tunnel or a subway walkway or something (I don't know New York, don't judge me), hair down, dressed in sharp black. She sees a watery version of herself hovering over her while submerged in the bath, again with hair down. Those hallucinations didn't seem very much in line with the rest of her visions, and weren't really ever explained.

The black / white was a bit obvious and over stated, Nina always in soft, pale colors, Lily always in dark colors with dark make-up. Nina in her prissy bun, pink tweedy coat and fluffy cream-colored scarf, Lily always with her hair down, in grays and blacks, exuberant and passionate. To the last, when Lily has been "killed" by Nina, they are in opposite colors, with opposite attitudes. Even their names, though inverted- Nina, what I consider a rather fiery name, and Lily, a virginal white flower. For about half the movie, I thought Lily wasn't real, that she was an elaborate hallucination brought on by Nina's feverish mind, reflecting the "black swan" inside herself.

It was a particularly fascinating movie to me because it dealt with an inside stressor. Nobody brought this mental breakdown onto Nina except for Nina herself. She pushes herself harder than anyone else does, and demands more of herself than anyone else ever would. It's a literal breakdown, mentally and then physically, and that slow collapse between the real and the surreal is what was so great to watch. Frightening, but great.

This film, in typical Aronofsky fashion, made me a bit nauseous at times- those hand-held shots following a person walking are particularly nausea-inducing to me- but was beautiful in a gritty, faux-raw sort of way (all those different grains, not so much). I have always said that I will force my children, should I have any, to watch "Requiem for a Dream" as soon as they hit puberty, so that they will see what kinds of horrors different addictions can have (no kid wants to lose an arm). If I have a daughter, perhaps I'll make her watch "Black Swan" if she decides she's going to become the perfect ballerina, no matter what the cost- no daughter of mine is going to die in a self-induced breakdown of epic proportion.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy 2011, internet!

It's been a long time, I know. I did all kinds of things- I drove (the long way) back home to LA with my sister in tow, I worked for four days out of the LA office, in unceasing pouring rain, I spent a lovely, quiet ten days at my parents' house, de-stressing and re-charging, and I drove back (the even longer way) to Albuquerque and have resumed work.

I realized as I left LA and my parents' house that I was leaving "home," and it felt pretty awful. I missed my parents, the cat, and the rabbits before I even made it onto the freeway. But as I neared Albuquerque, I was excited to be coming back "home," though this is a home that I will not be staying in for much longer.

It's lovely to be back in my house, where everything is as I want it and I feel no pressure to do anything. The temperature in fair Albuquerque is alarmingly cold (I turn immediately red when I step outside, it's so cold), but I have missed this strange place and am glad to be back.

2011, I have high expectations for you!

It's the year of the rabbit(s), my sister's little rascals:

(This is when they are most angelic- asleep, snuggly and warm. Most of their waking moments are spent looking for new ways to destroy things with their little teeth and their little claws.)

I have not made any resolutions this year, because resolutions never do anything for me. If I want to do something, why does it have to start at the first of the year? No reason at all, that's why.

I just want to figure out what I'm going to do after this movie is over. And that won't happen for another several months! Hopefully, though, I do resume blogging. I miss it, and I think it helps me straighten things out that are all snarled in my head.

Here's to 2011!