Film Review: Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Dir: Miguel Arteta
Starring: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow, Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny, etc.
Runtime: 1hr 23min
Rating: R
Spoiler Level: Super lite

After viewing this film, I’ll say one thing for certain; I am so glad that I was not invited to this dinner.

Beatriz_at_Dinner.jpgBeatriz at Dinner follows the titular character, an employee/massage therapist at a cancer treatment center, who ends up staying for dinner at a client’s house when her car fails to start. Beatriz attempts to navigate the evening while reflecting on her personal circumstances and how they compare and collide with the wealthy lives she is surrounded by, ultimately creating tension between her and powerful businessman Doug Strutt.

The film follows a relatively simple premise, and is buoyed by the stellar performances from the cast. Hayek is brilliant as Beatriz, the central character, and capably delivers a range of tangible emotion, from quiet, tempered despair, to deeply-rooted resentment, to cautious hope for the future. Lithgow is irritatingly good as Doug Strutt; I love Lithgow, but definitely felt that he needed a good punch in the face for this role. Britton, Sevigny, Amy Landecker, Jay Duplass, and David Warshofsky all play their parts as poised, simpering, shallow, occasionally frustrating, and yet multi-layered members of this dinner party. Each character could easily be a real person and each actor delivers a convincing and thought-provoking  performance with complexities that make it difficult to really hate any of them, with perhaps the exception of Lithgow. Everybody knows somebody like each of the dinner guests, and that is the strength of the film; it is a believable tale, with believable people and a relevant message. Even the “bad guy” isn’t just a standard corporate suit caricature; he’s got layers, like an onion. But the film is mostly carried by Hayek; the camera follows her every move, analyzes every tiny facial expression, and navigates her story, though it never really delves deep enough into her psyche to give us a clear picture of Beatriz’s motivations or the underlying reasons for her conflict with Strutt. There are clues left, and theories that can be woven together to make some semblance of an answer, but much of Beatriz’s psyche remains a mystery, even as the film draws to a close.

Since the film takes place predominately over the course of a single dinner, the pacing is a bit slow, but there is enough happening that the progression does not feel like a tedious drag. The tone is fairly balanced, and the dialogue is believable; I feel like I’ve heard people having similar conversations and discussing similar topics, but the writing did not feel tired or overdone. The tension in the film is also palpable; as the dinner drifts into different topics and controversial statements, the awkwardness and discomfort is real. There were several parts that made me squirm in my seat, as the discomfort was practically radiating from the screen. It’s a film that creates a very definitive mood, and it succeeds in it’s ability to generate a realistic atmosphere and emulate situations and characters that could very well exist in the world today, and probably do.

Unfortunately, the film’s efforts at subtlety occasionally miss the mark and fall more ham-fisted than is intended, or fly too far beneath the radar to be thoroughly detected. Overall, the film utilizes a commentary that is easily applicable to the world today and features an extremely prevalent message about society/money/greed, and for the most part, it comes across beautifully, but there are moments where the film picks up steam only to abruptly lose momentum and grow aimless. The end also left me with more questions than answers, and though I think films that stir up questions and make the viewer wonder are often a good thing, Beatriz at Dinner raises a few too many ambiguities and the conclusion comes across as “unresolved.” However, for the performances and the commentary alone, the film is definitely worth checking out, though lingering mysteries and dangling threads might leave you more frustrated than appeased. But if you’re looking for an action-based thriller with a quick pace, then this dinner party isn’t for you.

Overall rating: 8/10

Writing Techniques: Time

I think most folks can agree that there isn’t enough time in the day to accomplish all the tasks that need to be done. But – and I’ll admit, I’m biased – I think this is especially true for folks with creative careers/ambitions.

Like many aspiring writers, I have to work a day job. I do full-time shift work in a field that is totally unrelated to writing, so my schedule varies from week to week and shifts from day to day. For example, this week my start times are 7AM, 5AM, 5AM, 3PM, 4PM. Sometimes I have to work overnights, then flip it around to dayside right after. There are occasional bouts of consistency, but it’s hard to develop a routine when just about every day I have to adjust what time I wake up, go to the gym, prepare meals, do chores, etc, in addition to a work schedule that frequently changes.

So, the struggle becomes finding time to write. My schedule is obviously not as demanding as some, but it can still be difficult to find the appropriate work/life/other work balance. I’ll admit, it isn’t often, but there are days where I’m on the go from 5AM-6PM and by the time I get home, eat dinner, and take a shower, exhaustion takes over and the last thing I have energy for is cracking open a Word document and trying to put competent thoughts down into writing.

Weirdly enough, it was easier for me to schedule writing time when I was in college and writing I’m With You, even though I worked 2 jobs for the majority of that time along with a full course load every semester, and a partial course load in the summers and winters. Fortunately, my schedule, while busy, was consistent from week-to-week, so for the entirety of my senior year I didn’t have to scramble my plans and obligations around to find a solid chunk of writing time. For a while, Fridays were also dedicated to writing from about mid-afternoon on; my most productive writing sessions occurred during that window. Friday nights were also dedicated to being in my pajamas by 5PM, having cereal for dinner, and watching at least 2 episodes of Hoarders, but that’s irrelevant…

I can imagine that it is hard for a lot of people to schedule time for writing; but it’s important to do so, especially if your days are hectic. “Oh, I’ll do it later” all too easily turns into hours passing by unnoticed, and suddenly, it’s 11 at night, your alarm is set to go off at 5AM, and you haven’t written so much as a word all day, and that is the worst kind of feeling.

My personal strategy to combat this is simple; set aside a designated time (15 minutes at minimum) depending on the day. A white-board weekly calendar hanging above my desk assists with this. It’s such a basic plan, but writing down my schedule for the day makes it much easier to visualize the breakdown of the time I do have, so I’m able to set aside a specific block for “writing time.” This doesn’t work 100% of the time, due to unforeseen circumstances popping up or last-minute plan/work schedule changes, but that’s the great thing about white boards! You can erase and start over, good as new!

Ideally, I try and fit at least a couple of hours of writing into each day, be it a blog post like this one, character development, free writes, actual drafting, or just dabbling with an outline or some new ideas. On my days off from work, I can sometimes spend an entire day at a Word document, pounding out potential content or shifting between a couple of different projects. Some days are more productive than others, and that’s fine. I might (and by might, I mean, I definitely do) look back on previous writing and cringe at how poor it is, even if I only jotted it down the day before. It’s all fine; it’s all part of the process. As long as I get something of substance down on paper or in a Word document each day, I chalk it up as a victory. Journaling also helps with this, because it ensures that I do at least a bit each day, even if it’s just a sentence or two.

And when those “unproductive” days happen – where my schedule allows for no writing at all – I try and do better the next day instead of calling myself a failure and wallowing in despair. I mean, I never shut my brain off, so when I can’t fend off a sudden brainstorm or have a stroke of creativity, I whip out my phone and text the idea to myself. On my phone, I have a massive text chain to myself that is just random snippets of dialogue, scenarios, or descriptions, and it’s actually been very helpful when I’m on the go and only have a few seconds to jot down an idea. This tactic really helps when I conjure up bits of dialogue and want to remember it exactly, because lord knows if I don’t make note of it immediately, I will forget when I sit down to formally type it out later. You can’t control when inspiration strikes; I find that I have to write it down quickly, in a text or scribbled on a sticky-note, unless I want to lose it.

So, the gist is, even when there’s no time, never stop trying to make time for writing. I know that when I don’t write for any notable length of time, I feel unfulfilled, and it makes it so difficult to build or maintain momentum. There are never two non-writing days in a row, ever. Life does get in the way; but it can’t be a permanent obstacle.

Worth 1000 Words #9: Snowtober 2011

Some of you, particularly those of you who reside in the northeastern United States, might remember the freak snowstorm of October 2011, which resulted in near state-wide power outages and general icy desolation in some areas.

383486_2063359704083_2085259487_nIt was Halloween weekend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and would be taking my grandmother (with whom I lived for a year and a half during college) back to PA with them for the winter. Saturday, afternoon, my father dropped me off at my second job, and all proceeded as normal… until the first fateful flakes began to fall. Within an hour or so, it was a full-on snow assault. I made it almost all the way through my shift, worriedly peeking out of the windows as white began to conquer the parking lot, until my dad appeared to pick me up and I bolted out the door.

The journey home was probably the most tense, stressful car ride of my life, but thankfully, my father is a skilled driver and we made it safely home. Had I been by myself, I never would have made it; the highway was a wasteland, the snow plummeted in droves, and cars were careening all over the place as folks tried to make it to their destination, dodging downed tree limbs and power lines.

Once back at home, the power had already gone out, so we dined on cold chicken by candlelight, dug out the spare blankets to stave off the bitter cold, lit a fire in the fireplace and played UNO to fight boredom, and mourned as our electronics slowly died. As the snow continued to fall, I fell asleep (beneath several layers) to the ominous snap-and-thud sound of breaking tree branches in the forest behind the house, praying that none would fall on the roof and crush me during the night.

The next day, New England was buried in snow/ice hell. Power was lost in a huge portion of the region (including almost all of Connecticut, if I remember correctly – I lived about ten minutes from the border) and because the weather was so wonky (it was warm right before the storm, then warm again immediately after) there was extensive damage that reached far beyond just NE. After I called out of work for the day, my parents and my grandmother left me to endure Snowtober alone, since I hadn’t heard anything about classes being cancelled for the following day or any time after. TO THIS DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM WHY THEY DID NOT IMMEDIATELY CANCEL CLASSES DUE TO THE DEVASTATION but regardless, I sat and waited it out. It was cold, boring, and I had no means of contact with the outside world. I did manage to get my homework done, though; we were covering Emerson and Thoreau in my American Literature class, and, in a true display of irony, our assignment was to read “Nature.” I didn’t laugh, nor did I develop a deep appreciation for transcendentalism as I paged through my literature textbook by candlelight, munching on a stale bagel.

I am proud of my alma mater, but I was NOT pleased to be going to class the following morning when over half of campus still had no power, despite the fact that the snow had already nearly melted. I am grateful, however, that the Writing Center where I worked still had power… I was able to charge all of my electronics in preparation for the long, dark night ahead. While I was there, doing homework and getting warm, the school released a statement announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and students were advised to return home if possible.

This was AFTER they had us go to Monday classes, mind you; so classes were cancelled until the following Monday. I only went to one class on Monday, too, since night classes were cancelled and one of my professors wasn’t able to make it to campus regardless. It was very difficult to tamp the lid down on my rage, since I’d missed a free ride home with my parents the day before, and I couldn’t go for the less-expensive Amtrak option due to the massive power outage. Luckily, my dad loaned me money for a last minute plane ticket (which is quite a price-gouge for a day-before splurge) so I wouldn’t need to drive 6 hours solo through two snowpocalypse-plagued states in order to make my way home.

Driving home from campus that night (after the Writing Center closed) was a total nightmare, since power was still out and none of the traffic lights were operational. It was like driving through the zombie apocalypse sans zombies – though I was pleasantly surprised to see that my across-the-street neighbors, who were lovely people, had left some chopped wood for my fireplace on the front stoop. Things were looking up… until the next morning, I awoke to the shrill, shrieking tones of my burglar alarm blaring throughout the house. There were no intruders, I think it had something to do with the power outage. The alarm company also wouldn’t shut it off, because the house and account are not in my name, so I had to leap through several hoops to get them to have mercy on me (and my neighbors).

Less than five hours later, I’d been ferried to the airport by my godmother, and was nestled safely at home in PA with functional power. While at home, I did manage to snag 36 extra hours of work and by Thursday, I heard that power had been restored to my area of New England – which meant there had been 5 straight days of no power. I returned home on Sunday evening and life resumed as normal, as all traces of the Snowpocalypse began to fade away, and autumn picked up once more. It’s difficult to imagine how much difficulty and suffering a one-night snowfall can bring, but I hope to never experience another storm of the same magnitude ever again.

The Woodpecker

I have always had a complicated relationship with birds.

I actually think birds are pretty awesome; I mean, they come in so many shapes and sizes! Penguins are the bomb, owls are rad, falcons are fierce, and hummingbirds are adorable. I especially LOVE pigeons; whenever I travel to different cities, I make sure to take several pictures of the local pigeons. I think I have 100+ photos of pigeons from England/France alone. The bird population could maybe take it easy on my car, though; I get a bit tired of seeing white splotches and streaks all over the exterior of my beloved Nissan, especially after I have literally just gone through the car wash.

However, there is one bird that I consider to be my eternal nemesis. A bird that will never, ever earn my admiration. My feud with this particular avian menace began in the spring of my final year of college. It was a cool morning, just shy of 6AM, and I was sleeping soundly, likely dreaming of finals and finally earning my degree after 3 arduous years…

…and then I was awoken by the sound of a jackhammer on my roof.

At least, that’s what it sounded like. A relentless drilling, so loud it echoed throughout the entire second floor of my house, preventing me from slumber. The source of this noise was not immediately apparent, and after about twenty minutes or so, it stopped. Sadly, I was now too awake to fall back to sleep, so I just roused myself out of bed and watched Spongebob reruns for 2 hours until I had to go to class.

However, the sound returned the following morning, and the morning after that. Same general time frame. Same obnoxious, head-ache inducing frequency. After the third day, I managed to puzzle out what was causing the sound, and it was not, in fact, a tiny man with a jackhammer terrorizing my roof.

It was a woodpecker.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence of this, because I never actually saw the woodpecker, except for the flutter of wings as it retreated to the refuge of the forest behind my house. It was drilling in a part of my roof that I couldn’t see properly without a ladder or rocket boots, though it sounded like it was slamming its beak directly into my brain.

But I don’t know what else it could have been if not a woodpecker, so I’m assuming my Sherlockian deduction was correct. I also didn’t know how to make it stop. After doing a bit of googling and research on woodpeckers, I settled on a method for dealing with this problem: doing literally nothing while hoping it would just go away. Sadly, this method did not work, as the woodpecker continued its assault on my roof for many mornings to come.

This rage-inducing situation – of being awoken every morning by the presence of a woodpecker – began to take a toll on my mental state, shortening my temper and limiting my patience in other areas of my life. I vented about my woodpecker dilemma to friends and coworkers at my university’s writing center, which they found very humorous. Admittedly, if I hadn’t been the one suffering, I probably would have thought it was hilarious, too.

But I was not laughing. The sleep-deprived days and groggy mornings continued to accumulate, until, one morning, I finally snapped.

While this was going on, I tried not to structure my schedule around the inevitable woodpecker wake-up call every morning, as it wasn’t always feasible to go to bed early. On this particular morning, I’d been up late the previous night working on a draft for a project since I didn’t have an early class to wake up for. A certain avian demon did not get this memo and promptly began its morning routine of hammering its beak into my roof, this time at half past 6 in the morning.

This time, I retaliated. Or, rather… I tried to. I didn’t so much breathe fire as I blew a lot of a smoke.

Determined to make the feathery fiend stop, I stormed downstairs, stomped into the kitchen, threw open the back door, and flew down the steps into my backyard, trying to get a glimpse of the creature. With little restraint, I unleashed my fury.

“SHUT UP!!!!! JUST SHUT UP!!!! I AM TRYING TO SLEEP!!! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP IT!!!”

Alas, this verbal assault happened to occur when two of my neighbors were outside with their dog. Dressed in my Batman PJ pants and a “Yankees Suck” T-shirt, I met their inquisitive/bewildered gaze across the fence, then offered them a sheepish smile. Even the dog looked a little spooked by my behavior. To explain, I pointed to the area of my roof where the woodpecker had decided to wreak its ungodly havoc, and informed them, “It’s a woodpecker.”

They just nodded, offered uncertain smiles, looked at me like I had sprouted an extra limb from my head, then went back into their house. I never interacted much with these neighbors; in fact, that might have been the only time I ever actually spoke to them in my 3 years of living there. If so, I can only imagine what their ultimate impression of me was. “Crazy Woodpecker Girl,” no doubt.

So, with my tirade completed, I slipped back into my house, brewed my morning coffee and poured my morning cereal, and calmed down. The woodpecker had ceased its torment, and I went about my day. I think yelling at the bird was cathartic, in a way; I felt much calmer after the confrontation. Perhaps all I needed was to scream a little and let out my frustration. Not always the healthiest method for approaching a problem, but in this case, it seemed to help.

And the next morning? I was effectively woodpecker free after two weeks of agony and I never heard from it again. I know the timing of my freedom was probably coincidental, and the woodpecker was not frightened off by me shrieking at it – but still, I like to think it was. And this experience (plus some hindsight) showed me a few things; sometimes, endurance and adaptation are the keys to weathering a tough situation. Or sometimes you just need to yell a bit. Either way, the storm will pass, even if the downpour seems too heavy and the lightning just won’t cease. Just have patience, and learn to evolve in order to properly deal with the cards you are dealt.

 

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

B.A.P. Concert in Washington D.C.!

Let it be known, before I launch into this post, that I am not a K-pop aficionado. I do harbor a long-running deep love for J-Pop/J-Rock (Do As Infinity, L’arc-en-Ciel, Ayaka, Ayumi Hamasaki, Every Little Thing, Utada, FLOW, etc) and an appreciation for C-Pop and Mandopop (Jolin Tsai, Jam Hsiao, S.H.E., Mayday, Leehom Wang, etc), and while I enjoy K-Pop, my dedication level hovers somewhere above “knowing what Gangnam Style is” and below “creating K-Pop only blogs/twitters and knowing all the former and present members of Super Junior.” One might say I am a casual.

So a couple of months ago, I got a text from my best friend, which read: “Would you….. possibly hypothetically go with me to see a kpop group in dc?” I thought about it, and ultimately settled on, “Why not?” I may not be a mega-fan, but I figured it would be an interesting experience, regardless.

And it definitely was an experience. Now, bear in mind, the following observations are from someone who is not super-involved in the K-pop fandom, so please forgive any ignorance on my part. No offense is meant by anything said in the following blog post.

I might be a novice, but I am aware of the far-reaching scope of K-pop  – it’s basically a global phenomenon with a massive, dedicated fanbase. I know a handful of bands/artists, but I was more or less clueless about B.A.P. going into the concert. My friend actually made me a Google doc about the band/members to study beforehand, but needless to say, I didn’t retain much. However, no amount of research could have prepared me for what I was going to face at the Warner Theater in D.C on April 9th, 2017.

17862549_10210247446681689_2903302992777542961_nDuring the ride down to D.C, my friend (who is a K-pop expert) briefed me on what to expect, so I felt more or less equipped to handle things. However, more details trickled through over the course of the day, as she would casually mention, “Oh, by the way, there will be whistles,” and “Oh, just so you know, it’s going to start with a D.J.” and “There’s like, sort of a dress code…but don’t worry about it” – I half expected her to tell me the boys would land onstage after descending from the ceiling on trapezes. Outside the theater, we were given posters to wave during a particular number… and since I didn’t know any of the songs, my friend assured me she would alert me in advance. Once we entered the venue and got to our seats (in the balcony), she also mentioned, “It’s good we’re not in the orchestra seats, because it gets crazy down there,” and a girl sitting near us assured me, “Oh, it’ll get crazy up here too.”

And they were not wrong. All thoughts of being prepared were whisked away from me as the buzz began to build. Whistles were going off and fans were screaming well before the opening – and once the D.J. (A performer named D.Shoo, who was awesome!) actually began, the hype was ramped up to about a 1000%. Now, the Warner Theater is the sort of venue built for ballets and – so that sort of atmosphere, colliding with the passionate fervor of K-Pop fans and the colorful, flashing lights and screens, was a bit jarring at first. Folks were jumping up and down, whistles were blaring, everyone was standing and cheering, girls (and maybe some guys) were loudly proclaiming their love for certain members of the group, and the main act hadn’t even begun yet.

17796405_10210247446841693_3183343088456269860_nNaturally, when the group members – Yongguk, Daehyun, Jongup, Himchan, Youngjae, and Zelo (I only had to google, like, 2 of those – I’m getting better!) – actually emerged onstage and launched into their first number, the crowd totally lost it. I looked down into the orchestra and it was a literal sea of flailing arms, hands waving those little bunny monster wand things (Matokis, I think?) and screaming. A fan up in the balcony had some sort of light-up sign, as well. At some points, it got so loud that I feared I would lose my hearing for the following day, and my friend and I both had to work at 5AM the next morning, so that would have been less than ideal. Luckily, the ear-ringing ceased on the car ride home.

Even though I went into the experience mostly unprepared and unaware of what was about to ensue, I was completely blown away. From the moment the concert began, the crowd never lost their intensity- we were on our feet the entire time, and B.A.P. did a fantastic job keeping the energy level at it’s peak the entire night, even during “slower” numbers. It took me a little while to adjust to the ardent nature of the crowd, but I settled into a zone and found myself having an excellent time. It barely even felt like 2 hours, and even though my friend and I had been walking around D.C. most of the day beforehand, the exhaustion didn’t hit me until the car-ride home. Also, I can say, with 90% certainty, that I was the only person in the audience who didn’t know any of the words. The fans knew exactly when to join in with the next lyrics and didn’t even need any sort of cue – it was seriously awe-inspiring.

17523631_10210247447161701_8871979680167774961_nMy favorite performances from the event were “Wake Me Up,” “Feel So Good,” “B.A.B.Y,” and “Spy” – at least, I’m pretty sure those are the titles. I had to google it. But I enjoyed all of it, and at no point or during any song did I think anything like, “Meh, this one’s just okay.” I also enjoyed the “Baby’s Lounge” segment, where the band members were charismatic and entertaining and got a window to interact with the crowd. I was surprised that they didn’t take more of a break between numbers – there were really only a couple of times where they stopped for a “costume change,” and they performed most of the songs back to back, which has to be exhausting. Regardless, they never lost their momentum and it kept the crowd enthused. I was jamming out to pretty much all of the songs – I’m not the type to really “let loose” and go crazy with the dancing and arm waving, but I did my share of “stand a sway” and moving to the rhythm. I let out a few “Wooo!”s of my own. The members each have their unique talents and voices, and they combine and complement one another in a way that makes a spectacular sound – plus their dancing/choreography is superb and was executed to perfection. “Feels So Good” and “B.A.B.Y,” were on repeat in my head for a couple days after – they are SO catchy. Not a single number or performance fell flat – as someone who knew pretty much nothing going in, I came away from it with a big grin on my face.

17884498_10210247447401707_6298726364486903065_nNow that the concert is over and I have had time to process, I can declare that, while I liked all of them, Himchan is my favorite… or I guess he would be my “bias?” I’m still not entirely clear on the terminology. Like, there’s something about “sons”? Or was it “children”? My friend tried to explain it to me but I was more or less like a well-meaning, yet clueless mom at her kid’s anime convention. The people around us in line and the girls sitting behind us were chattering on about their “biases” and all sorts of things and my friend could follow every word, but I was lost.

Despite my lack of knowledge, I also came away from the event with a new admiration for the dedication and persistence of the K-pop fandom. I can understand why some people think being that level of “fan” is obsessive/unhealthy, and it is a little overwhelming/off-putting at first to an “outsider” who is unfamiliar with the lingo and the customs, but honestly, as long as someone doesn’t let a passion or an avid interest affect their life in a negative manner, or allow it to completely consume their existence, or use it as a means to cause harm to someone else, then I don’t see the issue. Everybody’s got something they love – I’d be the same way at a Lord of the Rings event or something, and once I got used to the atmosphere, I no longer felt out of place. Even though I’m not at that level when it comes to K-Pop (and I likely never will be, though I do intend to broaden my range) I  can’t wait to add B.A.P.’s discography to my mp3 player so I can jam out while I’m at the gym. My interest in K-Pop might not be as off-the-charts as it is for some, but it certainly has been reignited. I wasn’t even upset that we didn’t get home until after midnight and I had to get up at 4 to go to work – the fatigue I felt the following day was worth it.

If my friend hadn’t invited and brought me along with her, I likely never would have attended a K-Pop concert of my own volition – so I’m grateful she included me. I consider the experience a valuable one, and can say, without a doubt, that it “feels so good” to have had the chance to witness B.A.P. perform live, and I might even venture out to more K-Pop shows in the future.

Sammy

When I was in fourth grade, there was nothing I wanted more than a pet hamster.

I’d had pets before. We owned a dog at that time; a lively Welsh Corgi named Lady Margaret Waddle-Bottom (Maggie for short) and my sister and I had previously owned a slew of fish, thanks to a summer reading program at our local library that offered “Free Fish” coupons as a prize for reading a certain amount of books. As an avid reader from a young age, I earned several of those coupons, and so, a local pet store granted us with several fish. Sadly, our dear friends Spot, Spike, Angel, Goldie, Rocky, etc, etc, did not grace us with their companionship for very long.

As such, my parents grew (understandably) weary of bringing new pets into the house, so my initial pleas for a pet hamster were shot down. However, I was determined to prove to them that I could be responsible – if only I could have a little furry friend to call my own. I took out hamster and pet care books from the school library and read them multiple times, cover to cover, to prove to my parents that I was dedicated to owning a rodent. I put in extra effort with chores and helping around the house, and I promised to contribute what little money I had to pet care expenses. I think I even gave a presentation about hamsters in school. Thinking back, I’m not sure what my fascination with hamsters was. I was a big fan of the Hamtaro show that aired on Cartoon Network in that era, and I think that fed into my love for them, but I was borderline obsessed with hamsters. The first “series” I ever wrote was about the adventures of a superhero hamster named Hammer Hamster and his sidekick, a gerbil named Fuzz. Unfortunately, this was before the era of typed writing assignments, so no drafts remain of those stories, but I may revive the stories someday. I was also really into bats at the time, so it might have just been a strange admiration for rodents.

Eventually, my persistent requests for a pet hamster paid off – and on one fine Saturday morning, my mom took me to a local pet store to pick one out. I settled on an adorable, chubby-cheeked brown-furred creature, which I happily dubbed Sophie.

We re-purposed the old fish tank to serve as a hamster habitat, filled it with fluffy bedding, set up a wheel so she could stay active, and ensured she had a full water source and lots of food. For those first few days, I loved watching her toddle around her cage, run around in her exercise wheel, and I even picked her up (in a cup, because I was scared she would bite me) and stroked her on the head to try and establish a rapport. For a while, everything was okay… but really, no amount of research could have prepared me for owning a beast like Sophie.

Sophie was the hamster from hell.

It’s probably my fault for not getting her acclimated to being held by humans early enough, but after a couple of weeks, she became utterly vicious. Every time I tried to pick her up and transport her to a smaller carrier so I could clean her cage, she snapped at me, and even gave me a couple of nasty bites. She, being primarily nocturnal, would run in her wheel at all hours of the night, and the squeaking would keep me awake, so we had to relocate her to the family room. After the old aquarium cracked, we got her a new cage; but it was much more difficult to clean, and thus, the rodent “odor” was much worse than it had previously been. The books did not prepare me near well enough for the odor.

The turning point was when I’d had Sophie for several months, and I decided to take her to visit my fifth grade class. In a bizarre turn of fate, the receptionist at my elementary school was out that day, and a substitute had stepped in – a substitute who happened to work at a local pet store. She looked into Sophie’s cage and said, “Oh, how sweet! What’s his name?”

My subsequent thought was, “….His?”

I don’t remember the exact wording of the ensuing conversation, but basically, my mom and I found out that Sophie was, in fact, not a female. Trust me – we were all fooled, so it wasn’t easy to tell. From that point on, Sophie was renamed Sammy. I wondered for months afterward if Sophie’s ever-growing resentment of me was due to my almost year-long confusion over his/her gender… and I suppose I’ll never know. But his hostility never waned.

The newly-named Sammy eventually took up residence in the top “compartment” of his new cage, where he proceeded to hoard food, eat obscene amounts of seeds, smell terrible, and sleep all day in a collection of his own urine and feces. He eventually stopped running in his wheel, and, as such, put on a significant amount of weight. He didn’t want to play, or interact, or do anything but eat and sleep. Any efforts to be affectionate toward him were met with open hatred. Owning a hamster was nothing like I expected it to be; there were basically no fun times to be had, no bonding experiences with my furry “pal.” It was a lot of responsibility, and, as the charm of owning a pet wore off, I gradually slacked off my duties. He was always fed/watered and his cage was clean, but I put in the bare minimum of effort. Sammy lived for over 4 years, when the average life span of a hamster is about 2-3 years. I was half convinced that Sammy was immortal for a little while, because even though he stopped exercising and led a completely sedentary existence, he survived well into old hamster age. He was practically ancient, by the end. Maybe he struck a bargain with the hamster devil, I’m not sure…. or maybe he was the hamster devil.

Then, one day, my mom informed me that she had glanced into his cage and saw that he wasn’t moving. Sammy had passed on to the next life. I felt a stab of sadness; the bittersweet close of a chapter. And I knew, in that moment, that my chances of ever owning another rodent again were slim to none, because I am not equipped for it. I could never handle another Sammy.

I lament that I never developed a true bond with Sammy – that we more or less just existed in the same space, bearing no affection for one another. Regardless, I will never forget Sophie/Sammy, my gender confused, grouchy, obese pet hamster – and from our time together, I learned many valuable lessons; mostly about expectations versus reality. The actual experience of owning my own pet was not the rosy, cheerful time that I anticipated after reading all those pet-care books and watching a cartoon about little hamsters and their big adventures. Now, before taking on similar responsibilities, I carefully weigh my options and research exactly what will be expected. I don’ t consider, “Oh, it’ll be fun!
to be an adequate reason to take on a pet or something similar.

As I kid, I didn’t know what pet ownership would be like. Now, as an adult, I have a cat – and it’s enough. My cat spurns most gestures of affection, just like me, so she fits totally fine within the household and she doesn’t require a demanding level of care. In fact, some days I don’t even see her except when she comes around to whine for food. Thanks to Sammy and our tempestuous time together, I know my limitations; the level of dedication I can achieve as a pet owner – and I hope Sammy is somewhere on the hamster wheel of the afterlife, enjoying a nice, leisurely spin before a nap and a sunflower seed feast.