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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Moving Up

Patrons - After three years at this location, I have decided to relocate this site to mugforthought.wordpress.com, hopefully officially becoming mugforthought.com in early 2013!

I've been wanting to expand Mug for Thought for a while, and Wordpress offers features that will allow me to do so. This Blogger link will remain active and host to articles written from 2009-2012, and I will be transferring select posts to the new site in the coming weeks.

To everyone who has supported me in this project in over the past years, thank you! I couldn't do this without you, and hope to see you over at the new site.

Loyally,
Sarah

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Writing Myself Free

It's the one piece of advice almost universally dispensed: Write every day. So simple, yet so hard to follow at times!

Between the writing I do for work, journaling and even making grocery lists - I do write every day. Yet when it comes to my aspirations to create literature, and sharing thoughts on issues I really care about, my commitment level has tended to peak and fall.

Recently, I completed a workshop at a great local organization called Write Yourself Free. If you live in the Westport, Connecticut area, and are interested in creative writing, film, poetry - I highly recommend it. In addition to their classes, WYF also hosts speaker events, movie screenings and student reading nights, so there are offerings for everyone from the professional author to anyone with an appreciation for things literary.

I took the school's foundation course and thoroughly enjoyed and learned from it. I'm definitely going to continue with them, likely exploring one of their screenwriting programs. And the one point most consistently emphasized, and best thing I learned was, "Write every day," and how to do so.

The course centered around narrative storytelling, so this was largely my focus for the past eight weeks, and an area I will further explore. At the same time, Mug for Thought is my primary interest, and a place I can certainly also apply what I learned in the workshop.

Hopefully, this means Mug for Thought will have new content more regularly! And as always, I welcome submissions and comments.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Unlost 101

Last month I spoke with the founder and colleague of one of my favorite sites, The Unlost, about what advice they have for anyone searching for something they can't quite define (i.e., all of us. Yogi Berra was wrong. I think?) As I mentioned, the team was at the time developing an online course designed to help participants incorporate the Unlost teachings into our own lives - it's one thing to find assurance that all this angst we experience is normal. To learn to confront those feelings directly, with a fresh approach that could actually be effective? Even better.

Well, Therese and Sarah have since completed the beta version of their course and officially launched it to the public. As someone who truly believes in this project, I'm pleased to continue to spread the word so more can benefit from it - and maybe we can even change the conversation so people don't have to feel so lost in the first place.

The course begins this Monday, November 5th.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Good to the Last Drop

This past week, Jerry Seinfeld aired the last in his series of webisodes, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Seinfeld’s experiment of filming himself and friends in cars, getting coffee proved to be a successful one. He has said in interviews that he went into the project without any specific expectations, rather, it was just something he wanted to try and thought audiences might enjoy. Jerry filmed ten episodes and aired them weekly from late July through last week, in his words, until he ran out. This scheduling was a smart choice, allowing him to build an audience during the summer while the network series were on hiatus and end just as the new television season is starting. He further released the episodes in a sequence which felt like a season, drawing us in with some big names and building toward others at the end:

1. Larry David (07.19.12)
2. Ricky Gervais (08.02.12)
3. Brian Regan (08.09.12)
4. Alec Baldwin (08.16.12)
5. Joel Hodgson (08.23.12)
6. Bob Einstein (08.30.12)
7. Barry Marder (Ted L. Nancy) (09.06.12)
8. Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner (09.13.12)
9. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (09.20.12)
10. Michael Richards (09.27.12)

You are of course free to watch these in any order, but this sequence has a pleasing rhythm to it.

Over the course of the episodes, Jerry continually mixes the setting between Los Angeles and his native New York (though he may have originally filmed these in a different order), the types of comedy we associate with each guest, the styles of coffee shops visited and of course, the cars. An explanation of each week's car choice is posted on the CCC Facebook page; I’d be even more interested to see any forethought that went into the choice of restaurant - mostly old school diners, with deviations like one to a bowling alley in Bob Einstein’s episode. The continuous changes in setting and personalities kept the series fresh and surprising each week, even in instances when I was less familiar with the guest’s work (Jerry provides a CV on each comedian at the beginning of the episode so even if you haven’t seen them before you can get a sense of what they will bring to the show.)

Each episode is worth studying, but the arguable highlights of the series took place in the last two episodes, featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and finally Michael Richards. The second to last episode starts like the previous ones with Jerry getting coffee with Carl Reiner, during which Reiner mentions that he and Mel Brooks have met for dinner every night for the past forty years, and extends Jerry - and us - a special invitation to join them.

The dinner scenes are a complete joy to watch. The fact that these two entertainment legends have such a close lifelong friendship, and eat dinner every night as that tradition slips away, is a rarity worth seeing. We also get to see Jerry - an idol to many of us - in the fan role, as his own heroes share stories of Get Smart, The Producers and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It’s great fun.

Last, we see Jerry with none other than Kramer himself, Michael Richards. As many know, Richards has a checkered past, notably relating to a 2004 onstage outburst from which his public image never fully recovered. Even in the 2009 Curb Your Enthusiasm staged Seinfeld reunion, Richards had the most minor role of the four cast members, audiences still sensitive to the event.

Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what to expect from seeing Richards on CCC but went into the episode with an open mind. It starts off with some zaniness, with Richards suggesting they visit Sugar Ray Leonard - only to find they had the wrong house - and donning a surfer wig and sunglasses disguise - only run into someone with the same real-life look. A disclaimer at the beginning of the episode reads, "Certain things in this episode seem set up. They were not."

The episode continues into the coffee segment of the day, with the conversation shifting toward Seinfeld memories. Suddenly, Richards begins to open up, ultimately addressing the previously mentioned incident. It’s a completely unexpected and refreshingly heartfelt moment, and one which I believe to be genuine.

Whether Jerry had planned for Richards to have this platform to express remorse, I don’t know. He has said the episodes are all unscripted, and the conversation felt as natural as any of the others, so I trust it was. I don’t condone what Richards said in 2004, but I do believe in second chances, and if this experience can serve toward one for him, I think that’s a great thing. Jerry says it best, "It's up to you to say, 'I've been carrying this baggage enough.'" Which is true of all of us.

Jerry has said he’s unsure whether he’ll film another set of episodes, and perhaps this is the best possible ending. I’d love to see more guests and think the possibilities are as of yet unlimited. Still, should Jerry choose to bring the project to a close as it is, he can do so feeling very proud of the work he’s done and knowing we’ll be eagerly awaiting whatever he does next.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

An Unlost Cause

Writing Mug for Thought has always been a reflection of my own life, dreams and anxieties as a twenty-something trying to figure out what the heck to do for the next thirty years. In this crazy, sometimes heartbreaking process of self-discovery, reading the work of fellow wanderers, as I affectionately call us, has been a source of great comfort and inspiration. One such space is The Unlost, created by Therese Schwenkler.

Therese hails from Boise, Idaho and launched her blog in 2011, home to such refreshingly honest articles as "Your Guidance Counselor Was Wrong: Why You Don't Really Have to Figure It All Out Now" and "Weird But True: The Secret to Dealing With Those Things Called Feelings." In the introduction to her site, she explains:
We’re all looking for some sense of purpose, for some sense of direction, and yet the only strategies we’ve ever been handed come from ridiculous sources like Cosmo Magazine and Jersey Shore and – well, our friends, who unfortunately are just as lost as we are. Have you ever noticed how much the advice out there for young people FREAKING SUCKS?? Well, my goal is to bring that suckiness to an end.
Therese is well on her way to achieving that goal - this past spring, she made The Unlost her full time pursuit, and since then has been taking a seemingly awesome cross-country trip and designing a guided learning course for those of us that can't get enough of her advice.

I've been following Therese's experience with this process as I consider taking a similar leap of faith in the coming years(!), and she's become a terrific mentor and friend. In the following video, Therese and Sarah Goshman, who's joined in her movement, speak about leadership, actively shaping our own paths and why we can be hopeful about our futures.


I hope you find the conversation interesting and it inspires some questions of your own. A big thanks to Therese and Sarah for taking the time to prepare this video and helping us all get a bit closer to an unlost place.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Roles of Art

My recent post "Can Glee Maintain Rachel Berry's Relatability?" generated some really interesting feedback. Many of you said I brought up some valid points to consider, which is definitely something any writer wants to achieve in our work, so that was great to hear. Additionally, you reminded me to consider the perspective in which I was critiquing the development of a fictional character, and showed me that I was looking at Rachel with the expectation that she should reflect my own desires and insecurities. Which maybe wasn't entirely fair of me to do.

Objectively, I stand by my previous comments about my impressions of season 4. For me, Rachel's story, and more broadly, the New York set story, looks too over the top for my liking and not one I'm particularly interested in right now. For those of you who are excited about it, great; I hope you like it, and I'm glad Lea seems to be having fun with it.

I would like further consider the question though, about the responsibilities of art and artists. Do they simply need to entertain us, or do they need to speak to us on a personal level as well? Do they need to act as a source of validation for each of our circumstances and choices? Provide social commentary on the world-at-large?

The answers to these questions will of course, be different for different people. I often love to delve deep into a novel, film, album and what it may be trying to say; other times, I just need to disengage temporarily from my own life, and there are merits to both ways of interpreting a work. But when I think of the stories that have affected me the most, they are the ones that spoke somehow to my dreams, fears and sense of identity. That resonance, I think, is what separates entertainment and true art.

Of course, what moves each of us personally will never be exactly the same. That diversity of reactions is what makes creative canon so interesting and wonderful.

Which brings me back to my own work. I want to know, what are your thoughts? Your favorite movies, music, books? What would you like to see more of on this website? Because I want to connect with you, too. That's the only fun in it all anyway.

Share stories, pictures. Vent about your day. Ask questions. Stop by next time you're on Facebook or Pinterest.

Mug for Thought is what you make of it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Will Glee Maintain Rachel Berry's Relatability?


A few weeks from now, Glee's fourth season will premiere, and we'll finally learn how Rachel Berry's been doing since we last left her in New York City. Though I don't intend to follow the show as closely as I have in previous years, I'd like to address concerns I have about the direction in which Ryan Murphy may be taking the show, particularly as it regards Rachel's character.

When we first met Rachel, we knew she had a heart and dreams larger than her archetypal high school and town could contain. She wanted to be a star. So when a teacher at her school decided to revive the school’s Glee club, she jumped at the opportunity, yet still had a long journey through high school ahead of her. Rachel Berry demonstrated a longing for acceptance and success to which anyone can relate. She wanted to inspire people and feel that they cared for her. This passion I know too well can often be misunderstood for egotism, uptightness, delusion, overachievement, and flightiness in a world that doesn't always understand, and Glee, at its best, has captured this experience. Rachel was driven in her dreams of performing not only because the arts were something she'd loved since childhood, but because she wanted to escape the cutthroat high school social environment in which she was an outsider. That vulnerability and heartbreak are the very experiences that led us to relate to, fall in love with and root for Rachel throughout the series. I was a high school wallflower myself, as I suspect a lot of us were, and so Rachel is the character I have had the strongest emotional attachment to during most of my experience watching Glee, and certainly the one I've written about most. Despite Rachel's comfort in knowing she can build a life for herself outside of high school, she still wishes for a sense of connection with her classmates. In the show's pilot, she confides to Will, "Being a part of something special makes you special" - she wants to feel valued and appreciated, not only after she graduates, but at this very moment and in the environment of her present.

Three years later, Rachel has experienced heartbreaks and victories. She has won a National show choir championship, graduated high school and boarded a train to one of the most prestigious New York performing arts programs in the world. And, she has been in a very serious relationship with a boy who loves her so much he was willing to let her go because he views himself as a potential impediment to her ability to fully flourish on Broadway. Right away, we can see that the Rachel of “Goodbye” is very different than the Rachel of the Pilot. Her metamorphosis really has been something out of a fairy tale, and I know I’ve often found myself wondering, “Why her and not me?” And perhaps there is no answer to that question. Moreover, having seen how hard Rachel has worked to get to where she is today, and how happy she is, it’s hard not to delight in her triumphs.

But this season, which places Rachel in New York with a supposed whole new set of challenges, will be a test of whether we still view Rachel as someone to cheer for. What concerns me, based on what I’ve learned about the upcoming episodes, is that her character is becoming too sexy and could lose touch with the roots that made her the beloved underdog we initially connected with.

Lea Michele has done a great job of taking her media image seriously knowing how many people look up to her and her character. She uses social media to connect with us, speaking about her closeness to her family and enjoyment of staying in to watch TV herself. Her Facebook posts often reiterate points she’s made in interviews about being true to herself, following her dreams, and encouraging us to do the same. At the same time, Lea is clearly comfortable, and enjoys, being seen as sexy and desirable, both in photo shoots and character scenes like “Baby One More Time.” As she should. She’s 25, works extremely hard and has been able to balance her girl-next-door and bombshell personas really well - no easy task, particularly for a young Hollywood actress. (Coincidentally, she'll be covering another Britney Spears number in episode two. Wearing this.)

Sadly, we live in a culture that is still more interested in a person’s sex appeal more than their authenticity, and I’ve seen the impact these norms have made on Glee’s presentation of Rachel Berry. So far, we’ve learned that in season 4 Rachel gains the affections of a new boy, has a far-from-needed makeover, and lives in an unreal New York apartment with Kurt, who has somehow landed an internship at Vogue himself (x). While I understand that college is a time for experimenting and is often glamorized in the media, the transition seems a bit too seamless for me and not reflective of the typical freshman experience (certainly not mine!).

Glee showrunner Ryan Murphy has shown a love of pushing the envelope, and there’s a lot of merit in that. But I think he also needs to decide what type of show he wants to make – one that represents our fantasies or one that speaks to what we’re really going through. Because he built Glee on the latter ideal, and if he wants to continue to delivering that message, he needs to prove he’s committed to it 100%.

Related Reads:
Glee: Goodbye, for now.
How I Learned to (Sort of) Stop Worrying and Love the Monchele
First Times, on Glee and Beyond