Monthly Archives: January 2014

Learning About Myself Through My Disgust With “50 Shades of Grey”

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What would possess me to do something so immature to an innocent magazine? This action led to some serious soul-searching.

I’m a 44-year-old mother of two, with a paying editor’s job to maintain, and several time-consuming obligations that come with being a full-time writer, mom, and wife.

Although my inner child remains active through my well-cultivated geeky pleasures, I consider myself fairly open-minded and, for the most part, emotionally mature. As part of it, I realize the importance of not stomping on someone’s personal interests, views and fandoms, because I know how hurtful it is for someone else to destroy mine with a dismissive air of superiority, be it an author, music genre, movie or television franchise, or even a professional sports team.

So why exactly was my first reaction to seeing that there would be a movie for the Fifty Shades of Grey book trilogy be to deface an innocent entertainment magazine cover like a 10-year-old in a foul mood?

For some reason, these books just make we want to approach the first stranger I see and apologize for E.L. James’ trilogy’s very existence on behalf of my generation, my gender, my race, my species—you name it. I’m just so, so sorry.

Why do I even have this extreme reaction? Why does the idea of this series rankle me so much? This led to some serious self-evaluation, and I learned quite a bit about my own personal convictions in the process.

First, the obvious: is it all the (spoken in hushed tone) S-E-X? Nah, not really. The overt and over-usage of sex as a plot is nothing new in Hollywood or even literature. Look at the pulp fiction novels that date back to the 1930s and earlier. Women in bondage, blatantly abusive older men, sex as a weapon, and any other form of sexual deviancy can be found in those stinky yellowed little paperbacks, and often with some of the most unintentionally hilarious covers to boot. I actually have a little collection of these covers, like the one pictured in this story, because they are so amusing.

bondageThese new books are really no different, except for one thing: the majority of the intended audience is women, at least that’s how I perceive it. I just can’t see how this same type of domineering, borderline abusive scenario that was once thought demeaning and harmful to women now a form of empowerment?

Of course, there have been comments from the fandom, some of the “creative team” behind the films, including the leading pair or actors (neither of whom I have any opinion on at all…I honesty have never heard of either of them and am sure they are very pleasant folk), has already begun denouncing what they consider to be closed-minded, sexually stifled, and generally backwards thinkers. This attitude is nothing new and has always been something that just makes me smirk and roll my eyes so hard that my head hurts. I don’t walk out of every erotic or violent scene in movies (I wouldn’t be such a Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad fan, if that were the case), but I don’t feel “pushing the envelope” necessarily makes a script better or a love scene more arousing.

Here is my first self-discovery, as I’ve learned to ask myself the following three things regarding what I find arousing or romantic:

• Is this the way I want a man to treat me?
• Is this the way I want a man to treat my daughters someday?
• If I had a son, would I want him to treat a woman that way?

In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, my answer is NO on all three counts. I’m more turned on by Tony Stark and Pepper finally hooking up in the Iron Man movie franchise (I’ve been a Tony/Pepper shipper since I first opened an Iron Man comic as a kid), by the Ninth Doctor’s self-sacrificing and selflessly sexy kiss for Rose Tyler, or by the still knee-wobbling classic Han Solo response to Leia’s confession of love: “I know.”

However, I think the big reason I get annoyed by this craze is because I look at it the same way I look at all voyeuristic reality television, torture porn, and stand-up comedy where the f-bomb is used in place of a punchline. It is just another type of “shock over substance” that reminds me of the cheapening of modern entertainment.

I’m not begrudging James her time in the spotlight—or any writer, for that matter. I’m actually happy for anyone who gets people to open up books, and for that I commend her. However, from what I’ve read (and I admit I couldn’t make it through the samples I looked at without laughing for the wrong reasons), I just don’t feel that these books are very well written. True, there are many mediocre writers out there, and possibly many penning romances much worse than this one. However, when all I hear about in regards to the upcoming movie is “how will they look naked” or “how will you approach the sex scenes,” I can’t help but wonder if there is anything more to these stories at all than spiffy sadomasochism in an expensive suit?

In terms of my sensibilities, and in many cases my own hypocrisies, I’ve discovered this about myself with what I want read and watch:

• If it’s sexual, give it meaning and emotional substance.
• If it’s profane, make it sparse enough to maintain its impact. If removing the profanity from a film cuts the dialogue in half (anyone see The Wolf of Wall Street out there?), then it’s probably being a tad bit overused. Just my thought.
• If it’s violent, make it have a message and some sort of redemptive resolution.

If these criteria aren’t met, I feel like I’m standing next to someone who covers up their lack of personal hygiene with heavy cheap cologne.

So ends my soul-searching. What it all boils down to when I see the fever pitch surrounding this bestselling trilogy is that I just think we as readers and viewers can do better. Heck, we deserve better. Why should we compromise our intelligence once again?

After really thinking it over—and I’ll admit I have puzzled about this too much—I can say one good thing about this “threesome” of books: they have certainly inspired me to look into my own heart and to remain true to my own values and discretion, as unpopular as they may seem today.

Achieving the Hollow Face Effect

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dragon kissWe like to call it the Haunted Mansion Effect in our house.

This is the eerily fun illusion of having the seemingly inanimate facial features on a statue or bust follow your movements across the room; up and down, side-to-side, or pretty much everywhere.

One common term for this is the Hollow Face Effect, and even though its most famous usage can be seen by millions of Disney Park visitors each year from the hallway busts in the Haunted Mansion, this effect has been used for several years in cathedrals, galleries, and science centers.

One reason it is so fascinating is it is an extremely easy concept, and it’s all about perspective.

Here’s how it works. The moving face in the hollow face effect is merely a concave sculpture, like a mold or bowl. When looked at in the right lighting, and at the right angles, it appears to be a normal, convex bust or statue. Your brain wants to see a regular statue, so it tricks your mind into thinking it is.

This is coupled with another slightly more difficult concept, called pareidolia, which is, in simple terms, the mind’s ability to see faces in patterns.  A face, of course, is normally convex. For example, the tip of the nose is closer to the viewer than it’s ears and cheekbones.

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How a concave “hollow face” is (left) and how it appears (right) is all a matter of perspective.

When you look at a hollow face sculpture, the outer edges of the mold become hidden as you move your own head, causing your mind and eye to think the head is turning towards you, rather than being slightly covered up. A simple diagram and more detailed explanation of how the effect works can be found on BrainFacts.org.

Now, here’s the best part; you can make your own moving sculpture in a matter of minutes. Thanks to a recent viral video of a T-Rex illusion that has gathered more than 3.5 million views, people have rediscovered something called the “Gathering for Gardner” dragon, created for an event celebrating the late scientist and mathematician Martin Gardner. The pattern for this dragon can be found on several educational and science sites, such as Grand Illusion.

It’s easy, all ages can participate, and it can be a quick after-school or lunchtime project.  Plus, who doesn’t want their own very, very attentive pet dragon.

Five 2014 Goals FOR YOU!

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to-do listOne year ago I took on the heady feat of creating a year-long bucket list in lieu of any easily-broken resolutions.

I gave myself a head start by compiling my top ten geeky bucket list here and on the ihogeek site. Over the next 365 days, I listed personal goals, pipe dreams, inspired projects, dream trips, simple achievements, and lifestyle tweaks. I intend to publish this entire list on my other blog, minionfeeding101, over the course of the year.

While compiling this list, I discovered some of the most life-improving events include what may seem unimportant on the surface. Here are just five such things I encourage you to do over the next year:

• Sing in the car. Hello, my name is Lisa, and I’m a habitual life-long car-singer. I sing to everything: county, alternative, classic rock, “old school” new wave and punk, classical, lounge jazz, reggae, rockabilly, and anything else that catches my fancy. This is often accompanied by some elaborate steering wheel air-drumming, and (from what I’ve been told by others) pretty animated expressions. At first I was embarrassed by this fact, but learned when someone glances over and sees this random person blaring out anything from Michael Bublé to Social Distortion, they get a little chuckle, smirk, or smile. I’ve even gotten a “thumbs up.” Whatever the response, I’ve not only made my own commute better, I’ve improved someone else’s day. I consider this my little community service to my fellow man. Give it a try, but drive safely.

• Find a muse and/or conscience. I have a little picture of David Tennant on my computer that I ran across online. I don’t have a “fangirl” crush on the guy, nor is he “My Doctor,” but he glares at me everyday, arms akimbo with one eyebrow raised in judgmental speculation, accompanied by the words “YOU should be writing.”

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Oh, shut it, David!

He’s become my little motivator, letting me know when my mind is wandering too far from my work goals. Sometimes he’s my friend, encouraging me along. Other times I find myself glaring back at his sassy little mug and mutter “oh, shut up, you twit,” but he keeps me on my toes and busy. I’ve even added my own scribbles to the photo including “Yes, I’m talking to YOU, Lisa Kay!” and “Quit checking your site stats!”

I strongly encourage everyone to get his or her own little helper. Hang an action figure over a workbench, paste the work of a fellow artist or writer over the computer screen or easel, or carry a little Lego figure in your purse or work bag. There may be times you’ll want to flush them down the toilet, but other times, you will be thankful for the extra boost and company.

• Try on an alter ego. There are plenty of problems with the adult world, but one of the most tragic is the misapprehension that it’s somehow immature to wear costumes, or “fancy dress” as my UK friends say. When I was a freshman in high school, I created a wonderful Zorro costume for Halloween, and was crushed to find my fellow friends “too cool” or too lazy to dress in costume. My father felt bad for me and actually did something other parents would find horrible… he took me into a Halloween party at a local bar for about five minutes. He wanted me to see that not all adults shun the urge to become someone else, and I was so happy to see a bevy of “grownups” dressed as everything from superheroes to monsters. I became active in theater arts and reveled in the chance to be someone else.

When I discovered the practice of “cosplay” in college—a word that is to “costume” as “graphic novel” is to “comic book”—I realized how much of a creative outlet putting together a homemade costume can be. I still do this every Halloween and at the occasional comic con, and I encourage my children to do the same, even if they physically look nothing like the character they want to become. The intention should be to have fun and loosen up, not just to be accurate—unless there’s some cash reward or bragging rights on the line. This year for Halloween, my daughter created her own Wood Sprite/Poison Ivy mashup and won some movie tickets for originality at a local toyshop. My husband and I went a party as the zombie-killing couple of Michonne (from Walking Dead) and Shaun (from Shaun of The Dead), knowing full well neither of us resembled the actors who portrayed these characters. It didn’t matter, because we had a ball.

Find a time a least once in your life to dress in costume. It is not only a safe form of escapism, but is a great equalizer of all types of persons, regardless of beliefs, race, or status. The ability to lighten up and have fun should be a universal value. Help make it one.

• Dance! Dance! Dance! Let me point out, I am not a dancer. However, I do dance, and have found it one of the most liberating ways to shake off or avoid stress. Dance with friends at a celebration. Dance with your kids to their favorite song. Dance in your knickers with your significant other. Dance to a CD or radio while doing household chores. Dance to the music in your head. Dance to be silly. Dance to be sensual. Dance to be free, but by all means, dance! Dance as much as you are physically able, even if it is just in your head, letting your imagination do what your body might not be able to. A line from my favorite Doctor Who episode reminds us “the world doesn’t end if The Doctor dances.” If this is true for him—and it is—then it certainly won’t end if we do.

• Find a reason to laugh everyday. This one is by far the most important, and should be done (and I can’t emphasize this enough) every single day. There are articles scattered through magazines and websites, including WebMD, on the health benefits of laughter, and I tend to believe them. There are going to be days where this is the easiest feat on the planet, but other days it may seem impossible. There have been many tragic and scary times in my own life, no more so than anyone else, some of which I couldn’t imaging even smiling, much less laughing, so I understand the challenge. Laughing doesn’t have to be a burst of outrageous fun. It can also be a simple chuckle in remembrance of a happy time with someone who has recently died, or a quick snicker at a ridiculously hopeless situation. No matter, laughing helps. A couple of weeks ago a string of unfortunate situations put me in a very dark dungeon of my own making. I was tearful, brooding, and resentful, despite my husband’s attempts to cheer me up. Eventually, I turned to him and quoted a gruesomely appropriate line from the series Breaking Bad, at which we both instantly broke down in laughter. It was like a weight off my shoulders, and I’ve made it a point to find a reason to laugh every day since. It works. It really does.

There you go, short and sweet, but filled with potential to improve even a small corner of one’s life. These may not be planet-changing revelations, but they may make a difference in at least one life, and who knows what changes that life, including our own, could inspire.