This weekend, we participated in an Alumni Service Day event. Basically, we were gardeners for a day. Our task was to save a bush that was literally being choked by ivy. The vines of ivy were tangled throughout the branches of the bush and prevented the bush from receiving nutrients through the soil. We were in charge of destroying the ivy. We yanked it, chopped it, and dug it up. I cannot even begin to tell you how satisfying it felt! Though it was a strenuous three hours of work, I felt energized afterward. Part of this was because the physical labor itself – what better way to release stress and frustration than yanking resistant plants by their roots? But the other part was that I was doing something good for the community. Pulling ivy may seem like a minor thing, but it had to be done. With the economy being what it is, a number of city employees have lost jobs in various areas. There is simply not enough manpower to properly tend to the grounds. Our work may have lasted only a few hours, but the bush will continue to grow and thrive long after we’ve left the park.
The bush, after we worked our magic (taken on an iPhone):
As we were leaving the park, a little girl bumped into me and lost her balloon. It got stuck in the tree right near our bush:
I went to Las Vegas for the first time last weekend. I won't deny I had a blast on the trip, but I have mixed feelings about the city itself. Vegas has a fascinating past. Originally established as a stopover on pioneer trails, Las Vegas later became a major railroad town. The casino-hotel industry was initially run by mobsters but later made into a legitimized form of business by Howard Hughes. Iconic images of Las Vegas in the early part of the 20th century illustrate a town filled with glamour, luxury, and decadence. The men were charming and the women were enchanting. While a lot of that opulence still remains (especially in some of the beautiful hotels), the seedy past has come to dominate modern Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas of today is dirty - plain and simple. It’s polluted, smokey and outright nasty. You feel the grime building up on your skin the longer you’re there. The grime then permeates your body, dirtying your soul as well. I’ve often heard Vegas described as “adult Disneyland.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When you visit Disneyland, you are instantly transported to a magical, Utopian world. You leave feeling happy and uplifted, no matter how exhausted you are, and you can’t wait to return. Vegas, on the other hand, is more akin to a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah. Instead of magical and Utopian, you’re transported to a sordid and soiled underworld. The men are pathetic and the women are desperate. You leave feeling drained and dejected. The mere thought of returning makes you nauseous.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the time I had with my friends – the breakfasts, the gatherings in our hotel rooms, the late-night burgers and milkshakes, the afternoon walk through the Bellagio lobby - and I am incredibly grateful for the chance to unwind with people I love. I also know not everyone feels the way I do about Las Vegas. Some people truly love their time in Sin City and can’t wait to return. But I’ve seen Vegas in all its gritty glory. For me, the Vegas experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m okay with that.
As of today, I have one year and ten months before I turn 30. In all honesty, I’m a little freaked out by that. I’m reentering the working world at the lowest level and have quite a long way to go before I’ll be successful. Most people in my office that are my age will already have a good 3-4 years’ seniority on me. In order to transform Age 30 from something I dread into something I look forward to, I need a few goals. I know one year and ten months sounds like a long time, but most of this year will be consumed by school/bar studying. I figured it’s okay to start 30 Before 30 now, rather than after I turn 29.
1. Pass the bar.
2. Visit a foreign country I’ve never been to before. (There are too many I want to see so I can’t narrow it down to just one in the next year and a half.)
3. Go skydiving.
4. Learn how to make my favorite Mexican candy, Leche Quemada.
5. Start Pilates classes again.
6. Ride a bike. I need to get over the fear at some point.
7. Relax on a beach.
8. Treat myself to a professional massage – I’ve never really had one.
9. Get cool hipster glasses and actually wear them in public. (I hate wearing glasses in public!)
10. Run a 10K.
11. Touch up my tat.
12. Start a little garden and grow something – vegetables, flowers, fruit, whatever works best for where I’m living.
13. Explore The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL.
14. And maybe Disney World, too. :)
15. See an art show.
16. Go to the symphony. I went once, in elementary school, so it’s time.
17. Make bread. Like, delicious crusty-on-the-outside-warm-and-soft-on-the-inside French bread.
18. Experiment with a new lens. Maybe super telephoto for nature photography?
19. Make a homemade heart bokeh lens. I think this is possible…
20. Ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier in Chicago.
21. Learn how to ski. I’ve never done it before!
22. Sit in a photobooth or two. I love these old classics.
23. Start a camera collection. I want cool old Lomos, Holgas, Dianas, etc.
24. Road trip!!!
25. Ride a roller coaster. It’s been a while.
26. Go to a local food festival. I just love food. Something along the lines of Taste of Chicago…
27. Make My Love feel truly loved and appreciated– and continue that even after the fateful 30th birthday.
28. Do more volunteer work.
29. Host a fabulous party. Woo-hoo!!!
30. Say “Yes!” to something – anything – I would normally say “No” to.
I’m leaving at the end of July, not because I’m sick of living here and ready for something new, but because the time has come. My reason for being here will no longer exist. Perhaps it’s better this way. Ending on a high note will make it easier to look back fondly on this quaint, quirky town.
I realized today that I have approximately two months until graduation. In four and a half months, I’ll be done with the bar and moving on to my new life as an actual (hopefully) attorney. The nostalgia is beginning to set in.
I’ve had almost three years in this little town and I’m afraid I haven’t taken full advantage of what it has to offer. I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve visited the year-round Farmer’s Market. I noticed the Toad Tunnel for the first time just a few weeks ago. And my twisted desire to hit an undergrad on a bike - just once, just to see what happens - has been replaced with an “Oh, how cute” feeling every time I see them.
One thing about this town I’ve come to appreciate is the free-spirited hippie attitude. I can’t help but smile every time I see the elementary school crossing guard, a bearded guy in his early 30s with waist-length hair, wandering around town barefoot even in cold, rainy February. (In case you were wondering, he wears flip-flops when he’s actually working.) And I love the bridge on the outskirts of town that is so covered in graffiti no one knows what color it originally was. The “hippieness” of the town has allowed it to embrace the “local art.” Layer upon layer of undergrads, high schoolers, and other locals itching to leave their mark on the world have found just the place. The bridge proudly displays scribbles, art, and various sayings such as “Be creative” and “Life gets better. Maybe." Though it is graffiti, and arguably an eye sore, the town would not dare paint over such overt showings of individual expression.
Spring? Hey, Spring? Is that you? I hardly recognized you! Where’ve you been the last few months? We missed you, buddy! It’s been awfully cold and rainy, and there have been some crazy snowstorms you just wouldn't believe since you left. What’s that? You’ve been in South America? Well, nice of you to come back. I’ve been squirreled away in my nest in that tree over there, just trying to keep warm and remember where I buried my nuts. Then all this rain came and the mud made it hard to dig ‘em up again. Hey, wait … where are you going? Don’t you wanna hang around for a bit? I’m getting sick of this fur coat. I was hoping you’d bring your pal Sun with you and I could try on my new sundress for him. No? Not yet? Oh. I see. Well … come back soon. And next time, stay a bit longer, will ya?
After taking the MPRE on Saturday, I needed to relax. I needed to escape. Why not go see Alice in Wonderland? In my mind, Tim Burton could do no wrong. That’s what I thought … until I saw this movie. Overall, it was good enough and it’s worth seeing – at a matinee. However, previous Tim Burton films have led to high expectations and Alice in Wonderland just didn’t live up to those expectations.
The art of Tim Burton’s movies lies in his storytelling. He is brilliant at taking a simple, straightforward story and putting his own dark and charming spin on it. Alice in Wonderland lacks both of these. It’s dark visually, but the essence of Burton is absent from the story and characters. Past films like Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Sweeney Todd are able to balance creepy and lovely. You’re almost charmed by the uncomfortable feelings the movies stir up. From this perspective, Alice in Wonderland failed.
Johnny Depp was also a bit disappointing. He was working hard at being the Mad Hatter and it was obvious. Depp usually excels where most actors fail. He has made a name for himself, and a very successful career, through his ability to inhabit quirky and bizarre characters. He actually becomes people we otherwise could never sympathize with. In Alice, however, he didn't become the Mad Hatter, but rather, he was Johnny Depp acting the way he thought the Mad Hatter might act. Unfortunately, it seems Depp, who notoriously rebelled against Hollywood categorization, has found his niche as “the weird guy.” The Mad Hatter was essentially Willy Wonka with different make up.
There were a few great things about the film that make it worth watching. Visually, it’s stunning. The colors, the music, the effects, and the make up transport you deep inside Burton's twisted imagination. Burton clearly has a thing for trees and there’s no shortage of them in this film. Trees in “Underland” appeared torched and petrified, much like the spirit of those under the rule of the Red Queen. In contrast, trees where the White Queen lived are in full bloom, happily displaying their best gifts for their beloved Queen.
Helen Bonham Carter also shines as Red Queen. Her twisted, Machiavellian desire to be feared rather than loved actually makes her a pitiable figure. The sibling rivalry has gone too far and you almost feel sorry for her in the end. Almost.
Overall, Alice in Wonderland is not a bad film. For one thing, it definitely made me want to read the books again. It just didn’t quite make it over the bar Tim Burton's previous films set so high. Oh well. Maybe next time, Tim.
Since crossing over to digital photography, I’ve been conflicted about post-shoot processing. At first, I shied away from it because it felt like cheating. Photography is about capturing a moment but also about capturing a moment you may have missed with the naked eye. I like to use my camera to see things differently, whether it be a different angle, different perspective, or different composition. As I explore other digital photos, I’m starting to realize that post-processing can be part of the artistry. When I worked in the darkroom, I would experiment with all kinds of techniques to bring out the essence of the image. Is digital processing really any different? If done well, the processing can truly enhance the image and highlight that which gives the shot character. It’s just another aspect of the photo’s personality. I think I'll open myself up to more experimentation with processing. Of course, I will always strive to "get it right" the first time (i.e. when I take the picture), but sometimes editing can add that extra oomph to make the photo a keeper.
View of San Francisco Bay on a sunny day. It's nice, simple, and straightforward.
View of San Francisco Bay on a sunny day. It's nice, simple, and straightforward.
Here's the exact same shot with a little editing to highlight the depth in the sky and the ship in the bay. I like how this also lends a timelessness to the photo. It gives the impression that this could have been shot at any time period, because this particular view has probably been the same for a few decades.
All the rain the last few days has made me think about favorite rainy days in the past. I loved scary Texas thunderstorms as a child. The best storms were in the summer, when I could cuddle up in bed next to my grandma and listen to the rain on the windowpanes. Then there were the summer storms in Chicago – a welcomed break from the oppressive humidity. But one of my favorite rainy days was the day I visited Venice. This was one of the best days of my two-week tour of Italy. Not many people were out because it was cold and rainy. We had the streets almost to ourselves. The canals were flooded and it seemed as though the gondolas would drift right up on the sidewalk. I was lucky enough to capture many great shots that day, but this one is by far my favorite.
Why is it that when I don’t have my camera I see perfect shots everywhere, but when I’m in the mood to click a few I can’t find anything inspiring? While I was walking to class this morning, I saw what appeared to be tiny crystals suspended in mid-air. Upon closer inspection I realized there was a spider web delicately stretched between two branches. The web was covered with tiny raindrops. It was so cool and beautiful. A spider web is, to a certain extent, a death trap. Yet here it was, capturing tiny translucent spheres of water. It’s supposed to rain again tonight and tomorrow morning. I plan on toting my camera around campus, just in case. Hopefully the little bed of water crystals will still be there.