this is moneyball

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland A’s, and his biggest problem is putting together a winning team on a minimal budget, especially when teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are buying out his most valuable players. Billy is tired, frustrated, and resigned to the fact that the flow of money also determines the flow of the “best” players, so when he comes across a new method of configuring baseball teams through statistical analysis, he instantly latches onto it. This new method comes by way of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), who is pudgy and socially awkward and has recently graduated from Yale with a degree in economics.

The plot is highly predictable but enjoyable. Billy Beane’s new methodology goes against all traditional processes of choosing players, which not only upsets the scouts but brings him negative press—in part because if Billy does succeed, the entire game of baseball is threatened: the fear that sport is not about talent but about statistics would be realized. Yet his methodology does succeed in part—and Peter Brand helps him realize this success.

Beyond the plot however, the most compelling part of the movie was the character development of Billy Beane and then Peter Brand, who is in some way Beane’s foil. Billy Beane is past the brink of glory, a could-be baseball success story who failed miserably after choosing the big leagues over a college education. Still, Billy Beane is the “cool guy,” who is brash, hard-headed, and at times unwieldy. Peter Brand is brainy without Beane’s brawn, and he is initially portrayed as timid and meek. But what I found interesting was the way each character’s confidence was unraveled: Beane’s confidence is so concentrated at the surface—in his interactions with the scouts, in his brazenness, in his quick decisions—yet he is unable to let go of his failed past. This inability is probably the biggest blow to his confidence. Brand, on the other hand, is taciturn not because of a lack of confidence in his beliefs, but a lack of courage that impedes action (and his character reeks of repression). Beane and Brand are at once foils and complements, and they educate one another in both explicit and implicit ways. Sometimes Brand’s character felt two-dimensional though, and I wanted to see more of him—I wanted more complexity and depth. But for what it’s worth, as someone who has little to no interest in baseball, this movie kept me engaged all the way through—much thanks to Billy Beane and Peter Brand.


this is marcy may martha marlene

The Catskills. I think about that life sometimes. A life away from the city, out of suburbia, the kind of pastoral life I could find on a patch of land somewhere far from civilization. Anonymity but not the faceless anonymity of urban streets. No, I'd be tucked away somewhere, in a community, living day to day, doing simple tasks like cooking and cleaning and gardening. Quiet nights with guitar-playing and singing. Summer afternoons spent jumping into swimming hole with no clothes on, floating around in the water with other bodies feeling free and unhindered.

This picture of Arcadia is fully realized in Sean Durkin's movie Marcy May Martha Marlene. Every individual part of this Arcadia is present, yet there is something terribly wrong with this commune. At first, what we see of the commune seems merely outdated: the women are dressed in cloth-like sacks, the men in overalls; the house is dirty and wooden, and the women can eat only after the men finish doing so. But the gut feeling that there is something sick and twisted happening becomes increasingly palpable as the movie winds its way through what should be placid, bucolic images. You think to yourself that in theory, asceticism should be purifying, it should be peaceful, but what is asceticism that violates in the most terrifying, gruesome of ways? What is devotion if it it is disgusting and dignity-wrenching? And the quietness of the Catskills is haunting because you know it has the power to dwarf even the most curdling of screams - the scream that is the cry for help, the scream that devolves into a hellish gnawing.

That's what I felt during the entire movie - a hellish gnawing, brought about less by the explicit acts of sexual violence, more by the silent acceptance of it all, and mostly by the indelible nature of memory. Martha (played by Elizabeth Olsen), who is also Marcy May (her name given to her by the leader of the cult-like commune) and sometimes Marlene (the name that must be given when answering the telephone in commune) escapes the cult life and winds up in the pristine lakeside house of her older sister Lucy, whom she hasn't seen in two years. However, Martha's physical escape precludes a true mental and emotional escape, and the movie is a series of scenes that flow seamlessly between the life she left behind and the life she is trying to adopt. Even her name changes from place to place (and in this movie, name signifies ownership), and her sense of self is lost somewhere between the two. How terrifying it is that the most ordinary activities and objects and sounds become nasty triggers for a past-life that was, on the surface, dream-like, and at its essence, nightmarish. Her paranoia feels like delicate glass that is about to crack, and she is always teetering on the edge of reality - mainly because the realities of her past and present are indiscernible. At one point in the movie, Martha asks Lucy, "Do you ever have that feeling where you can't tell if something's a memory or if something's a dream?" 

The emotional narrative of the movie is complicated by both the juxtaposition of the grotesque and serene as well as the conflation of the two. It seems almost subversive that one can be injected into the other or pass from one to the other so breathlessly. Like cutting from a rape scene to one in which the rapist is singing a sweet folk song for the girl he raped. And how bodies can be so free and unhindered and be so dominated and tamed at the same time. Martha's transition away from the cult is difficult because her memories of the past two years are layered and complex, and there is no gauge for what is truly "normal" anymore - because even in the bourgeois comfort of the lake house, there is something so stifling and strange about "normal" life: the standards that govern propriety and behavior are in some ways more restrictive and narrow than those from her previous life, and so many of the quotidian rhythms: the house chores, the swimming, the gardening - those are all the same.

When you watch Marcy May Martha Marlene you are swept into both a landscape and a mindscape, the former so idyllic and picturesque, the latter so raw and unrefined. Interweaving the two together is unsettling; existing in both simultaneously is absolutely terrifying.

(*Elizabeth Olsen is absolutely magnetizing onscreen. The quiet, glazed-over countenance, the bottling of emotions that want so desperately to erupt, the way her body moves and hangs and flops, how her terror becomes your own - these are all thrilling and captivating.)



this is fragrant and floral





Serendipitously stumbled into this little flower shop while walking down Beacon Street. A curated selection of colorful flowers, mostly in glass bottles filled with water, candles, and delicate potted plants. Will become more necessary as a destination once winter arrives.

Bow Street Flowers
108 Beacon Street
Somerville, MA 02143


this is the nature of existence

This is Part II of my trip to Walden Pond.
 Retreat: (1) : an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable (2) : a place of privacy or safety : refuge

When we talk about retreat, we almost always mean going into nature. We mean escaping from our modern lives and going somewhere we consider more primal, more basic. In giving up certain forms of stimulation (e.g. technological, city crowds, store facades), we find another kind of stimulation - and this second kind of stimulation is not so easily comparable to the first. It's just as immediate, but in a different way. It can be as overwhelming, but maybe more gently so. Perhaps it is a stimulation more resonant, more powerful, more enduring. Over time, the former becomes more grating (til we consider ourselves jaded) while the latter seems to dissipate (til we tell ourselves we're bored).

It's nice to escape now and then and not think too much about where you are going or what you are going to do, finding yourself in nature and just being curious and looking around. It's nice to find yourself in a moment where you're not concerned with lofty things or big ambitions or what's next on your to-do list, to just pick red mushrooms you find on the ground and touch the funny-looking things sticking out of tree trunks.


This Saturday in September was a remnant of summertime. It was hot and a bit muggy, and Caroline and I walked the circumference of Walden Pond. It was hot and we were dirty, and a swim in the pond was not only desired but necessary. So we peeled off our clothes, shoved them into a a crevice in between the rocks on the water's edge, and tip-toed our way in. We doggy-paddled and floated around for awhile, not really thinking about much, not really talking much either. Accidentally gulping a little bit of water here and there in between gulps of air. In the water time seems to stop. Another world, another time. Physical and emotional and mental purification. Draining and rejuvenating.



The worse part of course, is getting out of the water. I like being in the water, but I hate being wet on dry land. I feel like an exposed mermaid, with water dripping out of my hair and down my back, with my damp feet picking up dirt that will stick for hours. Sweat mixes with leftover moisture from the water, and I am reminded that this retreat is over, fleeting sweetness that becomes a memorial treasure to dig out every now and then when I feel tired and worn out.