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No One Else Cares About the Zit on My Chin

Today, like most days, one of my friend was freaking out about the way her face looked. She hadn’t put on makeup this morning and was pointing out an acne situation that was developing on her forehead.

“Oh good,” I said in response to her unmade-up face. “I also didn’t have time for makeup this morning.”

“Me neither,” lamented Friend Two.

“Yeah,” said Friend One, “but you look good without makeup.”

look good?” I asked.

I hadn’t even noticed Friend One’s lack of makeup or acne situation, because, if anything, I was too concerned with what was happening on my own face. I wasn’t looking at her forehead, because I was thinking about my own chin. I didn’t even realize that she had anything wrong with her face until she pointed it out — and she probably felt the same about my face.

Because, as I regularly realize, people are so focussed on their own flaws that they don’t tend to notice yours.

We notice and are quick to laud each other’s positive traits — a perfect shade of lipstick, matching minute accessories, a new pair of earrings — but unconsciously brush over each others flaws. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy fixating on our own flaws, but maybe it’s just because no one cares as deeply about your appearanceas you do. While I spend plenty of time in front of a mirror, over-analyzing each of my perceived flaws, it’s not as though that’s what my friends do that with my face.

That isn’t to say that you can just look like a slob and no one will notice, but I don’t think people notice as much as we think they do. And people, especially the girls you see everyday and are therefore pretty good friends with, aren’t judging you as harshly as you’re inclined to judge yourself.

A similar thing happened at my prom last June. Most of the girls had gotten their hair curled 0r the like and by the end of the (humid and then rainy) evening curls were falling, straightened hair was getting frizzy and girls were stressing. In the bathroom a girl I wasn’t even really friends with was flipping out about whatever was wrong with her hair.

I told her that it looked fine to me and that everyone else was concerned with their own hair-related-crises so no one was even looking at her hair. She thought about this for a few seconds and then quickly resumed her composure. Hmmm, her face said, that actually makes a lot of sense.

So sometimes I sit in class, wishing I’d either woken up early enough to deal with the distaster I call my face or at least brought some concealer to school. And then remember the prom incident and get over myself. Because most of the time I’m the only one one who’s judging me.

Theatre’s Aesthetic Appeal

I like looking at pretty things. Nay, I love looking at pretty things. If I had to choose, I’d say ‘sight’ is my favourite and most essential sense (followed closely by hearing and touch). So, it follows that one of my favourite parts of theatre is how it adds up visually. Sometimes, I find it hard to concentrate on what the actors are saying, much less figure out what their character’s names are, because I’m so distracted by everything there is to see.

This is also true of films, but in movies the illusion holds up more. It’s easier not to notice the ‘inauthenticity’ of the sets and costumes and everything else that went into making it beautiful. They’re more seamlessly lifelike.

Whereas, in theatre, even when you get lost in the illusion — as I often do — it’s still pretty obvious that you’re looking at sets on a stage. But I actually adore this distinction between film and theatre. When it’s a play, I notice the aesthetics — and little makes me happier than a well-dressed stage and cast.

Furthermore, the costumes and sets say so much about the tone of the piece. In the past year I saw productions of Our Town and The Matchmaker, both by Thornton Wilder. Though they were by the same writer, they had different tones and therefore the costumes and sets were nothing alike. And because the visuals fit the content and tone perfectly, they were both stunning and added loads of depth.

Because the visuals are such an important part of my theatre-viewing experience, it really bothers me when the visuals don’t live up to my high standards and ideals. This has mostly happened in the Shakespeare productions I’ve seen. Oftentimes, the directors try to update Shakespeare’s plays, and their favourite way to do this is by modernizing the costumes. Period costumes are my favourite kind. And it bothers me when the costumes aren’t right. Either in tone, or geography or time period.

But, when I do see a play with costumes and sets that I adore, and approve of, it is euphoric. Last night I had one such experience. Our school took us to see the play 1776 last week and some of my friends and I liked it so much that we decided to see it again. It’s a ‘musical play’ about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Despite how lame it sounds (and how lame I thought it would be) it was divine. Aesthetically speaking anyways. The set was somewhat simple, yet elegant — complete with a large turntable to accommodate both indoor and outdoor scenes.

What I also liked was that the ‘congressional janitors’ did all of the between-scene furniture moving, in charactor — so that scene changes were completely integrated into the play itself.

And then there were the actors. You’ll have to pardon me for a moment while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. The nearly all male cast was clad in beautiful, late 18th century attire — complete with pony-tailed wigs and white stockings. I’m aware that this might not sound too appealing, but you’ll have to take my word for it — my friends and I did go back for seconds.

And oh, the colours! Don’t even get me started on the colours. It was a beautiful mix between drab browns for the less haughty, less affluent state representatives and deep, bright hues for the more haughty, more affluent state representatives. And of course there were several shades in between. The two ladies in the play wore elegant, full-skirted, tightly-corseted dresses.

And the (younger) actors themselves aren’t half bad. My gap year program is girls only, so, being a group of male-deprived teenage girls, we were very interested in the actors behind the characters. After last week’s performance, there was much Facebook stalking of these young gentlemen. Also much violent, melodramatic fanning of ourselves. And last evening we waited around after the show to get some autographs. (Which, I must say, made the actors very happy — although it was a little awkward when they had to remind us who they had played because they looked a little different in their street clothes.)

You wouldn’t think it, but Thomas Jefferson is fine. He’s literally tall, dark and handsome. And he has beautiful eyes. Andashirtlesspictureonfacebook. And I MET him, in person, in real life and discovered what it is to swoon.

And then there’s the representative from South Carolina whose name I can’t recall — my friends and I refer to him simply as “South Carolina”. Blue eyes. Pretty face. Southern accent. Bonus: he’s really from New Zealand, so he even has a beautiful accent in real life.

When I swoonfully related all this to my bestest friend (who isn’t as insane as I am), she laughed at me (in a ‘with me’ kind of way) and questioned the point of all this. She’s right, of course. These actors are way older than I am and besides, a several of them are (presumably) a tad homosexual. But, in reality, neither of these facts have any practical effect on my life. It’s not as though anything would happen without these ‘hinderances’.

I generally don’t go mad like this over real people, just fictitious ones. And that’s exactly what these guys are, despite the fact that they’re theatre actors whom I actually met, not film actors who live in a faraway place I’ve dubbed Movieland. The emotional energy I expend on these guys is no less theoretical than the emotional energy I expend on the likes of Mr. Darcy or Gilbert Blythe.

Because, after all, there’s a great difference between actors and the characters they play. And the guys whom my friends and I have lately ‘fallen madly in love with’ are really nothing more than illusions. Visually pleasing illusions, that is.

The Perks of the “Understanding English Teacher”

As always, I stayed in on Saturday night. I ended up watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With my parents. I can’t decide whether this is fitting or ironic.

Credit: IMBD

Charlie, our young hero, played by Logan Lerman is a psychologically damaged loner (aren’t we all?) who finally makes friends when he gets to high school, and drama ensues. Wow, that makes it sound like an awful movie. I should probably make a note to self along the lines of, “Self, avoid doing movie reviews”.

Pathetic synopsis aside, I adored it.

It had so many shadows of clichés, and yet, somehow, it seemed fresh. There’s the shy, quiet freshman, eating lunch alone at a big table. The understanding English teacher who’s book recommendations and pieces of wisdom help guide our young freshman. The friends who magically appear and are made with little effort. The gay best friend. The lunchroom fight. The drunken parties, the secretive displays of affection, the drugs. The satisfying ending.

Actually, all written out, that sounds kind of like Mean Girls. Except that Mean Girls is a comedy — of which I can recite almost every line — while this is a drama. And in Mean Girls the displays of affection are rather public and nonchalant. During the final scene of Wallflower, I swear I could hear Cady Heron narrating: “Finally, girl world was at peace.” Not that the line makes any sense in the context of the movie, but more that it made sense in the context of the nice, clean, for-now-everything’s-looking-pretty-good dénouement.

And yet, as I wrote, it felt very fresh. Though looking at what I wrote after that, I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because it isn’t what happens, but how it happens and why it happens. It’s a lot like Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, a concept I also learned back in grade nine, with my very own “understanding English teacher”. Campbell has this theory that most “hero’s journey’s” in most stories (from Greek myths to contemporary films) will follow the same basic pattern.

But you can make all kinds of cookies using the same cookie cutter, and they’ll all taste different, regardless of their shape. Furthermore, two bakers can use the same recipe and the same cookie cutters and the cookies will likely come out different. (Don’t believe me? Ask your mom to get the recipe for the cookies your friend’s mom makes and tell me your mom’s taste exactly the same.)

Also, clichés occasionally become clichéd for a reason. A lot of them are pretty true. So you can take that clichéd kernel expand it into something new and meaningful. But then some idiot (such as myself) goes to summarize it, and it gets crunched back into a cliché.

Take the “understanding English teacher”. That’s probably the fastest growing cliché in movies about high school. From Dead Poet’s Society to Freedom Writers to Easy A you’ll find one such character playing a pretty major role. In Mean Girls it’s a math teacher, but even then, English class plays a huge role: that’s where Glen Coco gets his four candy canes, that’s where Gretchen Wieners snaps after deciding that WE SHOULD TOTALLY JUST STAB CAESAR.

You GO Glen Coco! Credit: lolsnaps.com

And why? Because English teachers understand people. Because they read a lot so they must be pretty smart. Because they teach us about life, about ourselves. Which is kind of exactly what (the good) screenwriters are trying to do. And is there an easier way for screenwriters to convey messages, both to us and to the characters themselves, than to have English teachers convey those messages for them? Probably not.

Why else are these characters popping up more and more? Because they’re true. English teachers do change lives. At least the good ones do. They encourage you to read. To write. To explore your passions. To be yourself. To figure out who you even are. I know from personal experience. An English teacher once managed to change my life. Or something like that.

Charlie, while arguably a slight cliché, is true. Despite our entirely different experiences of life, he’s me, and yet, he’s his own person enough to be nothing like me. I want to be more like him, I’m glad I’m not more like him.

I don’t know if this movie was good or bad. I don’t know if it’s fresh or clichéd — sometimes I think life itself is kind of clichéd. But I do know that I adored it. It made me feel — and not just in a superficial way. I didn’t cry — movies rarely elicit such a reaction from me. But I had a lump in my throat the whole time, and puddles of tears that sat in my eyes without streaming over to my cheeks. It meant something to me, and to a lot of other kids my age. And that’s gotta be worth something.

A Book- and Blog-iversary

On January 28th, 1813 Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s second novel, was published. On January 29, 2012, Welcome to My Shiny New Blog, the first post here on A Solitary Ramble, was published.

Coincidence? Yes. Yes it was. However, I don’t believe in coincidences, and I’m sure that this happened to happen for a reason. Probably so that I could conveniently celebrate P&P’s 200th book-iversary and my first blog-iversary in single post.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.com

Time to pop out the tea! Dust off the teacups! And throw ourselves another tea party? Well, maybe not. Mostly because I’m home for a few days. Which is an excellent thing, except for the fact that we don’t have fancy china here. And I’ve been so busy seeing friends and family and doing homey stuff that I kind of TOTALLY MISSED BOTH OF THESE -VERSARIES AND THIS POST IS SEVERAL DAYS LATEThere. Okay. It is so relieving to have gotten that out. I hope you can forgive me for being so remiss.

It’s actually quite fitting to have both of these dates so close on the calendar and bound eternally to one another in this post. I mostly started this blog to drool over Mr. Darcy in a public manner. I guess that didn’t happen much… Except for here. Oh, and here. And probably a little bit here.

My blog’s name, in fact, is lifted straight from a scene in Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth’s sister Lydia and her new husband, Mr. Wickham are paying a visit to the Bennets. Elizabeth is sitting outside, reading a letter from her aunt (which explains the exact conditions under which Lydia’s wedding came to be), when Mr. Wickham intrudes on her reverie. “I am afraid I interrupt your solitary ramble,” he says, as he joins her.

Aside from the Austenticity of the phrase, I thought it was quite fitting for my brand new blog. It represents me, because (like Lizzy who will walk three miles in the mud, getting her petticoats six inches deep in mud) I’m rather fond of taking walks through the countryside in solitude. Of course, by the countryside I mean the side-walked, suburban streets. And, unlike Lizzy’s, my petticoats aren’t quite long enough to reach the ground.

Also, I figured that these posts would mostly be solitary rambles — sitting by myself at the keyboard, ranting and raving to myself.

Joking aside (just kidding, I don’t know how to shove joking to the side) I think we should take a moment to admire and love Miss Elizabeth Bennet as much as Mr. Darcy does. Because, really, the girl’s amazing. And I don’t think we expend enough energy on adoring her.

Besides inspiring me to get off the couch and get some eye-brightening exercise (if you catch my reference), she literally changed who I am as a person. In far too many ways for me to count.

Credit: allystruth.tumblr.com

From what I hazily recall of the dark ages before Lizzy and I met, I used to be really into following the rules (at or at least appearing to do so). I used to literally tremble in the face of authority (mostly in the form of school principals). Thanks to Lizzy, I managed to stand up to my high school principal last year — in a witty, impertinent manner, no less — on an important matter. And then I stormed out of the man’s office in a huff. Kind of like that time Lizzy stood up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I’m not really sure that this was quite what Jane wanted me to get out of her sparkling novel.

And while Lady C had no real power over Lizzy and her choices, this principal’s “yes” had the power to change my entire year last year (and, you know, probably the entire course of my life, if we’re going to be melodramatic about it).

Besides, I knew I’d be getting a big, fat, ugly NO from said principal anyways — this was not our first meeting on the matter — so I figured I might as well finish the ordeal with a clang.

Among other things, Lizzy has turned me into quite the impertinent  sharp-tongued young lady. (“No, she has not. It was ONE time,” the voice of reason in my head wants you to know.) And I love her for it.

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least I do not know,” wrote Miss Austen of her heroine one day.

I couldn’t agree more. 

On Doing Nothing And Playing FlipWords a.k.a. “BangMan”

Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and do absolutely nothing. Stare at the walls, out the window, at the other Starbucks-sitters who are also pretending to work.

I often find myself very busy doing nothing. But not the above mentioned nothing. The nothing I often take part in tends to involve my iPhone. Or my Mac. There’s a chance that my Apple products may be ruining my life. I check Facebook. I check it again. I’m shocked that nothing new and life-changing has been posted in the past six seconds. And repeat. When I’ve had enough of that I’ll spend some time scrolling through my Twitter feed, clicking links that promise to teach me how to be more productive.

This was Sunday. Except the “lolling about” stage lasted until about 3:40 p.m. Image Credit: http://www.oxcoll.com

Then I play some Cut the Rope — a riveting game wherein you cut a rope on which dangles a piece of candy, in attempt to feed said candy to a weird, green, sluggish alien thing. Then I play some Boggle — which will totally enhance my brain activity. Then (once I’ve warmed up that part of my brain) I move on to another game called FlipWords — a mix between Boggle and Hangman, which could be more aptly (and entertainingly) named “BangMan”. Yeah. That’ll catch on; it sounds just like what it is.

Then it’s back to Facebook. And the cycle begins again. Writing this down should probably make me realize why I’m so unproductive. Instead I have been super tempted to check Facebook and Twitter (as well as every other such site). And to play all my favourite games. In fact, I’m kind of shocked that I’m still here and I haven’t yet opened up five other web pages.

But sometimes, in what someone once called this sea of irrelevance, it’s nice to stop using my brain for all these little nothings, and to actually do nothingOr, at least to blog about doing nothing. Because I’m just not in the right frame of mind to do nothing. I mean, that kind of stuff take preparation.

Like I said, it is nice to just sit and do nothing sometimes. Maybe I’ll give it a try when I go home next week for my (weirdly late) winter break.

Do you like taking time to do literally nothing? Do you ever actually do it? What sorts of “nothings” keep you from getting much accomplished?

 

A Birthday Party for Miss Austen

If you aren’t already aware that Jane Austen was born two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago today, you’re obviously not as devout an Austen Addict as I am. Ordinarily I’d suggest that if this is the case you can just leave my blog, right now, but today I’m feeling generous — it is a day of celebration after all — and I realize that few people can possibly be as obsessed as I am.

I don’t know about THE world, but Jane certainly changed MY world. And clearly other people’s worlds as well. When I met new people at school this year, Jane often found her way into our conversation at some one point or another. My new acquaintance would then either nod in slight recognition of the somewhat ubiquitous name, or begin gushing about how absolutely delightful Pride and Prejudice is. The latter is what happened with one of my teachers and her daughters when we met a few months ago.

And so, in honour of this auspicious day, these lovely ladies baked a cake and we all got dressed up and had a tea party this afternoon. And let me say, I have never attended such a lovely tea party in all my life. Actually, compared with our afternoon tea, I don’t think anything I’ve ever attended or hosted could even be considered a tea party.

They took out their fancy china for the occasion and we drank from the dainty floral tea cups with our pinky fingers in the air. We put on classical music. We lit candles. We placed flowers on the table.

Tea Time!

We all dressed up — though none of us really got the period quite right. There were shawls and big, floppy hats that were more to the stylings of Anne Shirley than Elizabeth Bennet and we had a southern belle join us in a long, poufy gown. I attempted an empire waist look, placing a thin belt high on my waistline over a purple dress. Nonetheless, we all looked charming in our outfits of choice.

And then there was the food. Chocolate cake dusted with powdered sugar. Lemon pie. Cucumber sandwiches. And you can’t forget the tea. And the china sugar bowl. My family, for some reason or another, doesn’t have good china or sugar bowls or fancy tea sets, so that their family has such things, and that we used them, was very exciting for me.

The Food

The Food

And then we looked at my pictures from my pilgrimages to England where I visited Miss Austen’s house in Chawton and the filming locations for Pemberley used in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. We had a marvellous afternoon. And then, to finish off our day we went to Anthropologie, were I got myself a present in honour of Jane’s birthday. The belt I bought was, after all, called the Pierced Floral Corset Belt so I think it was quite fitting.

Thank you Jane, for writing some of the greatest novels ever. You’ve played a huge role in shaping who I am over the past few years since we met when I was fifteen. You’re the reason I started reading Literature. You’re partly responsible for my decision to major in English when I get to university next year. You inspired me to begin writing.You inspired two incredible, bonding-filled trips to England with my daddy. Your novels have taught me so much about life, myself and those around me. And you gave me a great opportunity to have a really fun tea party today in your honour. Happy birthday, Jane. And thanks for everything.

Did you do anything special to celebrate Jane’s birthday? Have you ever? Do share!

Some other posts wherein I gush about Jane and her novels:

My Favourite Books

P&P&ME

Fictitious Crushes

Happy Birth(and Death)day to The Bard (wherein I discuss my visit to Miss Austen’s former home in England)

My Life in Books

The Jane Austen Book Club

For the Love of Jane 

Does Not Play Well with Others

Yesterday as I walked back to the house I board at with my friend (and housemate), I was overcome with a feeling of “hey, look at me! I have friends!” Okay, yes, that sounds really, really sad. This is certainly not the first time I’ve had friends in my eighteen years of existence. I’ve had plenty of friends in lots of different levels of friendship, from “frenemy” to BFF.

Nevertheless, for a number of reasons, I’ve always felt a little different — you know, just like everyone else supposedly does. Never really felt like I quite fit in. Always felt a bit like an in-betweener — not quite a total loser who ate lunch by herself in the library, not quite sitting with the popular kids (or the type who even wanted to).

But this year, everything changed. I guess that’s what happens when you do a gap year program at a weird (i.e. awesome), little art school with seventeen other artsy girls. No one really fits a mould, so somehow we all fit in to our not-fitting-in.

I was discussing this with my friend while we walked home, and I was explaining my previous friendless, lonely life. To clarify that it wasn’t quite as sad as I had initially made it seem with my melodrama and hyperbole, I told her about one of my “cherished childhood memories”. This story probably just made it worse.

I was four or five and it was playtime at kindergarten. Everyone else was either playing well with others or quietly occupying themselves with the abundance of toys we had on hand. I was playing with some form of connect-y toys probably something like Tinker Toys. With these not-excessively-girly toys, I attached some of the long stick-ular items together and — ta da! — I made myself a magic wand.

It was made out of boring stick-y things; I was probably wearing green sweat pants. But in my imagination (which was so fully functioning that this is how I see myself in this memory) I was wearing a flow-y, flounce-y, tulle-y pink fairy dress and on my head I had one of those cone-shaped princess hats with the piece of tulle or whatever waving in the wind. My wand was, of course, also pink and had one of these flow-y things protruding from the top. It obviously shed fairy dust whenever I waved it. I led (lead) a very rich fantasy life.

This is kind of what I was picturing, but the dress in my imagination was WAY cooler. Also this picture’s missing a wand… Credit: http://www.fantasytoyland.com

I was (am) very kindhearted and didn’t want to keep my newfound magical powers to myself. I wanted to share my fun with everyone! So, I began skipping my way around the room, telling my peers that I was a magical fairy, asking them what they wanted me to turn them into and tapping them on the heads with my ‘magic wand’. If I recall correctly, I genuinely believed that they would love my game. I imagined they’d oblige me to the point that they’d tell me what they wanted to be turned into and, when I tapped their heads with my wand to grant them their wishes, they’d act like the magical creature they had wanted to be.

My bubble was popped pretty quickly. Most kids just ignored me, some got annoyed and shooed me away, and one kid got so irritated that I got told on and our teacher had to intervene and make me stop. This was heartbreaking for me.

Hmmm… It actually makes a lot of sense that I’d fit right in at art school. My game pretty closely reflects one of the ‘improv exercises’ we do in my theatre class. After all those years of ‘repressing my creativity’ to avoid being ridiculed, it’s pretty nice to come to a place where my own personal brand of insanity just adds to the fun.

I love going to a school where my friends and I randomly burst into song throughout the day, play theatre games where we “let the walls feel us” (for real. This is a ‘legitimate’ exercise.) and sit in class fighting over toy cars borrowed from our principal/teacher’s four-year-old. I’m also taking some creative writing classes and am working on an awesome screenplay. It’s about a math teacher who never really understood me. Go figure.

Oh yeah — and I may finally get a check mark on my report card in the box for “plays well with others”. You know, if I wasn’t eighteen and such a box still existed for me.

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