Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life (A slightly ranty review)

I am a supporter of minimalism. I believe that having a lot of possessions isn’t the solution to live a happy life, but real and positive interactions and experiences are the most important aspects of your life. I strive to be a minimalist: it’s a long and hard journey, but I will get there. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the forefront of the minimalism movement. They have their own documentary, podcast, and book talking about their beliefs and ideologies. I loved their documentary and am an advent listener to their podcast, but I can’t say I have the same fiery passion for their book. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life talks about their journey to becoming minimalists and what got them there: detailing their journey from being part of the corporate world and achieving the happy, perfect lives they ever wanted. It all seems great, in theory. There is a nagging part of their journey and movement that bothers me. Their movement, in its core, is based on privilege and ignorance.

Let’s talk about what I liked about the book, first. I did like their overall takeaway message and the advice they gave throughout. The book, while condescending, gives sound advice on how you can improve your long-term physical and mental health. Focusing on five core tenets: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution, Joshua and Ryan give very sound advice on how to grow each tenet. Everyone is great at two or three tenets, but in order to live a meaningful life you have to try and grow all five simultaneously. This is great: in a very hectic and competitive society, we seem to have forgotten about self-care and the important people in our lives. All of this doesn’t matter when pitched with the rest of the book, which is a shame.

Ryan and Josh’s journey is based on the fact that they are able to quit their jobs and spend the rest of their lives travelling and spreading the word about their movement. It’s infuriating that, for two people who understand the struggle to make enough to support yourself, they don’t understand that it’s hard to support themselves, let alone supporting others. This is privilege at its finest. The only reason why they are able to quit is because they already made enough to get by without flexing an inch of muscle. They tell you to quit your job and pursue your passion(s) if your career isn’t fulfilling any of the five tenets. In reality, not a lot of people are able to afford their current lifestyle. They still need a source of income to pay rent and put food on their table.

It’s also frustrating to “listen” to their condescending tone over and over again. I’m sure they’re nice people, and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, but I can’t help and feel looked down upon. They seem to say that they’re better than everyone else because they live a minimalist lifestyle. This isn’t a good way to spread a lifestyle message. It’s also important to recognise different lifestyle choices and offer alternatives for those who don’t have the same resources as they do.

This book has so much potential to spread a good message to a large audience. Unfortunately, this message is lost in a maze of condescending words and privileged mindsets. I would love to see a book about minimalism that is doable in a 9-5 lifestyle, or even a shift-job lifestyle. I wish they, or someone, can take up that opportunity.

What If..? A Review of Shape of Water

Warning: this is not a spoiler-free review. Read at your own risk. 

Western contemporary culture is filled with binaries: human vs animal, good vs evil, etc. The truth is, reality is more convoluted than that and our world is filled with gray. What if I told you there’s no such thing as a dichotomy of good vs evil? What if I told you humans and animals can live in perfect harmony, and that we don’t have to exploit non-human species as commodities and convenience? Shape of Water challenges these binaries in an artistic way, looking at politics, science, and speciesism in a fictional lens while telling a compelling story between five protagonists.

Shape of Water is a wonderful film, and I’m really glad that it got nominated for several Oscars. Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece tells (arguably) 5 different stories in one motion picture, but all the protagonists can be connected by their loneliness. Each character has a tragic, yet beautiful, story that connects them to one another, yet their emotions and experiences are distinct and can be told as a separate story. With beautiful music, aesthetics, and storytelling, Guillermo del Toro manages to string together these separate experiences into one beautiful love story with very detailed world building.

The beauty of Shape of Water doesn’t just lie in its wonderful story structure or cinematic aesthetic. The movie isn’t afraid to challenge our comfort zones and our ideologies (what we perceive as “normal”). Eliza’s and Amphibian Man’s friendship and eventual romance is designed to push our limits and question our perception of the normal and abnormal. The film challenges ethical issues: when is it okay to use non-humans for experiments and when is it okay to call out authorities for their wrongdoings? Guillermo also challenges speciesism by designing a character that can think, move, and talk like a human; the only difference is their physical appearance and structure. If humanity and the “human essence” are characterised by rational thought and language, does that make Amphibian Man human? Why do we blur this line when it comes to non-human animals, who are sentient as announced in the Declaration of Consciousness? Is using non-human animals for science and bettering the human race ever justified?

While Shape of Water can be characterised as romance, Guillermo isn’t afraid to show raw (and often grizzly) scenes. Sex is normal very explicit. Violence isn’t censored. It’s these kinds of raw and unfiltered scenes that captures my attention. It’s liberating, in a sense, to be able to see these kinds of images on the silver screen.

Every good movie, however, isn’t devoid of criticism. There are scenes that seem out of place and unnecessary. One scene that comes to mind is the part when Richard calls Eliza in to clean up a puddle of water, only to sexually harass her seconds later. It’s a disturbing scene that can be left out entirely: we all know Richard is the antagonist, and even though this scene recognises Richard’s disgusting behaviour, it didn’t add to the plot whatsoever. The part where Eliza lipsyncs to portray her love for Amphibian Man was extremely awkward and out of place. I didn’t know how to put my finger on that scene, it was confusing, at best.

If you haven’t watched Shape of Water yet, I highly recommend it for the plotline alone. If you’re like me and like to link cultural artifacts to social science theory, then go see it and tell me what you think. I will enthusiastically give this film a 4.5/5.

Reflections

I walk out of my classroom, smile at a few people, and step out of the building into the stone courtyard. The sky is already dark and it’s not even 6 PM. The wind howls around me and I try to hold down my hair as strands tries to blind and suffocate me. The cold nips at my fingers and cheeks. The back of my right hand is already cracked, even after I liberally rub moisturiser on my hands during class. I curse at myself for not bringing a heavier jacket, stuffing my hands into my pockets. My left palm brushes against the spare change for the extra cup of coffee that I thought I might need. It’s cold. Heck, it’s fucking freezing.

It’s already December. Where did the time go?

#MeToo. I remember that night. Coming home the next morning feeling dirty. Washing every skin of my being until it has been scrubbed raw. Legs aching but I didn’t work out that day. Lying on the bed thinking what’s wrong with me. Try to cry, but tears don’t come out. Somehow, I dial my ex’s number on my phone.

Two years later and I see that you have a girlfriend now. I wonder if I should message her and tell her who you really are. I wonder if she knows.

I start walking home. My boots hit the pavement. I wonder why it hasn’t snowed yet. Odd.

“Grab her by the pussy.”

I’m watching my country from afar as it hurls itself into a political whirlwind. There’s just so much going on. From the Women’s March to the March on Science to the debate on bathroom policies, it’s hard to keep up. I’m American. What would you do if your country is the butt of the joke for others to enjoy and gawk at?

Someone’s waving at me as they walk towards me. I squint my eyes so I can try and make out the silhouette under the flickering street lamp. I don’t recognise them, but there’s no one behind me. They probably mistook me for somebody else. I pull my head down and keep walking.

You can never look at them the same way again. Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Mariah Carey… All names that I once respected have been desecrated in a span of days.

I stop at the foot of the hill where my apartment building sits on. It’s no castle, but I feel like the Queen of the Hill when I look down and see tiny city lights.

What about the pipeline? What about invading traditional Native land? What about the environment? What about job security?

One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. I struggle to trudge up the hill. My knees are begging for me to walk on flat ground again. It’s an old injury. High school memories cross my mind. My future holds me in a bind.

Is it December already?

Lady Bird is my spirit animal

On a whim, I went to watch Lady Bird in theatres last night after my first exam. I was already stressed, so I wasn’t going to get much studying done anyway. Might as well do something I enjoy to relax and get ready for the next day. I hit a friend up and we drove downtown at 9:30 PM and bought tickets to this movie that we had absolutely no clue on what it was about. The theatre we were in was completely empty. Perfect.

Let me tell you something about Lady Bird: don’t expect it to be a AAA polished film. Lady Bird is a low-budget gem of a movie that will defy your expectations. The story is riveting, the characters are amazing, and the videography is stunning. The movie tells the conflict between a mother and daughter as well as awkward teenage life very realistically and well. It is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and the only way to relive that experience is to watch the trailer on Youtube over and over again. Please send help.

As a writer, I want to write stories that are strong and compelling like Lady Bird. The film’s producer and team did a lot of things right: A+ character development, A+ story telling, and A+ visual images. There’s so much substance and emotional value in this film, and Lady Bird holds a special place in my heart. There are parts that I find absolutely hilarious, awfully cringy, and emotionally gut-wrenching. The producers portray Sacramento through the lens of a young woman accurately, morphing her views of herself and the world depending on her circumstances. They didn’t even need a giant budget to do that. Lady Bird is aesthetically pleasing and emotionally full of substance for a movie with only $10 million in their pockets.

There’s a reason why this movie has a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes, but of course there are some nit-picky things that bothered. Some of the minor characters seem two-dimensional and bland, but it makes sense. Greta Gerwig is telling a story through Lady Bird’s eyes, who is biased and highly opinionated but also naïve and innocent. The two-dimensional minor characters classifies this movie as a traditional feel-good, quirky, and stereotypical high school flick. Despite Lady Bird’s stereotypical teenage-ness, the rest of the characters were so well written and developed that I’m willing to negate this negative aspect of the movie.

If you’re bored and want to watch a film with a lot of substance and beautiful writing, Lady Bird is for you. If you prefer more suspenseful movies, watch it anyway to open your horizons a bit. Greta Gerwig produced a stunning debut film, and I look forward to see what she has to offer in the future. I am giving this film a 4.5/5.

13 Reasons Why Sucks. Here’s why.

Trigger Warning: mentions of sexual assault, rape, and suicide.

P.S. Beware of spoilers and sensitive language

 

Netflix’s show and Jay Asher’s YA novel has gained so much traction that it’s not hard not to see it everywhere on the Internet. It spread so fast and sparked a discussion around mental health that is kinda hard to ignore. But even with the theme of suicide and depression in the show, which are topics that definitely need to be talked about, 13 Reasons Why started a discussion in all the wrong directions. In fact, the show itself failed to promote the message that they tried to spread. The show sucked. The show sucked really bad, and here’s why: 13 Reasons Why, as a book and a show, glorifies and glamorises suicide and reaffirms stereotypes of suicide that many teens and young adults have about depression, suicide, and mental health.

  1. “If I die, everyone will feel sorry and the people I hate will get what they deserved, and my wishes will be fulfilled.”

This is one of the most problematic aspects of the franchise. Hannah’s suicide was treated so lightly in both the book and the show. The act doesn’t carry any weight in the books. She gets revenge through Clay. Her parents finally notice her. She gets the boy she loves to notice her. All of this would have made for a great show if Hannah was a) still alive and b) accomplished these on her own, but to portray the affects of her death like this glamorises and glorifies of suicide by making it a justifiable action.

In reality, suicide doesn’t work that way. When someone dies, they die. Sadness and grief will follow, not revenge.

  1. The scene where Hannah kills herself is graphic.

There is a guide online made by suicide prevention experts to show how to portray suicide in the media to prevent copycat suicides. And guess what? 13 Reasons Why broke all of that. In fact, the show even changed the method Hannah used to take her life, but from my understanding the book also went into detail on how she felt after she swallowed the pills. This not only sensationalises suicide but reaffirms myths about depression and mental health.

I don’t understand why Asher and the producers of the show decided to depict suicide in such painstaking detail. Are they trying to provoke emotion out of viewers? If so, they are failing miserably. It would have been more emotionally impactful if they made Hannah’s death happen off screen and sudden even in a flashback, instead of leading up to such a graphic scene.

  1. Hannah thinks that she doesn’t have anyone to talk to/ask for help.

Hannah was, in fact, surrounded with supportive adults and friends. Her parents are wonderful people. Her counsellor actually tries to help her. In the show, he can be seen putting down the phone for her, and actually asking questions because he looks out for her. Even if Hannah wasn’t comfortable telling the adults in her life, she could still go to Clay. Clay’s a positive part of her life. I don’t understand why she couldn’t go to him if she loved him so much. This solidifies a false notion that someone has to go through depression on their own. They don’t. There is help out there.

  1. Hannah is a poorly written “heroine.”

Hannah is being portrayed as the victim here, but she kills herself and drags everyone down with her. The idea of avenging yourself after your death is unrealistic and terrible. When you die, people will move on. Sure, they will be sad for sometime. Sure, your loved ones will grieve for a while, but they will move on. Avenging yourself and making them miserable for your death isn’t going to make things better. In fact, it just makes everything worse. This isn’t the role model we want to give young adults.

  1. All the characters are quite terrible.

Are we supposed to believe that every character was as terrible as they are? It makes sense in the books, since Clay listens to the tapes all in one sitting and never really interacts with anybody else… But the producers of the show could have done better. No one, not even in high school, is that one-dimensional. No one is purely evil or purely good. Hell, the characters other than Hannah and Clay are not even two-dimensional. That’s how terribly written these characters are.

I don’t believe for one bit that this is an accurate portrayal of depression, nor is it a good illustration of suicide. Heck, this isn’t even a good depiction of mental health. Asher and the show’s producers had wonderful opportunities to start a good conversation around mental health and incite powerful action to end the stigma of mental health, but they failed. They failed to achieve the goal that they wanted to fulfill. In the end, this is all just a bad story using mental health as a marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, I will give this franchise a 0.5/5

I’m a terrible chicken mother

I have to admit, I really love social simulation games. I used to play Animal Crossing every morning and evening back in my second year of university. I used to play The Sims 3 during my spare time way back in high school. But times have changed, and the next great game to catch my attention is Stardew Valley. This adorable game has found its way into my heart and managed to stay there for a while.

Stardew Valley is visually, quite frankly, extremely adorable. The 8-bit art is very aesthetically pleasing and I love it so much. The music fits the game so well, and I really just want a copy of the CD so I can listen to it while I am studying.

I can spend hours and hours on Stardew Valley without realising it. That’s how addicting the game is. I love taking care of my crops, making bread to give to townspeople, and taking care of my animals. There are a few missions that you can finish in order to gain healthier and better relationships with people. I’ve clocked in so much time into this game, maybe a bit more than I like to admit. It’s a great way for me to de-stress from the day and to spend a weekend chilling at home.

What I really like about Stardew Valley is that it’s very gender neutral. It’s a game for everyone, regardless of one’s gender identity. I know a lot of men and women a like who love the game. You can have same-sex marriages with different characters, which I love. As a queer gamer, I do appreciate this feature which has been missing from a lot of life simulation games over the years.

The game can be difficult sometimes. It’s quite a slog in the beginning, but once you get a groove going, you will get the hang of it really quickly. I didn’t know how to take care of my chickens at one point. They would get lost amongst my crops or just hide and not want to come out. Very sneaky, those chickens. Maybe I’m just an awful farmer.

Like many games of the same genre, however, it gets repetitive. The routine becomes the same, and you’ll run out of missions or tasks to finish. It’s really hard to keep the interest of an audience if they eventually run out of things to do. I’m guilty of this: I haven’t touched Stardew Valley in a few months. I should go back and make sure my chickens aren’t dead or something.

Overall, Stardew Valley is a great, wholesome game that is amazingly fun, just keep in mind that the game can’t run on forever. I will give this game a solid 4.5/5.

Rainbow Rowell: It’s time you and I had a talk

I tried to love Fangirl. I loved Eleanor and Park. I really did. Your writing was excellent, and I loved your characters. Poor Eleanor is relatable, and Park is amazingly crafted. But FangirlFangirl was definitely not your best work, and I know you can do better.

Your characters are great. While many of them are sometimes really annoying to read about, those are their flaws. They are well-rounded characters who are human. Cath is relatable: every first year has experienced a period of social awkwardness for a bit. Levi is a love-smitten young adult, and quite accurately so. Cath’s dad is funny, interesting, and quirky. But even good characters can’t make up for the glaring holes and inconsistencies of your book.

First, what professor is going to let a first year student that they barely know into their higher level class? From my understanding, Cath isn’t on a scholarship, nor is she a high school scholar. She’s just an average student, and this is highly unrealistic for a novel that is based on the present. I understand that you want to make your novel interesting, but this is a terrible plot hole.

Second, Cath can be an idiot. Sure, she is socially awkward, but I’m sure her social awkward-ness won’t make her stupid enough to not know where the dining hall is. Nor would it make her stupid enough not to know to report Nick for plagiarism.

Speaking of Nick, what upper year student gets through university by plagiarising and not getting caught?

There is also a non-existent plot. You start out with Cath at university, but there is no climax. There is no conflict. There is no resolution. Heck, I’m confused on what this novel is about, besides about Cath and her life at university.

I’m so sorry to do this to you, Rainbow Rowell, but I’m rating your book a 2.5/5. 

Let’s dive into the pits of hell

How well will you fare if I put you in a dungeon with 3 other people, give you weapons, and tell you good day? What if I told you that the dungeons have creepy crawlies and other monsters? Well, you probably wouldn’t last long, but for the characters in Darkest Dungeon, this is their profession. Darkest Dungeon is a rogue-like, turn-based dungeon RPG heavily based on dungeon crawling. It is a unique, Middle Age-based game with fantasy elements. The catch? They are all humans just like you.

Here is a game that has grabbed a lot of the gaming community in its clutches, intrigued interested viewers on Twitch, and interested indie lovers around the globe. Here is a game that has been critically acclaimed and played by thousands. Twitch was filled with streamers who either had early access to the game or bought the game because of its rising popularity. A few months later and this game is still gaining high ground within the industry.

I was honestly surprised at how successful this game was. When I was first introduced to it as a Kickstarter, I thought it was going to flop for 2 reasons:

  1. The art was rough, and didn’t appeal to me the first time around.
  2. I thought classic RPGs with only humans weren’t really popular.

Obviously, I have learned to love this game. The game’s aesthetics grew on me: its black and red theme fit perfectly with the concept and game design. Additionally, the game is challenging, something that I have been craving for a while. Straying away from high fantasy concepts and designing only human adventurers has made the challenges exciting to play, and I have to rethink my strategies every time I start a new dungeon. Even if I’m not nearly to the end of the game yet, I think Darkest Dungeon warrants a review. There is so much amazing-ness here that I couldn’t wait until I finish to write one.

But sadly, this game isn’t perfect. The gameplay and its logistics can be quite difficult to learn. Don’t expect to jump in and start playing immediately: Darkest Dungeon is relatively hard to get into at first and will take a while to plant a seed of interest in you. You will grow frustrated at yourself, your adventurers, and your game, but remember that frustration is why the game is so appealing to many.

If you’re seeking a challenge, try Darkest Dungeon. You won’t be disappointed, and it will want you to come back for more. If you just want to try something new, download Darkest Dungeon anyway. You will have something to talk about to your (hopefully) game-loving friends, and you will understand Twitch streamers a lot better. In my mind, this game deserves a good 4.5/5. Have fun, and happy dungeon-crawling!

 

When you die in your own filth: review of Badami’s The Hero’s Walk

Here’s the thing: home is supposed to make your insides flutter. Home is supposed to be a place of comfort, and a place of joy. Home is supposed to be filled with happy memories and warm images of your parents in the dining room. This isn’t the case for the characters in Anita Rau Badami’s The Hero’s Walk. Unlike the warm and fuzzy images that stereotypically describe a family, home is merely a safety blanket for all the main characters in the novel.

The Hero’s Walk is a novel surrounding the inhabitants of Big House, a deteriorating house on Brahmin Street. After the death of Maya, Sripathi’s eldest daughter, shakes the family, Sripathi and his family must figure out their lives as they watch tradition and history crumble away in front of their eyes. They have to choose between societal pressures and doing what is right.

Even though this was an assigned reading for class, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and its content. Badami’s writing is like poetry on its own: beautiful and compelling. The work is riddled with motifs and recurring themes, which adds to the complexity of the novel. The language is straightforward and there are many interesting subplots beneath the general story.

One of the greatest parts of The Hero’s Walk is that Badami doesn’t ignore the complexities of human nature. Each character has an arc in some form, even if its subtle. Even Ammayya has a fleshed out backstory that leads to her current state of being. Each inhabitant of Big House grows in their own way. This focus on family and characters really emphasise the importance of intimacy in the novel. Even though each character has a small story line of their own, they all come together into one overarching plot: the struggle to find themselves as a result of Maya’s death.

Be warned: the novel is not a very easy one to start. The first two chapters are extremely boring and will dump character names on you like a gushing waterfall. Badami also chooses to tell us all about the characters’ personalities rather than show her readers who they are through interactions, etc. Once you get over the first two chapters, you’ll finally learn to appreciate Badami’s artistry as the story finally gets into the nitty gritty.

For a novel heavily revolving around characters and character development, Badami seems to almost skip world building all together. While we do get the general idea of what Torturpuram and Brahmin Street look like, we don’t get anything beyond the general descriptions. I cannot for the life of me flesh out what the city is supposed to look like. The story would have made a lot more sense in the beginning if I had a good image of Torturpuram in my head.

Overall, this novel is a great read if you like contemporary fiction, and really strays from the wilderness stereotype that defines Canadian fiction. It is a bit slow to start at first, but you will warm up to it really fast as a reader. I highly recommend this book, and give this a rating of 4/5 stars.

The hilarity and beauty of Battle Block Theatre

One of my best friends gifted me a cooperative game before he went home for the year so we could at least bond over something while threatening to kill each other over Discord. As you can probably tell by the title of this post, the game is Battle Block Theatre, and it’s a gem. The Behemoth has created a game that is not only f*cking adorable, but also incredibly fun yet stress inducing.

The characters are aboard the S.S. Friendship, and there are hundreds of  them, including Hatty. Hatty was regarded as a best friend to everyone aboard, and everybody adored him. They would sing songs, and the crew were genuinely happy. While aboard the boat, a huge storm rocks them all onto an island, and you (the protagonist) take shelter in a crummy theatre. You realise that the whole crew has been taken hostage by an army of cats, and Hatty has been possessed by a top hat for some reason.

Battle Block Theatre is just like your ordinary comedic co-op game: great game mechanics, art, and characters. However, the game also has a plot, albeit minimal. While the plot and the world building isn’t as fleshy as, say, Borderlands or Diablo, Battle Block Theatre has its own charm even though it mainly centres around a prison island.

I love the originality of the art and art style in this game. Almost all the cut scenes are done entirely in stick puppet style. The graphics are simple and colourful, but all the obstacles and layouts of the different levels don’t crowd the screen. The game has the perfect balance of beauty and chaos, which I find quite fascinating.

The voice acting and music for this game are phenomenal. The narrator never fails to entertain me. I can listen to him tell the story in Battle Block Theatre over and over again. His voice is upbeat and quirky, and he keeps you hooked by adding a slightly posh English accent to his storytelling. As for the OST, I want to purchase a copy of it and import the music onto my phone so I can listen to it over and over again.

This may seem absurd, but I absolutely don’t mind seeing my character die constantly in this game. It is a game where dying isn’t a big deal. It is also a game that you can’t really become really great at, and that’s okay. The most important part of the game is that you have fun interacting with your partner solving levels that become absurdly harder as you two progress.

What does bother me is how complicated the PC controls can be. My friend plays the game with a Xbox 360 controller, while I stick to my laptop keyboard. My fingers can get really cramped and it’s really hard to react well in-game with stiff fingers in awkward positions. If I haven’t played the game in a while, I feel like I have to learn the controls all over again. For a simple co-op game, its controls can drive me up the wall sometimes.

I highly recommend this game, and if you do decide to buy it remember to find a good and hilarious friend to play with as well. I think this game was best designed to be a co-op game. However, if you can’t find someone to play with, there is no shame in playing solo. With that in mind, I will give this game a solid 5/5.