Movie Review: Bridge of Spies

This was a really good movie. A friend recommended it to me, and I thought, Ok, sure, but when I actually saw it I just remember thinking afterwards, Wow, this is a movie that makes you think! In fact, I’ll need to watch it again because there were some key points pf the film that went over my head.

While I won’t get into great plot detail I will just say that this movie is still relevant today not just because we studied the Cold War in world history/geography class, but because of the current political climate. Now, normally on this blog, I try my best to stay away from discussing anything related to political parties, but with the current political climate and the Russia-U.S. issue regarding elections, it just made sense to watch this movie. The film Bridge of Spies takes place during the Cold War, and is about a lawyer who represents Rudolf, a Russian spy being held captive in the U.S. Tom Hanks’ character, James, decides to help him through the trial so that he can become free again, and also so that the U.S. pilot being held captive in the Soviet Union, Francis Gary Powers, can gain his freedom again. Even though James wants to have dialogue with Rudolf, everyone thinks he is supporting “the enemy”, but James insists on a mutual relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Meanwhile, the Berlin Wall is dividing East and West Berlin, separating families and loved ones from one another and forcing people to flee their homes. Even with all this going on, James insists on having dialogue with the German and Russian leaders so that the American and Russian prisoners can return to their respective countries.

While I personally don’t have extensive experience or research on the Cold War, I remember reading a volume of The New Human Revolution, by educator and humanist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. He met with the Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin, and even with leaders in the Soviet Union who didn’t agree with everything Mr. Ikeda said. Mr. Ikeda, like James, came to the Soviet Union as a way for the countries to facilitate dialogue with one another rather than always using armed force as the answer to every diplomatic problem. He asked the leaders of the Soviet Union and China if they were planning on going to war with one another, and each leader told him to communicate to the other side that they did not have plans to go to war with one another.

Communication is a powerful tool in our society, and it always has been. When leaders do not communicate with one another because they are worried that the other is going to blow the other leader’s country up, people make assumptions and shut off future ties of diplomacy. It can also have an impact on children: in one powerful scene of Bridge of Spies, James’s son is sitting in class and the teacher shows them one of those ads during the time that encouraged kids to “duck and cover” so that they wouldn’t get radiation poisoning from any bomb that the Soviet army could potentially throw at the U.S. Then James finds his son sitting on the bathroom floor and reading a book about bomb shelter preparedness because he thinks the Russians are going to bomb the Americans any minute. This is why communication is important because without face to face dialogue about what needs to be said, propaganda can continue to propagate and brainwash people, and moreover cause people to have this irrational fear about other people in other countries. I think in terms of politics and international diplomacy today, talking to one another face to face is needed more than ever if we want to bring about world peace.

Bridge of Spies. 2015. 2 hr 22 min. Rated PG-13 for some violence and brief strong language.

Book Review: Look At Me by Jennifer Egan

I literally just snapped this picture, so photo courtesy of me. I was done with having reviews with no pictures and I’m sure you were, too.

It’s late and I’m rather sleepy (it’s early technically but I’m an early bird so I have to go to bed early so I can wake up early) so this review isn’t going to be as long as I hoped, but I just finished this novel by Jennifer Egan, who also wrote A Visit from the Goon Squad. While I wasn’t a huge fan of that book (I don’t even remember if I got through it or not), I really liked this one called Look At Me. It’s about this young woman whose modeling career and entire life do a 360 when she gets in a car accident and sustains severe injuries, namely an injury to her face. The injury is so bad that the doctors have to put in eighty titanium screws to keep it all together. While her appearance isn’t totally altered, her mind is, and throughout the book she is just trying to regain her sense of self after enduring this traumatic accident. The novel shifts from her perspective to that of the third person, because we get to meet one of the kids of Charlotte’s old friend from school, and this kid happens to be named Charlotte. Charlotte has her own problems she is dealing with, namely with boys. She ends up falling for this older teacher named Mr. West, and is having a hard time confessing her feelings for him to her friends.

Honestly, this is sad to say, but I can’t remember much of the other characters in the book, so this isn’t a character analysis or anything. What engrossed me most about the novel was Charlotte’s perspective. It’s probably because I read first person narratives most of the time, but her narrative is what got me through the book. The third person narrative, I found myself trying to figure out who was who, and the only people I remember from the third person are young Charlotte (the daughter of first person Charlotte’s friend) and Mr. West. The book was well written but it’s sort of like Michael Chabon or even Jonathan Franzen’s novel Purity: you can’t let the incredibly descriptive and psychoanalytical language get in the way of you learning about the characters and how they develop as the novel goes on. I felt like I was just getting lost in the characters’ heads throughout the book, and I didn’t know whose head I was getting lost in: Moose’s, Charlotte’s, young Charlotte, the character towards the end named Aziz (“Z”). It wasn’t a bad book, very well written, but I couldn’t tell if it was on me or on Jennifer Egan to help me stay focused on the plot and the characters’ actions instead of just their thoughts.

Or actually, now that I think about it, it is one of those books that is so well-written that you need to read it again because the language just captures you, absorbs you, and then leaves you to figure out what the book meant at the end. I would love to go back and read this book; I am normally not someone who re-reads books (except for college; I was re-reading not for fun, but to discuss the book and then write an essay analysis on it for a grade) but I wouldn’t feel bored if I re-read this book because then I would understand better who the characters are. It would probably also help if I do end up reading it again to take notes on it so that I know who is who. It got so much acclaim (and as you can see on the cover, was a National Book Award finalist) that I hated finishing this book and thinking, What was the point? Because the writing was excellent and I was very much engrossed; but I don’t want to keep forgetting characters when I read books and the characters in this novel were so important.

Look At Me: A Novel. Jennifer Egan. 2001. 415 pp.

New TV Show!

So I was on a flight, and the flight offered access to free TV shows and movies, so I wanted to watch a show that I hadn’t seen before. I wanted a comedy because I saw the film Judy while on my trip and it was really sad and made me cry, so I wanted to watch something that would make me laugh. For the first flight I watched Black Lady Sketch Show, which, if you haven’t seen it, is so funny I had to literally clamp my hand around my mouth to suppress all the giggles that threatened to rush forth and disturb my fellow passengers on the plane. Then since there were only three free episodes I could watch (although I’m grateful I even got it for free at all), I moved on to another show in the comedy section. Parks and Recreation was an option but it only showed Season 2 and I assumed that I’d get lost if I didn’t watch Season 1. Then I saw Fleabag, and I remembered it won quite a few awards recently, and I checked Rotten Tomatoes and it got 100 percent So I took a chance. And I’ve never looked back since. Once you go Fleabag, you will never go back.

Why, you ask?

Fleabag is a comedy-drama about a young woman living in England (we don’t know her real name, we just know she is named Fleabag), and she really doesn’t have her life together. She runs a cafe but is in a lot of debt, and she goes through a series of boyfriends who end up thinking she’s too sarcastic and weird for them. In addition to being dumped by numerous bad boyfriends, her overachieving rich sister, Claire, and her are not on good terms. Things get even weirder when she goes by her dad’s place (her mom died) and meets her godmother, who is dating her dad. When I first saw the show, it reminded me of the film Frances Ha. If you haven’t seen Frances Ha, it is starring Greta Gerwig as a young late-20 something-old woman named Frances who, like Fleabag, is trying to figure her life out. Unlike her friend, Sophie, Frances cannot afford to move to Tribeca, a more expensive neighborhood of New York, and doesn’t have financial assistance from anyone, so she moves to a less expensive neighborhood with roommates. I thought about this movie because both Frances Ha and Fleabag are so relatable for every woman (or person of any gender really) in their late 20s who sees everyone else has their life together and, well, they feel their lives just don’t measure up.

I binge-watched Season 1 (just finished it). One thing that I find unique about Fleabag is that Fleabag always speaks to the audience, aka breaking the fourth wall. Not since the Disney Channel Original Movie Quints have I seen the protagonist break the fourth wall. It just makes you feel like you’re actually meeting Fleabag in real life. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind meeting Fleabag, because she says what is on her mind and I find her awkwardness totally relatable, even though I can’t relate to her situation totally. She kind of reminds me of a combination of not just Frances Halladay in Frances Ha but also Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm because Larry is always brutally honest with people even when it often gets him in trouble with others. Fleabag also reminds me a lot of the web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which stars Issa Rae as J, who is, as the title says, an awkward black woman. There is one guy that asks Fleabag out on the subway who is this really annoying character who ends up dumping her, and he reminded me a lot of A, a character who constantly is trying to hook up with J even though she doesn’t like him. J and A hook up after J gets drunk on too much punch at an office holiday party, and after that A is constantly assuming that J wants to be his girlfriend because they slept together.

Even though Fleabag is a comedy, it also has its sad moments. Early in the show, Fleabag reveals that her friend, Boo, killed herself after she found out Fleabag slept with her boyfriend. The two of them were the best of friends and they started a gerbil-themed cafe together. But now that Boo is gone, Fleabag becomes depressed and flashes back frequently to memories of her and Boo when Boo was still living (I got really sad each time she flashed back to Boo when she was happy and then Boo when she was about to commit suicide). Fleabag’s godmother has the nerve to tell her one time at dinner that she should give up running the cafe since she has no money left to run it, but then an investor who at first declined Fleabag a loan for the cafe (after she flashed her bra at him during their meeting), sees her in tears and she tells him about Boo’s suicide and how she feels like she is always ruining things for people. He then has a change of heart and goes over the process of getting her a loan again. This ending gave me hope because I was so stressed out whenever Fleabag and her godmother interacted since the godmother was treating Fleabag like she was a nobody and her father felt embarrassed by Fleabag’s behavior towards her godmother.

I am getting tired now, so unfortunately I cannot write any more. However, I am pumped to watch Season 2 and tell you more about it!

Fleabag. Rated TV-MA: Adult Language, Sexual Situations, Some Nudity

Book Review: Purity by Jonathan Franzen

The first novel I read by Jonathan Franzen was Freedom, which was really good. Then I was at a book sale, and I wanted to read more of his books, so I found one of his more recent novels, Purity. It is about a young woman named Purity, who goes by “Pip” and lives in Oakland, California with her student debt, a low-paying job, and a bunch of roommates. Not to mention that she has a thing for one of them, but he is already married. She hears about this internship that a guy from Germany named Andreas Wolf founded and decides to pursue it since she wants to leave her stressful situation in hopes for a better one. But along the way, she discovers some dark truths about her past, in particular her relationship with her parents. She finds out that her mother secretly kept all this money from her rather than letting her access it so she could pay off her student debt and afford her rent. She also finds out that Andreas is more complicated than she at first assumed he would be, and the power dynamic between him and her was interesting. And this is where the characters got to be a bit harder to follow than the characters from Freedom, and honestly the book was 500 pages and I didn’t take notes, so I could not remember much of Andreas’s character development. All I remember is that he was conflicted about how he felt about Pip because he was sexually attracted to her, and then he broke up with her, and then this whole confusing thing happened between Pip and him.

One thing I do remember though, is the descriptiveness of the natural surroundings. I think this imagery is really what kept me reading the book even when I couldn’t always understand the characters. I felt like I was walking with Pip the whole time, in her apartment, at the coffee shop she worked at, at the internship… Another thing I noticed (and while I hate comparing writers since each writer has their own experiences and style they bring to the pages) is that Franzen’s writing in this novel was similar to Michael Chabon’s writing. Michael Chabon is the author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and Telegraph Avenue. Reading Purity felt sort of like reading Telegraph Avenue, and this is why I am not sure where I stand on what rating to give this book, because while Purity wasn’t bad, it was like Telegraph Avenue, which is super heavy with psychological third person character analysis and rich vocabulary, so it took me a while to finish it and to catch up on the characters and important details about them. But maybe that’s the point of reading at all: reading these kinds of books for pleasure will leave you thinking, What did I just read? Which character did what and with whom? What was the name of their great-grandmother again? You need to look up words, slow down, think about the characters in greater depth, which is something I should have done in order to remember more in-depth analysis of Andreas and Annagret, and Pip’s mother and father.

Again, it wasn’t bad, just not what I expected. I would probably have to read it again, but I am already reading new books, so probably won’t get to read it again for a while.

Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen. 563 pp. 2015.

Some Music of My Own

I admit: I am awkward about promoting myself. Like quite a few people, I’ve always been reluctant to promote myself to others, especially speaking for myself as an introverted person. But after reading lots of blogs on how introverts can improve their self-promotion skills (not to speak for all introverts, some introverts are great at self-promotion), I learned that it’s fine to share your music with people. So I decided to get a Soundcloud and upload some cello pieces I’ve been working on. At first I felt uncomfortable putting my music performances up there but I’m getting better at feeling more comfortable. So here goes… Thank you in advance for listening.

Eclectic Playlist

I haven’t posted one of these in a while (or maybe it was a few days ago, I don’t even remember, I listen to too much music to even care). So here it goes, more music from my many Pandora stations:

  • “If U Want It”: Tuxedo
  • “Volcano”: Damien Rice
  • “Qui est cette fille?”: Yelle
  • “A Walk to Remember”: Vulfpeck
  • “Special Affair”: The Internet
  • “Date La Vuelta”: Luis Fonsi, Sebastian Yatra and Nicky Jam
  • “Mob Ties”: Drake
  • “Cooties”: From the musical Hairspray
  • “Conversation, Pt. 1”: Mac Miller
  • “Is It Love?”: Thundercat
  • “my boy”: Billie Eilish
  • “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”: Coldplay
  • “Sleep Alone”: Bat for Lashes
  • “Play Dead”: Bjork
  • “So Doggone Lonesome”: Johnny Cash
  • “Pioneers”: Bloc Party
  • “Newborn Friend”: Seal
  • “The Call”: Regina Spektor
  • “Boy with Luv (ft. Halsey)”: BTS
  • “Private Eyes” (orig. by Hall and Oates): The Bird and the Bee
  • “Zi-Zi’s Journey”: Lindsey Stirling
  • “Survie”: Youssou N’Dour
  • “Decatur, or Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!”: Sufjan Stevens

Movie Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I’m pretty sure I’ve exhausted all of my tear ducts. Yesterday I went and saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and it was truly one of the most moving films I have seen. Most movies nowadays have a lot of stimuli and frenetic action, and much of this action can desensitize us. So that’s why watching Tom Hanks develop a meaningful bond with a cynical reporter gave me the kind of warm-hearted vibes (and caused the same river of tears to form in my eyes) I felt when I watched the movie Big Fish.

If you haven’t seen Big Fish, it is about a man named Will who seems to have the perfect life: he works a full time job, he has a beautiful wife who is pregnant with their first child. But he has to deal with strained relations with his dad, who likes to recount tales of his life as a boy and teenager, stories that the son thinks are just a bunch of embarrassing lies. When his dad is dying, Will goes home to take care of him and his dad recounts his entire life to him and Will’s wife. Will at first doesn’t want to listen to his dad tell the stories to him since he’s told them many times already, and he worries that his own child will grow up to hear these stories himself and assume they are all fictional events. But as his dad gets closer to death, he starts to appreciate his dad and the life he led. Albert Finney, who plays Will’s dad Edward Bloom, died in February of this year, and whenever I think about him, I think about his profoundly touching role in Big Fish. While I won’t spoil the end, one of the scenes towards the end conveys how deeply Edward Bloom touched the countless strangers and loved ones during his lifetime.

I felt this when I watched A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I can safely assume that my friends and I were not the only ones reaching for tissues during the film. Lloyd Vogler is a magazine writer in the 1990s whose boss gives him a special assignment: to interview Fred Rodgers. For those unfamiliar with Fred Rogers, he starred on a show called Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood that appealed to kids and adults alike because of his willingness to encourage kids to get in touch with their emotions. One of the emotions he talks about is anger and he uses an adorable animal puppet named Daniel, who talks to a lady about how angry he is, and she encourages him to use his anger constructively rather than take his anger out on others. When Lloyd asks Fred about how he manages anger and stress in his personal life, Fred tells him that we all get angry, but there are ways to manage that anger rather than take it out on other people, such as banging the keys of a piano in frustration or taking time to take care of yourself. As adults, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own problems that we forget that our inner child calls to us each day for us to play with him/her/they even just for five minutes, and instead of pretending that inner kid doesn’t exist, we should embrace our silliness sometimes and not take ourselves too seriously. Yes, life and goals are important, and also it’s fine to make time for art, walks outside, music, prayer, reading, playing with puppets or even, as Mr. Rogers illustrated during his life, encouraging someone else through a tough time. When Lloyd and Fred are on a subway, some kids recognize Fred and start singing “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and then pretty soon, Fred, the kids and everyone else on the subway sings the song together. This is one of many scenes that brought me to tears because it made me think about how Mr. Rogers touched each person’s life and made them feel like they had a reason to keep living.

He even addresses the matter of death in one scene, and the way he addresses it reminds me so much of what educator and philosopher Daisaku Ikeda says about life and death. Even though Mr. Ikeda and Mr. Rogers come from different faiths (Mr. Ikeda is Buddhist and Mr. Rogers is Christian), they share a healthy perspective on death that encourages us to live our lives without regret and treasure each moment we share with the person in front of us, rather than fear death. As many know, Mr. Rogers died in 2003, but more than a decade later his legacy remains unforgotten. Like Mr. Ikeda, Mr. Rogers, by living his life in service to others, has given me a deeper meaning on the importance of encouraging others and how doing so makes not just the other person feel better but also helps us feel better, too.

He also reminded me of Mr. Ikeda because he saw the wisdom, courage and compassion in each person he encountered. Daisaku Ikeda, when meeting with even the steeliest world leaders, has used dialogue as a means of forming a human-to-human connection with the person in front of him. Even when meeting with world leaders who didn’t agree with his views, he respected them as human beings and continued to engage in discussion with them rather than close himself off. In the past he met with people such as Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, the British academic Arnold Toynbee and Soviet Premier Aleksey Kosygin, and discussed topics such as the importance of art and culture in fostering a more peaceful society, as well as the role of religion in today’s world. His meetings are always out of respect for the other person’s humanity. In the film Mr. Rogers sees Lloyd as a human being, not just as some journalist interviewing him. On the contrary, Lloyd at first saw Mr. Rogers as being just the interviewee who was going to help Lloyd do his job, and when Mr. Rogers doesn’t want to treat the interview as a one-sided matter, Lloyd got frustrated at first. But then there is a scene where they are sitting in a restaurant and Mr. Rogers tells Lloyd to close his eyes and think about someone in his life who helped him in some way. The entire restaurant seems to go quiet as everyone closes their eyes and reflects on someone in their life who helped them. Lloyd starts crying after thinking about his mother before she passed away because she loved him for who he was.

This movie made me appreciate the people in my life who have helped me deal with my emotions and supported me through my ups, downs and in-betweens. Tom Hanks embodied Mr. Rogers’ warm and sincere personality so well, and the film score is absolutely beautiful, rich with cello and piano (it makes me want to practice my cello harder so I can get an opportunity to play on a film score). The music gave the film its sweet touch. I would love to see this film again, although I would still probably get choked up again if I were to see it again. Like a lot of people I grew up watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on TV and so watching the film made me nostalgic for those episodes of the show.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. 2019. Rated PG for some strong, thematic material, a brief fight and some mild language.

Book Review: Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder by Reshma Saujani

I needed to read this book after my friend recommended it to me. My life depended on it. I started it last night and finished it this morning. Why? Because I am a Grade-1 perfectionist and people-pleaser and I could relate to everything the author talked about. Of course, there is nothing wrong with saying “yes” to things, but if you say “yes” too many times, people get used to the idea that you will just do what they want 24/7 without you making any time for yourself. In this book, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code Reshma Saujani talks about how she struggled with (and still struggles with, but is getting better at) having the confidence to stop putting other people’s agendas before her own and follow her passion even at the risk of so-called “failing”. According to Saujani, society has conditioned women to not embrace failure and to see it as a burden rather than as an opportunity to keep trying at something that we may not always be good at. From the time people are boys and girls, historical social norms dictate that boys are supposed to get their hands dirty and if they mess up, to just grit their teeth and keep going, while girls are told to play nice and not cause a fuss at the risk of hurting other people’s feelings. Fast forward to when girls become women and those gender norms continue to hold women back and let men move forward.

I remember when I was applying for jobs, I was unemployed and depressed, but I remember one of my friends telling me to keep applying for jobs even though I didn’t have 100 percent of the qualifications for the job. I’m not saying that I blame my tendency to be modest on any of the past jobs I’ve had, and I frankly don’t regret working as a dishwasher, daycare teacher, a barista, or today as a legal office clerk because not only did these jobs teach me how to just show up and do the work even if I was depressed, but for the simple reason that they helped me make money so I could do the things I wanted, even something as simple as buying a $10 tabbouleh, grape leaf dolma, fruit and greens salad for dinner one night during one of my shifts. Although I will say that I still have a deep-seated fear when it comes to applying for jobs where I would make more money, because I don’t want to be seen as ungrateful for my current position, or moreover that I didn’t have all the qualifications and thus, why bother trying? Recently I was looking at jobs in the entertainment industry and I love film and TV just as much as I love music, but the idea of even applying for the job gave me that sickening feeling of “well, if I pitch this idea, what if it’s not what they want?” or even something like just playing and practicing music that someone else wrote because I fear writing my own music. Although quite a few people have told me to just start writing music even though I don’t have a formal degree in music or film composition, I still hold on to this deep-seated fear that if I produce my own compositions for cello or start pitching compositions to producers or other highly successful people in the industry, they will find out I’m not as experienced or as confident as I seem, or worse yet, that they will reject my music because it’s not what they are looking for.

But what’s beautiful and genius about Reshma’s book is that she encourages girls and women to worry not about whether or not we get accepted or rejected, but instead to worry about not trying at all. I auditioned for an orchestra and got on the substitute cellist list back in 2016, and thought I totally messed up when I emailed the personnel manager about how to obtain copies of the cello parts for the season so I could practice them in case they called me to sub for someone. Even though looking back, it was for the best, I still remember days when I would cry and think about how I offended the personnel manager and how, the minute he got my email, he harrumphed and thought, “Well! I never. How rude of her to even inquire!” But after seeking guidance and chanting daimoku about my situation, I realized that he could have not answered my email for a variety of reasons that were out of my control: maybe he wasn’t allowed to make copies because of copyright policies. Or the cellists were all present for their rehearsals (I wouldn’t wish the common cold on any of them, even though we’re human and it happens). Maybe he got busy and had a flurry of other emails to answer. The list goes on. Bottom line is, I auditioned for another orchestra after not getting any opportunities to sub for anyone, got rejected by that orchestra, cried about getting rejected from that. I auditioned for another orchestra after that, submitting my audition videos online, got rejected by that. I submitted those videos for a cello festival, got rejected, too. At first I wallowed in frustration and pity: why couldn’t I get in any professional orchestras? I stopped practicing as much because I was putting all my hopes into, mind you, one of several career paths for musicians. Then, my teacher told me about this opportunity to join a community orchestra, and how the director wanted me to join because they were looking for a cellist. At first, I was still salty about not getting into any professional orchestras, but I took this one because I was tired of sitting alone in my room and practicing in hopes that someone would notice my hard work and talent and magically whisk me away to play with the New York Philharmonic. So I joined and to this day, I love playing in the orchestra. Now of course, I’m also looking into additional music opportunities, but this orchestra will provide the training I need to play with other people. I remember meeting one of the cellists of this orchestra I saw one night. She was one of a handful of women in the cello section and I remember being so happy to meet her and talk with her, and the best advice she gave me was to go for the audition but to not put all my eggs in one basket and not stress out about the audition being the only important thing in the world. She was right; as much as I have looked up on the Internet “how to be a successful cellist” or “how to be a successful musician”, there’s no clear cut answer, and at the end of the day, you don’t become a rich success after acing one audition, no matter how much the media wants you to think so. Orchestra musicians still have to pay their bills and find other avenues to make money, because being in an orchestra by itself will not pay all of your bills. It’s just like being any other musician; it pays, but you should still keep your day job in case gigs aren’t coming in as steadily as you hoped. It is a great opportunity and there are also more creative ways to make money as a musician. You just have to be willing to work with what you’ve got and bring your ideas and talents to the table whether or not you fail or succeed at doing so.

Another important point Saujani makes is that practicing gratitude is important when confronting rejection or failure. Even if we didn’t get the job, or win the political campaign, we should be appreciative of the people who helped us on that path, and especially appreciate that there was even an opportunity to go outside our comfort zone and try something new. I recently started keeping a gratitude journal and while at first I started listing the basics, I found it was hard to stop writing and by the time I was done I had listed at least 50 things I was grateful for that day. It’s hard to be grateful when we’re suffering, but it’s the thing that keeps us going. Looking back, my depression stemmed from a lack of appreciation for my life, and coming to understand this has helped me grow so much more. I remember one time a professional dancer told me that to succeed as an artist, you need to love yourself and have an attitude of appreciation. I think this is especially important as a classical musician, because so much time and money goes into lessons, coachings, festivals, that many of us (myself included) forget that there are people out there learning an instrument who don’t have all those financial resources at their easy access, or they may not have access to an instrument at all. This perspective actually helps my performances and fuels my passion because I am less hung up on the idea that I need to be 100 percent perfect so that the one music critic in the back marking up the mistakes I need to go back on with his/her/their score in hand doesn’t criticize my performance one bit. After reading Saujani’s book, I realize that the reason I couldn’t overcome those butterflies in my stomach when, on audition day, I stepped into the church and checked in at the desk, when I sat in the practice room with my hands clamming up, trying to nail any trouble spots, when I walked into the choral practice room and saw the judges writing their criticisms of the last audition in steely silence, was that I wanted to please each and every one of them.

But I remember watching an interview that cellist Alisa Weilerstein did with Zsolt Bognar of Living the Classical Life, and she said that you can’t please everyone and you just have to perform in a way that is true to yourself whether you think people will like it or not. I remember another interview that Bognar did with opera singer Nadine Sierra, and she talks about how she got teased when she was younger for loving opera and when she got older she got more and more criticism from people who didn’t like her performances, but she tells Zsolt that you shouldn’t worry about pleasing everyone because not everyone is going to like what you do, and that’s ok. Yes, there are times when someone will tell us we are out of tune or need to approach the piece with a different character. However, there is a clear difference between someone who wants you to improve and someone who just wants to vent about how much you stink and should never perform live ever again. And if someone doesn’t like your performance, well, you just keep on performing.

Saujani encourages girls and young women to strive to do our best rather than do a perfect performance without any mistakes. In every performance and rehearsal I have done, there has never been a time where I haven’t played one note out of tune, accidentally rushed or played the wrong bow stroke. However, that hasn’t stopped me from playing music. It may have at times discouraged me from pursuing auditions for a long time, but at the end of the day, it’s important to have a healthy outlook and not put all your life into making the critics happy. My teacher said that it’s important to practice, but you should also practice as if you were going to get up in front of a bunch of people and perform. At times I wondered to myself why I wasn’t getting any better no matter how much I practiced, and after a while, I came to understand that I was working too much on getting every single note perfectly in tune rather than working on the story I wanted to tell through the piece. Technique is important, of course, but it shouldn’t detract you from playing the piece with your own interpretation. At the end of the day, I can only play in the way that is most natural for me. I’m sure that Mstislav Rostropovich, Jacqueline Du Pre, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheku Kanneh-Mason or any other cellist out there would want me or other cellists to stop trying to copy their style and figure out their own interpretation of the piece.

I also like how inclusive Saujani’s definition of bravery is. She references Adam Grant’s book Originals, in which he says that innovative people tend to procrastinate, and take less risks, but unlike people who just let their ideas remain dormant, original people realize that they can’t just keep their ideas to themselves any longer and must share them even if they get rejected, called out, etc. Being a creative person doesn’t mean we need to quit our days jobs so we can spend all the time we need on ideas. Ava DuVernay didn’t quit her day job, neither did Stephen King, John Legend or Steve Wozniak. Instead they pursued their projects while paying their bills just like the rest of society. They showed up and did the work even when it wasn’t perfect, and even when their ideas got rejected multiple times, they kept creating and creating until their projects found a place in the market. Before reading Originals I thought I needed to quit my day job so I could have more practice time. But after reading the experiences of musicians, actors and other people in the arts and entertainment industries, it seemed foolish to quit my day job, especially since I didn’t have much money to begin with. Also, the internet has made it so easy for people to share their art with the world and find fellow artists to collaborate with, versus in the olden days when your talent was the only thing that got you that multimillion dollar break with Capitol Records. While working as a barista, there were times I wouldn’t practice my cello because I was so exhausted from work, but now I do the work even if the practice isn’t perfect or I don’t have all the time in the world to play that one note perfectly. Actors go on auditions even when they wait tables or work in IT, band members still get together and play even when they are finishing up their graduate theses, and stand-up comedians get up on stage even when they drive passengers around in Uber or Lyft to pay their bills. It’s better to try and fail at your craft each day than to put in the towel and quit just because you don’t have all of the financial means or time to succeed in it. Being brave to me means practicing my music even when I’m not (yet) a world class performer. Being brave means writing this post even if I’m not (yet) a best-selling author. Being brave means putting my music on Soundcloud and YouTube even when I don’t (yet) have a big following. (Saujani also encourages girls and women to say “yet” instead of “I haven’t accomplished [x] and will never accomplish [x].”

I’m also more inspired to finish my JavaScript course now that I’ve read Brave, Not Perfect. In fact, Saujani says she had no coding experience prior to starting Girls Who Code, but what motivated her to get the initiative running was seeing a lack of girls in the field of STEM and wanting to change that narrative. Had she waited until she got the skills to start it, she wouldn’t have followed her gut and just done the thing (a.k.a. addressing the lack of opportunities given to girls to learn coding). I remember not coding for a while and even quitting one of my coding courses because I didn’t do as well as I wanted when putting together my final project for my HTML and CSS courses. But I’m going to finish the Javascript Basics course whether or not I think I’m good at it simply because I get an opportunity to work with numbers. I feared math even after taking years of learning center math after school, and even after acing one of my favorite subjects, algebra (probably because geometry and pre-calculus were my least successful subjects), but coding gives me a chance to start afresh, and much evidence has shown that coding is great for creative types like me. So here goes nothing, and cheers to celebrating my willingness to try.

Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder. Reshma Saujani. 194 pp. 2019.

Eclectic Playlist of the Week

  1. “Spontaneous”: Lindsey Stirling
  2. “Deed I Do”: Lena Horne
  3. “Just Like You”: Three Days Grace
  4. “Maybe Not”: Cat Power
  5. “Besame Mucho”: Chantal Chamberland
  6. “Turn It On Again”: Genesis
  7. “This Head I Hold” Electric Guest
  8. “Staralfur”: Sigur Ros
  9. Enigma Variations: Edward Elgar
  10. “I’m Not Afraid”: Jill Scott
  11. “Comatose”: Skillet
  12. “I Will Not Bow”: Breaking Benjamin
  13. “Help”: Papa Roach
  14. “Lovely”: Billie Eilish and Khalid
  15. “Down”: Marian Hill
  16. “Like That”: Bea Miller
  17. “everything i wanted”: Billie Eilish

Movie Review: Girls Trip

I wasn’t sure how I would like this movie, but I knew many people who saw it and enjoyed it, so I finally got around to watching it, and I must say, it is one of the best movies I have seen. It’s about four friends (played by Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish) who reunite at the Essence Festival in New Orleans. For those who don’t know about the festival (I haven’t been yet), it is held to celebrate the publication of Essence magazine, which is geared towards empowering young Black women. After watching this movie, I now really want to go to this festival.

The movie also has some really good life lessons about friendship, telling the truth and challenges the idea that women, particularly Black women, are these superheroes who can do everything and fix everything for people. The problem with this long-held stereotype is that it hasn’t allowed for women (in this context I am particularly talking about Black women) to take care of their own needs since they are so busy taking care of other people’s needs. To be honest, I haven’t seen many friendship films where Black women are the protagonists; usually, they are the side friend or the comic relief with, like, two lines. Girls Trip is one of the few movies (and as far as I can remember, the only, with the exception of the film adaptation of For Colored Girls) where the focus is on friendships between Black women. It wouldn’t even do justice to compare this movie to Bridesmaids; it was an initial thought, but as I think about it, Maya Rudolph was the only Black women in the friend group in Bridesmaids (of course, that’s not taking a dig at the film as a whole, I loved Bridesmaids. It was just a little detail that I didn’t pay much attention to while watching the film, but now notice after watching a film like Girls Trip, where all of the friends are Black women).