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Monday, June 30, 2008

To Be Creative

"The Art of Painting" by Vermeer

"Made in God's image,
man was made to be great,
he was made to be beautiful,
and he was made to be creative
in life and art."
-- Dr. Francis Schaeffer

"Art is the signature of man."
-- G.K. Chesterton

Have you ever stopped to think that human beings are the only creature on earth that feels the need to create art; to create, simply for the act of creating: to create, simply to bring beauty into existence? Why do you think that is?

It makes me think of flowers. God didn't have to make flowers so beautiful and with such variety. He did it for His own pleasure and for us to enjoy. God is the Creator, and we are made in His image, so when we create, we feel a connection to our creator God. Whether we are creating an oil painting, a poem, a concerto, a theatrical play, a sculpture - when we do so, we are connecting with a characteristic of God. So why is it so many Christians shun the arts? They criticize modern books, movies, and music yet discourage their children from getting a job in that "sinful" industry. How are we to change the creative world if we do not act within it? (Even God knew that in order to change us, He would have to act within humanity, through Jesus.) And besides, if we are going to criticize something, then we should be willing to offer a solution or alternative.

Just some quick thoughts I wanted to share... and a suggestion to pray for those Christians who work in Hollywood, in the music industry, in the publishing world, etc... as they try to bring forth quality works of art that bring hope and inspiration, in a culture that wants to cater to the lowest common denominator.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Random List of Favorite Things

Sorry I’ve slacked off on my posting schedule lately. The last two weeks have been seriously taxing on my brain, my sleep cycle and my emotions. I have several blog articles “on deck” as it were, but no brain power to give them the writing attention they deserve. So, I present to you, another random list of a few of my “favorite things”. Sometimes we need to stop and appreciate the little things in life. Here are a few that made me smile and helped get me through the day.

Gummi candy is a guilty pleasure of mine. The fruity flavors, the playful colors, the chewy texture, the complete lack of nutritional value… how can you go wrong? Recently, I was on a road trip with my brother and we stopped at a convenience store to re-stock our “road snacks”. He bought a package of gummi bears, and we instantly reverted back to our childhood selves. We spent the next several miles squealing with glee as we bit off the little bears’ heads and fought over our favorite flavors. We laughed ourselves silly. I highly recommend Black Forest Gummy Bears and Trolli Peachie O’s peach rings. The peach rings are especially good, because they are coated with coarse sugar, for an added sugar high. Plus, they really taste like and (kind of) look like peaches, so you can convince yourself you’re eating the real fruit and can feel less guilty about your splurge. Or, at least, that’s how my mind works…ahem…uh… onto the next item.

I love my gel eye mask. Have your eyes swelled shut from severe allergies or do you get painful sinus headaches? Maybe you’re sporting matched luggage under your eyes from lack of sleep? Maybe you just cried your eyes out at whatever drama is in your life or simply because your favorite character just got the ax on your favorite TV show… (poor Charlie …sniff… yeah, I still haven’t gotten over it). I’ve suffered from almost all of these situations lately, and nothing is more soothing than a gel eye mask. What’s nice is it can be stuck in the freezer, or it can be warmed up in some hot water, depending on what kind of therapeutic temperature you need. Many thanks go out to Raven for purchasing me a mini spa set that included one.

Hearing your new favorite song on the radio is always an unexpected surprise. You're cruising along, listening to the same old stuff they always play on the radio, when all of a sudden, there is your new favorite tune. You crank the volume nob and life is a little more fun for about four minutes. There are two new songs out right now that I'm very addicted to. One of them is "Love Me Dead" by Ludo, who sound like a cross between All American Rejects and Bowling for Soup. The song rocks and lyrics always make me laugh. The video for the song is pretty funny too. The other song that I can't seem to get enough of right now is "Afterlife" by Avenged Sevenfold. If you pull up to a stoplight and see a blond girl in the car next to you holding up a rockfist and headbanging, with this song blaring out her car speakers, well....that would be me... Who said rock and roll is dead?

The TV show Burn Notice is an hour of escapism at its finest. When I need to just relax and not think about my day, it's the perfect distraction. The show is about a spy who has been "burned" or basically fired. He spends each show using his "special skills" to help people for extra money, all while trying to find out why he was wrongfully set-up and "burned". He gets help from his ex-girlfriend (a former IRA agent) and a former spy friend, who is now retired. It stars one of my favorite actors, Jeffrey Donovan (loved him in "Touching Evil") and one of my all-time absolute favorite actors, Bruce Campbell (Hail to the king, baby!). The writing is quick, clever and witty, and the action is terrific, but it's the chemistry between the actors that really seals the deal. The new season starts July 10th. Click here to go to the show's website and learn more.

Those may all be little trivial things, momentary pleasures, but there is one big thing that helped me get through the last two weeks, and that was my friends. One friend gave me a word of encouragement that was so timely, I soared on it for a good day or two. Another friend helped me to laugh when I didn't think there was anything to laugh about. One friend had a sympathetic listening ear, and didn't try to fix things for me, but was just there to listen. Another friend send me an unexpected little pick-me-up in the mail that made me smile. One friend constantly challenges me to let go and not be so uptight. And yet another friend spoke some hard truths to me and challenged me to push myself. And then there is my husband, my best friend, who does all of these things and more. He's my safe place to come home to at the end of a crummy day. He makes me laugh, and I love him more and more with every passing second. (I know, that was completely mushy, but totally true.) And most of all, every one of you prays for me. Where would I be without you all? (The loony bin, I suspect.)

So there it is, my list of favorite things, that helped me to survive the last couple of weeks. What are some of your favorite things? Leave me a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dreaming in the Dark

I’ve been meaning to write movie reviews for a while now, because I absolutely love the art of film, but I was unsure how to go about it. Do I review every movie I watch? Or do I just talk about the ones I fall in love with? I have decided on the later, and will write reviews on only my very favorite movies. However, if you see a movie listed in the right-hand column, which I don’t review, and you want to know my reasons behind my rating, you may always feel free to leave me a comment and ask me to provide you with a mini-review.

When I was in college, I took an introduction to film class. The professor told us about a study that was done on people's brains as they were watching a movie in a darkened theater. Turns out the brain showed the same neurological patterns as when someone is dreaming. It makes sense, if you think about it. Watching a film in a darkened theater is like dreaming with your eyes open. You forget yourself, you stop noticing your environment, you stop thinking about your day to day problems, and you are taken to another place - reality is suspended – and you are totally absorbed, carried away, reacting only to the pictures on the screen. That is why I have chosen the label “Dreaming in the Dark” for my movie posts. Now… on to the review!

I am a big fan of fairy tales of all shapes and sizes. So I can’t begin to tell you how my heart swelled with excitement when I saw the opening title panel on the movie The Fall, which read, “Once upon a time…” The story is set in a hospital in Los Angeles in the 1920s. An adorable little girl with a broken arm, named Alexandria, befriends a stunt man, Roy, who is recovering from an on-set accident. To pass the time, he begins to tell her a story.

As we hear Roy’s narration, the film shows us the fantastical images Alexandria conjures up. These images move and shift right before our eyes in beautiful and humorous ways, as Roy adapts and changes the story on the fly to suit Alexandria’s demands. It’s freeform, yet works with the basic archetypes of any good story. There is the Black Bandit (our hero), a tree person (a mystic), a beautiful princess (the love interest) an explosives expert, an Indian and a freed slave (the warriors), and, last but not least, Charles Darwin and his pet monkey, Otis (the comic relief). They are on a mission (a journey) to overthrow the evil Overlord Odius (the bad guy).

As Roy and Alexandria’s friendship becomes more complicated, the real world of the hospital and the world of the storyland begin to blur. Things take a dark turn, and we learn that real life doesn’t always guarantee happy endings like in the fairy tales, or perhaps happy endings are a choice that each one of us can make?

This was a beautiful movie. I laughed more than I had expected to, and I will admit, cried on a couple of occasions. The little actress they found to play Alexandria is amazing and it is her gifted acting, along with the story, that moved me to tears. I posted several pictures, but even still, they cannot convey what an experience it is to see this film.

Not only am I a fairy tale fanatic, but I love storytelling (a dying art in our day and age). This film played around with several of the ideas associated with storytelling. It showed how storytelling is a way of communicating to each other, of connecting to each other. It showed how the symbols of fairy tales and myths speak to us, and how they speak of eternal truths. It even makes a small commentary on how film making is its own form of storytelling, when it shows Roy making an early silent film. And of course, the film itself, is telling you a story. A story within a story. I love it.

I would say this movie is similar to another one of my all-time favorites, Pan’s Labyrinth, in that the fairy tale blends with reality, and it has a similar dark tone and more adult type of story. It’s definitely not a movie for little kids. This is not a Disney fairy tale. However, in thinking back over the film, I’m not sure why it was rated R, except for a few brief moments of fantasy violence when the warriors are fighting the evil soldiers. An interesting side note, absolutely no CGI effects were used in this film. I was floored when I found that out. The director created all these amazing images with simple camera tricks or traditional physical special effects. Amazing.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I always know a film is awesome when it haunts me and I find that I’m still thinking about it days after seeing it. Such is the case with this film. It is now at the top of my “to purchase” list. If you've seen it (or plan to see it) leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Who are you?

"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully. "Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said, with a short laugh. "My name means the shape I am and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape." - Lewis Carroll

A few months ago, my blog post “Dudes Who Can Rock” received a lot of traffic and several comments. Wondering what caused this sudden upswing in activity, I did some searching and I discovered that a member of the Blue October message board had linked to my blog, which was driving the traffic. When I went to the message board, I discovered a discussion about my blog article (which was quite flattering) and, much to my surprise, a debate on my gender and identity. I was shocked, a little offended but mostly quite amused.

There are two things I found most interesting about this encounter. One, was that the minute someone wanted to disparage or discredit my opinions they accused me of being a 13-year-old girl. A 13-year-old, implying an immature opinion, I get that, but why a girl? Is it assumed girls don’t know how to “rock”, as it were? Conversely, and what I also found humorous, was that some of them had automatically assumed I was a guy, probably because of my gender-neutral, abbreviated user name of D. L. White (even though I use an illustration of a girl for my “About Me” picture, and list myself as female and married in my Profile).

I’m not completely na├»ve to what goes on in the online community. I know that more often than not, people hide behind their online identities. They hardly ever use their real names; they often lie about their gender, age, appearance, etc. That’s what made this whole encounter so humorous for me: I am, in fact, using my real gender and my real name (albeit an abbreviation of it). D.L. are the initials of my first and middle name and White is my real last name.

This whole incident made me realize that I have never explained why I use this moniker on my blog (which may or may not be of interest to you, dear reader). D.L. White is my pen name; the name I use when I’m writing. I decided a long time ago (before the invent of blogs and screen names) that I would use D.L. White as the name I would write under, so that no one would make unfair assumptions about my written work, based on my gender. It is also a nod to all the women writers who have come before me.

Women authors, especially in the 19th century, used pen names because the literary world was a male-dominated profession. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte continued to use the name Currer Bell when she published her first two novels.

Even in the modern day, there are women authors who go by abbreviated gender-neutral pen names, especially in genres that are typically written by men, the most famous example of this being J.K. Rowling. Before publishing Jo Rowling’s first book, the Bloomsbury publishing house feared that the target audience of young boys might be reluctant to buy books written by a female author. The publishers requested that Rowling use two initials, rather than reveal her first name.

However, pen names aren’t used exclusively by women to avoid gender assumptions. Authors use pen names for all sorts of reasons. Did you know:

*** Charles Dodgson, a mathematician with published non-fiction works, was worried it would confuse his readers if he published works within other genres. So he wrote his fantasy fairy tales under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.

*** Early in his career, Stephen King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman to circumvent a production restriction in his contract. He also thought it would be a fun experiment, to see if his success had to do with talent or luck.

*** Pen names seem to run in the King family. Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, chose to use an abbreviated form of his given name (Joe Hillstrom King) as a pen name out of a desire to succeed as a writer on his skill and talent alone, instead of riding on the fame of being Stephen King’s son.

So there it is- a nerdy little bit of literary trivia. Now here are my questions to you: Are there any of you out in the blogosphere, who have been reading my blog and assumed I was a guy, or assumed I was not who my Profile stated me to be? Does it change your view of my opinions and my posts now that you know I’m a girl? Should it matter, than an article about rock music (or literature, or art) was written by a man rather than a woman? Why does it matter? If you’re using an online name or identity that is different than your real identity, what are your particular reasons for doing so? What other authors do you know of who have used pen names?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.