Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

I’m a little past the seventh month in my twenty-fourth year. For the past 120 minutes, I’ve been lying on a cobalt blue velour couch and tending to my friendships with excess and not duty. As of 26 hours ago, the lower half of my hair has been dyed purple.

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Earlier today, I met Deborah when she made eye contact with me on Walnut Street at 10:41 a.m. I could already hear the tambourine slamming against someone’s hands and another someone pumping the organ but she reassured me that I the service had just started at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. After she embraced me — a gesture I responded to with effusive positive feedback — she told me that her hug wouldn’t be the last I received all morning. Within an hour, the congregation proved her right.

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The sensation of touch still feels dull on my finger tips and the skin between my toes from my ill-fated bike riding adventure through the Illinois woods this afternoon. I will not forget the war that they waged against the tingling and then the numbing and then the shutting down and the trauma of exposure. But I’m coming back for you North Branch bike trail when the sun shines in the Botanical Gardens and I’ve donned my brown sandals for the season. I’ll have the last word against winter.

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I miss McKenzie the most intensely whenever Mallory and I meet someone new because I worry they obtain a skewed impression of the Lee Girl brand.

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Gale Is a Disgrace: How his stunted character betrays the book and weakens the series as a whole

The Voice of Reason. Those were my initial thoughts on Gale following Thursday night’s screening of Mockingjay. He urged a mentally uneased Katniss to follow District 13 brass’ wishes that she participate in the propos, heeded Coin’s pager summons’ to return to District 13 after a would-be romantically charged afternoon hunt,  and returned far too-collected (and somewhat mentally checked-out) after returning from Operation Peeta. I don’t recall a time when he interrupted or spat out his words or showed his lack of fear of authority. His voice was edgeless. His eyes never flashed. He never spoke out of turn. I observed a tall, clean-shaven man with so much screen time but little personality. Good-looking but without any understanding of how to harness his attractiveness to manipulate. Gorgeous but with a loud but innocuous temper.

He was safe and tame and banal.

He was rational and was boring.

Yet, Gale has every reason to fill every scene in with his smoldering. He watched more than 90 percent of his district get torched by the Capitol’s bombs. He has spent years of his life breathing toxic coal air, a hazardous job, and one which still barely made ends meet. His best friend and the love of his life was forced to participate in the Hunger Games not once, but twice, and to survive, she romantically forsakes him. He’s always been politically savvy. He’s not naive. Where are his calculations? Where is his coldness? Perhaps his character is supposed to come off as canny, but Gale’s “measuredness” comes off almost at the risk of being passive.

At the genesis of the series, Collins’ suggests that Katniss and Gale first bonded because of their mutual understanding of one another. They both lost fathers in the same coal mining accident and found themselves unexpectedly the sole providers for their relatively inept families. Any personal softness has hardened as a consequence of this shift in roles but because of their ability to sense this in the other, they allow themselves to occasionally be honest with one another about their anger, their vindictiveness, and their desire for revenge. Gale in particular harbors aspirations of sticking it to the Capitol and has no difficulty conveying that to Katniss. He’s unquestionably devoted to his family, but he’s longing for the movement when his life can transcend coal.

Where is Katniss’ romantic longing for Gale derived? Her admiration certainly stems from the fidelity he lavishes on his mother and siblings. But it’s Gale’s live-wire temperament that both scares–and attracts her. Equally unpredictable and mouthy, their interactions in Catching Fire range from ambitions of escaping and sticking it to the President to finding themselves several blows away from death via Thread’s whip. Whereas Peeta convicts Katniss by his personal acts of selflessness but often resists verbally sparring with her, Gale refutes and rebukes her. He pushes Katniss to find her social pulse and resist subsuming herself in her suffering to the point that it inhibits her advocacy for justice on a grander stage.

What a shame that character has yet to show up in the films.

As the story progress, Katniss’ conflict over whether she has stronger feelings for Peeta or Gale evolve. Her notions of the boys change from personal affection to symbols for the larger tensions in her life. How does one practice love and integrity in the face of corruption, Peeta’s behavior consistently confronts her. How actively should one practice violence against corruption or return evil for evil, Gale consistently pushes. What does it mean for Katniss’ soul that she so consistently finds her actions and desires so often mirror those of Gale? What implications does that have for the broader anger of the rebel movement, of which Katniss is the (symbolic) leader?

In many ways, I’m relieved with Hunger Games’ washed out romantic narrative; its absence leaves space to explore the film’s heavy themes: trauma, manipulation, governance and consumerism. But its flimsiness ultimately costs us a stronger Katniss. A “better” love triangle would not elevate a superficial romance; nothing this integral to the series is deliberately shallow. Instead, it would center on the Girl on Fire’s unwieldy rage and the fight over who can most influence her to channel it in service of their consciences.

Better Not to Give in

Two types of moviegoers will descend the theaters this weekend and flood Liongate’s coffers: those seeking entertainment — and those craving transcendence. The majority of folks who will make Mockingjay Part 1 a $400 million domestic milestone will not pour over Suzanne Collins’ prose or hang out on District 12 message boards. They will not wrap themselves in blankets, sip hot chocolate, and analyze the manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder that persists in previous victors. Some will perch enraptured and some will clandestinely text but they will stroll from the theater potentially intrigued but now disengaged.

I fall into the second camp.

Some of primary motivations for screening film adaptations of beloved books stem from a desire to visually ingest covert, longing glances, Capitol luxury, and Games’ shock and awe. My imagination does not always do justice to opulence or wretchedness. But I don’t pay to see details on a page turn into sets, props and gestures.

I spend money for truth.

I’m not spending my free time scrolling through slide shows of a gaunt and jagged Homs cityscape, but damned if I don’t see its ghosts in the ruins of Panem. I lack active and mutual relationships with Iraq or Afghanistan War mentally devastated veterans, but Katniss’ disorientation and anguish will never be abstract realities for so many Americans. I refuse to be emotionally manipulated by ISIS’ beheading YouTube submissions, but never forget that the “good guys” have their personal propaganda machine too. An uprising, an insurrection, a movement, they have the propensity to be cast romantically time zones away, but behind each one (failed and successful — whatever that means) throngs of people have left the humdrum of the status quo. Some of them have even swapped that stability, that ennui, that control, for death.

All of the films have been meta. After the first Hunger Games film, I slunk back to my house, a shell of my prior enthusiasm, questioning how my anticipation may have rivaled that of Panem’s most privileged. Surely, I wasn’t enthusiastic about watching children die. (Because they weren’t real children so it was cool, right?) It still doesn’t sit right when you discover your commonalities with the oppressor.

While amping myself for Catching Fire, I critiqued Red Carpet fashion. I devoured every Jennifer Lawrence think-piece in existence. I freely dispersed page views and video minutes to articles which elevated commercialism, stardom, and transience. Multiple of them focused on the artistry behind President Snow’s lavish party. This is of course the scene where Effie reminds her stars “There will be photographers, interviews, everyone here will be to celebrate you.” (“People are starving in Twelve. Here they’re just throwing it up to stuff more in,” says Peeta later.)

On November 20, 2014 I remembered a “real life” version of Mockingjay with more horrifying production values and a crushed movement and no end to the suffering in sight. Real or not real, these headlines?

Syrian Aircraft Drop Explosives on Neighborhood in Aleppo Province

The ICRC on Syria: We Are in a Constant Emergency

Syria’s Economy Set Back Decades by War

Syria’s Treasured Historical Sites: War Damage Captured on Satellite

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“How do you bear it?” I ask.

Finnick looks at me in disbelief. “I don’t, Katniss! Obviously I don’t. I drag myself out of nightmares each morning and find there’s no relief in waking. Better not to give in. It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”