14 June, 2010

Conservation in the City

My New Year's resolution for 2010 was to produce less trash. I started collecting envelopes that I received in the mail to make into new postcards for friends and family. I reused scrap pieces of paper until they were wrinkly and illegible. I ate questionably dated yogurts and unidentifiable meals in tupperware to avoid throwing away food. Most importantly, I started using recycled bags for food shopping, and tried to keep every plastic bag I came into contact with: shopping bags, the little plastic slips that newspapers come in, the plastic bags over bread, plastic I saw on the street. It wasn't pretty, but I was a woman determined: by producing less trash, I wanted to know I was making an impact in the total volume of trash in the world. That impact may be small, and yes, my friends would probably make fun of me. But my mind was made up, and with that attitude I set about reforming my ways.

The only person this vow actually affected was my roommate, Ryan. She held a polite but critical eye on the increasingly tall stacks of plastic that I was going to "re-purpose," a fancy term conservationists throw around to refer to the act of recycling trash by turning it into something new and useful. Or at least new. (I'm mostly thinking of recycled bag friendship bracelets here. "New," but "useful?" Meh.) Ryan was the only one that had to deal with the ever-growing pile of plastic bags in the corner of kitchen, Plastic Bag Mountain.

"What are you going to do with all those?" Ryan asked me back in February, pointing at the stack of plastic bags crammed together between our garbage can and the window.

"I'm going to turn them into a plastic tote bag." I told her. "It'll be a giant plastic bag, made up of many smaller plastic bags, all ironed together. Very meta." I wasn't quite sure what meta meant at the time, but I had heard it used on television, and it just felt right.

As it turns out, the word "meta" is used to indicate a concept that is an abstraction from another concept, and is often completed or added to from the latter concept. Huh. But more importantly, what I really discovered was that there are very real considerations one should take before embarking on this kind of conservation adventure. (Conser-venture). On that fateful New Years night when I pledged to reuse all of my plastic bags, I couldn't visualize just how many plastic bags that volume might amount to. 50? 100? 200? But it's hard to imagine that one girl can collect over 500 plastic bags in just a few short months. It's even harder to fit those 500 bags into a small, two-bedroom, zero-closets kind of apartment, even if one were to account for the fact that plastic bags can be squished and stacked together inside other plastic bags. And so, Plastic Bag Mountain was born. While the roommate was not exceptionally pleased with my collection, I was a woman on a mission, set on “re-purposing” every plastic bag within my reach. Some work on their opus. Some write a novel. I was going to tackle Plastic Bag Mountain.

Regardless of how easy they make it seem on conservation blogs, making a plastic bag tote of other plastic bags is not a walk in the park. After 10 hours of forcibly willing plastic to meld together with only a lukewarm iron as a tool, I decided that I could make just as much of an impact by recycling them at our handy Whole Foods plastic bag recycling bin. If there were some way to gauge this, I would bet good money on the fact that I am the largest single-time contributor to the Cambridge Street Whole Foods Plastic Bag recycling bin. And while I felt slightly defeated at the time, it was reassuring to know that at least those bags got recycled. And in the absence of Plastic Bag Mountain, our kitchen not only looks fabulous, but my roommate is much happier with me. So it's really a win-win.

I have tried to look at my material consumption in other ways, too. Working as a nanny, I come into contact with many stickers that fall by the wayside during sticker time. I began collecting these cast-away stickers and thought that maybe they could have some use in scrapbooks or homemade notes. Admittedly, it is a very small gesture, but I think this quote by Hannah More that was sent to me a few months back sums up my thought process nicely:

"One kernel is felt in a hogshead; one drop of water helps to swell the ocean; a spark of fire can help to give light to the world. None are too small, too feeble, too poor to be of service. Think of this and act."

And with that, the sticker crusade began. I set about collecting the ones that were discarded, the torn stickers, the smushed stickers, the stickers awkwardly stuck to themselves or to the undersides of socks, and the stickers stuck on backpacks that are discovered hours later after you've already taken public transportation home. I kept a box in my bedroom that I affectionately thought of as "Sticker Graveyard," like the elephant graveyard in the Lion King. But with stickers. (So therefore happier. Or more tragic, depending on whether the song "Tears of a Clown" makes you sad.)

Again, as with the plastic bag adventure, I learned that even if one is to collect only the unwanted ones, in six months time one can collect an impressive amount of stickers. After decorating my favorite mug I hit an artistic block. So for now, Sticker Graveyard lies under my bed, waiting to be re-purposed.

Then I shifted my focus to the idea of plants. I didn't only want to take away trash, I wanted to add something into the world, something beneficial and maybe even beautiful. However, living in a city there exist certain ordinances and regulations against people planting trees and flowers willy-nilly. Working within my restrictions, I decided that I would get a plant instead, and then try to plant some bigger plants outside once I could work out the paperwork. Baby steps.

As a vegetarian, you would think that I would have an innate connection with plants. Isn't that how it's supposed to work? I wasn't envisioning a world where anything that my fingers grazed would grow magically fruitful and abundant like I was some King Midas of plants, but it didn't cross my mind that I would be a brown-thumb, either.

My small plastic pot of delicate purplish blue petunias sits in the sunniest spot of my apartment, a windowsill on the north wall. In the past four months I have killed those petunias six separate times. Each time, the plant has appeared beyond saving, demonstrating a complete lack of color, worrying signs of decay, and a questionable odor. Each time, I have been overcome with guilt. And each time, in a last-ditch attempt to save its life, I've spent ten minutes huffing on those very same petunias with the hope that massive amounts of direct carbon dioxide would remind them that there was so much to live for, don't die on me now, little plant! I'm sorry! Again! It felt especially cruel to purchase a plant under the guise of adding some beauty and oxygen to the world only to maim it repeatedly. That was probably worse than never buying a plant at all.

Miraculously, each time I thought that I had killed it for sure this time, the petunias would revive. Not just revive, they would thrive as though nothing had ever happened at all. This little marvel not only absorbed any guilt I had about killing my plant (again), it also gave me a sense of pride and power; if I could bring back plants from the dead, why- I could do anything. Anything!

As it turns out, that is not the case. But it is still a cool parlor trick, and I make a point of telling all our apartment's visitors of the plant's special vitality.
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"Jesus plant," I whisper to it, late at night when I remember to, “you are a true survivor.”

He is the Lazarus of the floral world and he is helping me with my New Year's resolution, one day at a time. As a token of my gratitude I will remember to go water him right now, even though any plant that survives death six times in its life should probably try for a seventh. It's a much more impressive number. Just saying.

09 June, 2010

Lyrical Analysis: Miley Cyrus' "Can't Be Tamed"

In the typical pop progression of a Disney star, after Disney releases you from their glittery clutches of happy colors, song-and-dance numbers, and purity rings, it's expected that you immediately embark on a journey of sexual empowerment. No one teen plays this game better than the recently liberated Disney golden girl Miley Cyrus. Cyrus, born Destiny Hope Cyrus but more widely popularized as her alter ego Hannah Montana, has a new single out called "Can't Be Tamed." The song just might be called the modern sexual anthem for teenage girls who feel trapped by society, their own constructs of sexuality, and (rather ambiguously) those trying to "change" them. Like Miley I, too, rebel against oppression (imagined or otherwise).

Cyrus's dramatic career shift from playing the wacky blonde-bobbed pop star named after a state to her newest alter-ego, a sexual being, is a big change, to be sure. She is donning more risqué ensembles, seeming to channel wild animals, and singing about reclaiming her life and taking control of those who want to change her. She talks about this fact a lot in her newest song. In the video, we are given Miley as the rare exotic bird, Aves cyrus, trapped in an overly giant cage with bars wide enough to walk (or if you're Miley, to dance) through, that serves to sets her up visually as a rare, sought after, and highly trapped creature. (Side note: In Latin terms, Aves cyrus literally translates into Bird Cyrus. In the binomial nomenclature of birds, Aves is technically a Class distinction and not, as Miley's people would have you believe, a Genus. Ergo, Miley doesn't have a genus name. Ergo, it's laughably made up. And stupid. Moving on.)

Though the way in which Miley chooses to express her sexuality is a departure, her career follows in the footsteps of some great Disney predecessors. We have the pop icon Britney Spears, who in 2001 produced her masochistic (and awesome) "I'm a Slave 4 U," as well as Christina Aguilera's romp in 2002 as an underground dancer who needs a major shower, a dye job, and some clothes in her song "Dirrty" (double r her choice). To both prove their sexual mettle and shake off the last of that pesky Disney purity ring,  BritBrit and Xtina's both dabbled in progressively sexual lyrics, engaged in brief moments of lesbianism, and stripped down what was left of their clothes to become liberated beings. Now, with the powers that be off her back, it appears that Miley has already thrown the gauntlet to enter into the land of pop princess-hood and all that it entails. But young Miley, take note; at the very least: please remember to wear underwear.

Now let's look at the lyrics behind the tune in Miley Cyrus' "Can't Be Tamed."

 "Can't Be Tamed" 
For those who don't know me I can get a bit crazy
Have to get my way, 24 hours a day 'cause I'm hot like that
Every guy everywhere just gives me mad attention like I'm under inspection
I always get the 10s 'cause I'm built like that

Being Miley sounds hard. Firstly, you are conscious of the fact that sometimes you can get "crazy." That's tough to deal with for a lot of people, but here it sounds like a point of pride. Then you demand to get your way at all moments in the day, which means that not only are you crazy, but you might just be spoiled, too. And then "every guy everywhere" critically inspects you and won't leave you alone. So you're telling me that you're crazy, your emotions can range when you don't get your way, and you have the feeling like you're constantly being watched. I'm no doctor, but that has all the classic earmarks of a psychological disorder. Maybe it qualifies for undifferentiated schizophrenia? But webmd is so unreliable these days.

Secondly, you should serious consider the types of guys that are giving you mad attention and 10s 'cause you're "built like that." Are they over 18? Because I'm pretty sure that's illegal in, oh, just about every continental state. Maybe even Hawaii too. Also of importance, relating to others that it's not your fault you're so hot, you 're just "built like that." No really, don't hold back- tell me how you really feel about yourself. Humility is a virtue, Miles. Let's not go crazy here.

[Lyrics]
I go through guys like money flyin' out their hands, they try to change me but they realize they can't
And every tomorrow is a day I never planned, if you're gonna be my man, understand

Confusing metaphor. If one were to "go through guys like money flying out of their hands," that implies that they keep throwing you away quickly because you don't mean anything to them. Unless after they "realize they can't change" you, they become frustrated and throw you away, that would make sense. I'm not positive that this is exactly the feeling that you were meaning to evoke in the listener. I could be wrong.

Additionally (as Dan pointed out), it is highly doubtful that a pop superstar doesn't plan her day out. "Every tomorrow is a day I never planned" is a beautiful line, it really is. But you must have things you plan to do. It's 2010, blackberries were invented for a reason. So therefore I must infer that you are a very boring person. I once read a book that chronicled a boy named Milo's quest for perfection after he found a book in the library called "Be A Perfect Person in 3 Days." By the end of the book Mile was just sitting in an auditorium sipping iced tea and being perfect. And you know what? He was bored. (The boy's name was Milo Crinkley, eerily similar to Miley Cyrus. Just saying.) For instance, you have to eat food, right (unless they don't eat in the world of the famous?) There you go: breakfast. Instant plan. But seriously, don't you have interviews and stuff to go to? Good Morning America appearances? Red carpet events to try to conjure up some Robert Pattinson rumors? You must.

[Chorus]
I can't be tamed, I can't be saved, I can't be blamed,
I can't, can't, I can't be tamed, I can't be changed
I can't be saved, I can't be (can't be)
I can't be tamed

Following the song's chosen rhyme scheme, aka things that sound like "tamed/saved/changed," here are a few other things that Miley "can't be," but might have been under consideration for the chorus:

I can't be claimed: The song takes on a fiscal slant.
I can't be framed: She didn't do it! You can't frame her!
I can't be flamed: It's not nice to burn people. Anyway, human skin burns at 480 degrees. (Why am I not the first one to ever type that into Google?)
I can't be maimed: Yay! Immortality!
I can't be named: Or shouldn't be named at least, since the people that birthed you christened you with the name "Destiny Hope." Hippie.
I can't be shamed: This is clearly evidenced by the bird porn ensemble featured in the music video.
I can't be behaved: 'Cause she says the line, "she gets her way 'cause she's hot like that." Super not behaved, I agree.
I can't be engraved: 'Cause life can't be like Tiffany's.
I can't be enslaved: 'Cause slavery is illegal.
I can't be shaved: And deprive her of all those beautiful raven-like feathers?

Lyrics:
If there is a question about my intentions I'll tell ya, I'm not here to sell ya, or tell ya to get to hell
I'm like a puzzle but all of my pieces are jagged, If you can understand this we can make some magic
I'm on like that

If someone questions your true intentions and your response is to tell them to go to hell, then you are seriously going to raise an awful lot of questions. Or at the very least, miss out on a friend-making opportunity. As West Side Story teaches us, "just play it cool boy, real cool."

The jagged puzzle piece line doesn't intimate what you think it intimates. To me, it just sounds like you yourself can't come together as a whole person. Like how a puzzle can't be completed with a bunch of jagged pieces. If you're a puzzle and all of your pieces are jagged, then you're just a really bad puzzle. Following that train of thought, if you're a singer/dancer/entrepreneur (as your wikipedia page suggests) then you are implying that you are a really bad singer/dancer/entrepreneur. Hey, I didn't make the metaphor. You did.

You finish this little vignette of pop heaven with the statement that you're "on like that." On like... what? I missed a step. But now it's suddenly on. Which part? The sex? The feathery outfits? The dancing excursions through the National History Museum? I'm just going with what's being thrown at me here!!

I wanna fly I wanna drive I wanna go, I wanna be a part of something I don't know
And if you try to hold me back I might explode
Baby, by now you should know

Trust me, everyone knows. You're a misunderstood sexual being who seeks the thrill that comes from bucking societal norms and dressing like an animal. We get it. But you might be getting just a wee bit dramatic with the whole "I might explode" line. Spontaneous combustion is a serious illness. There have only been 200 unverified instances of probable Spontaneous Human Combustion worldwide in the past 300 years. You're not going to die, you're just feeling a bit oppressed. In the history of the world, Miley, you really do understand true oppression.

To finish, let's talk over the line "I want to be a part of something I don't know." Listen here, kid- life is tough. But it's a heck of a lot harder when you don't know what exactly it is that you want. Nobody really likes listening to stuff like that. Sure, we all might have had a Dashboard Confessional phase song when "Vindicated" or "Screaming Infidelities" came on and we maybe didn't shut it off. 16 times in a row. But as many a middle-schooler has quoted in their instant messenger profile, "stand for something or you'll fall for anything." Take heed. If you can't articulate what it is that you want from life maybe- and bear with me here because I'm shooting from the hip- *maybe* it's that you don't actually want anything? Or you're just a bit overtired? Or undersexed? Or both? You know what, forget I said anything. I could forgive you for most anything you release from 2007 on because that is when you gave me "See You Again." That is a song for our generation. "Can't Be Tamed"? I can let that slide.

[Chorus]
I can't be tamed, I can't be saved, I can't be blamed, I can't, can't
I can't be tamed, I can't be changed, I can't be saved, I can't be (can't be)
I can't be tamed

I'm not a trick you play, I ride a different way/ I'm not a mistake, I'm not a fake, it's set in my DNA
Don't change me (x4), (I can't be tamed)

Besides laughing over the "trick" line (lolololol tricks are played by hoes, Ms. Miley) this part is kind of blasé: it rhymes, it's ambiguous, it fits the voice of the song. Ho hum.

I wanna fly I wanna drive I wanna go
I wanna be a part of something I don’t know
And if you try to hold me back I might explode
Baby by now you should know

The [Chorus]. The end.

Looking at the positive and negative forms of the verb "can," the positive form appears twice while "can't" gets sung 35 times. That's pret-tee darn negative there, little Mopey Mabel.

But what can I say? She's just being Miley.**


**DP, enjoy the cop-out ending.

03 June, 2010

To Catch A Thief

I had always thought that the idea of crime was intriguing. With the right person crime can be romanticized, made to look both unavoidable yet still noble. Take, for instance, the former cat burglar John Robie, played by Cary Grant in Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief. Reformed yet debonair, courtly with a hint of an edge, Robie uses his knowledge of the criminal mind to get the bad guy and, naturally, to woo the girl. Then, of course, there's Robin Hood, who depending on which version of the story you ascribe to, is either a metaphorical or a literal fox, stealing jewels and money from the less-than-deserving bourgeoisie to give to the humble and deserving poor. Now that is crime I can get behind.

Even when it's not intriguing per se, crime (or the attempt at criminal activity) can be downright hilarious. Have you ever seen Chris Hansen's "To Catch A Predator"? Chris and a band of intrepid police officers set up sting operations to snare would-be criminals by their own bumbling gullibility. (To really get a feel for the nature of the program, the naked cookie-eating pedophile is, in my opinion, award-winning reality television.)

Though my notions of what crime should be are largely dictated by what I have seen on television or read in books, this past Memorial Day was disillusioning. Identity theft has a way of doing that to you.

Why someone would want to steal the identity of a college-loan laden 23 year old who lacks both a steady income and a firm grasp on reality is a complete mystery. You're supposed to steal from the rich and give to the poor; the poor ain't got no money. Choosing me as a target is the first indication that this criminal was perhaps not the smartest to ever graze the interwebs. What amount of time would it have taken to discover my background information on that crazy little site called Google, four seconds? 0.1? 

The first red flag came while I was casually perusing my online statement (as you do). I noticed a recent purchase for some StubHub tickets. Though I was fairly confident that I hadn't, in fact, purchased any tickets recently, I still reserved a bit of hope that maybe they would be for an event that I would want to go to. Was Ray Lamontagne coming to town? Jason Mraz? Did I blindly purchase double Lady Gaga tickets for each night she was in Boston? I called Stubhub and discovered that the tickets were for a Jets game in September.

Let's play the hypothetical game. Even if I were the type that watches football, I wouldn't be watching the Jets. And even if I would want to watch the Jets, I wouldn't have purchased tickets to an actual game. And even if I were to be the type that actually attended football games, I would almost never have the foresight to purchase something four months in advance. I barely have this weekend mapped out; September is but a comically far away blip in my future. So it's safe to say: I did not purchase those tickets.

My curiosity sufficiently peaked, I felt the need to look back through my statements. There, I found out that "I" had also purchased a domain name, network software, and various other internet accoutrements. But why would I purchase that stuff when Google Blogs gives it to you for free? Honestly, my mama didn't raise no fool.

The bank later informed me that my accounts had been "compromised," which is just an official way of saying that someone had hacked into my account and bought some stuff. But "compromised" sounds so much more Jason Bourne, I just might go with that. "Compromised" makes it sound like my account was something that needed to be defended at all costs (...it wasn't.) Commander, the account has been compromised. Activate the deflector shields!

Stealing my passwords and credit card was a neat trick, I will give him that. I can't even hack into my boyfriend's Facebook account, and I actually have all of his passwords. But to be perfectly honest, I am a little disappointed in my thief's apparent stupidity. He left a mailing address and an IP address, thusly identifying his computer and a potential pick-up spot. Could these things be fake? Yeah, probably. But obviously they will lead the police a little further down the path towards swift and righteous justice. And as my bank assured me, they would do it in ten-to-twelve business days. (That's how the rest of the American legal system works too, right?)

My disappointment was not limited to just the fact that money was stolen from my bank account. I was also a little crushed when I learned his alias. Though my name was attached to the credit card information he had stolen, the name that he had chosen to give out with the purchases he made was one Jonah Flower. Jonah. Flower. He had christened himself in the likeness of the biblical prophet that for three days and three nights was swallowed whole by a whale, as well as the one thing that people give when they want to express love and/or regret for mistakes made. Jonah Flower. The name Jonah Flower conjures up images of innocent little barefoot children born of former hippies, not internet fraud. Jonah Flower would never steal your lunch money, but he might bake you oatmeal flax cookies and have a deep affection for all things tie-dye.

It's actually a shame. Choosing a love-child alias is something that I totally would do, assuming I might ever find myself in that situation. (Ed. note: I probably wouldn't, mom.) Theoretically, I'd go with something like Daisy GoLightly, or Sunshine Marley, or better yet, Apple Flynn. Mr. Jonah Flower and I seriously had the potential to become friends, if one were to overlook the whole "money stealing" thing.

Illegal credit card purchasing? Cary Grant would never do that. Robin Hood would never do that. Shame on you, "Jonah Flower" from "San Francisco." As my dad told me, "welcome to the real world." I think I'd prefer Cary Grant's reality, thanks.