I’m a sucker for good commencement speeches

I’m not sure how many of you had it on your pop culture radars this week that TV writer Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Greys Anatomy, delivered a knock-out commencement address at her alma mater, Dartmouth. I read every word of the speech just totally enthralled. Because public speaking? It is hard, yo (especially when you’re doing it in front of a whole audience of young adults, many of whom are hung over, as Shonda so aptly lampoons). I work in higher education and have had great conversations with many academics about the power of a good commencement speech: the messages it conveys, the feelings it should invoke, the type of people who should give it. It’s no easy feat, which is why I was all the more impressed with Shonda’s inspirational turn.

Here is what she has to say about DREAMING versus DOING (I’m SO passionate about this topic because I couldn’t agree more with her!):

I think a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing. The dreamers. They stare at the sky and they make plans and they hope and they talk about it endlessly. And they start a lot of sentences with “I want to be …” or “I wish.”

“I want to be a writer.” “I wish I could travel around the world.”

And they dream of it. The buttoned-up ones meet for cocktails and they brag about their dreams, and the hippie ones have vision boards and they meditate about their dreams. Maybe you write in journals about your dreams or discuss it endlessly with your best friend or your girlfriend or your mother. And it feels really good. You’re talking about it, and you’re planning it. Kind of. You are blue-skying your life. And that is what everyone says you should be doing. Right? I mean, that’s what Oprah and Bill Gates did to get successful, right?

No.

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change. So, Lesson One, I guess is: Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. Maybe you know exactly what it is you dream of being, or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams are not real. Just … do. So you think, “I wish I could travel.” Great. Sell your crappy car, buy a ticket to Bangkok, and go. Right now. I’m serious.

And her thoughts on being a working mom, which resonated so deeply with me, in a way that I feel few other women in positions such as hers detail so eloquently:

I want my daughters to see me and know me as a woman who works. I want that example set for them. I like how proud they are when they come to my offices and know that they come to Shondaland. There is a land and it is named after their mother. In their world, mothers run companies. In their world, mothers own Thursday nights. In their world, mothers work. And I am a better mother for it. The woman I am because I get to run Shondaland, because I get write all day, because I get to spend my days making things up, that woman is a better person—and a better mother. Because that woman is happy. That woman is fulfilled. That woman is whole. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who didn’t get to do this all day long. I wouldn’t want them to know the me who wasn’t doing.

If you can, you should read her entire speech or watch it online (Vulture has both posted). Here’s to a season of inspired words being bestowed upon our country’s best and brightest (a pocket of individuals I care so very much about) And because I think writers tend to give the BEST commencement speeches, below is a round-up of some of my other favorite commencement addresses in recent years.

George Saunders on Kindness: “Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.”

Neil Gaiman on Making Good Art: “Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I’ve known, that’s been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through … the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

John Green for Butler University: “We may be taught that the people to admire and emulate are actors and musicians and sports heroes and professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually change actual lives, relatively few of them are publicly celebrated. We do not think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We do not think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to sacrifice for us—so willing, at times, that we might not have even noticed that they were making sacrifices.”

And Kurt Vonnegut’s speech, “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?” along with a whole round-up of other great ones!

My 2013 Favorites (of Everything Else)

Last month I debated on putting together a cheat sheet of my favorite “things” from all of 2013. Then I got busy (life happens…especially with a one year old to follow around the house, picking up a tornado of toys in his wake) and forgot about it. Then my sweet friend (and former bride!) Valerie made a comment about how much she was looking forward to said lists.

So, Val, maybe this post (my LAST about 2013 folks, I PROMISE) will be making its way to an audience of one, but dang, it’s been fun to look back on the year in pop culture that was. Here below are some of my favorites from 2013 in books, film and television. Ready for some “homework”? ;)

FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth: Friends, you MUST have at these. The hottest YA series since The Hunger Games and the first in the series, Divergent, is coming to the big screen this spring. Theo James as Four? YES PLEASE.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell: It’s impossible not to fall in love with these two. The end of this leaves room for a sequel and let’s hope so — these two characters are too hard to part with!

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: When people ask me about my favorite read in 2013, this novel — which follows a cast of interesting characters through the latter half of the 20th century and does it SO DAMN WELL — is it.

Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey: The YA dystopia thing has about been done to death, but I promise you there’s room for one more — this time with a young protagonist named Cass who’s taking on an alien invasion. SO readable.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes: Speaking of readable, you will NOT want to put down this tear-jerker of a love story.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This book isn’t perfect, the plot could drag at times, but it’s one of the most original stories (both in concept and structure) I’ve ever laid my hands on.

The Circle by Dave Eggers: Imagine if the world’s most powerful social media-tech companies combined (think Google, Facebook and Apple) and you’d have the makings of the plot for this brilliant book. It’s CHILLING to think we might be headed in this direction, folks. Like a modern 1984 for the 21st century. (and now that I’ve read this book, I think of it every time I see news like this — soooo eerie).

You can check out more of my reads from 2013 here on GoodReads.

FAVORITE TV SHOWS

Arrested Development (2013 season): When Netflix agreed to bringing the Bluths back, I was SO on board. They didn’t disappoint, bringing their hilarity back in a mind-bending handful of new episodes that kept viewers on their toes trying to keep up (the Tobias-as-predator storyline was my favorite)

Orange is the New Black: Oh man…this show. Is it raunchy at times? Yes. But does it also look at a fascinating world few of us know little about? And look at said world well? Hell yes. SO good.

Scandal: So Scandal wasn’t new in 2013, but I feel like THIS was the year that EVERYONE started watching. With good reason, of course. Fellow gladiators, suit up! :)

Top of the Lake: I was THRILLED when Elisabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men) won best actress for her role in this incredible BBC miniseries. Catch this on Netflix when you’re looking for something new (it’s a 5-episode miniseries).

Orphan Black: Nick and I ended 2013 falling HARD for the actress Tatiana Maslany who plays, like, seven clones in this fascinating series that’s one big game of cat-and-mouse. Probably my favorite TV show of 2013.

FAVORITE ALBUMS

Lorde—”Pure Heroine”: HOW is this girl only, like, 16? Talk about talented. My pick for favorite album of the year.

Lucius—”Wildewoman”: The way these ladies harmonize is perfection. Loved pretty much every track on this album.

Tegan and Sara—”Closer”: My taste in music in 2013 swung radically away from the folksy sounds of bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers to indie rock and pop and anything involving synthesizers (as evidence by this entire list). It all started last January when I fell HARD for this album from these twin talents (the album came out in Sept 2012, but I blame childbirth the next month for my late discovery! ;) )

HAIM—”Days Are Gone”: Another sisters act, HAIM ended 2013 as the year’s coolest band. If you haven’t listened to tracks from “Days are Gone” yet, well, get thee to iTunes and start downloading. Start with “The Wire” and go from there.

Chvrches—”The Bones of What You Believe”: Talk about the ultimate discovery for lovers of synthpop. The first time I heard Chvrches was an interview they did with NPR. I immediately came home and downloaded their debut album. “The Mother We Share” is probably in my 10 most listened to songs of 2013.

Vampire Weekend—”Modern Vampires of the City”: These boys are my FAVORITE. (and I still think about how incredible they were in concert). Their 2013 album release was probably my most listened to album of the year.

Beyoncé—”Beyoncé”: Speaking of genius, Beyonce dropping this new album of hers two weeks before Xmas with a slew of insane videos that were like …WHOA. Overall, though, this album is brilliant (and I’ve listened to it LOTS this past month), even if half of the tracks/videos made me blush.

2013 PLAYLIST

And for those of you interested and on Spotify (and if you’re not already, well, make THAT a New Year’s resolution), here’s a 2013 playlist I put together with singles from these acts above and SO much more!

FAVORITE MOVIES of 2013

Warm Bodies: This film was just so sweet to me. But really, I loved it because of my age-inappropriate crush on the tremendous British actor Nicholas Hoult. He’s so great in this.

The Great Gatsby: I didn’t LOVE this film, I admit, but yet, I had so much fun seeing it at the theaters with my girlfriends in 2013 that I had to put it on here. And you know what I did love about it? THOSE PARTY SCENES. Where’s my invite, huh?

Identity Thief: I think I had more fun with this title (which is really just so-so) because I remember watching it with my mom and collapsing together into hysterics. But it’s Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy and in the funny department, together, they’re some of my faves.

The Heat: Another fun flick of 2013 with Melissa pairing this time with Sandra Bullock. Those two together had crazy awesome buddy chemistry. I have a girl crush on Sandra. I mean, that woman is going to be FIFTY this year. Watch this film and tell me she’s not redefining that age for women!

The End: Oh this film is ALL boy. Raunchy raunchy boy. But I got to see it over a holiday with Nick and my brother Jeff and I think I had more fun with it because it let me get in a little laugh-’til-we-cry bonding with one of my siblings more than anything else. The cast though….pretty hysterical.

The Spectacular Now: A spectacular film, start to finish. When y’all fall in love with Shailene Woodley this year (thanks to Divergent and Fault in Our Stars), go back and see this if you haven’t already to keep the girl crush alive.

Enough Said: So sad that this was James Gandolfini’s last film. He and Julia Louis Dreyfus are just adorable together in this in such a way that feels so true to life.

The Bling Ring: I spent two hours after this movie chasing down all the real details behind its absurdity. SO fascinating.

Before Midnight: I held out on watching the last film of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy because I loved Jesse and Celine SO much and hated to part with them. This last film sees their perfect on-screen coupling hit rocky times, but man, even THAT they do well. Brilliant acting from Julie Delphy and Ethan Hawke. Never seen an on-screen couple with more REAL chemistry in my life.

About Time: Fell SO in love with this Richard Curtis film. Thanks in large part to Bill Nighy’s touching performance and a storyline that pulled hard at my (parental) heartstrings.

42: Who doesn’t love a good sports movie? This Disney flick about the late Jackie Robinson will give you goosebumps like, every 10 minutes. PERFECT family film.

Catching Fire: I mean, come on, didn’t we ALL see this in 2013? And didn’t it cement our love of Jennifer Lawrence that much more? (Also…hellooooo Finnick. Perfect casting there ;) )

American Hustle: David Russell may have tried to make Christian Bale look fugly in this, but his eyes were still mesmerizing to me …as mesmerizing as every other member of this talented ensemble cast. Wowzers.

2013 MOVIES I CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH in 2014

And here’s a peek at those films I didn’t get to see in 2013, but that will be a priority in the new year! I LOVE award season – so much good art to take in at the cinema or at home on DVD!

 

Gatsby, Gatsby, Gatsby: Are you Ready, Old Sport?

You guys!!! It’s almost here! The movie event I’ve been waiting (like so many of you) MONTHS for is nearly upon us! The Great Gatsby premieres Friday and I’d love to know, do you plan on seeing it too?

I won’t be making it to opening night (boo!) but have plans for a weekday girls’ get-together soon to take in the film in all its 3-D splendor. I don’t even care that the critics aren’t being kind in their reviews … this is one I have to see for myself. I’ve been enamored with the novel since high school, the Jazz Age (and all its excesses and failings) is my favorite time period in American history and I lurrrvvvve Baz Luhrmann. With this cast, too, I just have a hard time understanding how this can go wrong!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to soak up all the ways in which Gatsby (Gatsby? What Gatsby?) has become this nation’s latest pop culture craze.

A round-up for you, if you please …

And just curious, how many of you are re-reading the book? I picked it up this week for the first time in years and am struck at how much I still love the story. I am such a fan of the way F. Scott Fitzgerald crafts sentences— a true literary genius. I have my old copy with the iconic cover that I love so much, but I found this New York Times story on the controversy over the book with the film’s tie-in cover to be an especially interesting one.

In keeping up with my trend of making May the month of all things Fitzgerald, next up on my reading list is Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, a new release by author Therese Ann Fowler. I have an obsession with the creatives who made up the Lost Generation (their spouses as well) and I have a feeling this book will hold my attention every bit as much (possibly more) as The Paris Wife did a few years back!

 

 

It’s Mad Men Season Again!

Wellllllllll, did you all watch last night’s Season 6 premiere? What’d you think? Admittedly, as someone who is a HUGE fan of the show, I was disappointed (as I know many others were). It felt….slooowwwwww, right? My boss (knowing I’m a Mad Men connoisseur) even felt compelled to pop his head in my office this morning to ask, “Did I miss a season on Netflix or something?” He, too, felt as if we viewers weren’t getting a full story to start this new season — just odd little peeks at life since we left this gang last year.

But for those of you who’ve binge watched your way through the first five seasons of Mad Men, have faith! When you watch this series in real time, it’s a slow burn kind of viewing experience. At times, you can be so angry with its wunder-creator Matt Weiner for drawing its storylines out. But in a few months, if you were to go back and binge watch this season, I’m confident you’d be just as hooked as you were with all the rest!

So what were your stand-out moments from the premiere? How about that CREEPY conversation Betty had with her husband? Or what about Don losing his lunch at Roger’s mother’s funeral? I got really confused at the way they shot the doorman’s heart attack…oh, and if you, too, were thinking the woman Don ends the episode with looked familiar, well, that’s because it was Linda Cardellini (from Freaks and Geeks and ER)!

And the real reason I’m writing this post is to share with you that if I’ve learned anything from watching Mad Men religiously over the past five years, it’s that the Internet LOVES to talk about Mad Men. Every Monday, I look forward to the following reviews of the show —which ALWAYS make me think a little harder about (and love just a little more) this fabulous TV series! Oh, and in addition to these two sites below, this Vulture interview with Weiner on the premiere was a must-read for me! (Vulture also has their own page for all things Mad Men, just FYI)

FAVORITE MAD MEN REVIEWS & COMMENTARIES

What’s Alan Watching: Alan Sepinwall is my favorite TV critic on the Internet. His articulate, thoughtful reviews of Mad Men were what hooked me to following him on Twitter — but I also loved following his reviews for Friday Night Lights too … the man has good taste in what works on TV. I promise you his thoughts on the show will be part of your watercooler buzz if you let them….(Case in point: His observations about the lighter getting switched in last night’s premiere? TOTALLY missed the significance of that! Not to mention the way Alan helped point out all the doorways used in an episode titled as such…)

Tom and Lorenzo: This fabulous gay twosome delivers amazing commentary on Mad Men too. Their reviews of each episode are always, always must-reads for me. But even better than their reviews? The way they deconstruct, episode by episode, the characters’ wardrobes for the show. Don’t believe me? Pick just ONE of these style reviews from last season and prepare yourself for the obsession!

Photo source: Mashable.com

The 20/20 Experience

Seven years. We’ve waited a looooong time for Justin Timberlake to decide he could sing again, haven’t we? (I always think of this video). My running iPod now just skips over tracks from FutureSex/LoveSounds because they’ve been played and played …and played too many times. So like a lot of fans of his, I was giddy at the news of Justin’s new album, The 20/20 Experience.

After giving it a listen, can we all just agree we’re glad Mr. Timberlake is back? And back in a BIG way ( I’m already excited to hear about his plans to release a second 20/20 album later this year). Did I love all the tracks? Ehhhh…not necessarily. Strawberry Bubblegum—with its ridiculous lyrics and Barry White overtones—made me roll my eyes a bit. But on the flip side, I looooove Pusher Love Girl, That Girl (no doubt about his new wife, Jessica), and Mirrors. Overall, it’s nice to see Justin delivering an album that’s as smooth and polished as this new crooner image of his.

For those of you giddy souls who joined me in giving the album a good listen today, I’d love to know what you thought! What tracks stood out to you? I admit I was missing the club/dance vibe of FutureSex/LoveSounds, but I can get down with this soulful version of JT, too. Oh, and how many of you actually bought the CD/vinyl album of 20/20? I saw a couple folks mention on social media today this is the first CD they’ve bought in years. Crazy!