Sunday, April 24, 2022

Grandfather, the Craftsman

I would love to introduce to the audience a dear friend of mine – a grandfather. This kind and sometimes – on the surface – cold man has made waves and left marks in the world of woodwork. His first work was a clean cut but cubic model of a turtle. Some of his most recent and notable works include those below – a 13 foot tandem canoe and a lithe statue of The Lift. The decades that have visited and left him in the meantime are extended moment of formation – sometimes extreme. Whether it be war and more intimate death or love and lakeside rest – he is able to use timber for a number of ends in various means. These ends can be decks and kitchen cabinets in the form of function or models and works of art in the function of form. His favorite kind of work however are the items that are blend the two notions with his own fascination with the world as he understands it. The boat above – and below – is functional because he wanted to build one. It is not fashioned in a character much his own alone but also decorated with his love for the chemical bases of life. This kind of work also includes love chests and instruments made for members and friends of our households. He considers timber in each of these cases as an extension of a fluid mind into concrete time and dimension – actualization – for whatever the cause because he loves to do so.

The nature of this extension however entails an intricate creative track that is both wild and sane. It could involve the identification of a lack – whether it be artistic or a set of stairs – and then an extensive amount of time in the mental acrobatics of abstract invention drawn out in metrics. These two kinds of ends – form or function or some kind of combination – both include a series of material and construction tests before the decision about how to move on is made. These tests inform what he can or can’t achieve – but he notes these failures as sources for new ideas such as a new form of timber. The ends are sometimes not what he had set out for – but each one was considered for hundreds of hours. I love him a lot for it.

Here's a video of him –

Ai Yazawa and the Realistic Depiction of Love

Ai Yazawa is the pen name of the manga author of iconic series such as Nana and Paradise Kiss. She is known for her realistic art style that beautifully captures the emotions of her characters unlike any other and female-centered storylines, which has changed the manga genre forever and cemented her as an icon in girls’ manga.

Ai Yazawa was born on March 7, 1967, in Japan. She originally went to school to become a fashion designer, but later dropped out. Her time at art school still greatly affected her work, with all of her characters sporting trendy, elaborate outfits, which makes her work extremely popular with fashion enthusiasts. While Ai is her given name, the name Yazawa comes from singer Eikichi Yazawa, whom she is a fan of. She claims that musicians and designers inspire her work just as much as other manga authors, and her ability to take inspiration from other art mediums is prevalent in the details of her stories. She started writing in 1985, and since has released over 10 series. Her most famous works include Nana, Paradise Kiss, Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai, and Gokinjo Monogatari, with Nana and Paradise Kiss receiving anime adaptations, and even a live-action film adaptation of Nana with a sequel.

Arguably her most popular work (and my personal favorite), is Nana, which tells the story of two girls who are the same age, with the same name, who are both moving to Tokyo, and happen to sit next to each other on the train. Nana Komatsu is traveling to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend and her friends while trying to find a job, while Nana Osaki is traveling to Tokyo to begin her career as a singer. Later on, they run into each other again while looking for an apartment and decide to live together. The story follows their friendship while they navigate the troubles of independence and young love. 

Ai Yazawa is known for her female-centered stories that realistically depict relationships and the hardships of growing up. While other shojo, or romance, manga may depict love through rose-colored glasses, Yazawa’s storylines never shy away from depicting the ugly sides of romance, with relationships often serving as a tool of character development for her characters. Her characters are relatable and full of dimension and depth, not afraid to show their flaws, and constantly learning from mistakes. Yazawa uses a three-dimensional art style to embody the multi-dimensional characters. With trendy clothing and hairstyles and attention to small details in the face, Ai Yazawa is able to perfectly capture the emotional rollercoaster of her characters, proving her mastery of the down-to-earth storytelling that has cemented her as an icon in manga.

While she had to go on hiatus in 2009 due to illness, she said in an interview that she intends to finish Nana, the tragically incomplete masterpiece which is arguably one of the best girls’ manga of all time. I patiently await the day that she (fingers crossed) releases more of Nana. Ai Yazawa is a Pro-C, with an extensive career and published works unlike any other before that produced commercial success and changed the genre of romance manga forever.

Tina Fey: Unbreakable Comedic Genius

Tina Fey

    Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, known publicly as Tina Fey, is a writer and actress who has received a plethora of awards and authored a wide range of creative works. From 1999 to 2006, she wrote for Saturday Night Live, during which she also appeared in the film Mean Girls, then transitioned to writing her own 7-season show 30 Rock. She continued to work in the film and television industry, notably co-creating the Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She also wrote the script for Broadway’s musical Mean Girls based on the original movie and went on to write her memoir Bossypants. From these works, Fey has won nine Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, five Screen Actors Guild Awards, seven Writers Guild Awards, three Producers Guild Awards, the AP Entertainer of the Year award, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Tina Fey at the 2009 Emmy Awards

    To reach this level of success, Fey spent years mastering her craft. As a prodigal middle school student, she completed an independent study on comedy after finishing all of her regular course material, encouraged by an eighth-grade teacher to become a writer. She served as editor of her high school’s newspaper and participated in both choir and musical theater. She later went on to study drama at the University of Virginia, then moved to Chicago to take classes with and eventually join the cast of Second City. Throughout these years of work, Fey was intrinsically motivated by her love of writing and performing, noting that she really realized she liked it during high school and college. Although she has said that her high school musical theater performances were a "mistake", Fey also said, “kind of like the way a lot of people love sports but can’t actually play the sport they’re a fan of — that’s always been me with musical theater.” Although she has not always succeeded in all of her pursuits, her personal enjoyment has motivated her to continue working and writing.

    Considering her creative process, Fey creates through flexibility. When asked how to succeed in writing and comedy, she recommends that writers “let things be malleable,” emphasizing the importance of patience and letting go. She has also said that writing can be very difficult, but that it is important to work hard and put work out for people to see and hear without fear, taking feedback insofar as it is valuable to progress. Also playing into her process, Fey uses personal experience and life events in her work. When writing the script for the Mean Girls musical, Fey shared that she “revisited high school behaviors of [her] own” and named characters after people she knew from college.

    Another motivating factor for Fey is her feminism. During her time at SNL, she became the show’s first female head writer and often notes during interviews that she refuses to pit herself or other women against one another. Writing about women is also one of her passions. When asked about her process of writing female characters and stories, she has said, “I like to write about women, not so much about the way they relate to men, but about the way they relate to each other.” Fey is an inspirational creative, both for her range of accomplishments and her determination.

X Ambassador's Casey Harris: Experiences Become Music

Music was always going to be a part of Casey Harris’ life; but making a career out of it was a combination of both luck and hard work. Founding member of the alt-rock group X-Ambassadors, Harris works with his brother, Sam as lead vocalist, as well as drummer Adam Levin. Together, they’ve released three albums since 2015, as well as a number of individual releases.

For five or six years before the band began, Harris worked as a piano tuner in Ithaca, New York. When his brother needed a pianist for his band, Harris joined, and X Ambassadors was formed.

Their latest album, “The Beautiful Liar,” was released in September 2021, and was inspired largely by the audio dramas the brothers listened to when they were younger. Harris took a memory of a genre he loved and used it as an analogy for an album structure, intercutting songs with short, dramatized audio segments. The album also has a companion podcast, which tells the coming-of-age story of a blind girl becoming a superhero.

Harris himself is blind, and his experiences growing up had an impact on his songwriting. The band’s most well-known hit, “Renegades,” (which currently has more than 500 million streams on Spotify) was written as a love letter to those who feel like outsiders, as Harris did for much of his life.

“The Beautiful Liar” also wrestles with one’s shadow self, a concept pioneered by Carl Jung. Sam Harris also admits that the motif is likely a reflection of how he feels in regard to his blind older brother – a presence that constantly hovers nearby and is potentially overbearing.

Incubation and taking time away from creation is an integral part of Harris, and the rest of the band’s, songwriting process. “Especially when it comes to music, I think spending some time with your nose not to the grindstone somehow results in more creative, more inspired material.”

When discussing his feelings on getting back to music after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris hints towards an intrinsic motivation for his art, saying that, “it's really, really been nice to rehearse and play music together again. I've forgotten how much I love doing that.” He also views music as a form of escapism, saying, “When you're feeling trapped, claustrophobic, like the world is a dangerous, threatening place, at least you can go write music, go play music, and it makes you feel at least somewhat better.”

Massive, Massive Talent

        Prior to the past two days, I never could have called myself a Nic Cage fan. I respect legends, and I love National Treasure and really enjoyed Adaptation, but my enjoyment of the average Nic Cage movie is unpredictable. In some ways, my mixed reactions to Cage’s performances mirror the unpredictability of how Cage’s movies will be received by the rest of the public. Cage is weird. Not all of his performances work for me. But my perception of his ability to craft characters was transformed after seeing his movie, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.


     In the movie, Cage plays himself as he navigates a complicated kidnapping plot and tries to define himself. The movie is weird as hell but is worth a watch, because it offers real insight into an actor who struggles to define himself in a world that has mythologized and (potentially) misrepresented him. Cage seems oddly conscious of his status as both an acting legend and a complete meme, but seems to care very little about either of these labels. To me, this is the heart of his creative process; he is incredibly open to doing whatever it takes to improving his performances in his own eyes, regardless of how other people view them. 

That is not to say that Cage is wholly intrinsically motivated. In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, Cage noted that he is inspired by his love of acting and working, but that there have also been times when he has taken roles simply to get a paycheck. It was also noteworthy how much Cage referenced other actors and other movies in his interview. It is clear that he is inspired by his peers, but the extent to which he discusses them seems indicative of the “collecting” creative process. Cage goes as far as to reference a time when he was so inspired by a commercial that John Stamos did that he emulated Stamos’ speaking inflections in one of his movies. Cage also clearly uses analogies as a means of sorting out where he stands in the film industry. When discussing why he stopped being an avid reader of philosophy, Cage states, “I thought people would rather see me as an orangutan than as an eagle meditating on the mountaintop anyway.” 

Again, Cage’s acting style is bizarre and I have absolutely no idea why he makes some of the acting choices that he does. But, as Cage points out in the interview, people with massive talent often aren’t understood in the public sphere. Cage’s talent comes from his ability to drop all conceptions about how he is perceived by others and channel his style in a unique way. I’m genuinely excited to see where his career will go next.


Rob McElhenny: creator of It's Always Sunny and Mythic Quest


    Releasing its 15th season over the pandemic, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has become one of the most popular US television sitcoms on air. The show’s characters each bring their unique, backwards personalities to current culture, masterfully written to be appalling but not hated. Rob McElhenny has helped to create some of the most well-known neighborhood psychopaths and put those characters into the hearts of thousands of viewers.


    It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia started on a budget of almost nothing. Shot with friends Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenny, and Kaitlin Olson, the crew threw together two episodes and presented it before various studios, finally landing on FX who gave them the most freedom to work. While McElhenny is a heavy proponent of collaboration in the writing room, talking about how the American cult of personality doesn’t do justice to the teamwork it takes to create these projects, he was worried that bringing in Danny DeVito for the second season to up ratings might also upset the chemistry of the group. Now, about 15 years later, DeVito holds the same position in the gang as the rest and is a beloved part of the series.


    Its Always Sunny is based on a short written by McElhenny while living in a garage in West Hollywood. McElhenny talks about trying to flip a dramatic scene around to draw comedy from it. What it turned out to be was Its Always Sunny’s inverse of the classic sitcom group. It’s McElhenny’s self-awareness that makes these characters so well-loved and simultaneously hated. The views of the characters are so distorted and inherently flawed that it’s made obvious that the actions performed, and views held by these characters are not those of the producers and actors. In a podcast with Marc Maron, McElhenny talks about how the original skit was his passion project. He wanted to be involved in the whole process of what was then a short film, up until he has the disk in his hand. This would later be echoed in his desire to keep the show under their control when getting it signed with a studio. This short film, and another the group made soon after, would constitute the first two episodes of the show under production. McElhenny and the show went on to completely reimagine what the protagonists of a sitcom group could be.


    With Its Always Sunny renewed for its 18th season, McElhenny has not slowed down with a passion to also do something new. Another product of this passion is McElhenny’s Mythic Quest. Again, Rob Mcelhenny shows his self-awareness in writing about the gaming industry in a comedic but honest way. It’s this self-awareness that lets him personify such truly flawed characters and in a comedic way to boot.


WTF podcast with Marc Maron ep. 582

Robert Eggers: A Brilliant New Voice in Horror Films

Robert Eggers is an American filmmaker who has made three films thus far in his career. Directing and writing his own films, Eggers most recent film is The Northman, a Viking epic which was released on April 22, 2022. With his first film The Witch premiering in 2015, Eggers has specialized in making films in the genre of psychological horror. His work is incredibly meticulous and jarring as it focuses on subjects from the past such as “witches” in 1630s New England and 19th century lighthouse workers while containing scenes of graphic violence and disturbing imagery. In crafting each of his films, Eggers researches the subjects of each of his films deeply. For example, in writing the screenplay for his 2019 film The Lighthouse, Eggers took inspiration from a Welsh folktale about two lighthouse keepers who shared the same name and became stranded on their lighthouse station. In the tale, the two men eventually go mad and one of them dies. In seeking to perfectly recreate the aesthetics of the 19th century lighthouse and the men who worked on such stations, Eggers delved deeply into historical records of the time, blueprints of lighthouses, symbolic art from the period, and classic literature from authors such as Herman Melville to capture the essence of the environment he was seeking to recreate. He states: “There are some things that we stretch, but my entire process is research-based. With the creation of the physical world, the material world, I’m trying for it to be as accurate as possible…There are so many choices to be made that it’s nice to have choices being made for you by research.” In this statement, Eggers describes the process of collecting as informing how his creative process operates. For Eggers, collecting this wealth of information for each film allows him to better control how he can construct the visual world of the film, providing his work with an element of realism that is able to draw the audience in to the work and keep them grounded and invested amidst the chaos of the horror surrounding the characters. It also enables him to devote more time to crafting the thematic and emotional elements of his work that truly make his films so impactful.

Collaboration is also a major aspect of Eggers’ creative process. As a film director, collaboration is a necessity, but Eggers seems to make special note of how important of an element it is to his work when discussing his creative process. In writing The Lighthouse, Robert worked alongside his brother Max in researching and crafting the narrative for film. Additionally, Eggers has also worked with actress Anya Taylor-Joy on two of his three films. In discussing their recent collaboration for The Northman, he states: “I mean it was so great because we’ve both grown a lot since we worked together on The Witch. I love repeat collaborations…But also as far as her work in the film when you’re working with someone who you already trust, like we can push each further and get to better results quicker.” Eggers frequently notes how collaboration is able to spur such an intense variety of ideas that can elevate the films he makes. Even when working with repeat collaborators on different projects, he discusses how those creatives can grow and change between projects and how that development over time that can spark new ideas that he could not have imagined himself for the film. For a writer-director such as Eggers, working with others may seem counterintuitive to the more individual type of filmmaking that he is embarking on. Yet, Eggers is able to recognize the tremendous value of collaboration and how working alongside others and utilizing their ideas on top of his own is able to elevate his work further. While Eggers is young and still has yet to truly make his mark in the film mainstream despite working with some of this generation’s most prominent actors, his incredible creativity leaps from the screen. His brand of psychological horror is incredibly unique, and I hope to see his work gain a greater following as he continues to make films, influencing and impacting audiences and other creatives alike.