Literary Inspiration: Middlesex

Middlesex Collage

Have you ever, fearing the absolute worst of something or someone, just put that something or someone off, for days, weeks or years?  I mean, hopefully if that something is, say, renewing your license and that someone is twenty one pilots’ drummer Josh Dun’s arms the Queen, you could hotfoot it a bit, but by and large, there are a spectacular number of obligations, experiences and even people that we can, and do, put by the wayside, sometimes forever, but mostly just for what feels like forever.  Then, many moons later, we finally get our acts together and do the uncomfortable thing that we’ve been putting off for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, and it’s no big deal.  Or, more likely, it turned out to be a great time/the very best course of action/just the thing that  needed to happen, and all we can do is berate ourselves after the fact for our nonsensical dithering (also known as WhyDidn’tIDoThisSooner-itis.)

I’ve done this with countless big ticket purchases (cars, mattresses, our apartment) and experiences – 13 Disney-less years of existence prior to 2017 would certainly bear out that assertion.  And I do it with the media I consume as well – whilst tidying up our possessions in contemplation of the nearly-completed renovations to our apartment, I found all manner of forgotten movies, television shows and books, things I meant to get to, but never did, because at one time in the distant past, they just weren’t speaking to me.

But life is short and all that not-so trite shite, and in my advancing years, I’ve learned that putting off the uncomfortable, the awkward, the expensive and the unpleasant does you no favours in the present, and maybe even a good deal of damage in the future.  So go ahead and buy that new mattress that both your back and sleeping patterns so desperately need, even though you know it’s going to be a righteous pain in the ass to move it in and dispose of the old guy, and mattresses are so expensive, so why even bother in the first place, even though you’re pretty sure if you sleep one more night on the back-breaker from hell, you’ll wake up crippled (totally speaking from personal experience here, and yes, our new mattress – delivered four days ago, and indeed, it was a pain moving it in – is divinely comfortable, and we’ve been getting great sleep, and Why Didn’t I Do This Sooner?)  Or hit up that restaurant/theatre/gallery/club/bar that you’ve always been interested in visiting, even though it’s in a completely inconvenient part of town with absolutely zero parking, and, and, and…just go, struggle a bit with the parking, sure, but ultimately enjoy a fantastic evening and discover a fun new activity, and Why Didn’t You Do This Sooner?  TL;DR?  The only predictable thing in life is its unpredictability, and the universe WILL be a dink.  So stop making excuses and get on with it already.

And that goes doubly for the movies and TV shows we (don’t) watch, the music we (sometimes) listen to and especially the books we (forget to) read, which have a tendency to languish on IKEA Billy bookcases for decades until we take them down and finally devour them as part of a friend’s reading challenge (the third prompt, “Carpe read ’em – a title on your TBR for 1+ years”), unexpectedly love the crap out them and then spend the next week berating ourselves for not reading them sooner.  Once again speaking from personal experience, this time regarding Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2002 Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel from the author of my favourite book, The Virgin Suicides, and a novel that sat, unread, on my IKEA Billy bookcase for 17 years, because I ultimately just wasn’t that interested in the story and could never work up the motivation to even crack open the front cover.  And this is a book that was gifted to me because I asked for it!

Middlesex Bookshelf

But I was wrong to put off this novel for so long, because it was a certifiable discovery, one of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in years, and one tagged with a front cover pull quote from my hometown newspaper, no less!

Middlesex 1

But on its face, I get it, Middlesex doesn’t look like much.  This is the story of Calliope Stephanides, an American-born Greek growing up in suburban Detroit in the 1960s and ’70s.  Cal is born with ambiguous genitalia, a fact that goes completely unnoticed by her aging doctor, her loving, but increasingly WASP-y family, and even herself.  It’s not until Callie fails to develop like other girls her age that her parents take her to a specialist in New York City, an act that blows the lid off a huge family secret and sets the wheels in motion for Calliope to truly become Cal.

The story actually begins in 1922 in Bithynios with the man and woman who will become Cal’s grandparents fleeing the Turkish troops laying waste to their small Greek island.  We follow them as they immigrate to America, settling quickly in Detroit, with Cal’s grandfather, Lefty, taking work in the then-flourishing auto industry, whilst also dabbling in a bit of rum-running, gambling and speakeasy-ing on the side.  We watch as Cal’s grandmother, Desdemona, struggles with new American customs, holding firm to the old ways, though still desperately trying to outrun the past.  We see Lefty and Desdemona begin a family, and then watch as their son, Milton, grows into a deeply romantic young man, whose spurned affections for Tessie, the girl next door, lead him into a deeply ill-considered stint with the Navy.  But Milton returns to Detroit whole, and counting their lucky stars, he and Tessie marry and they begin a family of their own.  We then watch as their daughter, Calliope, grows up in the shadow of the floundering Motor City, a product of her Greek immigrant grandparents more than she could ever know.

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Middlesex is a book about a person finding their true identity, inasmuch as they choose to be defined by their genetic markers.  But moreover, it’s a book about a person finding their true identity simply by living it.  We are there for every moment of Cal’s mostly average suburban life.  We see her attend school, make friends, develop an infatuation, spend time with her family – the stuff of normal childhood and teenage life.  She becomes the person she was was meant to be (or more accurately, the person he was meant to be) mostly because of her upbringing and environment – post race-riots Detroit – and less because of what gendered box she checks off on the census.  And when Callie finally does embrace the Cal side of her identity, it changes virtually nothing about his basic personality, which has always been kind, thoughtful, respectful and loving (dated though it now is, this book could be a timely resource in today’s politically-charged climate, a reminder that not all “others” are scary freakshows trying to steal the government’s money so they can swap genders as easily as pulling on a pair of pants; it’s a LOT more nuanced than that, and also a lot more normal – whatever that word means – than you might expect.)

There is a reason Middlesex won the Pulitzer Prize, and that’s because Jeffrey Eugenides is a phenomenal writer.  Bit of a literary hermit, that one – he really only pokes his head out every 10 years or so, drops some astonishing bit of prize-winning art on us and then retreats to his foxhole.  But when people speak of effortless, lyrical writing, this is what they mean.  I can think of few authors who would be able to turn such a sprawling family tree into this engaging, enlightening and slyly funny a coming-of-age tale.  I absolutely adored Middlesex.  Please read it so we can talk about it together.

As always, I have nail art to accompany this review (can it be called a review if you spend the first 800 words talking about your renos?)  Here I’ve got the Detroit city skyline as against a gradient pink sunset, the only kind there apparently were in the heyday of the Motor City, when all the smog, pollution and miscellaneous floating about the atmosphere turned every sunset into a lurid pink fever dream.

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Literary Inspiration: Ready Player One

Ready Player One Collage

Fun fact: I’m a bit of a gamer.  Always have been, actually.  As a kid, I loved playing Q-Bert, Frogger and OG Donkey Kong on my family’s Texas Instruments rig whilst waiting for our gigantic claw-footed bathtub to fill.  Naked (and yes, there is a completely mortifying photo to that effect – a Polaroid, no less – and no, you will never see it!)

As a slightly older kid, I owned every generation of Nintendo and squared off with my friends every chance I could get – the Super Mario Bros. games were favourites, though I’d dabble in Sega titles from time to time.

Super Mario 1

In high school I fell in love with the Donkey Kong Country games to such an extent, I was able to parlay my mad skills into a first place finish in a Kong-centric drinking game during a big, multi-school party.  Yup, I was definitely the “winner” that evening. 😦  And I know I used to drive my best friend absolutely bonkers because I’d play while we were on the phone together, and she totally knew.  Sorry, Sandra!

Then one Saturday morning right toward the end of high school, my dad came home from a local garage sale and tossed me an open NES cartridge, saying, “Here, you like this zombie crap, don’t you?”  The game?  Zombies Ate My Neighbors, a super rare cult classic from Konami that went on to occupy my off-hours attention for the remainder of high school and most of university.  Trust my dad to just wander into purchasing one of the rarest and most beloved zombie games ever released for a buck at a garage sale. 😉

Between the end of university and the beginning of my Life As An Adult (still waiting for that to take hold, by the way) my gaming fields went fallow – access is key, and I didn’t have either of the big consoles at the time, or a PC.  Then I met Mr. Finger Candy and we got so serious so quickly, he MOVED HIS PLAYSTATION INTO MY APARTMENT.  This really warrants all caps, because at the time, this was basically the equivalent of him leaving his penis at my apartment all day long – that’s how important that PS2 was to him (also one of the ways I knew how very serious he was about our relationship, because he was willing to entrust his most beloved possession to his new girlfriend and her roommate, who played the CRAP out of it – particularly the badass snowboarding game, SSX – every chance they could get.)

PS Nails

Then a couple of years after we got married, Mr. Finger Candy introduced me to the Sims.  And the next four months are largely unaccounted for (beyond knowing that I spent nearly every second of them in the guest bedroom crafting a glorious desert trailer park filled with pirates and carnies and ill-tempered ex-celebrities.)  I haven’t played with that level of intensity since (and that’s probably a good thing; the Sims is, shall we say, demanding of one’s time) but I’ll still dabble from time to time.

The Sims

I was for a time also completely obsessed with this totally messed up American McGee game called Alice: Madness Returns.  It was an utterly beautiful game, and the visuals were just incredible, but yeesh, what a mindf**k.  I adored it, and indeed, I launched this very blog with some of those working-way-beyond-my-comfort-level designs.

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And my husband is a pretty hardcore gamer, clanning up online with a bunch of buddies to run around and kill virtual things every weekend, be they rogue military factions, zombies or rogue military zombie factions.

The Division Hand

So still lots of gaming in my life, then, now and probably always, so it’s a no brainer that I was drawn to 2018’s Ready Player One, a Spielberg-directed Amblin throwback of gigantic nerd proportions inspired by the 2011 novel of the same name by Ernest Cline.  I adored the movie – spunky kids saving the world from fantasy-based destruction! a giant melee fight scene scored to Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It! and an incredible mash-up of about 200 competing video game, movie and TV titles, including The Iron Giant, Halo, Pikachu, DC Comics, Overwatch, Back to the Future, Gundam, Jurassic Park, Hello freakin’ Kitty, and an absolutely incredible scene set within the world of The Shining that’s worth the price of admission alone.  I loved it.

I loved the novel, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the second theme of “You saw the movie but didn’t read the book…now read the book,” ever so slightly less, simply because it was so intensely detailed and relentless in its references to tech and nerd culture, I found it hard to map the overall story.  It was a really enjoyable read – fun, lively, and with so many delightful little nods to the games and movies that have shaped my life – but I could also never quite shake the feeling that I was sitting an exam on 400-level nerd culture for which I had not studied, and I was about to fail HARD.  This is one of those books that probably requires a second read-through just to pick up the smaller details you may have missed the first time around.

Ready Player One 2

Barring one or two deviations, the movie and the novel tell the same story: It’s the year 2044, and everything sucks.  Humanity’s just given up on trying to solve its unsolvable problems and has retreated into an online mecca known as the OASIS, an unending virtual playground where you can do or be anything you wish.  In Columbus, Ohio, a poor young man by the name of Wade Watts has spent the past five years trying to solve a puzzle left in the OASIS by its late creator, James Halliday.  And Watts is far from the only Gunter (egg hunter) hard at work on cracking the puzzle, because the player who finds Halliday’s easter egg will assume total operational and financial control of the OASIS, a property estimated to be worth nearly two trillion dollars.  With that amount of money and power on the line, the hunt for Halliday’s easter egg lures in more than just the Gunters, with the world’s less morality-minded organizations lining up to lay their claim to the egg.  IOI, or Innovative Online Industries, an outfit that sells medically questionable allotments of ad space AND correctional services, is at the head of those companies, devoting nearly the entirety of their significant operational budget to the search for the egg through any means necessary.

When both the book and the movie open, Wade and a few friends have cracked the first clue, with IOI nipping close at their heels.  And the rest of the book follows this back-and-forth between the independent and corporate forces as they try to assume control of the OASIS for their own ends, peppered with about nine bajillion references to popular culture, technology and hardcore geekery.  There’s also a bit of romance in there.

Where the book and the movie really deviate is in tone, with the movie striking that perfect Spielbergian note of sassy childlike wonder – bad guys are trying to trying to take something good and make it bad, let’s stop them! – while the book went for something much darker.  In the movie, Wade’s parents are dead, victims, he insinuates, of a harsh world ill-suited for good people.  But in the book, you find out that Wade’s parents, paying no heed to their duties as caretakers, destroyed their family and died badly, Wade’s mom overdosing and his father dying during a failed looting attempt.  In the same vein, the IOI of the movie is almost quaint in its forgotten era bad guy tactics, with the book IOI just straight up throwing people off balconies.  But apart from the darker content, the book is just missing that sense of innocent wonder that made the movie such an appealing adaptation in the first place.

Ready Player One 1

But I really liked Ready Player One, sped through it like a beast in about three days, nitpicky little details notwithstanding.  I like these nails I did, inspired by DOS lettering, a lot less.  This is what happens when you refuse to use nail art stuff like striping tape that might make a design that needs to look precise look a lot more precise than it does.  Which is not one bit!  Egads, would you look at that S?!  On second thought, don’t look too closely at it – that thing is atrocious.  This is definitely one for the redo pile, perhaps the next time I reread Ready Player One.

They Say Stay in Your Lane, Boy

TOP 1

Breaking news: This post has nothing to do with Disney!  Um, actually, wait a sec… (*consults first three seconds of the YouTube video posted below*)…yeah, sorry, there’s a bit of Disney in there.  It would appear I literally cannot help myself, no apologies.

Also can’t help myself because we’re talking about twenty one pilots here, my favouritest of the favoured bands, and I will take every opportunity afforded to me in this world to tell absolutely everyone about last Halloween when Mr. Finger Candy and I dressed up like Tyler Joseph, the lead singer of TOP, for an after hours party at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  Rock star cosplaying – I highly recommend it.  Tigger was a fan!

Tyler Two Pilots 11

The other night we finally got to see twenty one pilots live for the first time on their Bandito tour, and they were INCREDIBLE.  So polished!  So much tech – pyro, air jets, confetti, lasers, drum platforms and multiple, moving stages.  So much shirtless Josh Dun, the drummer with the sweet disposition and the even sweeter abbbbbbbbssssssss.  And so much heart.  It’s obvious how much Tyler and Josh love what they do – it radiates from every aspect of this carefully orchestrated production.  This is the adult in me speaking (let her speak; she doesn’t get out very often!) but there’s nothing more attractive than someone(s) showing care and competence.  Not sure I needed the boost, but I’m smitten with TOP all anew. 🙂

And newfound smittenness needs nails, don’t you think?  So here’s a TOP-friendly mani inspired by the aesthetics of their three major albums, 2013’s blue and red Vessel, 2015’s black, red and white Blurryface and 2018’s camo and yellow Trench.

TOP Collage

Being all smitten-like also required me to put together a video I shot of *some* of the show, which you will find below.  But truthfully, I’ll never make a living as a concert blogger (is there such a thing, and where can I get in on this racket?) because I don’t want to be a documentarian, I just want to be there carpe-ing in the moment, singing along to Holding On To You at the top of my lungs whilst offhandedly contemplating Josh’s arms day routine.  It’s unfortunately not a comparable experience to the full show (GO, GO, SEE THEM, YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT) but I hope you enjoy these snippets all the same.

Sparkle Surprise!

Sparkle Surprise Collage 1

Here’s some ultra shimmery, very unicorny nails for no reason other than it’s Thursday, the weather’s all bummy and I have an entire diningroom’s worth of painting to get done before 5 pm this evening.  No sweat, says I!  Although I have been sweating a great deal, which is what happens when you’re contorting yourself into positions never before attempted by the world’s most practiced yogis in order to just. reach. this. onnnnneeeeee. spot. in. the. corner. of. the. closet. that. no. one. but. you. will. ever. see. or. even. know. is. there.  But it will haunt your dreams if you I don’t deal with it immediately, so here we are!

I won’t tell you the base colours I used in this manicure – a chromatic, vaguely fuzzy-looking pink topped with diagonal sponging in chromatic teal and green to mimic the prism of light captured along the edge of this new cup I purchased – because the company is long out of business, and also went down in a spectacular blaze of not-so-glorious glory.  None of the polishes I own were affected by said blaze, so I’ve continued using them, although I try not to talk up the company.

Sparkle Surprise 3

But I did top the whole works off with another polish that I’d be happy to talk up, Orly’s unicorn-in-a-bottle glitter topper, Anything Goes.  This polish hits all the fun P requirements – pretty, pastel and purple!  Now back to a P word of my own, sigh – painting.

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Arizona Shrimp Horny

Arizona Shrimp Horny 1

That’s a line from one of my favourite TV shows, The Good Place, about Kristen Bell’s character, self-described Arizona trashbag Eleanor Shellstrop, a woman who REALLY loves her shrimp.  And maybe even in the biblical sense, according to dimwitted friend Jason Mendoza, an act I would really not put beyond her – Eleanor’s a delightful pervert who’s constantly, improbably horny for everyone and everything, and I’m sure that includes her beloved shrampies.

But all this talk of shrimp, in service of this manicure I did after getting the “Arizona shrimp horny” line stuck in my head for days, made me realize that there are a lot of references to shrimp in my favourite movies and TV shows, and they all make me laugh uproariously.  Brooklyn 99’s Jake is dismayed when he discovers that cruise ship latrines empty into the ocean – “But that’s where my shrimp live!”  Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anya loves to talk up the all-shrimp (or no-shrimp) worlds that populate other dimensions.  The Birdcage’s Agador (Agador Spartacus?) protests when another character whisks away the seafood chowder he’s prepared, calling after them in a singsongy Puerto Rican accent, “But you forgot da tshrimps!”  Raising Hope’s Jimmy horrifies his family after returning home from his grocery store job reeking of disemboweled decapods (“Oh my god, what is that smell?!”  “The poop of 50,000 shrimps.”)  And let’s not forget about The Muppets’ Pepe the Prawn, who always seems to be on the unfortunate end of one of Miss Piggy’s schemes to make Kermit jealous (I laugh for days at the bit in the movie with Jason Segal and Amy Adams where Kermit walks in on Piggy and Pepe, in costume, practicing the lift from the end of Dirty Dancing.  He’s in a tiny little leather jacket, and desperately trying to fend off Piggy’s without-warning attempts at launching herself up and over him while “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” warbles in the background.  Mr. Finger Candy and I practically giggled ourselves into fits contemplating this wee shrimp version of Johnny Castle (we’ve dubbed him Prawny Castle, because how could we not?)

Turns out there’s a lot of references to shrimp in my favourite pop culture, and now here the little buggers are adorning my nails.  Think I might have as big a problem as Eleanor? 😉

Arizona Shrimp Horny 2

Met Gala Monday

Met Gala 2

Well, one week on.  But as with all things in my life lately, it took me a while to find my nail art supplies amidst the mess of these (never-ending) renovations, and it’s not like *I* was the one attending last Sunday’s Costume Institute Gala at the Met – Anna Wintour would never have the scrubby likes of me around, let alone in my current state of perpetual dishevelment, both physical (our new bathtub is lovely; now could we just get a faucet and reconnect the water?) and mental (I keep losing important things – my keys, my wallet – and yesterday I very carefully wrapped up a rasher of bacon and laid it in the cupboard beside the crackers; I just found it this morning.)  Had I managed to score an invite, it most likely would not have been my best showing.

But do you know who looked abso-friggin-lutely fantastic?  Cara Delevingne.  “The cosmic hula-hooping dirt scientist from Suicide Squad?” no one is asking.  Well, yes, her, and okay, I’m in agreement that her turn as Dr. June Moon (seriously) is maybe not one of her better roles as an actress.  But in wearing one of her many other hats as a model, the girl slays – she’s got the strong features, lithe figure and cocky attitude necessary to pull off major runway looks like the one she sported last week at the Met Gala.

Met Gala 3

Years ago I was super into celebrity gossip; spent too much time contemplating the hows and whys and wheres of shoeless Britney in the night.  I kicked my “need” for up-to-the-minute details on the whatabouts of my not-so-favourite stars a long time ago, but I still love looking at morning-after photos of the fashions sported by celebrities on the major red carpets.  And of all the red carpets, the Met Gala’s themed event has got to be the majorest (the carpet was actually pink this year), with nearly all the attendees adhering to the year’s chosen theme.

2019’s theme was “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”  And not camp as in “Here’s a nylon tent and four pegs; good luck keeping the bears out of your food” but as in Susan Sontag’s definition (pulled from the 1964 essay that inspired this year’s theme) of a “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.”  So look for a lot of colour, bonkers headpieces and unexpected adornments.

I literally gasped out loud when I saw Cara Delevingne’s Pride-inspired Dior confection.  She looked like one of those striped, rainbow-coloured lollipops you get at the fair.  With a bunch of bananas and eyeballs stapled to her head.  And girl was working it – she even had a pimp cane. 🙂 Oh, but that dress!  Ultra mini, super broad shouldered, horizontal stripes in a rainbow’s worth of unusual colours…had I the money, the bod and any place to wear it (simply pulling on a pair of pants these days feels like a pretty major accomplishment) it would be mine.  I’ve never been so in love with an outfit in my entire life.  I’d even wear the banana-eyeball fascinator.

I’m also not sure I’ve ever been so in love with a manicure as I am with this one, either the striped base version or the excessively, artificially adorned one (no eyeball or banana nail charms, but I found some suitably weird ones in my collection all the same.)

Met Gala 4

In following the exact colour pattern of the stripes on the dress, I used virtually every single Enchanted holo I own; I’m particularly fond of the very retro assortment of greens and blues on my middle finger.  And I’m totally blowing my own horn here, but those stripes are free-handed – striping tape is great in some applications, but it tends to pull and bleed when you’re trying to do such fine detail work.  Better to take my chances with a fairly steady hand.

Met Gala 1

Really, this might be one of my favourite manicures EVER, and I’ve been doing this a while – nearly six years by my last count.  It’s just the most fun, whimsical thing I think I’ve ever done, and I adore it!

So a very nice way to kick off the week, proud of a thing I did.  And to a week that make you proud, friends – I hope we all have wonderful ones. 🙂