Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 4: One Down, Nine More To Go

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Another thing I should note that I find fascinating about the environment at the Wall Street Journal's South Brunswick-based copy desk: when it comes to deadlines---and this week we've stayed through the three major deadlines, for the Asian edition, for the Europe edition, and then finally for the U.S. edition---you would think that it'd be a pretty crazy, hectic place to be, with everyone rushing to get things OK'd and get graphic approved and all that. Not the case here! If you didn't know when the deadlines were, you'd never know when the deadline for one edition had passed. The copy desk is that much of a well-oiled machine. It's incredible in some ways.

Also notable is the reliance on message-sending-via-computer as opposed to face-to-face communication that predominates the copy desk. When one copy editor has a question for another, surprisingly he/she doesn't walk over to the other's desk and ask him/her the question. It's all through IM. Even those who have something to say to someone right across his/her desk IM the other person instead of just saying "Hey." I'm not used to that either, and it's certainly something I didn't expect even from a copy desk coming into this internship. I'd be interested to see if the New York Times copy desk is like this, or Newsday's.

More copy-editing of briefs for us today. By the way, what I mean by briefs are those little articles that pop up either in small boxes or as "In Briefs" opening each section or something else short and relatively unimportant---although, of course, I'm sure a brief item I edited yesterday about, say, Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store initiating the sale of online music without copy protection is important to many. Many of the briefs I'm editing come from one of the newswires: Associated Press, Reuters, or Dow Jones Newswires. Nothing overly difficult (yet), although I'm still taking my time with them. Better be safe than sorry.

I think I'm getting into the swing of things here. In fact, I'm starting to have a little fun for now. I actually got quite excited when I was about to drop an article into the slot and then an alert box popped up on my computer informing me that the layout had been modified and that I'd have to cut things down. Cutting articles down is fun! Of course, it's going to be more difficult to do when you're editing a staff writer's article instead of simply an Associated Press piece; I imagine I'm going to have to maintain constant contact with the writer to get his/her OK on cutting this or rephrasing that or whatever. But hopefully that'll come later. As long as I don't screw up royally on editing any of these briefs.

Well, that wraps up my first week at the Wall Street Journal. No Fridays and Saturdays of work---although I'm still ushering at the State Theatre, since June is apparently the month of marathon dance recitals. So I'll technically be working during my days off as well.

Tyler and I decided that I would take the morning shift (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) for the next four weeks, and then I'd switch with him and take the late shift (4:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m.) for the subsequent five weeks. So we'd be swapping shifts somewhere around Independence Day. Here's hoping the rest of the nine weeks goes as swimmingly as this first week has progressed.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 3: Sink or Swim

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today I walked into the copy desk at the Wall Street Journal office and was asked by the global copy editor: "Do you want to start editing some briefs?"

So after two days of worrying about how I was going to handle trying to figure out how to navigate the various computer programs and applications, I was basically pushed into figuring all that out in one fell swoop today.

That's another fancy of way of saying: today, I started editing copy. Nothing major, mind you: our main copy editor is taking a gradual approach to acclimating us to the ins and outs of this profession. Thus I start out small and then end up big. That's the design anyway; a couple of days ago, one of the editors told us the story of a former Dow Jones copy editing intern who, in one week, missed factual errors in a couple of the articles he edited and got those articles mentioned in the paper's Corrections box. That intern ended up not editing much else other than boring old briefs. Damn, I really hope I don't turn out like that. Making some kind of progression in the next nine weeks would be nice.

I wonder if many copy editors consistently leave work worrying about whether they missed something or forgot to do something else. Certainly that's the way I felt after leaving work today having edited about three or four articles in all (they were all short, but I took my sweet time with all of them). Even with the millions of questions I asked and all the time I spent, I left work feeling, Oh man, did I forgot to check this spelling? or What if I forgot to check that figure? or something like that. I don't know if I could handle feeling that kind of anxiety every day after work. But then, do most copy editors actually feel that anxiety on a daily basis? Maybe they do, but they've learned to trust their own skill and judgment, trust the judgment of their superior editors, and move on. I think that's one thing the Temple residency taught me, in its own strict manner---when faced with deadlines, you can't obsess over every single detail. You sometimes have to just send copy off and move along.

Moving along: that's certainly something I've had to learn over the years, instead of dwelling on mistakes made. Maybe this internship will turn out to be helpful in ways other than journalism-related after all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 2: Office Space

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today at the Wall Street Journal office, Tyler, my fellow Wall Street Journal copy editing intern, expressed a measure of amazement at how "corporate" the environment has felt. I think I see what he means. Maybe it's part and parcel of being in a business-related environment like Dow Jones & Co., but the way the copy editing section does things, it does feel almost like you're part of some kind of corporate machine---one that requires more creativity than most, to be sure, but still, one is like a cog in a vast copy editing operation, with a whole set of procedures that comes with editing stories. Not to mention, each editor has his own cubicle. So, while the copy editing section isn't nearly as perfectly lined up and placed-in-a-row as the famous movie offices of, say, King Vidor's The Crowd or Billy Wilder's The Apartment, it still has that faint feel of a large crowd of anonymous faces hard at work. And I mean large---there are a lot of copy editors at work in one section of the Dow Jones office complex over at South Brunswick. Adding to the corporate feel is the decor of the building itself: gray, metallic colors seem to dominate. Serious stuff.

I would be saying all this as criticism if I didn't feel so darn welcome there. The people over there all seem exceedingly nice and helpful; some of the ones we've spotted these past two days have all offered to give us sheets with helpful hints or necessary computer commands or things like that. So far, we haven't noticed any particular egos to avoid or anything; it's been all pleasantries, all the time. I'm actually starting to feel relaxed and even a bit excited about getting down to business next week; all the people we've been working with have been quite approachable when it comes to asking questions. It's good to feel comfortable about asking any kinds of questions in any office environment.

We've also been plunked down into a wee bit of drama at the editing desk: apparently, one of the main copy editors is on her way out---she's going off to one of the overseas copy desks, I think the Wall Street Journal Europe desk in Brussels---and everyone in the office is a bit on edge as far as who's going to succeed her. At least, that's what we've been told; I've hardly felt that edge in the past two days.

Not much to report today, really. Tyler and I are still talking about who's going to be the first to take the 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. shift and who's going to be the first 4:30 p.m. - 11:30 p.m. guy. Turns out both of us kinda want to take the morning shift first. We may end up having to rock-paper-scissor it, hehe. We both spotted some more editors and helped write more headlines (we both finally got a chance to play around with the computers on our own, with supervision of course). We finally got logged into the various programs and stuff on the computer. We finally got photo ID tags. And we found out that the building apparently houses a gym in the basement that charges you $5 a week to be a member. $5 a week---damn! Not bad. If only I was more of a gym person. (I keep telling myself I'll start frequenting the gym more often, but, with one or two exceptions in the past four years, it hasn't yet happened.)

Overall, another pleasant day at the office.

I hope this hasn't gotten too boring for you readers. Have I been eaten up by the corporate machine???

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wall Street Journal, Day 1: Good, Quiet Vibrations

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Today is Memorial Day, so of course I should start off by saluting all the brave men and women who have died in military service fighting for the United States and all it stands for---especially those who are laying their lives on the line in this Iraq mess. Hopefully all your lives have not been lost in vain. War is such a messy business, to say the least.

But today was also another special day, perhaps one less important in the grand scheme of things except strictly on a personal level: it was the first day of my Wall Street Journal internship. Yep, Memorial Day. Which meant that there wasn't really a great deal of activity going on at the Dow Jones office in South Brunswick today, as much of the important copy had already been edited before the holiday. So it was rather dead in the office.

Still, my fellow WSJ intern and I did get introduced to various other copy editors in addition to getting a fairly good idea what kind of a job we'd be expected to do. We also spotted a couple of editors as they showed us how to do things on the computer. It's actually pretty complicated, let me tell you! They have a whole internal system set up to make things easier for editing and layout---functions preset, pages already formatted so all a copy editor has to do is just edit the story and then come up with a headline.

Headlines! That's the one thing we both accomplished today: helping the editors we spotted formulate headlines for articles. Unsurprisingly, it was hardly a walk in the park; in fact, it probably took us more time to come up with a headline that fit than to actually edit the brief story itself! This might be an interesting aspect of my experience here, to say the least: even as Inside Beat film section editor, I rarely took part in creating headlines for the articles I edited, so I haven't had a great deal of practice formulating headlines except for in a few of my classes (including my two-week training session at Temple). The way we attacked headlines today, though, almost made it feel like fun. Well, we'll see how fun it is when I inevitably have to tackle headlines on my own; I may be tearing my hair out in frustration, but hopefully it won't get to me.

Overall, it was a nice first day. I got to the place without a problem, I got there about a half-hour early (in fact, both of us got their at precisely the same time; when I drove up to the gate, I discovered that the car in front of me, with the North Carolina license plate, was Tyler---oh yeah, that's his name), and the people all seemed cordial and genuinely willing to help. Seems like a lovely environment for any internship. It's actually quiet there, too---that's certainly different from the noisy, bustling environment I expected from a newsroom, even a copy editing section. Again, it could just be the fact that today is Memorial Day, but in talking to one of the editors, I got the impression that a quiet environment is actually typical there.

Hopefully the goodwill vibes won't disappear when I actually have to start getting down to work. (At least, though, I'll actually be working, not just getting coffee for people and such. And I'm getting paid, yes!)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Media Building

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Just a link for today, this one to an architecture review published yesterday in the New York Times about a recently completed building, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. I don't profess to being much of an architecture expert by any means (not even reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead---which has its share of architecture jargon to balance the preachy objectivist stuff---helped me in that regard), but I just think this building looks awesome. Looked at in a certain way, it's a living, breathing testament to the sheer magnitude of the influence media has had on societies all over the world. Makes me want to go to the Netherlands just to see this building.

Here's a picture of the building that was featured in the article:

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Class, Study and Repeat

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Three words can summarize my past two weeks at my pre-Wall Street Journal copy editing internship residency at Temple University: class, study and repeat.

Readers, I and 11 other Dow Jones Newspaper Fund interns have been holed up in Philadelphia for these two weeks---I returned from Philadelphia yesterday---with minimal contact with the outside world (notwithstanding one afternoon excursion to the heart of downtown Philly, which I get to later) and minimal internet access. My room at Temple had no internet access, and our professor only allowed us maybe an average of half an hour a day to check our e-mail, surf the Web, etc. The rest of the time was spent doing a variety of "fun" things like:

1. trying to commit to memory most of the Associate Press Stylebook;

2. trying to acquaint ourselves with the geography of the entire world---in other words, learning the names of all the countries and capitals of the world, not just of the United States; and

3. other things which required a lot of memorization and, above all, commitment.

A lot to put on anyone's plate, I'd say! Our daily schedule---which we all adhered to pretty strictly---didn't make things a whole lot better. Here's how it usually broke down for me:

6:30 a.m. or earlier: I wake up, usually bleary-eyed, and dutifully do my morning-routine stuff before packing up my loads of books.

7:15 a.m.: Off to breakfast at the campus dining hall---yes, my fellow copy editing interns and I had to eat (so-so) campus food on a daily basis.

8:30 a.m.: Our day of class begins. There was never really a set time for lunch, but usually it would be somewhere in the 12:00 p.m. hour. Then we'd come back and have some more class until...

5:30 p.m.: Dinner guessed it, the campus dining hall again. ¡Muy delicioso!

Around 6:30 p.m.: We would all return to Annenberg Hall---our dorm---and brace ourselves for a night of relentless studying.

8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m.: We developed a routine in which we all met in the fourth floor study room at around either time and studied in a group: working on maps, testing each other on our knowledge of the Stylebook, etc.

12 a.m.-1 a.m.: Our study group would disband and each individual would go off to their respective rooms and either study some more or just lie down and sleep until about 6:30 a.m. or so, when the cycle would begin again. I myself sometimes went to sleep later than that, at around 2 a.m., making for about four-and-a-half hours of sleep. I think, on average, I got maybe five hours of sleep a night. I'm not used to that.

Some of my fellow interns---and myself included---characterized this residency, half-jokingly, as a kind of "journalism boot camp." They're not too far off the mark. Consider: pretty much every day we had four or five tests in our various areas of study---Stylebook, geography, spelling among them. We had to carry about five pounds of books every day to class (okay, I may be exaggerating there, but it sure did feel like it, especially since my bookbag wasn't nearly big enough to store both the hefty Webster's New World College Dictionary and the Ultimate Visual Dictionary, and so I ended up having to carry them both in my arms). We always had to go everywhere in a group, and we weren't even allowed to step off campus to explore the surrounding area nightlife or anything. Not that we had much time to do so until, maybe, this past Thursday night, of course. The lack of seven or eight hours of solid sleep a night probably took its toll for me in the last few days of class, when I found myself struggling to stay fully conscious whenever my professor---a fantastically intelligent and ingratiating man, ideal for making any kind of boot camp experience bearable---wasn't talking to us in front of the room. (I'm not a coffee drinker at all, so perhaps the fact that I didn't join some of my classmates in consuming massive amounts of it every day probably added to the inopportune moments of drowsiness.) And yes, two weeks with severely limited internet access, for all of us reared in the age of modern technology, is nearly akin to being in some sort of prison. Heck, we even had class on Saturday and Sunday!

But we all soldiered on. We had to. For the sake of at least doing well in our respective internships, and maybe for the sake of our futures in journalism, we had no choice but to do our very best at Temple.

Additionally, even at its most grindingly arduous, I could certainly see the method to, and the meaning behind, the professor's madness. I mean, does anyone in their right mind actually expect us to be able to cram every single AP Stylebook entry and every single minute detail about world geography (and the professor's tests were pretty damn detailed) in one night? The point, when all is said and done, was visceral more than anything else: it was all about doing your best in tight deadlines and moving on if you didn't do something quite so well one day. In the journalism world, dwelling on past failures---something I've been prone to in my personal life, as some of you faithful readers may know all too well---is a "luxury" you can never really afford when you're faced with deadlines. Another purpose to this boot-camp style is perhaps more obvious: making you realize what you don't know and what you need to work on---I certainly learned to make checking the dictionary and looking at a world atlas a habit not only during my job, but also in my personal life in general---and also planting the seeds for a deeper knowledge of, say, geography or world leaders. These past two weeks confirmed for me that my knowledge of both those subjects---save occasional prominent newsmakers like Tony Blair, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Karzai, Kim Jong-Il and others---could use some work, to put it kindly.

In fact, one of my more depressing realizations over the past two weeks is just how lame and superficial my knowledge of global affairs is compared to...well, compared to my amazing peers, all of whom were infinitely more articulate in person and more colorful than I certainly was (at least, when I wasn't near-drunk, as I was on Thursday night). My peers have clearly thought a lot more deeply on subjects revolving around journalistic ethics or the state of the field today than I have, and they have a deeper grasp of, say, the Israel/Lebanon situation than I do (my exposure to that contentious, and wearisome, topic is limited to the little bit I read in online and print news reports). In other words, they're vastly more well-rounded than I am. Have I become so one-dimensional over the years that movie knowledge---probably my one claim to fame among this group of copy editing interns, other than my standout spelling acumen---has become nearly the only deep knowledge I have? That might not bode so well for my chances at becoming a better-than-average copy editor.

Perhaps, though, that's what this internship is there for---to try this out and see how I do. Maybe I'll surprise myself and do such an impressive job at the Wall Street Journal---oh yeah, deep business knowledge is something else I lack, even with my two years of taking business courses for the aborted accounting path---that I'll be considered for actual full-time employment at the Journal instead of just interning there. Or I'll do a mediocre job and realize that this may not be the thing for me. (One time during this residency, the class did an exercise in which we had to try to pick up subtle math errors in stories; I was lucky to have picked out any at all in any of the examples, whereas the rest of my class was picking up faulty math details left and right. Is my attention to detail that weak?) Like they all say, you'll never know if you don't try. And I certainly will try.

That's pretty much it regarding my two weeks of seclusion at Temple University. Oh yeah...Stockholm Syndrome, anyone? One could compare my professor (I'll leave him nameless here, but if any of my fellow interns is reading this, you know who I'm talking about for sure) to a hostage taker of sorts, keeping us hostage in the classroom and then in our dorm rooms. But he's just so darn smart and such a tough yet pleasant presence in the classroom---a grandfatherly figure---that you can't help but admire and maybe even love him. It's almost like hostages embracing the hostage-taker. You can't help it, though. He's been directing the Temple residency for 40 years now, and he seems as sharp as he probably was 40 years ago. He's a great resource to tap in the future, if needed. (I just wonder how much of a positive impression I left on him.)

And of course, our Saturday afternoon excursion to downtown Philadelphia, the rare instance in our two weeks when we were allowed to explore outside of campus. Among the places we visited was City Hall, Reading Terminal Market (flounder, anyone?), the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Bell, and finally bustling South Street, where we all ordered authentic Philly cheesesteaks of some sort and got a kick out of a naughty novelty store named Condom Kingdom. (The back of the store was devoted to porno DVDs, and one of them was a copy of the groundbreaking 1972 porno Deep Throat for a whopping $30!) One of the most fascinating sights, though, was the Magic Garden, a startlingly inventive assemblage of trash and tile mosaics assembled over many years to create an oddly beautiful work of art. (Isaiah Zagar is the name of the man who put the Magic Garden together.) I have a few pictures of the Magic Garden on my phone, none of which really convey the amazing totality of the experience.

All in all, it was a pretty eye-opening two weeks. I wouldn't call it fun exactly, but it had its playful moments amidst the barrage of academic stuff. I start work at my internship on Monday. Wish me luck!

P.S. Two random, inconsequential things I learned in Philadelphia:

1. At the National Constitution Center, I learned that there is apparently a swimming pool and a basketball court somewhere on the Supreme Court premises. Who uses that swimming pool or basketball court? Is Stephen Breyer more of a baller than we all know???

2. Through the Visual Dictionary entry on the human body, I found out what a pudenda is. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go look it up (a favorite saying of our professor's, "look it up"). Or, in this case, look down. You might just as hard as we all did when we found out what a pudenda was. Certainly, we all got it right when we got tested on our knowledge of the human body.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Spring 2006 Semester Retrospective Post, Part 2: The Fun Stuff

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Amidst all the thesis-writing and schoolwork I dealt with throughout the spring, I thankfully found some free time to devote to exploring the world of entertainment. This time, however, I'm not just talking about movies. I'm also talking about books (barely, since most of the reading I did during the semester was related to classes and/or my thesis), music...and especially Youtube.

Believe it or not, before this semester I had never really delved all that deeply into Obviously, I had heard about it, but I only really saw Youtube videos as embedded in, or linked from, certain web sites. I never thought to, you know, explore the embarrassment of riches among the thousands upon thousands of videos on Youtube; heck, I didn't even really know how much stuff Youtube had---how much nostalgia-inducing, pop culture IQ-enriching stuff this video site actually contained.

But here's another personal Jean-Luc Godard connection for you: if I remember it correctly, I think sometime one particular weekend in the latter half of the semester, I must have figured that I had made enough progress on my thesis that I could afford to slack off a little bit, and so suddenly, on a daydreaming whim, I decided to search Youtube for videos of Godard's great muse, the eternally appealing, talented and beautiful Anna Karina. Were those two song-and-dance numbers she performs out of the blue in Pierrot le fou on there? What about that sequence where she jealously looks at a photograph of Jean-Claude Brialy interacting with another woman to the jukebox strains of Charles Aznavour in A Woman Is a Woman? Both clips are easily available on Youtube...but did you know that the late Serge Gainsbourg wrote a TV-movie musical named Anna in 1967 just for her? I had no clue until I stumbled upon clips of this long-lost musical on Youtube. Particularly striking my horny fancy was the beloved Anna Karina singing "Sous le soleil exactement"---apparently her character is dreaming about some place under the sun (thus the song's title). In a previous post, I embedded the video into my blog, but apparently the video's been taken down (but not before I used a Mozilla Firefox add-on, Video Downloader, to save a copy of the video onto my desktop, yes!). But it was such a surprising discovery, and so damn irresistible---the director, Pierre Koralnik, doesn't stint on the luscious Anna Karina close-ups, oversized glasses and all---that the next few days I could barely go a day without watching it. That's what one might call a fog of obsession right there (although, rest assured, it certainly wasn't foggy enough that it obscured my focus on school, heh).

Since Karina's rendition of "Sous le soleil exactement" is no longer available on Youtube, here's a piece of biker-inspired music from the same TV movie entitled "Roller Girl"; she works herself into a frenzy in this energetic musical soliloquy:

Since then, there have been other cool discoveries: movie clips, comedy clips, concert clips, and music videos. And not just recent American music videos. Thanks to Youtube, I awakened memories of all that Chinese pop music I heard in my earliest years. I remember that, in Queens, there was a library that housed a whole batch of tapes from the popular Chinese pop singers of the time, and that I guess I liked the music enough to go to that library often just to browse their collection, look at some of the cool-looking covers, and pine to borrow some of them. Guess what? Some users on Youtube have actually uploaded some of the music videos of Julie Su, Tracy Huang, and others. And I found them and have watched some of them repeatedly ever since, just because it reminds me of some of the stuff I listened to as a little kid. I couldn't really tell you, of course, what these singers were singing, but some of it sounds pretty neat.

I've also discovered some new Asian pop stuff thanks to Youtube. Remember Faye Wong, that irresistible elfin woman who literally tried to rearrange cop Tony Leung's life after a breakup in the second half of Wong Kar-Wai's sublime Chungking Express? She is, for those who didn't know, a huge singing star in Hong Kong, and some Youtube users have actually uploaded various music videos and concert performances for viewer consumption. Here's one I enjoy: Faye Wong actually has some fairly interesting alternative music to her credit.

(See here for Chinese and English lyrics.) From some of the songs of hers that I've heard, she's actually pretty alternative in style, and this song, "Bu Liu," has a beautifully evocative use of electronic instruments that add immense flavor to this low-key tune, while the strings---hovering in the background at certain points, overtaking the texture at others---suggest deeper emotions. I'm sure some music fanatic out there would be able to come up with an appropriate comparison to some American or European artist or group (Notwist? Air? I am hopelessly out of touch with today's popular music); all I can say is that, to me, it sounds quite lovely.

Of course, I haven't only been dieting on Asian pop on Youtube; I've also discovered some cool old music videos from MTV's 1980s heyday (you know, when they used to actually play music videos on the channel). This one I like a lot (with a slew of qualifications, which I'll get to in a bit):

Remember Laura Branigan? She had a couple of big hits during the 1980s, then kinda fell off, surfacing occasionally in the 1990s and early '00s for concerts and some stage appearances before dying in 2002 from a brain aneurysm. This song from 1984, "Self Control," was one of her biggest hits. Call me tasteless, but I think it's a near-great song, dated '80s synthpop style and all, and it's amazing how much vulnerability and nuance Branigan's voice is able to bring out of the lyrics, even amidst the slight disco overkill of the production. As for this video: it was directed by William Friedkin, he of The French Connection and The Exorcist (and a lot of crap since those two), and while it too has its share of cheesiness---some of its sub-Phantom of the Opera visuals (years before Andrew Lloyd Webber conceived his bloated stage musical) might strike some as unintentionally funny, and maybe it is---I think the video has an underlying seductiveness to it that transcends its sillier elements (particularly the pantomime of an orgy that occurs midway through the video) and becomes simultaneously alluring and disturbing, appropriate to a song that speaks of someone who seems to live for the night, who seems unreasonably attracted to the seamier elements of the nightlife even as she realizes the trouble she potentially gets into ("A safe night, I'm living in the forest of my dream / I know the night is not as it would seem / I must believe in something, so I'll make myself believe it / That this night will never go"). It's nothing particularly deep, but I think it's powerfully suggestive---as daydream-inducing as the aforementioned Anna Karina video. In fact, it actually turned me into something of a "creature of the night": in the last few weeks of the semester, if I was around New Brunswick on a Friday night, I'd almost always feel a hankering to walk around the area at night (with a friend, of course) and perhaps check out a couple of nightclubs and bars here and there.

Of course, when it comes to Youtube, I can't forget some of the amateur videos and vlogs I've discovered. True to girl-crazy form, all of the users I'm currently subscribed to are women, but these women aren't objects flaunting their sexuality on-camera (within bounds, of course): these are idiosyncratic personalities, females you could imagine having lively conversations with. Some of them are physically attractive, too, which is certainly a plus in my book.

I'll highlight one of them for now:

This video is from HappySlip, the 'net ID of a Filipina woman named Christine who lives in New York City and has become an Internet celebrity thanks to her videos---which she apparently writes, shoots and edits all by herself---many of which poke fun at the weird habits of her parents. She's pretty, she's funny, she's multi-talented (she has played both the piano and the guitar in other videos of hers), and she's the first Youtube personality I subscribed to this semester. Granted, her comedy is more affectionate ribbing than edgy satire, but nevertheless, her videos are enjoyable in a relaxing kind of way, and I get a kick out of her caricatures of her parents. I can certainly relate---although even my mother has never tried to cut a roll of paper towels in half just to save money, as Christine's "mother" does in the video "Morning Meest." HappySlip, abbegirl, xgogobeanx, FilthyWhore, spricket24, LisaNova (who is actually now a cast member on Fox's MADTV)---all distinctive, colorful people that perhaps could only be found on Youtube rather than today's TV, which sometimes seems to prefer looks or sex appeal over brains or personality. (I haven't yet explored much on the guy's side of things; renetto is apparently a popular Youtube vlogger, but I haven't yet watched much of his videos except for an informal interview he did with FilthyWhore. And oh yeah, I haven't even watched the infamous lonelygirl15---not that those videos are real anyway.)

In short, the pleasures I've discovered from Youtube this past semester is, for me, twofold: 1) it's allowed me to indulge in nostalgia trips during those times when I don't feel like focusing much on the boring old present, and 2) more obviously, it's opened me up to cool video discoveries and the sometimes interesting people making some of those videos. I'd probably be way too camera-shy to ever dare to vlog myself; I prefer writing out my thoughts rather than stammering through them and embarrassing myself on camera. But if some of these people are willing to put themselves out there in that way, and can do it without looking stupid---more power to them.

Wow, that was actually rather longer than I expected. And I haven't even gotten to the other fun stuff this semester that I was planning to mention. Don't know if I'm going to be able to anytime soon either: judging from the e-mails I've been getting from my pre-Wall Street Journal internship residency director, the next two weeks is going to be nonstop work work work. Oh boy. So who knows---I might be out of commission altogether for two whole weeks, and thus unable to continue on with this retrospective. By the time I return from Temple University (I leave tomorrow), my drive to finish this might be gone.

Well, maybe no big loss. I mean, everyone knows about the distinctive virtues of the Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food and Remain in Light are great, exuberantly inventive stuff; Speaking in Tongues onward merely okay by comparison; David Byrne is one odd performer, and I love every idiosyncratic bone in his body). Most agree that Quentin Tarantino's near-Godardian Death Proof was the better portion of Grindhouse, an occasionally indulgent but cumulatively fascinating deconstruction of the experience of watching at least a certain type of grindhouse flick, one which dares to complicate our reactions to the supposed heroines (the second set of females who aren't exactly savory human beings themselves) and the villain (Stuntman Mike, who Tarantino and Kurt Russell dare to paint as both reprehensible and, at fleeting moments, sympathetic in a rather general way) so that the conclusion can be interpreted as either an ugly but inevitable and justified comeuppance or as just plain ugly. And most have already concluded that this current season of 24 has, after a gripping first four hours, dropped off in quality like nobody's business. It's been a disappointing year, but let's face it: a season like this was probably inevitable, because how long can you stay in one locale and kill off characters and attempt to top the previous seasons' high-octane action and boiling-under-the-surface emotions before it was going to start to feel played out? This year, 24 has felt really played out (even more so than Season 4, which now seems positively brilliant compared to Season 6), so much so that recently I decided to spend my Monday nights watching Heroes instead.

But all of that has been written about at length and more insightfully than I, I suspect. The vast riches of Youtube still have yet to be tapped by me, so I figured I might as well put some of my initial discoveries over the semester out there, just for the heck of it. I might have gone crazy this semester without music, movies, TV and Youtube videos to provide me with occasional moments of levity and distraction. Hopefully they still will as I slowly but surely attempt to step into "real world" shoes.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 16: All Work and No Play...Might Get You Free Food

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - A quick little entry for today, because pretty soon I'm going to have to jaunt over to Rockoff Hall to help my apartment mates clean up like mad and get things into like-move-in condition (yet another drawback-I-should-have-thought-of-before-signing-up-for-another-year to living in that place, other than, of course, its price tag).

Last night I attended the Livingston College Dean's Awards Banquet over at the Holiday Inn in Somerset. (According to the rather vague invitation I got a week before, I was going to be awarded for either academic achievement or service to the college. Well, I didn't really involve myself much in service, so I knew I wasn't going there for that.) It was cool: we were served free food---always a plus for this sort of event---and I got to stand in front of the stage a couple of times for the two honors I was given: "Dean's List"---for being on the Livingston College Dean's List for at least four semesters---and "Honors Program Seniors," for, of course, being in the Honors program. (Shame our actual Honors Program dean couldn't show up.) I got a nice-looking "Certificate of Achievement" and---wait for it---a free, fancy-schmancy Livingston College pen as a gift.

I did feel kinda weird being there, only because technically I'm not going to be graduating until January 2008. So what am I doing there? (I guess I have to change that on my transcript or something.) Whatever, man. Hey, I finished my Honors Program stuff, and I put in over four semesters of good academic work in four years. Graduating or not, I deserve some kind of recognition, dammit! (Not to get too full of myself or anything...)

There really isn't much else to say about the event, except: some of us afterwards were chatting a little bit about one of the students honored. She was given the Academic Achievement Award for getting a 4.0. Her majors? Biology and Neuroscience. Hot damn! A 4.0 in Biology and Neuroscience??? Some of the people I talked to afterward were saying, cheekily, "I'm, like, retarded compared to her!"

Don't worry, readers: Part 2 of my Spring Semester retrospective is coming up soon, I promise!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Spring 2006 Semester Retrospective Post, Part 1: The Academic Stuff

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Obligatory retrospective post time! This one I'm going to break into two parts, because I'd like to devote one post to some of the more trivial fun things I indulged in this semester (you'll see when I get to Part 2).

Despite finding out, at the last minute, that I'm going to be here at Rutgers a semester longer than I expected, overall this was a pretty darn good semester for me. I made a hell of a lot more progress than even I might have thought possible on my senior Godard/Tarantino thesis, churning out 40 (double-spaced) pages of material in about four weeks (well, for me, that's an accomplishment, since I often take my sweet old painstaking time writing my papers). This, mind you, came almost entirely after I basically wrote only five measly pages during my entire Spring Break---so, of course, I was feeling the pressure (partly deadline-related, partly self-imposed) of finishing the whole thing by mid-April, before planning out my eventual public presentation. Still, I think I can honestly say that the pressure never got too overwhelming or too distracting. And at least now I have a final product that I'm pretty proud of.

Okay, enough self-congratulation!

The pressure of balancing thesis work with classes didn't really overwhelm me this semester, either, because essentially I only had to worry about two classes: my Cinema Studies senior seminar and my Desktop Publishing class. The most notable thing I got out of my film seminar, I think, was a greater appreciation of sound in movies: how directors use sound to intensify moods, emphasize points, etc. (Just last night, while briefly re-watching my Artificial Eye Region 2 DVD of Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times, I noted an interesting, perhaps coincidental example of sound punctuation that I hadn't picked up on before: during the first 40-minute portion, when Hou focuses his still, scrutinizing camera on a frazzled Chang Chen looking for that snooker parlor girl who had left when he finally came back, Chen makes a desperate, forceful downward motion with his right fist---he might be dropping his cigarette; I don't recall---and the throwaway gesture is indelibly emphasized by the timpani that enters in with an equal amount of force towards the end of the Platters' "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Small moment, but surprising and indicative of Hou's sublime sensitivity to detail.) And, of course, without the class spurring me on, I may never have gotten a chance to view Ross McElwee's wonderful 1986 documentary Sherman's March, one of the earliest and warmest examples of the kind of first-person interactive documentary that seems to be in vogue right now (I think of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock as recent examples of the kind of documentary McElwee made throughout his career). You wouldn't think seeing a film about a self-absorbed, insecure documentary filmmaker scrutinizing his love life for two-and-a-half hours would make for compelling viewing, but the film is actually about more than McElwee's personal life. In its own low-key, universal way, it's about the possibility of turning one's life into film, and the traps of engaging in that kind of artistic process---at least, that's what I tried to argue in my presentation and paper. Either that, or I just identify with the poor guy too much.

And Desktop Publishing---well, most of you readers will remember my big assignment for that class: talking to five Rutgers journalism alums now working at the Wall Street Journal and writing a news feature about all five of them. It was briefly a chore when I thought I might have to interview more---heck, I'd say five is enough for any news story---but the final product came out beautifully, and I'm happy to include it among my various clips. As for the class itself...well, a) it reinforced some of the Quark XPress-related stuff I learned in the fall for my Editing & Layout class, and b) it reminded me that I simply don't have the sharpest artist's eye when it comes to tweaking photos on Photoshop. As long as it doesn't look too dark on newsprint, it all looks good to me! Er, I may need to develop a better Photoshop sense when I get into the swing of things with my Wall Street Journal internship.

Speaking of that internship: I think it was probably the fact that I secured the summer internship towards the end of last year as opposed to this semester that I didn't feel quite the same stresses about finding a job upon graduation that I'm sure plenty of other seniors probably felt this semester. "I have no idea what I'm gonna do when I graduate" was a common thing I heard among friends when I asked them what their plans were after graduation. Well, maybe I'll be able to fully relate once I finally graduate, hopefully by January 2008. Basically, though, my mindset is: try to do my best at this WSJ thing, and see what it gets me. It'd be cool if I impressed them enough that they'd like to keep me on, but if not...well, see the quote above. Even if I somehow bombed the WSJ internship, or simply found copy editing not to my liking, I like to think I still do have a couple of prospects. Hey, Time Inc. did pick me to intern in NYC at People magazine before I had to turn them down because of the WSJ internship; that's an avenue I could perhaps pursue later on. Of course, now that I have to somehow find a way to fill up six more journalism credits in the fall, perhaps I'll have to tap that resource earlier than I anticipated.

Oh well. Part of the real world, I guess.

Coming up in Part 2: personal entertainment discoveries during the semester---among them, "Self Control," Talking Heads, Stuntman Mike, the art-house DVD steal of the century, and HappySlip. All will be explained in due time...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brief Life Update No. 15: The Lost Weekend

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I guess I lucked out this semester in that by Wednesday---when I turned in a bound copy of my thesis to Dean Nazario over at Livingston College---my semester was pretty much over. None of my classes had final exams during the exam week that's currently going on; all my finals were either papers or articles or a big fat thesis.

Thus, I have the upcoming week for all the relaxation in the world before I venture off to Temple University for my two-week copy editing internship training session. So what do I do this weekend instead of relaxing? I pretty much spend my weekend working my ass off at the State Theatre.

Let's see: I had the displeasure of witnessing one of the rowdier (not to mention drunker) audiences I've ever seen at the theater boo two opening acts for the headlining comedian off the stage---not even giving either of them a chance---before hearing the headliner essentially put the audience in their place, however subtly, before going on with his show. The headlining comedian, by the way, was Andrew Dice Clay. Enough said; I guess Clay's unreservedly vulgar, lowlife comedy inspires that kind of behavior in general.

And Saturday and Sunday I worked two double shifts. Saturday, I worked two performances of Jesus Christ Superstar, with Ted Neeley, the Jesus of Norman Jewison's 1973 movie version, giving what sounded like a farewell tour of sorts, according to the ads of the two performances I've seen. And today, I had to usher two marathon dance recitals. It's that time of the State Theatre season, I guess; dance schools all over the state have to put on their end-of-year revues for the parents to fawn over. I worked a bunch of them last season; some were vastly more organized than others. Today's two three-hour marathons were, at the very least, efficient, moving quickly from one dance number to another with a minimum of fuss. And I encountered very little trouble from the patrons this time around.

In short, five shifts in three days. Well, I did say I'd be available all three days, so the house manager used that information accordingly when scheduling me. It's okay, really: as long as I'm getting paid, fine by me. But I won't be surprised if, a couple of days down the line, my legs start to feel all sore from all the standing and straining I did on them these past couple of days.

One thing I notably missed in wasting my legs away at the State Theatre: Spider-Man 3. Apparently it set some kind of record on opening day. I liked the first two Spider-Man films quite a bit, so I'm hoping I'll be able to see it before I leave for Temple University next Sunday. The early reviews have been disappointing, though: many of them suggest that this is an uninspired, lackluster, and overstuffed continuation of the touching, resonant Peter Parker saga. I was afraid of that; Spider-Man 2 seemed to already complete the saga rather beautifully, and so maybe this third film can't help but seem like a greedy money grab, however much Sam Raimi and company try to infuse it with self-importance and soul. Well, I'll reserve judgment until I see it for myself.

Boy, it feels like it's been ages since I've been inside a movie theater. Maybe I've just become more choosy with the films I see. Either I'm just becoming a pretentious shit, or I'm just becoming overly money- and/or time-conscious. (For me here in East Brunswick, it's such a pain to travel to and from the city---not to mention a minor financial burden, unless I'm getting reimbursed somehow for my travels.) Whatever the case may be...I already skipped 300 out of total lack of interest; I'll probably skip Pirates of the Caribbean 3 for the same reason. (I might have skipped Grindhouse, too, if I didn't feel a senior thesis-inspired obligation to see it just to see what Quentin Tarantino had in store for all of us in his Death Proof. Turns out he had something much more interesting---heck, almost Godardian, I'd say---to offer than I expected; the unexpectedly excellent Death Proof is definitely something I'd like to write about in a future entry.) Besides, all the genuinely interesting stuff seems to be almost exclusively in New York City anyway---The Host, for instance, or Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new Thai film Syndromes and a Century. I've heard a lot of good stuff about Julie Christie in that new Sarah Polley film Away From Her; maybe that'll come to Princeton soon, because the film---dealing in part with both the nature of love and Alzheimer's---looks quite stimulating.

Anyway, I will hopefully be back soon with a longer, deeper post on things semester- and/or arts-related.