Gumption: Sookie Stackhouse

“True blood” premiered its 4th Season on Sunday so this week’s gumption post is about Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, the telepathic waitress and vampire lover in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  Trust me, I question why I like Sookie’s character so much when she is pretty much the opposite of who I am.  Am I fetishizing the fact that she lives in the south, loves to clean and goes each day to the same job she’s had forever? Having worked in the service industry during university I understand how hard she works and the annoying customers she puts up with–this is in no way devaluing her reality and situation.

I like Sookie because she is different (maybe that’s what puts us in the same position?) and I enjoy True Blood in general because it pushes the boundaries of normative judgements about what is civilized, what love looks like and what is acceptable.  If you have not seen the show, it is set in a small Louisiana town called Bon Temps when vampires have “come out” and are now living within society along side civilians.  They even have a synthetic blood drink called “True Blood” where they no longer have to kill humans (though some still choose to) and are trying to integrate into communities.  Although it is against the law to discriminate against vampires, the policies don’t necessarily reflect the realities that they live through.  The vampire represents the “other” who has historically and are currently still being judged for their race, sex, creed, sexual orientation and religion.

As I have said, the show is made to test your boundaries which means that there’s often nudity, love between same-sex and heterosexual partners, gore and violence.  Lets just say that there’s a sexy-times scene at a graveyard when vampire Bill Compton has risen from the grave which is literally and figuratively dirty, or another scene involving a meat pie (I still say yuck).  It sure does “hurt so good.”  True Blood makes us observe how socially constructed norms structure our lives and how we can always work to break them down if we choose to.

Getting back to Sookie Stackhouse I admire that she thinks quick on her feet, is sassy like nobody’s business and makes the very best of what she’s got.  She couldn’t attend college because her telepathy made class very distracting but she still has her “word of the day” calendar to improve her vocabulary.  The fact that she’s being fought over by two vampires doesn’t hurt either.  By the way, I’m team Eric.

Choosing your family

“Friends are the family you choose.”  I am usually the first to cringe at such sappy Hallmark greeting card sentimentality but I think that there might actually be something to this statement.  It’s funny that I will scoff at such sentiments but still believe in the notion of soul mates and undeniable connections between partners.  My inherent romantic nature and real-life experiences may have something to do with why I am more willing to believe in the priceless nature of true friendship.

So how do I define true friendship?  I am lucky enough to have a few very close friends who I love deeply and rely upon.  So, I will draw from the relationships that we have worked hard to build and maintain.  I have shared much happiness and trials with these men and women, I have shown my absolute worst, and they are still the people I am fully and completely myself around.  It comes down to trust, which is something that is usually strengthened gradually but so easily lost.  I trust that they will love me no matter what.  I also feel that they have my best interests at heart and are truly happy for my achievements, while being honest enough to tell me when I am wrong.  The most toxic friends are the ones who may seem to be on your side but are involved in a strange passive-aggressive competition with you.  I have learned to cut my ties or at least loosen the connections with these people.  It really is for the best.

Strong relationships always involve reciprocity so I do try my best to also provide my friends with the same amount of respect, affection and care they show me.  This is not to say that friendships are not tested by time or distance but I have seen proof that the true ones last.  You may not be a part of each other’s daily lives but when you are together, the same connection is still there.  There are also times when my friends annoys me beyond belief but having grown older, I see how real connections with people are rare, which in turn develops my commitment to love them for precisely who they are.

If you want to see a film that addresses the themes of friendship, love and family I would recommend that you watch “Little white lies” (2010).  A character-driven piece, the film follows the lives of a group of friends who are on holiday in France.  You get to observe their moments of conflict and laughter all with a soundtrack made for a summer road trip.  Actually, my only critique of the film involves the music.  While it’s all fun, it did sound like a collection of the director’s iPod summer playlist.  I understand including a few favourites but the entire mish mash list is a bit gratuitous.  With regards to the writing, I enjoyed how like many groups of friends they were all close but there were also pockets within the network where some were closer to others.  This was also the only movie in recent memory that had me in hysterics with two memorable scenes involving a boat.

So, ending this piece I just want to thank my closest friends (you know who you are) for the decade or more of love.  I am beyond lucky to have you as my family.

Cast of “Little white lies” (2010)

Gumption: Amanda Foreman

I was not familiar with Amanda Foreman or her work till last week and I certainly never expected to write about public figures I have only admired for a few days but here it is.  She wrote the best-selling biography “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” (2008) which was made into a movie starring Keira Knightley and is currently working on a book about the American civil war.  I’ve seen the film “The Duchess” and am currently making my way through Foreman’s book, which grew out of her dissertation.

With a history degree from Sarah Lawrence and a Masters and PhD from Oxford, she is also a mother of five children (four daughters and a son).  She is a woman who takes pride in being a mother and describes the day that she could no longer safely carry a child as one of the saddest of her life.  There is a stillness that she embodies because of the experience of being raised by rootless and cosmopolitan parents: “My father had been uprooted.  And my mother, being English, was completely uprooted  when we moved to L.A.  For a long time, I felt incredibly lonely.  It’s just part of who I am anyway.” This upbringing in turn, influenced her desire for a large family: “I felt a need like my head was going to fall off if I couldn’t have more, perhaps from feeling isolated and lonely inside.  So I created an island, a peninsula.”  Along with her love of motherhood, she is still a woman who takes the time to work and write.  When she isn’t working she spends time with her partner and kids in the city or for weekends away since she believes that “you have make choices.  So our choices are that our family are going to be our social life.”

Tina Barney of Vogue describes her as “A spirited blonde, still girlish in her early 40s, Foreman does indeed have a musical voice and an animated delivery as she discusses her convictions, her quick brown eyes and ready smile signaling an enjoyable bracing mix of sunshine and gravitas.”  As a younger woman, it’s always good to have another example of a woman who negotiates her life with grace and dignity.

A jacket and a purse

I realized that I haven’t written about any actual material things yet, even though my blog is called “Things I like”.  So, I’m going to give my first product reviews a go.

Lululemon rain jacket

I’m pretty sure that they don’t call it a rain jacket (warm up jacket?) and it is currently not available because their outer-wear is for the summer season.  So lets hope that they add it to their fall/winter collection because this might be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.  It’s on the pricier side ($200) and you might ask yourself, “Why would I ever pay this much money for a lighter jacket?”  We Canadians who live with snow, sleet and freezing temperatures for most of the year will generally consider spending a bit more on the winter jacket because really, that’s all people see of your outfit much of the time from November to sometimes April.  Same goes for the boots.  Well, this jacket, due to its rain resistant material and thicker lining, is so versatile that I have worn it in early spring and late fall.  It is a great transition jacket when you are sick of wearing your winter pea coat and are hopeful that the skies will clear and the country gets some much needed warmth.  It’s also longer so it protects you from the wind and the hood will keep your hair dry and your ears warm.  The cut of the jacket is also form-fitting and sleek so a pair of skinny jeans really looks great with it.  I’ve even worn it in Thailand during the monsoon season on the back of a motorbike!  If Lulu does offer it in the fall I would recommend considering this purchase.

Roots satchel bag

I have never been an over-the-shoulder purse girl because I’ve always felt that it you are going to wear a purse, it looks much better slung under your arm.  I have since changed my mind for several reasons.  When I showed up to a party in Thailand with a wristlet, my friend said that if I didn’t want to get robbed it’s important to have big straps that you can put over your shoulder.  Thailand is generally very safe but it’s always important to be aware.  Anyways, I didn’t actually follow her advice till I came back to Canada and purchased the Roots “Small Venetian Prince” bag in brown natural leather.  It is so liberating not having to worry about where you left your purse and just stroll down the street to run your errands.  The purse also fits a surprising amount of things like my clutch wallet, iPod, sunglass case, iPhone, keys etc.  I even fit a Moleskine notebook in there once.  I chose a worn leather finish because I feel that companies don’t show off the natural beauty of their leather goods enough and I knew that I would mostly use it for casual occasions and to generally get stuff done around the city.  Roots also has great quality leather and friends have said that their bags last a few years no problem.

http://canada.roots.com/NewSmallVenetianInTribeLeatherWithBrassHardware/WomensFlatbags//18019422,default,pd.html?cgid=leatherViewAllWomensBags&selectedColor=2400

Gumption: Guillaume Canet

My gumption post this week is about Guillaume Canet.  A French actor, he has mostly been writing and directing films for the past few years.  In his 2006 thriller “Tell no one” he maintains the taunt nature of the narrative through the masterful use of pacing, dialogue, music and a strong performance by Francois Cluzet.  Although it is an engrossing murder mystery, he also draws on issues of loss, guilt and memory.  I am also seeing his latest film called “Little white lies” (2010) tomorrow which gives the impression of being a light comedy but seems to address the larger issues of the nature and limits of friendship.

He also still occasionally stars in films and I recently saw “Last night” (2011) a review of which I will save for a later time.

All in all, Canet has a reputation for putting a great deal of time and effort into his endeavors with an intense need for perfection.  I enjoy that he seems to be very passionate about his work and from observing some of his performances and media interviews, he gives off the aura of an engaging and intelligent person.  Really, who stands a chance against his cheeky little grin?

Time

It seems as if the themes of living well and impermanence have literally been hitting me in the face lately.  We just recently ordered “Netflix” and since it’s new to Canada they offered a free monthly subscription.  I could probably write an entire entry on its amazing value and convenience but will save that for another time.  I’ll just add that it’s especially handy if you don’t plan on living in the same city forever and are weary of carrying your DVD collection great distances.  We will probably be moving elsewhere (anywhere) in a few years once we have completed our degrees so we’ve decided to stop buying movies till we have a house or at least feel like we are moving towards being more settled.  It’s been kind of difficult because we love films.  Like novels some well-crafted movies do address the beauty and difficulties of humanity.  I believe that we can gain a better understanding of difference and commonalities through these narratives and that’s very valuable.  I’m not even talking about just the critically acclaimed or independent dramas. Comedies make us laugh which is so helpful and positive.  Some people say, “I don’t have time to read fiction” as if it’s a testament to their productive lives.  Although I understand the balancing act required to meet all of our professional and personal responsibilities, I think we can also gain from creating a little bit of time to let art into our lives.

To address the themes of time and mortality, two influences have really affected me the past few days.  I watched a film called “One Week” (2009) starring Joshua Jackson and directed by Michael McGowan that narrates the journey of a man diagnosed with a terminal disease.  The protagonist grapples with these implications by taking a solo motorcycle ride across Canada.  He makes many stops at various landmarks and as a proud Canadian, my heart did swell at the modesty and earnestness of the film.  There really was something special captured in Jackson’s performance and the cinematography that will make me return to this film even when I am away living elsewhere.

I also just finished a novel called “So much for that” by Lionel Shriver that deals with issues of illness and the lifelong dream to escape to the developing world to make your nest egg last longer.  This book was not an easy read because it’s never enjoyable to hear of sickness and the inevitability of death.  I admire Shriver for taking on such a task with poignancy and even a bit of anger to say, if a loved one is going through pain, be there for them.  Words don’t mean anything if you don’t put in the time to support someone when you are needed most.

I really just wanted to write about these themes this week because it’s integral to have these type of reminders ever so often and to crash into something that shifts your focus.  I’m victim to it myself: to withdraw when I fear losing someone important to me.  But I am working at facing up all of it: the harsh stuff with the good.  Because really, the time we have with people is so valuable.