Magical realism or memoir?

Colombian author Ingrid Rojas Contreras recently released a new memoir, “The Man Who Could Move Clouds.” In an interview with NPR, she discusses the fine line between fact and fiction.

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s new memoir, The Man Who Could Move Clouds, is named for her grandfather, a curandero in her northern Colombian hometown who people would hire “to ward off rain ahead of soccer matches or to banish ghosts” (read more from WJCT News here). However, since immigrating to the United States, Contreras found that “sometimes when I would share stories of my family, I would be corrected or I would be investigated,” with others calling her lived experience “magical realism.” Contreras interprets this pushback as “a version of just trying to erase different worldviews.”

According to Contreras, “Once I realized that, I had so much energy and so much love for this story and just really wanted to do it justice.” Her book describes “that experience of living in a context where the magical feels routine and people tell you that your real life is fiction.” I can’t judge Contreras as a memoirist without reading her work first, but, The Man Who Could Move Clouds sounds like quite the conversation-starter in the realm of creative nonfiction.

A Coloradan’s perspective on this week’s Texas shooting

Having enrolled in kindergarten the year of the Columbine High School massacre and graduated high school the year of the Aurora theater shooting, I am no stranger to these tragedies. Here are my thoughts on what happened in Texas.

When I started kindergarten out-of-district at Ralph Moody Elementary School in Littleton, Colorado, it was because my grandfather taught there. It was August or September, 1999.

Moody was fifteen minutes away from Columbine High School.

I have no memory of the massacre that killed twelve students and a teacher, but it took place on my grandmother’s birthday that same year – Tuesday, April 20, 1999. She had to spend her fifty-fifth watching the news for any updates on the lockdown and evacuation at Moody.

Lucky number thirteen years later, she would relive that same anxiety over the Aurora theater shooting. I woke up the morning after the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Sheridan to dozens of missed calls and text messages from her about the news.

Like how the post-September 11 world is… well… “worlds” apart from the pre-September 11 world, Columbine shaped the trajectory of my educational experience, whether I was aware of it or not. For example, I can remember the anti-bullying campaign that visited my class at the turn of the millennium.

I realize now it most likely came to be as a result of Columbine.

Indeed, Littleton rests an hour south of Fort Collins, where Matthew Shepard succumbed to his wounds from the hate crime he suffered in Wyoming, and an hour north of Colorado Springs, where Focus on the Family is headquartered. Since LGBTQIA+ youth are already at greater risk for bullying than their straight, cisgender counterparts, it only makes sense that one of the possibly bisexual shooters would feel isolated and marginalized from the students surrounding him at Columbine, and why that might leave him vulnerable to the other shooter’s psychopathy.

Speaking from personal experience, Littleton is crawling with white, upper-Middle Class evangelicals who hoard their resources and privileges from all “outsiders.” In many ways, it is a typical postwar American suburb, but in some ways, its history is exceptionally sadistic. After all, 2013 saw another school shooting in the area at Arapahoe High, a sister school to my own alma mater, Littleton High, as well as the high school my mother attended before she dropped out, across the street from her family’s house.

My mother’s family will someday see their story told in a memoir all its own. Suffice to say, their communal narcissism and sociopathy embodies the Littleton community.

Now, I attend the University of Denver, whose founder, Governor John Evans, oversaw the Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory that killed upwards of six hundred Cheyenne and Arapaho people at the hands of the United States military – yes, Arapaho; the same nation my home county is named after.

I cannot stress enough that Adolf Hitler studied American racism for sources of inspiration behind the Holocaust, and that Columbine took place on his birthday.

Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine taught me the killers targeted one of their victims for being Black, and one can’t help but wonder if this week’s first responders in Uvalde, Texas, would have neutralized the suspect with greater urgency if the students at Robb Elementary School were majority-white instead of majority-Latino. Either way, America’s past is uniquely violent for the success with which the European race displaced all other cultures living on this continent, and these tragedies are our reckoning.

Take it from a Coloradan.

Running on fumes

On Tuesday, May 24, I messaged my Talkspace counselor about how to combat feelings of emptiness. What I at first thought of as a symptom of my borderline personality disorder turned into something more.

Earlier this week, I texted two Millennials – an “elder Millennial” in his forties, and one more my age (late twenties). I asked them both if they ever felt “empty.”

They both answered enthusiastically and emphatically in the affirmative.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it? According to Fortune, “the average millennial carries about $28,317 in debt, not including mortgages.” If the federal minimum wage is seven twenty-five, then it would take just shy of two years of working full-time, before taxes (or any other expenses, for that matter), to pay off such a debt, which doesn’t even calculate interest.

And I use the minimum wage as the extreme example here because many Millennials – myself among them – are “underemployed,” meaning we’re working outside our educational fields (and we’re paid like it, too).

In other words, we accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for college based on the false promise that these graduate degrees would land us higher-paying careers. Instead, we’re working jobs we settled for like we’re indentured servants to these predatory student moneylenders.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles to get by working two jobs, and one of them is an internship paying more than twice the minimum wage. What days off I do get, I spend resting up for the following work week, when I come back in and repeat the cycle all over again of generating revenue for faceless elites who don’t even know I exist, much less that they’re effectively feeding off the best years of my life. Indeed, these individuals surround themselves with ambitious sycophants who lie about the injustices that prop up their disproportionate privileges, and it is they who make up the institutions of oppression which threaten the very future of humanity with war, climate change, and an ever-widening economic gulf between the billionaire class and the global majority.

So, no, the “emptiness” I feel isn’t some pathological symptom of my borderline personality disorder, because my friends without BPD feel the same way.

It is a perfectly logical response to a life I never asked for, and wouldn’t have, if given the choice.

Mayday!

Lady Gaga released her second full-length studio album, “Born This Way,” eleven years ago on Monday. The anniversary brought back memories of high school, and reflections of where my life has headed since then.

It rained Monday, May 23, 2011.

I remember because that was when Lady Gaga released her second LP, Born This Way. I’d become a fan in January 2010, after she reissued her debut, The Fame, under the EP, The Fame Monster. I’d watched, live, as she announced the title for Born This Way at that year’s MTV Video Music Awards while wearing that historical dress made out of raw meat. Sitting by my side was a fellow Little Monster whose birthday was also May 23.

She was born this way. She was born this day.

Eleven years ago, I’d borrowed my grandparents’ 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier so I could drive to Sheridan and buy the CD at Target in Riverpoint with their money. I played it on my way to Littleton High School, where my junior year had drawn to a close the week before. I dropped off an assignment for the International Baccalaureate program, stained with raindrops. I drove home, listening to the gay anthem on my radio.

I would go on to graduate from Littleton the following May. “The Edge of Glory” blasted on my alarm clock the morning of, when I sat down for another IB exam before the ceremony. My involvement in that program earned me the diploma which would help yours finish his four-year degree in three at Colorado State University Fort Collins. My commencement as a Bachelor of Arts in entertainment journalism took place in May 2015.

Gaga herself was the primary source of inspiration behind my critical theory.

So, with Facebook’s “Today in the Past” feature reminding me of these milestones, why is it that they leave more “bitter” a taste than “sweet” in my mouth?

Simply put, I am more nostalgic for that summer before I became a graduate than I am for anything to come after. Dancing to “Bad Romance,” first in front of the senior IB History class on my eighteenth birthday, then in front of the entire school at a pep assembly, won me “prom king.” People invited me to their grad parties not out of genuine friendship, but out of social pressure and obligation, and, as a teenager still, I couldn’t tell the difference.

Indeed, what did I have in common with the straight, rich, neurotypical kids?

Either way, this crowd would abandon me in droves by the end of the summer, catalyzing a depressive episode of my then undiagnosed bipolar I disorder which darkened my undergraduate experience like the rainclouds overcasting the sky on Monday, May 23, 2011. Too disabled with major depression to focus on much else, I graduated college to half a year of unemployment, which forced me to settle for seven years of working outside my field as of this writing.

Such a lifestyle of “fighting to survive” instead of “enjoying life” has contributed little to my mental wellness.

Now that it’s Monday, May 23 again, and I find myself working a fourteen-hour day to make ends meet as well as supplement my master’s degree with even more professional credentials than I already have, is it any wonder that my favorite song has shifted away from Lady Gaga’s pop-tastic “Hair” to Pierce the Veil’s suicide-preventative “Hold on Till May?”

For a friend

On Sunday, May 22, I met a former coworker in downtown Denver for dinner and a movie. This is her appreciation post.

I hadn’t visited an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema since before the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’d never gone to the one on West Colfax before Sunday afternoon. I arrived twenty minutes early so I could find someplace to park in time for the two o’clock showing, which meant by the time I walked to the theater, it was ten ’til.

I waited for someone I hadn’t hung out with since February or March, whenever it was we saw the West Side Story remake together in Highlands Ranch. That was in the early stages of the “endemic,” when the pickings were still slim for Hollywood entertainment. (The “endemic,” of course, turned out to be short-lived, with my campus internship transitioning back from biweekly to weekly COVID tests as of this writing).

No, today, we were seeing Men, which aligned more with our shared taste. I paid this time because she paid last time, and it was to our benefit that I bought the tickets in advance online, because Men proved to be the kind of independently produced A24 horrorshow worthy of attracting a crowd of local hipsters, gentrifying the area, to indulge all the craft brews and “alternative” charm the Alamo has to offer.

By the time my friend found her own parking spot, the previews were almost finished. We met in the lobby and rushed to our seats just in time for the opening credits to roll.

In the end, Men was a surreal, subversive experience only we could appreciate together. After the year I lived, when strangers on the street ganged up on and violated me, it was refreshing to join that many people in watching Rory Kinnear and Paapa Essiedu try (and fail) to horrify unconditional love out of Jessie Buckley. It gave me hope for the future of A24 and their output in the current of a mainstream more preoccupied with selling action figures to eleven-year-old boys than testing the more “creative” waters of the filmmaking form.

And this friend, a fellow “film school” Millennial whose education landed her in retail alongside yours truly, was the right one to lament with over “Royales with Cheese” in BarFly after the movie about George Lucas (and, yes, West Side Story director Steven Spielberg) commercializing the cinematic culture beyond all pretense to the “higher” arts.

More than that, this friend called me two or three times throughout the day on Monday, February 7, when I finally told people about the date-rape and mugging I’d survived the Friday night before. She treated me to dinner that evening. She offered more support than those closest to me.

Our very friendship is a middle finger to the institutionalized oppression that Men critiques. If we still worked together, we would have been fired for “fraternization” by the capitalist leaders who expected “productivity” out of us, rather than “humanity.” We trauma-bonded over our progressive ethics. We encouraged each other through the irreconcilable differences between our own psychiatric disabilities and our employer’s losing war with Jeff Bezos.

I would like to thank this friend for the burger, and reminding me to live for our next movie together in the future.

The myth of the substance use-disordered writer

Mark Dery, a columnist for Medium, analyzes the relationship between alcohol abuse and writing. Although he stresses the physical and emotional toll of such a lifestyle, I cannot emphasize enough the danger of this narrative.

According to Luis Buñuel’s memoir My Last Sigh, he perfected his martinis by “simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin… [as] the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen … leaving it unbroken.” A poetically written quote which attests to the depth of Mark Dery’s research as well as the keenness of his prose, the cultural critic deconstructs the connection between writers and alcoholism in his Medium column, “Why Writers Drink – and This One Doesn’t.” While employing a personal essayist’s anecdotal evidence for his own artistic partnership with booze, Dery argues that the field of psychology fails to grasp the unique stress of writing for a career, in addition to the ethereal nature of inspiration and creativity, when scientists “reduce any use of mind-altering substances to a psychological disorder or a genetic predisposition.”

Personally, the “madness and genius” narrative bears no weight with me – if anything, my mental illnesses kneecap my productivity, rather than disinhibit it, because studies show my bipolar I disorder has diminished my hippocampus in size, which leaves me more vulnerable to alcohol-induced blackouts and leads to more debilitating trauma. Indeed, Dery writes, “after one too many scotches, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you realize, woozily, that everything you’ve written since the tide in the bottle ran out has been drek.” If you’re at risk of becoming one of the ninety-five thousand Americans who dies of substance use disorder, please reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Do you really want a failed biology student for your doctor who’s only in it for the money?

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Class of 2022 make up “the most in-demand college graduates to enter the job market in years.” Will I be one of the lucky ones?

I pulled out my phone this morning to check the time when I saw the notification from LinkedIn. As recently as yesterday, a recruiter had messaged me with a job opportunity, only to reject me minutes after I submitted the application. Hoping for a different outcome, I opened the app and found a headline from LinkedIn News there to greet me, announcing that “new grads” are “in-demand.”

It was a “different outcome” – just not as positive as I would have hoped.

The LinkedIn News piece is excerpted from The Wall Street Journal, which reports that “sixteen percent of employers surveyed in March and April said they’d double up on new graduate hires this year compared to 2021.” What’s more, “fifty-three percent of new grads with job offers said starting salaries surpassed their expectations, reaching six figures in some industries.”

Part of me, of course, embraced this story as welcome news for the Biden Administration, still repeatedly criticized for their handling of the economy even though their progressive policies are demonstrably leading the United States away from a post-Trump COVID recession.

However, I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2015, when Joe Biden was Vice President, and I expect to earn my master’s this December. Unless I find a day job in my field by the end of the year, 2023 will mark an eight-year resume gap for this writer.

It’s not from a lack of trying. As an undergraduate student at Colorado State University Fort Collins, I worked as many as four jobs at a time to build up my portfolio. One of these positions was an editor’s role I filled in less than a year. During the three years of my Bachelor of Arts candidacy, I earned two merit-based scholarships for my journalism, and placed in a national competition as many times.

Employers took note. My clips snagged me as many interviews in 2015 as my online profiles snagged dates, but I must make a poor first impression, because it wasn’t until months after graduation that I found a job and a boyfriend, neither of which were my “type.”

Yes, I shake hands with a limp wrist, but only because I’m gay and gender-queer. No, I don’t make consistent eye contact, but only because I have five diagnosed mental illnesses, four of which are protected classes of neurodivergent disabilities. But shouldn’t a hiring manager recommend you based on your qualifications, not whether they like the cut of your jib?

Even though he’s no Bernie Sanders, I charge every writer in this community to advocate for fewer discriminatory staffing practices under Biden. Climb up on your platform like it’s a soapbox and amplify your voice like it’s a megaphone.

For as long as interviewers shuffle certain CVs to the top of the pile because their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters memorize the right secret handshakes, then “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” are just so many more buzzwords.

Hulu review: FX and Audience Network’s “Damages” (2007-2012)

Let’s face it: the Golden Age of Television is a sausage fest. The antihero dances perilously close to making folk heroes out of the violent white male. Female sociopathy is largely uncharted territory.

Consider Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) the exception to the rule.

If you don’t know what to watch next, FX and Audience Network’s Damages (2007-2012) is available to stream on Hulu. The legal thriller won two Primetime Emmy Awards during its run for Close’s portrayal of Patty.

It has also been nominated twice for Outstanding Drama Series.

Fresh out of law school, Ellen Parsons (Outstanding Supporting Actress nominee Rose Byrne) is offered a job at Hewes & Associates, a competitive (but infamous) litigation firm.

Her boss, Patty, is something of a legal vigilante, taking the law into her own hands if it means cutting down to size men who abuse their power.

Each season focuses on a different lawsuit from both sides of the case, with nonlinear framing devices generating binge-worthy suspense through central mysteries.

The relationship between Patty and Ellen mirrors that of Jesse Pinkman and Walter White, or Christopher Moltisanti and Tony Soprano, or Don Draper and Peggy Olson.

The mentor is toxic and abusive, while the protégé is the moral foil, coloring the conflicts between them in shades of morally gray.

But the mother-daughter dynamic between Patty and Ellen is distinctly feminine across a writerly landscape where women written by men all too often sound like they’re written by men – Patty may be a study in antisocial personality disorder, but she is still a survivor of misogynistic oppression, just like Ellen.

Patty also echoes Walt, Tony, and Don as the boss from Hell. To become the self-made success story of the American Dream they all are, each one of these characters, in his or her own respective ways, was forced to become something inhuman.

Indeed, those in power around them are no less self-serving, manipulative, and corrupt, and Patty does what she must to survive.

Which brings us to our next comparison: Patty and Daenerys Targaryen. Like Daenerys, Patty faces off against antagonists even more unlikable than herself, and so we empathize with her by comparison.

But unlike Daenerys, Patty is an ethically written female antihero, in that she is never presented as a “fallen woman” too emotionally unstable to do the right thing with her own power, but, rather, she beats the men around her at their own game.

Even though Patty holds her own with the boys (unlike Daenerys), Damages would be one of the classics had been canceled after its third season.

The transition from the thirteen-episode seasons on FX to the ten-episode seasons on DirecTV marks a change in pace and tone like something out of a different (and lesser) show.

Even the greatest series are in the business of making money, and that means staying on the air until they are no longer profitable, no matter how slow and painful a death that may be.

But for the first three-fifths of its run, Damages is one of the all-time best, which is more than can be said for almost every other series out there. Like Close herself, it is not talked about enough. And its parallels to real-world cases makes it that much more watchable.

Netflix review: Gore Verbinski’s “The Ring” (2002)

“Seven days…”

If you don’t know what to watch next, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) is available to stream on Netflix. The supernatural horror film stars Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, as well as Brian Cox.

Ehren Kruger’s screenplay is a remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998), which is an adaptation of the 1991 novel Ring by Koji Suzuki.

Set in Seattle, teenaged Katie Embry (Amber Tamblyn) dies seven days after watching a cursed videotape, and her friend, Becca Kotler (Rachael Bella) is institutionalized upon witnessing it. Katie’s aunt, Rachel Keller (Watts), an investigative journalist, looks into the death.

Once Rachel watches the tape, she receives a phone call telling her she’ll die in seven days.

The Ring popularized the American remake of the Asian horror flick, and for good reason. Eastern storytelling differs from Western storytelling enough to put off even the most literate fans of Hollywood horror.

With this zeitgeist commodifying the crosstalk between the United States and the Asian market in the 2000s, it has ushered in the “Asian New Wave” of the 2010s, culminating in Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) becoming the first non-English language film to win Best Picture.

Such is the power of The Ring. Like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) before it, it is as mystifying as it is horrifying. Its cast of characters is written and performed as paranormal sleuths trying to outwit the evil force, not just warm bodies waiting to get killed.

That is what makes us care when the horrors befall them. As with James Wan, the horror maestro of our time whose jump scares are actually scary, every frightening image in the cursed videotape is meaningful.

They are not grotesque for the sake of itself – they three-dimensionalize the vengeful spirit until we are as afraid for her as we are afraid of her.

The resolution, however, is ambiguous to the point of being barely intelligible. While it works better than a storybook “happy ending” would have, it still leaves too many loose ends for comfort.

Even when opening up to the possibility of a franchise, though, a good ending will answer more questions than it asks, or, at least, it’ll raise questions we can answer for ourselves.

Like Katie, dare yourself to watch The Ring, and like Samara, it’ll crawl out of the screen at you.

“The Guardian” runs a retrospective for Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” (1963)

Pamela Hutchinson, writing for The Guardian, reviewed Federico Fellini’s (1963) after seeing it for the first time. According to Hutchinson, Fellini’s surrealist comedy-drama about a creatively blocked filmmaker named Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is inspired by the director’s own… well… lack of inspiration and it is “an easy film to admire from the off… fluid and dreamlike.” However, Hutchinson takes issue with the film’s representation of Guido’s mistress, wife, and star, “mostly buxom and/or bothersome,” who appear in one of his fantasies as a harem of women who bathe him like an infant until he attacks them with a whip.