Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Path

In February, I wrote that I was going to start walking regularly as a form of exercise. I didn’t end up being the most diligent about it, and sometimes I would go several days in a row without going on walks for the purpose of exercising. Over the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve been quite diligent about it again. Maybe just maybe it has something to do with Melanie’s recent discovery of a walking / jogging / running / biking / what-have-you trail located almost right behind where we live. It’s funny that it took us so long to discover it, especially when we drive by the entrance to it quite regularly. But as far as walking goes, it’s not in the direction that I had normally been walking, so I never stumbled upon it myself. Melanie was a bit more explorative in her walking, so she found it. And it’s lovely.

I’ll share some pictures momentarily, but I’ll say that the first thing I love about the trail is just how shady it is. The trail runs through lots of trees, so it’s peaceful and serene, quite unlike the roadside sidewalk I was accustomed to walking on. And of course it’s much cooler, since the trees do a decent job of blocking out the sunlight, especially if you go early in the morning. It’s a whole different experience, and I’m loving it. The only downside is that, despite the trail’s being right behind where we live, you have to go a semi-roundabout way to get to it. So, if you walk for 30 minutes, most of that time is not on the trail itself. And, when you return, you have to go up a somewhat steep hill. This is the case no matter where you walk, but when I use this path, the steep part of my walk comes nearer to the end and is steeper than what I had dealt with before (simply because the steepness isn’t so spread out). That makes for a slightly grueling end to the walk, especially in this humidity. (Also, it’s already been in the mid- and upper-90s here for a couple of weeks. Mornings are better, but not nearly as cool as you’d hope.)

I decided to take our camera with me on my walk one morning, and of course it ended up being a grayer morning than usual. A lot of the photos I took turned out fairly blurry. Oh well. I’ll share what I can, and hopefully you’ll get an idea of the beauty that I enjoy. I’ve said it before, but if you didn’t feel the heat and humidity in the air, you could look around certain parts of Tallahassee and fool yourself into believing you’re in Washington state. That is something I’m grateful for almost every single day.

And now, the photos:

Walking downhill toward the path, which is in the cluster of trees just beyond the white building. You can see that there are lots of trees. I’m happy to live somewhere that looks like this.

In the spring, many trees here sprout what look like pink flowers. From a distance, the “petals” look like normal, broad, flat petals, but …

… up close, you realize that the “petals” are thin and grassy. I don’t know what these things are. When it rains, they get all over your car, all wet and balled up like Mother Nature hacked a hairball. But I think they’re pretty.

The path begins.

The path continues. Notice the pink flowers in the trees on both the left and the right. (You have to squint to see them, or just click on the pic and make it larger.)

This is a long-distance photo of two rabbits further ahead on the trail. I saw another rabbit later on, and I’ve encountered them on this trail before.

Wet and green – my idea of perfection. (I think Miss Piggy once said that about Kermit the Frog.)

The end of the trail, or the beginning of the return.

I saved this picture for last because when I saw these flowers, I was absolutely blown away. They look like something out of a science fiction movie, like little exploding stars. I wonder if they are hallucinogenic if you eat them. All hallucinogenic plants should look like this, don’t you think?

Thanks for walking with me! Now go home!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Movie Review: Ricky


Directed by François Ozon
Running Time: 90 minutes
Originally Released: February 6, 2009 (Berlin International Film Festival)

* * (out of four)

Newborn babies are such sweet little angels, aren’t they? Take Ricky, for instance. Ricky is the cherub-like offspring of Katie (Alexandra Lamy), a French factory worker, and Paco (Sergi López), the Spanish man who woos Katie and soon moves in with her and her seven-year-old daughter, Lisa (Mélusine Mayance). Ricky’s arrival puts a mild strain on Katie and Paco’s relationship, but things escalate when bruises mysteriously appear on Ricky’s back and Katie suspects Paco of abusing their son. Paco is innocent, but nobody knows this until an offended Paco has moved out and disappeared. Only then is the true source of Ricky’s bruises discovered: Ricky is sprouting wings.

If you just cocked an eyebrow and muttered a “Say what now?” under your breath, you are probably feeling what I felt prior to watching this film. Unfortunately, you are also feeling what I feel now that I’ve watched the film in its entirety. The premise of the French film Ricky is admittedly intriguing, but the film is even more directionless than the title character, a newborn who flits about in supermarkets when Mommy (rather recklessly, I would argue) leaves him unattended so she can fetch some groceries. I am under the strong impression that writer and director François Ozon came up with a charming but admittedly barebones premise for a movie—what if someone gave birth to a baby that sprouted wings?—and, without knowing what else to do with it, threw together a script and let it fly. Consequently, the tone and pacing of Ricky are all wrong, and the film never feels grounded. My wife summed it up perfectly: “They are taking this idea way too seriously, and yet not seriously enough.”

The gracious part of me wants to view the film as some kind of allegory, but I can’t bring myself sincerely to believe it was meant as such. I tried. I even think there are some obvious interpretations you can consider, especially in light of the film’s final few scenes. But as easy as it is to fabricate an intended message for the film, I just don’t buy it. I don’t think the message was really there. As such, the film leaves one feeling strangely unsettled and unsatisfied with the product as a whole. I’ll grant that Ricky has a lot going for it in terms of teasing one’s curiosity. Woefully, watching the film won’t satisfy one’s wonder.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Movie Review: Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Running Time: 112 minutes
Originally Released: January 24, 2010 (Sundance Film Festival)

* * * * (out of four)

In general, I don’t like movies that wallow in the bleak aspects of life, as though nothing good exists or really comes out of anything. I’m not talking about movies with a sad or tragic ending, but movies that are almost pervasively negative and depressing, from start to finish. Critics tend to laud these films, but the praise and the movies alike strike me as pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-artistic fodder, at least most of the time. I make these preliminary remarks because Blue Valentine could easily be lumped into the same general category as these other films; it is a depressing, slow-moving tale that leaves a somberness hanging in the air once the end credits begin to roll. All that being said, there is something beautiful about it. It is an excellent film.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star as Dean and Cindy Pereira, respectively. Cindy is a nurse, Dean a painter. Frankie is their daughter, four years old or so, and the apple of Dean’s eye. But there is a disconnect in the home. Cindy thinks Dean is too childish and has squandered his potential. Dean just wants his family to be happy and to love him, to think of their life as perfect—or at least good enough—and yet not at the expense of his having to change. He has a kind of “just do it” attitude about being content with their life. He’s the kind of person that wants to overlook the negative, to pretend things are fine, even when they’re clearly not. As such, he doesn’t meet Cindy’s needs, and she doesn’t meet his. Both parties want life to be what they want it to be, and it’s just not. Dean pretends, Cindy endures.

Blue Valentine is all about juxtaposition. The film toggles back and forth between the beginning of Dean and Cindy’s romance—never perfect, but at least naively hopeful at one point—and the steady disintegration of that relationship. The subtlety with which this metamorphosis is examined is what makes the film so remarkably good. The contrast between Dean and Cindy’s early and late relationship is not entirely stark; their relationship is not painted as a blissful romance that turns horribly sour. Instead, the sweet and the sour are both always there, to some degree or another. These are two frail and fragile characters who cling to each other and find that, over time, their affections have curdled. Maybe they should have known better. Maybe they never should have developed their relationship as much as they did. These are obvious points to ponder, ones the characters undoubtedly confront and ones the audience can’t help but consider.

Again, it is the genuineness with which every interchange and scene unfolds that makes Blue Valentine such an accomplishment. Gosling and Williams are both phenomenal. Williams received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance, and both Gosling and Williams received Golden Globe nominations. Gosling has quickly become one of my favorite actors, but Williams may very well outshine him here. Both actors are unbelievably good at being believable. There isn’t the slightest hint in either performance that this is not who these people are, that you are not simply watching a real-life couple in their best and worst moments. I don’t know how much of the dialogue was ad-libbed, but I think the script by Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis, and director Derek Cianfrance deserves special mention. The film doesn’t sound written, and that’s precisely why it succeeds in the manner that it does. When Dean is jealous of Cindy’s run-in with an ex-boyfriend, he talks as a jealous person would talk rather than saying jealous-sounding things. There is a difference, and it takes good writing to tease out the difference.

Blue Valentine is an emotionally brutal film, but its brutality stems more from the veracity of its presentation than from its explicitness. This is true of the arguing that takes place between Dean and Cindy, for instance, but it’s also true of the film’s notorious sexuality. I don’t think that a film is sexually graphic only if it shows certain body parts, but I admit I’m surprised that the film was originally given an NC-17 rating (a rating that was later repealed). There are a few sex scenes, but it doesn’t get as explicit as you’d think. I suspect that it is the non-stylized manner in which the sex is depicted that makes it seem more explicit. It seems too real, perhaps, even though it doesn’t reveal nearly as much as you’d find in other films. Is cinematic sex really less offensive or graphic if it’s not accompanied with music and presented as a montage of close-up, writhing body parts? I don’t know. Apparently some will feel that way. Such people have further reason to steer clear of Blue Valentine, if they wish to remain fully comfortable with what’s depicted onscreen. Besides that, the sadness of the film should be enough to give sensitive viewers pause. If you can’t handle melancholia, you probably shouldn’t be watching this movie. Just know that you’ll be missing out on a tremendously well-done film.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Now What?

Another academic year has passed. Three down, one more to go—sort of. As in, not really. It’s pretty much official at this point that I’ll be sticking around at FSU beyond the spring 2012 semester. I’ve probably told this story before, but when I entered my MA program, they told us that even if we have a master’s degree in philosophy, we should plan on taking 5—7 years to complete a PhD. With that in mind, I was a bit worried when my current program offered me only four years of guaranteed funding. Four years didn’t sound very long. And now three of those years are up. I only have one year left. That may sound like a lot of time, now that I’m “all but dissertation” (or ABD), meaning the only thing I really have left to do is write a dissertation. But there’s more to it than that. First off, I’ll be teaching in the latter part of the summer and in the fall. That will be very time consuming. On top of that, if I were planning to graduate next May, I would have to start applying for teaching positions this October. Could I do that? In principle, yes. But it would be rather pointless. The cold hard fact is, in this economic climate, as a philosopher especially, job opportunities will be slim and the competition brutal. If you’re someone like me, who won’t have a substantial portion of your dissertation written by October, and who has never had something published in a journal, you simply aren’t going to be marketable. It would be embarrassing even to apply for jobs under those conditions. It would, I believe, make you look like an idiot for even trying.

Within the last couple of weeks, I’ve discussed these concerns with a couple of relevant people from my department. I’ve been told that continued funding of some kind is almost guaranteed for someone like me. It’s quite common for someone like myself, who comes in with a master’s. Wrapping up in four years is just plain difficult. So, in all likelihood, I would be given half the funding that I normally get to stick around for an extra fall semester. If a miracle occurs and there is more money available, I’d even receive normal funding for that semester, but that’s not incredibly likely. But at least I’d be getting something. That would extend my time as a doctoral student at FSU to December 2012. I’d apply for jobs in October 2012, and I’d hopefully spend the spring semester of 2013 interviewing with numerous schools that are all highly enamored of me. And how are my bills getting paid during the spring 2013 semester? If all goes well, I’d be given an adjunct teaching gig at FSU for that semester, a kind of gratuity on their part to sustain me fiscally as I try to secure a job for the following year. Apparently, that’s a pretty typical arrangement. So, even though none of this is absolutely guaranteed—what is?—this is what I’m now planning on and expecting. Knock on wood.

I’ve known for some time that sticking around Tallahassee for an extra year was rather likely, but it feels different to think of it as the official plan now. It’s comforting, really. Honestly, life is quite good, and I don’t mind if it stays largely the same for another year. We’re happy and comfortable. And I like knowing I will be a much more appealing job candidate by doing this. Now I’ve got to get cracking on publishing, presenting at conferences, and the like. Oh yeah, and that whole dissertation thing. No big deal, right? Right. Right? Right … right?

Thursday, May 05, 2011


Our final day at Disney World was spent at Epcot. I was quite excited about Epcot. Though I have the impression that Epcot is commonly regarded as the most boring of the Disney World parks, I was more excited about it than the rest. From what I could see online, it looked very cool, and I liked that there was a sense in which Epcot seemed like it would be more museum-like. Having been to Epcot, I have to admit that it wasn’t as awesome as I had hoped. I was particularly disappointed in what they call the World Showcase, which I always took to be the heart of Epcot. World Showcase consists of 11 “pavilions” that are designed to reflect various countries—France, Japan, Norway, Morocco, China, Germany, Mexico, Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada (not kidding), and the United States (still not kidding). I’ve always assumed that each of these “countries” had plenty of room to walk around in and explore, making you feel immersed in the country itself. I was surprised just how tiny each pavilion is. You can’t, for instance, go to France and spend a good hour exploring it, unless you want to spend an hour exploring the one or two gift shops that are there, or waiting in line for an éclair at the café. And that’s about as extensive as the countries get. A bit of a letdown.

One nice perk to visiting Epcot is that we were able to park right at Epcot itself. In fact, we once again arrived at our chosen Disney World theme park just before the gates opened. We got a great parking spot and were able to enter the park as soon as they opened the gates. We took straight to the Spaceship Earth Pavilion, the famous metallic golf ball that everyone thinks of when they think of Epcot. Inside, we were able to go on the Spaceship Earth ride. It is a dark, slow-moving ride that basically transports you through the history of human civilization, from the ancient Egyptians to the Renaissance to the invention of radio, etc. Dame Judi Dench narrates, but it was hard to really hear what was being said. Even so, I was intrigued by the ride. I found myself lamenting modern humankind’s lack of appreciation of intelligence. You look back on the history of humankind, and we’ve spent thousands of years getting to where we are now. During those many millennia, art and literature and high ideals were fought for and often protected at the cost of human life itself. We finally progressed to a day and age where it’s quite possible for us to bask in education and the beauty of knowledge itself, in art and creativity, and what are we doing with it? I feel like we’re collectively pooping on everything that thousands of years of humankind strived so bloody hard to achieve. Hell, if you have the audacity to pursue knowledge for the intrinsic worth of it, you’re practically considered a pariah nowadays. We’re so concerned with making money for large businesses and instantly gratifying ourselves that art, philosophy, music, and everything that makes humankind a miraculous form of life is slowly—but increasingly quickly—being phased out. It’s friggin’ depressing.

To digress, I did have a good time on the Spaceship Earth ride. It snaps a picture of you very early on in the ride, and then at the end of the ride, a computer screen in your “car” turns on, asks you a few questions about what you’re interested in, and then shows you buzzing around in the “future,” doing various activities. I was sitting with Eddie, so Eddie and I got to see our heads put onto cartoon scuba divers, etc., and it was all quite funny and entertaining.

After leaving Spaceship Earth, we took to one of the few rides we knew our entire family would go on, The Seas with Nemo & Friends. Quite disappointingly, the ride was closed and they were telling us that it might open up again in the afternoon, though they weren’t entirely sure. Suck. We didn’t have that many rides planned for the day, so this seemed like quite a loss. With nothing else to do right then, we headed over to The Land Pavilion, where I picked up a few FastPass tickets for the Soarin’ ride, which I was quite excited about. We had a while before we could return and go on that, so we went to the Imagination! Pavilion. We headed into the Journey Into Imagination with Figment ride, and we were literally the only non-Disney employees in the place. The ride wasn’t even running when we showed up because nobody else was on it. We climbed in, and I was hopeful that this would be a fun ride. The online description talks about going through “sensory labs” that show how the five senses can combine with the powers of imagination. I was expecting something awesome, with very cool visuals, funky sound effects, etc. Well, the ride was incredibly lame. It didn’t do much of anything at all. Everything about it was quite lame and disappointing. It really amounted to little more than having a dragon singing at you that you can do a lot with imagination—you can see more with your imagination than with your eyes, etc. But they don’t really demonstrate that for you. Seriously. Online, for instance, it talks about going through an upside-down house. I thought that might be cool, that maybe it would actually make you feel somewhat disoriented. But nope, it’s like a three-second thing where you basically can see what amounts to little more than a playhouse attached to the ceiling. You don’t even feel like you’re in it, really. It’s just above you. Really lame. And that’s about as cool as it got.

Next up was watching the 3-D movie Captain EO. I had seen this many years ago at Disneyland, but I didn’t remember much about it. Being a Michael Jackson thing, I thought it would be quite fun. Unfortunately, it ended up being quite a nuisance for everyone but me, and so that made me not enjoy it very much. Creegan was bothered by the noise, and Edison and Peter were kind of freaked out by it (even though they both refused to wear the 3-D glasses). Eddie even asked if we could leave in the middle of it. So, that wasn’t too fun, either, really. And I don’t think it would have been tremendously entertaining even if the kids were fine. It is admittedly a rather corny movie. And, as I’ve said a few times before, I struggle a bit with 3-D. It often gets blurred because my eyes just don’t focus on it quite right. In short, it wasn’t really worth our time.

After Captain EO, we headed back to the Land Pavilion. It was time to go on Soarin’. Peter was too little to go on it, but I was hoping Eddie might agree and go with me and then possibly with Melanie, too. But Eddie was too freaked out by the idea of the ride, so he refused. Instead, Melanie took all three kids on a boat ride (Living with the Land) that was located right next to Soarin’, and I took my FastPass ticket to get “immediately” onto my ride. It seemed like I had to walk for 15 minutes even to get to the front of the line, even with the FastPass ticket, and once there, I still had to wait 15 minutes or so before I could ride. Still, it was worth it. It proved to be the coolest ride I’d been on at any of the Disney World parks. Basically, you are strapped into a seat, there is a huge movie screen in front of you, and when the ride starts, your seat lifts up into the air with your feet dangling beneath you. The movie starts, and you’re shown scenic images that make you feel like you’re hang gliding all over the country. You fly over the Golden State Bridge, over the Redwood forests, etc. They blow air in your face, and your seat sways and drops and so on to make you feel like you’re really flying around. I loved it. It wasn’t exhilarating to me. It felt incredibly relaxing. I found myself thinking that if I could fly, really just fly, up high above everything, I would probably spend all day doing it. It would just be so calming and peaceful.

Once I was done with Soarin’, it had been 30 minutes since I left Melanie and the kids to the boat ride. They had been done a little while. I felt bad about that. As we sat there and planned our next move, Creegan was lying on his stomach on the floor in front of us. Hilariously, a huge group of young Japanese girls suddenly surrounded Creegan and began taking his picture. It looked like the paparazzi had gathered around our boy. They have babies in Japan, right? I guess not white ones, maybe. Whatever it was, there were probably 20-25 of these girls all huddled around him, giddy, with half a dozen or so of them snapping his picture. We just laughed as they did this, and finally Melanie thought she should take a picture of the girls taking a picture of Creegan. She fumbled to get out our camera, and of course, the moment our camera was out, they all started walking away. It would have been such a great picture, and we lost it. That was really disappointing to us.

It was at this point that we headed to World Showcase, with a brief stop at a playground area so Eddie and Peter could play and Melanie could feed Creegan. We then headed into the countries and did little else for the next while other than walk around, feeling quite hot. Nothing excited us much about the country-themed pavilions, so it kind of felt like we were just walking for the sake of walking. It got a little tiring. I admit to feeling the slightest bit of awe as we walked through the Japan Pavilion. There was something majestic about it, something grand. That was where I felt the most transported to another place, and I liked it. I think it was just because the main building at the Japan Pavilion was so large, you couldn’t help but feel immersed in it even as you walked by. It also seemed very clean and serene there. It made me feel more interested in Japan than I ever have.

Norway was one of only a couple of the countries to offer a ride, the Maelstrom Adventure Cruise. As it says on the Epcot website, Maelstrom takes you aboard a “troll-tormented Viking ship.” It was kind of cool, really, but a bit intense for the kids. It’s a bit dark and fanciful. A cool part, in my opinion, is when you’re going along, and suddenly these three trolls (I guess) are up above you, telling you that you can’t come any further, and they blow your boat backwards and force it to go a different route. I guess that probably doesn’t sound that cool just from me describing it, but it was cool. There were a couple of parts where you’re going backwards for a minute or so, and it’s a bit intimidating, especially if you’re in the back like I was and you look behind yourself and it looks as though you’re heading to a cliff. Did we drop down it? Well, not backwards, and not that exact cliff, but forward and down one right in front of it. Cue sad faces for Eddie and Peter.

Another decent part of World Showcase was in Mexico, which also features a boat ride, albeit a much gentler one. The ride in question, the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros, was cool for a couple of reasons. One is that it went through the middle of a Mexican restaurant that was at the Mexico Pavilion, a restaurant that looked really cool and that I wish we could have eaten at. The restaurant is quite dark and is situated around an Aztec pyramid. Pretty awesome looking. Another reason the boat ride was cool is the fireworks that blast off above you as you’re on the boat. They’re not real fireworks, but LED lights (or something) in the ceiling. Still, they looked pretty cool. It was nice to go on another ride that the kids liked before our time at Epcot was done.

After enjoying the Mexico ride, we moseyed back toward the front of Epcot. We thought about going on one more ride, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, but we hesitated when we saw that it is a 45-minute ride. We were all feeling quite worn out, and the ride had a warning that at least parts of it might be a bit intense for younger children. Given that our kids had been so timid about most things, and given that we assumed Creegan would almost certainly get quite fussy sometime within that 45 minutes, we decided to be done. We made a very brief stop at Innoventions, which is basically like a children’s museum, and then headed back to our van. We headed to Fuddrucker’s for an early dinner (a none-too-enjoyable experience, I’m afraid, but that’s a story for a different day) and then back to the hotel. Our Disney World trip was complete.

I’ll conclude this entry with the few photos we took at Epcot. Epcot was a bit more picturesque than Magic Kingdom, so I do wish I had taken more photos. When will I learn my lesson? I don’t know. I’m not very good at learning that one.

Edison and Peter just inside the entrance gates of Epcot.

Another picture, with cute hugging.

Edison and Peter await our turn to head into the Captain EO theater. They’re not too thrilled by the music playing in the lobby.

The tail end of the group of Japanese girls who fawned over Creegan. There were many, many more than this, I assure you.

The end!