Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Fahrenheit 451" Sends Sparks Flying

When I woke up Saturday at 7:30am and saw Hurricane Arthur was still pouring down on us, I was excited. A rainy day meant I could stay inside and read, without the self-imposed guilt of not running or swimming. I made myself eggs and coffee and peanut butter toast, and enjoyed breakfast in bed while finishing listening to Jim Dale narrate J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. You can imagine my disappointment when, around 9 o'clock, I saw a corner of blue sky in the distance, and when by 11, the storm had passed and it was a beautiful day outside.

After some self-debating, I decided that, rainy day or not, I would stick with my original plan of a day spent reading. I grabbed my summer reading book, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, went upstairs on the deck, and didn't come down until I finished it five hours later. Neither the book nor myself are entirely the same.


I lapped up the words on these pages like the flames in the book that burned books like these. As an aspiring English and Theatre double major, I am often met with, "Good luck finding a job." As an English-Theatre double major wanting to go to a private liberal arts college, I am also faced with, "Good luck paying off your loans." Over the past year, I have had to defend my passions and dreams and why they're worth it more than ever. I am grateful to those who have challenged me to come up with a quantifiable reason to defend my love for literature and theatre, rather than the subjective and cliché (although accurate), "Because I love it and I want to do what I love to do." Bradbury's dystopian novel sums up the importance of literature in a brilliant 165 pages. For anyone who has ever questioned the importance of literature, approach Fahrenheit 451 with a red ink pen and be prepared to battle.

The novel is set in a future America where books are illegal. Firemen no longer extinguish fires, but create them, going around and burning books. Captain Beatty, the captain of the firehouse where the protagonist Guy Montag works, explains to Montag the importance of the firemen, calling them, "custodians of our peace of mind."
"With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Sure you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally 'bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against." (Bradbury 58)
Montag, a fireman for ten years, has doubts. Unlike the robots the government has created through immersive technological stimulation (of which include wall TVs and radio earplugs, not unlike some of the technology we have today), Montag recognizes the emptiness of the lives people are living: conversing to a computer, talking a lot but meaning little, driving 130 miles down the highway and only seeing the world in blurred colors. After Montag's meeting with Beatty, he vents to his distracted wife about his frustration.
"Jesus God," said Montag. "Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn't someone want to talk about it! We've started and won two atomic wars since 1990! Is it because we're having so much fun at home we've forgotten the world? Is it because we're so rich and the rest of the world's so poor and we just don't care if they are? I've heard rumors; the world is starving, but we're well fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we're hated so much? I've heard the rumors about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why? I don't, that's sure! Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn mistakes! I don't hear those idiot bastards in your parlor talking about it. God, Millie, don't you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe..." (Bradbury 73-74)
At a loss for someone who will listen, Montag seeks out a retired English professor named Faber. Montag rants about the importance of books, but Faber tells him the magic of books is not in the books at all.
"It's not books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books. The same things could be in the 'parlor families' today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it's not books at all you're looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us. " (Bradbury 82-83)
Books are just one way we make sense of the world. The other day I wrote about how I want to explore the world through theatre, but really, I want to explore it through all art: visual art, music, literature, and theatre. All artists take a stab at universal, age-old themes like peace, war, love, and death. Sometimes they miss the mark, but other times they strike it right in the heart, whether it be for a generation of people or just one person, whether that be for the artist's self or the reader or observer. Either way, the conversations and questions continue.

"My wife says books aren't 'real,'" Montag tells Faber shortly after his outburst with his wife.

"Thank God for that," Faber says. "You can shut them, say, 'Hold on a moment'" (Bradbury 84).

Faber explains that a good book has three things. Number one: "quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two" (Bradbury 85). We are told so many things in one day. We are told what to eat, what to wear, what to think, who to look like, what to buy, where to live, when to sleep...from dozens of sources, many of which shove it down our throats. Books allow us to digest the information and form our own opinions.

"Oh, there are many actors alone who haven't acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years because their plays are too aware of the world," Faber tells Montag (Bradbury 87). "Books aren't real," Montag's wife says? Books are too real, apparently. Books show us reality. They aren't always pretty, but life isn't pretty. Are we supposed to live in ignorance? Let ourselves be tossed by the waves, float merrily downstream, and never try to fight against the current?

Later in the story, Montag meets an ex-writer named Granger, who elaborates on the importance of books.
"There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember every generation." (Bradbury 163)
Whether the stories are fictional or true accounts, they're history. Even if Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 over 60 years ago, we see that even back then–when technology wasn't as progressive as today–people feared a world in which people didn't think for themselves, a world in which people were brainwashed into mindlessness and frivolity. In one way, it's comforting to think people decades and centuries ago had similar fears as we do today, and in another, it's dismaying. Wouldn't we have figured out the solutions by now? It would be nice to think so, but in many cases, we haven't, which is why we must keep writing about these problems in the hopes that, like Granger explained, a few more people remember the problems ever generation, and can make progress toward finding a solution. Without the written accounts, we will forget that, as reported in Carrie Halperin's and Sean Patrick Farrell's New York Times video, "California's Extreme Drought, Explained," in the summer of 2014, California was in a drought for the third year in a row, with the risk of a million acres catching fire with potentially over a billion dollars worth of damage. We will forget that Governor Jerry Brown called upon California residents to reduce their water usage by 20%, and yet it only reduced by 5%. Twenty years from now, will we find ourselves in an even worse situation, wondering, "How did we not see it coming?"

Thank God we don't live in a society where firemen burn books, but I'm fearful when people question the importance of literature. I'm frustrated when people ask me why I don't just keep writing and theatre as a "hobby." Yes, literature is not always tangible and yes, literature is subjective, and that it why it is important. It teaches us that sometimes we have to be satisfied with the discontent of not having an absolute answer. It smashes our framed black and white pictures and spills water over them so the colors blur and we're not exactly sure what is what, so we have to listen to our gut. It brings us forward and backward in time, allows us to see the world through different lenses, and learn from our mistakes.

A book is knowledge, is light, is fire, is consuming. Is it a coincidence that a book has to be incinerated to be destroyed? But when you clash knowledge with knowledge, like the unfortunate Victor Frankenstein should have foreseen when the lightning bolt (knowledge) struck the tree (knowledge), you just get burned. Whether you're a literature advocate looking to fuel your case, or a literature skeptic, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is sure to spark some heated conversation.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Another Reason To Love Chobani

Maybe it's because it's the fourth of July...maybe it's because when I woke up this morning I found a bag of blueberry bagels on the counter...maybe it's because when I opened the fridge to find cream cheese all I found was blueberry Chobani yogurt. Whatever it was, this happened, and it was so much better than anything I could've planned last night when I thought about what I was going to have for breakfast this morning (yes...I often think about my meals 12 hours in advance).



As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, I am always looking for ways to jazz up whatever I'm eating. I'm not the type of person to just grab a granola bar or a bowl of ice cream from the freezer when I'm hungry. If I'm taking the time to have a snack, I take my time. If I want a yogurt, I don't just eat it out of the container. I scoop it into a bowl, and top it with fruit, granola, shredded coconut, chia seeds, almonds, whatever I'm in the mood for. Taking the time to make or prepare myself food, no matter what it is, is my way of telling myself, "I care about you." 

Anyway, awhile ago I started flavoring my own cream cheese. If I was having a cinnamon raisin bagel, I scooped out cream cheese in a bowl, slightly warmed it in the microwave to make it soft, and stirred in pure maple syrup to make a maple cream cheese. If I was having a blueberry bagel, I warmed frozen berries with the cream cheese and stirred it to make a berry cream cheese. 

Alas, this morning I didn't have cream cheese or frozen berries. So I took the next best better thing: blueberry Chobani yogurt. I toasted my bagel and just used a spoon to spread the yogurt on the bagel. Because greek yogurt is naturally thick, it makes for a perfect spread on bagels. It's thinner than cream cheese, but still provides the creamy satisfaction that cream cheese supplies. Plus, greek yogurt is packed with protein, making it a great healthy alternative to a favorite breakfast condiment! Double-plus, there are so many different flavors of it. Off the top of my head, I can imagine strawberry, black raspberry, raspberry, and apricot tasting really good on whole wheat, plain, pumpernickel, multigrain, or even poppy seed. Maybe even key lime on pumpernickel? 

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exploring the World Through Theatre

My mom once said she wants to explore the world through poetry. My stepdad explores the world through art. I explore the world through theatre.

One of my favorite parts of acting is the character development. I love diving into their time period, coming up with backstories, figuring out their relationship with other characters. It's like a scavenger hunt. I scrutinize the text, read reviews and relevant books (when available), and watch YouTube clips. It becomes an obsession. For the four to five months I'm working on a show, I become absorbed in my character's life. I become a part of their world, whether it be modern day Washington Heights, 19th century France, or 20th century London. 

Theatre stretches my horizons. It compels me to research historic events that I wouldn't normally, like the June Rebellion for Les Misérables or American immigration for In the Heights. The other day my friend Kevin, who will be playing Marius in the Cape Cod Academy Playhouse revival performance of Les Misérables, explained how he read Homer's The Iliad in high school, and it had no significance to him. It was long, dense, and filled with references he had no desire or reason to figure out. Several years later, he found himself performing the one-man play, An Iliad, and all of a sudden Homer's The Iliad became the most important text in his life for the months he was working on the play. All of a sudden, the references made sense. They had purpose. 

I couldn't agree more. One of the coolest parts of theatre for me is it compels me to connect with a time period, character, and place I never would need to otherwise. In history class, I love when we're assigned a personal memoir to read. Having someone's personal account of a historical event gives me a person to connect with, rather than a string of facts. Theatre goes one step further and allows me to be that person. Facts in a text book go over my head, except when I'm researching for a character. When I'm researching for a play, I absorb the information like a sponge. Like Kevin explained, the pieces start to align; the references make sense; the facts have a purpose.

When getting into character, I need to know why my character is feeling the way she is. As I'm preparing for my role, I have conversations out loud with my characters. "Why are you feeling this way? What happened before? What's your motivation?" Through these questions, I get the backstory. Eventually, getting immersed in the time period and place is not a conscious effort for me; it just naturally happens. After all, I'm spending between 10-40 hours a week there. 

We are only given one life, but through theatre, I can sample the lives of others. I can time travel. I can be in 1950s America today at the drive-in movie's with a black cow in my hand, and 1970s Argentina tomorrow, addressing the people of Argentina as President Juan Perón's wife. Because of theatre, I have seen the world through the eyes of a lovestruck and naive girl who has never seen any other man but her father (Isabel from Pirates of Penzance); a power-hungry but lonely wizard (Ms. Wiz from The Wiz) ; a bitter street beggar (Les Mis); a prostitute (Les Mis); a wide-eyed revolutionary (Les Mis); an insecure teenager who believes the only way to get through life is with an "I don't give a shit" attitude (Rizzo from Grease); a "failed" neighborhood superstar (Nina from In the Heights); and soon, a young girl balancing adolescent love with the desire to grow up (Wendy from Peter Pan). 

Theatre forces me not only to travel, but to see the world through different lenses. So until I am at a point in my life when I can travel the world, I will keep exploring it through theatre. 

How do you like to explore the world? 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Salad for Breakfast?


With our lettuce and kale in full bloom, I don't want to eat anything but salad. 


I find an excuse to make a salad whenever I can, making tuna fish or grilling a veggie burger and slicing it on top. 


After a long morning of biking, swimming and running yesterday, I found myself past one o'clock and starving. But, I never like to start my day with anything but breakfast food, no matter what time I actually end up eating breakfast. But as I walked past the garden to put my bike away, I really wanted a salad.

So I compromised. 

Veggie Scramble Salad (a.k.a. "Eggs on a Bed")


Basically, toss in whatever you like with your scrambled eggs and put it all on a bed of greens. If you're curious, here's how I made mine:
  1. Lightly grease a pan with olive oil and sauté baby bella mushrooms and onions.
  2. While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, chop up about a quarter of a medium-sized tomato. Then, crack two eggs in a bowl, add a little water, and whisk. (My grandmother told me that a chef told her that using water instead of milk is the key to fluffy eggs.) 
  3. Once the onions and mushrooms are tender, pour in the eggs. Add the chopped tomato, grated cheese (I used Trader Joe's Creamy Toscano Cheese), and kale (I recommend breaking up the leaves).
  4. Add a little pepper and salt. 
  5. Keep a careful eye on the eggs, using a spatula to stir often.
  6. Place greens in a shallow dish and top with the veggie scramble.
  7. Enjoy!

It was exactly what I was craving, and when I woke up this morning, I craved it again. It's a refreshing and protein-filled way to start the day! 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sitting

When I woke up at 4:30 this morning to make Mom a smoothie to-go for her class at Lesley University, I hadn't planned on staying up. I went to bed at midnight, after all. But I wasn't really that tired getting up (maybe it'll hit me later) and most mornings this sumer I'll want to sleep in because I'l be out late performing Les Mis, so when Mom commented about what a nice time of day it was, I decided it might be a good idea to take advantage of the morning.

I boiled water for tea and took my laptop out at first, figuring I would continue working on my college checklist from last night. Then I realized how wasteful it would be to spend an early morning in front of a screen, especially because I would be tempted to check my Gmail and Facebook to see who had thought about me between midnight (the last time I checked them) and 4:30 in the morning. It's frustratingly satisfying to see that someone liked my picture or status on Facebook (the only e-mail I get on a regular basis is the Word of the Day, so my e-mail is rarely exciting), or that someone messaged me.  It's frustrating because I'm relying on others for self-security, and because the satisfaction wears off seconds after I click the message or little Earth icon.

Instead, I grabbed my notebook–I've been trying to get back into the habit of writing–a beach towel, my tea, and my car keys. Which brings me to the beach this morning. The sun peaked over the clouds. The waves crashed. I sipped my tea from my Krispy Kreme thermos and burned my tongue. There I sat. Sitting. Sitting. Sun. Waves. Tea. Burnt tongue. Seagulls. Sand. Yup.

I'm terrible at being still. I'm bad at even walking. It's too slow. I would rather run. It gets my heart rate up and gets me in shape. It feels purposeful. I have the annoying desire to always be productive. I always need to be doing something, for something. I'm terrible at being still because I don't feel like I'm accomplishing anything. I'm not content doing things just because I feel like doing them. I need a reason. If I sleep in, it's because I should be catching up on sleep for the week. One of the reasons I'm so conscious about what I eat is because I feel like whatever I eat should benefit my body in some way.

Trust me when I say this neurosis can be extremely mentally draining. Often times I lose the spontaneity of the moment because I spend too much time planning the what and why of my day, instead of just living it.

I know it's important for me to slow down sometimes. Allow my mind to wander without justification. I need to find more moments in my life to meditate; to be at peace with myself, rather than always trying to think of how I can better myself.

Which is why it was important for me to just sit this morning. Dig my toes in the sand and let my thoughts about those s'mores and frozen yogurt and cookie from yesterday go out with the tide. Sip my tea and feel the newly risen sun on my face. Just sit.



Friday, June 20, 2014

The Art of Procrastination

All of a sudden, there is so much I "need" to do when it's time to clean my room...


I "need" to cut up and redesign an old tie-dye T-shirt...


I "need" to make Blueberry Four Grain Pancakes...


And I "need" NEED to update my blog. This I actually do need to do, so I am going to take advantage of this legitimate need to procrastinate cleaning my room just a bit longer, and talk about my breakfast this morning. 

My love for pancakes was rekindled at our In the Heights post-show cast party at IHOP. I had never not liked pancakes, but I would've preferred waffles or crepes if you asked me my preference. Quite frankly, I had never really liked IHOP, either. I had been only twice before, once being in New York for a track meet. The fact that I was running a big race that weekend, on top of the fact that I ordered some sort of strawberry yogurt crepes, left a sour taste in my mouth for the franchise.

On that particular post-show night at IHOP, I got the Harvest Grain 'N Nut pancakes (filled with oats, almonds and English walnuts), topped with blueberry compote. Maybe it was the post-show adrenaline. Maybe it was the fact that it was 11:30 at night, and everything sweet tastes better at 11:30 at night. Maybe it was just that IHOP has really good freaking pancakes. Whatever it was, they were delicious.

My next momentous trip to IHOP was two months later, at the post-show cast party for our spring comedy, Testing, Testing. I got the Whole Wheat with Bananas pancakes, and I will never get anything other than those at IHOP ever again. Fat, fluffy, warm, golden, and maple syrup. What more could a girl ask for? 

Anyway, I've been craving pancakes these past few days, but I was set on having whole wheat pancakes, and alas, we didn't have any whole wheat flour in our pantry. So, after surfing the internet for about forty minutes last night, I finally came across a series of healthy pancake recipes that I combined to make my own:

Blueberry Four Grain Pancakes


Yields 6-8 pancakes (4"-6" in diameter each)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup ground chia seed*
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 large egg (or 2 egg whites)
  • 1 cup milk**
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (or light brown)
  • 1/3 cup original applesauce
  • Blueberries (optional)***
*Some websites I read said chia seeds are a whole-grain, and others said they aren't. Regardless, chia seeds are filled with nutritional benefits, including healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. So, whether or not you call these pancakes Three Grain or Four Grain, they're still really healthy for pancakes.

**I used plain almond milk, but I'm sure any other milk would work fine. 

***Although the blueberries are optional, the quinoa flavor is strong, and I thought the blueberries helped mask the taste (although I don't mind the taste of quinoa). 

Here's where my skills in the kitchen fail: following directions. All pancake recipes I read online said to toss together all the dry ingredients first. Next, whisk the wet ingredients (in this case, applesauce, milk, and egg) in a separate bowl. Then, stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Honestly, I just combined them all at once in a big bowl. I used a whisk to break up the egg, and then a wooden spoon to stir it all together. It still turned out fine, but if I were to do it again, I probably would separate the ingredients.

One tip I did read, though, was to be careful not to overmix the batter. Stir until all the ingredients are just combined. Otherwise, the pancakes will be tough and dense. 

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Coat with cooking spray, oil or butter. I used an ice cream scooper to drop the batter on the skillet, which made about 4" pancakes. I liked this size because it meant I could stack more pancakes :) 

Wait until bubbles begin to form in the center of the pancake, and then flip. Cook until the other side is golden brown. Coat your griddle or skillet before every pancake or batch of pancakes. 

Stack and serve with maple syrup! 

And now, three and a half hours after I have woken up, I return to clean my room. At least it's almost lunch time!



Sunday, May 11, 2014

Let Anything At All Happen Just Beyond the Sunrise

Although I promised myself a few weeks ago that I would move out of In the Heights, my school's recent High School Musical Theatre Awards (TAMY) nominations–nine total!–have refueled my love and longing for its familiar streets. I long for the bodega and Daniella's salon. I long for the sweet Piragua. The other day my friend Ella sang "Breathe"–one of Nina's solos–in her senior recital, and as I heard the introductory chords, I couldn't help getting choked up. I long to be back onstage as Nina.

The line dividing myself and Nina is thin. I understand the self-imposed pressure to succeed, to make people proud. The feeling that I never do enough. I understand the hesitation, the fear of the unknown. As I watch the DVD and listen to the music, I feel almost like I'm watching my own life. As I watch my character fall in love with the character Benny, I feel as if I'm watching myself fall in love.


I listen to our duets and get the same warm feeling I get when listening to a Taylor Swift song about a boy I like. I watch us onstage and I can't help wishing that the love was real. Because somehow, in Nina's love for Benny, she is able to forget about the future, and leave whatever happens "beyond the sunrise" to God's will.


And then I remember that Eric–the actor who played Benny–and I were just acting. It was Nina and Benny who were in love. Not me and Eric. And I have to pull myself out of this fictional world to actually live my life. But it's difficult. It's like breaking off a relationship––some days I'm fine, and others, I have to listen to songs on repeat.

At some point, I should be able to live like I do onstage, in my real life. And I don't mean specific plot points–I don't need to drop out of college, and backtracking to my role as Rizzo, I certainly don't need a pregnancy scare. I mean my approach to life. Onstage, I live in the moment. I feel the energy. And I act accordingly. My 28-performances of Les Misérables last summer taught me that no show is ever going to be the same. I have to just let myself feel what's going on around me. That is what makes the characters onstage, and the events in the story, believable. That is what keeps them fresh every time.

As much as I sometimes wish it were, life isn't scripted. I have to let whatever happens beyond the sunrise, happen, and not worry so much about the future. And somewhere along the way, I'll hopefully find my Benny.