After I broke up with Facebook a month or so ago, I realized immediately how much time I had been wasting. In fact, I identified a very bad habit and eradicated it from my life. I miss seeing the faces of those I truly know in life, but other than that I am feeling pretty good about this choice.
I think when we consider social media, we need to consider the absolute commodification of everything we choose in this modern world. Our politics, our preferred entertainment, in some cases even our faith, are up for grabs to the highest bidder. Slowing down should be a priority. Becoming more discerning about what our minds ingest and the space that we allow for what goes on up there (points to skull) really does matter.
I’m laying down a list of time killers for you that may not actually enrich your life. Who am I to say what is good for you? But each of these reflects slowing down, in a sense. Take it for what it is, and no multi-tasking through these assignments.
Storytelling Through Time
I finally started watching Outlander, thanks to Netflix. I spent years at my job listening to knitters discuss the wardrobe in this richly produced period drama. Yes, there are knits. But no one ever openly mentioned the hot kilted sex. Dudes, there are no words. If there were, this blog would be on a different kind of site, trust me.
Men in kilts and women in corsets aside, Outlander is a great lesson in history. It’s also a reminder of what used to be the most important thing to humans: their own survival. While in survival mode, war and deceit play a part. As do family and love.
I can’t fully explain Outlander in this synoptic format, but it’s about time travel. Yeah, I know. I rolled my eyes too. But the whole of the first season takes place in Scotland in 1743. The scenery is intriguing, the costume design compelling, and the history of it all makes it so watchable. Especially for me, a human of Scottish descent who has never traveled to the motherland.
HOMEWORK: Get to know Outlander by watching Season 2, Episode 4. I’m sending you to France, not Scotland, but this piece of the story shows off so much of what Outlander has to offer. The relationship between Jamie and Claire, which of course is rife with drama, holds deep complexity as well. Their continual acceptance of one another’s demons is the fabric that holds it all together. After you absorb this bit, bounce back to Season 1, Episode 7. You are now in Scotland, and you are there to witness Jamie and Claire’s wedding night. Be ready to take a cold shower. I am literally blushing.
EXTRA CREDIT: Write someone you know a letter. There are so many references to couriers and such in this historical drama, it made me want to run out and buy a wax seal. Let’s take it back to handwritten correspondence, people. I dare you.
A Dystopia for Today
Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel Station Eleven is one of the most original stories I have read in years, but it is the author’s delivery that has me wanting to read it again. She carries an understated style in her phrasing that – I’m just going to say it – reminds me of Hemingway. She is definitely from the school of “less is more” and finds a way to paint a dystopian future without garish colors or loud composition.
Many describe this novel as science fiction, but Mandel refutes that label. I back her stance that Station Eleven should not be pigeon-holed as such. In this story, the world has seen its pandemic in the form of a fictional swine flu dubbed the “Georgia Flu.” The reader is taken back and forth between pre- and post-pandemic subplots, and again, treated to a fluid sense of language that lays the situation bare without too much sentiment, but just enough sympathy.
HOMEWORK: Read this book. I don’t want to give too much away, and I wouldn’t explain it correctly anyway. You’ve never read a story like it before.
EXTRA CREDIT: Read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and then report back to me on which dystopian future you would prefer.
Be Here, Now
Elizabeth Gilbert got an earful when Eat, Pray, Love was published. Her story of self-discovery was labeled by some as self-indulgent. Sure, okay, yeah. If you consider identifying your own misery and traveling the world to discover who you must be in order to thrive in this terrifying human experience as self-indulgent, okay.
She had the means and the opportunity, and her journey is one that some may hope to embark upon. Discovering who you might be if you shed all of your programming, if you let go of the past in order to see the future as new, even in the smallest moments, is to relish existence. Finding your way by first eating through Italy, meditating in India, then falling in love in Bali, doesn’t sound like such a bad way to go.
HOMEWORK: Watch the movie with Julia Roberts. It’s a decent rendering of Gilbert’s journey. I identify most with the time she spends in India, attempting to morph her thought process with the aid of meditation. She is deeply uncomfortable, but cannot escape the task, as she is resident at an ashram. It is in this “enlightenment boot camp” of sorts, where she finally starts to let go.
EXTRA CREDIT: Try to meditate. If you are not into trying to breathe through your third eye, like I have been lately, get acquainted with the book The Warrior’s Meditation.
Social Media Is Good for Something
I might be on my way to an abbey soon but have not yet achieved full hermitage. I still look at Instagram. And one of my favorite feeds? Accidentally Wes Anderson.
There’s a learning curve here. For instance, if you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film, you might not understand this at all. But for those of you who do get it, this feed is a treasure trove of color and design depicted in architecture, transportation, nature, and individualized culture.
This account, which had to get verified in order to detract from copycats that hope to achieve the same brilliance, has 1.4 million followers. One post might have 25K likes, no biggy. And why not? Wes Anderson’s manner of seeing, and delivering his vision through film, carries quirky as if he invented it. It’s in the costuming, the set design, and especially in the way he frames a shot.
And that is the inspiration behind Accidentally Wes Anderson. You can submit something you see that reminds you of Anderson’s vision. You can buy prints of some of the posts, and there is a book for sale that features the best of this feed.
HOMEWORK: To gain insight into Anderson’s aesthetic, and the way he sees life through his film lens, watch The Royal Tenenbaums. You can absolutely watch The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m not going to stop you. But the story of the Tenenbaums is quintessential Anderson, and this film defines his talent as a filmmaker.
EXTRA CREDIT: Since you’re hanging out on Instagram, follow Henry the Colorado Dog.
Down to Clown – I Mean, Cook
So far, I’ve asked you to watch hot Scot historical fiction, read a book, find inspiration in transformative travel, and follow an Instagram account. You’re not getting out of this without being told to go into the kitchen. But where to start?
Smitten Kitchen has got the goods. I am not messing around when I say that Deb Perelman might be my favorite food photographer, and that is because she does it all. She either adapts or fully creates a recipe, makes it, shoots the food, and offers us a gorgeous visual step-by-step. Her stuff is totally approachable – and her cookbook is the shit.
But you don’t need the book, unless you are like me and do need the book. You can visit the SK site and get everything you need to be inspired to make a fine meal. And Perelman really lets you into her process. In the manner of an artist opening their studio to the overly curious eye, she peels the onion back for us and awaits our wondrous response.
And what is our response? Well, to cook something of course.
HOMEWORK: I don’t care what you make, but I want to make her Japanese Vegetable Pancakes to celebrate the lunar new year. If you need a good prompt, start with this post on Pasta with Garlicky Broccoli Rabe, where Perelman discusses how foraging a meal from the cupboard might be the ultimate test in culinary flexibility:
This thing where you can grab anything at random without a shopping list in hand or recipe in mind and transform it effortlessly…this is real cooking. This is what separates those grandmothers that cranked out dinner like clockwork every night for 60 years, that didn’t throw in the towel because they only had canned peas and stale rice in the pantry, from the dilettantes.
EXTRA CREDIT: Please gaze at the portfolio of Todd Selby – my other favorite food photographer. He doesn’t just shoot plated meals – he is sure to include the human hands and personalities that lend to it all.