Friday, August 28, 2015

"The Maze Runner" Movie: A Review *all the spoiler alerts*

It opens in blackness, in confines that lapse memory, to a prison-esque experiment called "The Maze." 

Thomas, the gifted prodigy, and newest member of the Glade community finds himself in a strange world where lost boys have created a civilization surrounded by an unsolvable maze. His arrival triggers important changes in the previously routine society.

And that is where the connections end.

The book, true to its dystopic young adult genre, chronicles a world which functions in the hands of Draconian scientists - The Creators. Monitored by Beetle-blades, citizens of the Glade are constantly under the watchful eye of the Creators; a fact the boys know, but only on a surface level. The relationship with the Creators seems symbiotic: once a month a new boy; once a month new supplies; it never rains; the Maze always shuts at night; the Grievers - the Maze's mechanical and modern take on Minautors -  mostly never come out during the day.

The book knows where the true villain lies - in the hearts of the Creators, who have subjected teenagers to a series of vicious and deadly experiments with the noble intention of making the recently destroyed Earth a better place. When the going gets bad in the novel, the community - save Gally, a chronic dissenter, and Alby, a recent dissenter - sticks together and perseveres for the greater good and the greater goal: to find a way out of the may. This rectitude and acumen, we later learn, deems this experiment successful.

Instead of focusing on the communal integrity and perspicacity of this young group, the director of the film allows the community to divide when there is a problem, all the runners (except Minho, the Keeper of the Runners) to quit when the going gets tough, and for the Mensa-esque crowd to never actually have to be intelligent. Rather, Minho and Thomas find in the mutilated carcass of a Griever a golden ticket that magically opens a new part of the maze, which the community walks right out of. Furthermore, once the walls of the Maze fail to shut - signaling the beginning of the end - Gally overthrows the once-autonomous collective and tells them, "Good luck against the Grievers." The film's choice to focus on this places the culpability on the Grievers instead of the Creators. In fact, in the book, Minho tells Thomas that the Grievers are mean, but they're not too bright. The Creators, on the other hand, have devised an entire world where Goliath maze walls shift in the middle of the night, people arrive via a box and are zapped of their memory, and small beetles broadcast the Gladers' every move.

While I concede that there are many elements of the novel that would have been difficult to communicate on screen - Thomas and Theresa's telepathic connection, the fact that Thomas can remember certain things, but not other things, the hatred Thomas feels towards the Creators for inflicting this burden on a group of children - many other thematic elements of the novel could have been easily conveyed; namely the Draconian nature of the Creators in contrast with the dauntlessness of the Gladers.

Instead, the movie chose to appeal to, let's just say, a broader audience. Absent of any of the subtleties and, really, the point, the movie was action-packed, and that's about it. My suggestion? Read the book.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Observations With Caryl (Part of the "Teaching" Chronicles)


She's got me thinking that I am perfection.
 Everything about her
Looks a little frayed and muddled,
From her ashy blonde hair that bobs at her shoulders
To the look of concern and bewilderment
Always gracing the foreground of her face.
Nothing hides in the corners of her mouth
Or the gleam in her eyes.
Lips slightly parted and head tilted
She takes notes, she listens, she watches --
Not like a hawk or a cat with feverish intent -
But with the glowing admiration of a puppy
Waiting patiently for its ball.

For Yagis With Chalk On His Hands: a Sestina (Part of the "Teaching" Chronicles)

Everything has turned to blue.
The dust has covered the surface,
Like fairy powder, it is soft,
But it taints the air and colors the wind,
And since you smeared it on your own hand,
I'm sorry, but you cannot wash it off.

The blue from your hand has smeared the table's surface.
I know it will come off
With a strong gust of wind
Or the brush of something soft.
Perhaps as hand,
If it is not blue.

You may throw your breath on the wind -
Say it loud, whisper soft -
I can see your hand.
I can see that it is undeniably blue.
But, child, it is just on the surface.
You got it on there, and you will get it off.

But not now. Now the surface is stained blue.
Thank you for showing us how chalk can color your small, soft hand,
Hold your hand to the wind. You're not washing it off.

Enter the Patriarchy

There is no need, I think, for women to define themselves by men. The idea of relinquishing your name after marriage - as if your prenuptial identity was something transient and you weren't truly defined until you became a Mrs. - seems archaic and phony to me. The practice of covering your hair or your body from head to toe because everything under the fabric is only for your man makes me feel as if women will never be taken seriously. I do accept these things in stride; it is not for me to make life decisions for any other woman. But as a woman who notices and feels the perpetual encroachment of a patriarchy, however subtle (and often not), I do feel obliged to share my experiences.

Today several of the foreign teachers had to run some mundane errands around Bursa - registering our addresses, getting online banking set up. At our first stop, we were declaring our residence. Cement walls, stained a light pinkish color, gave the whole place the feel of a well lit and overcompensating subway station. A translator, who had put all necessary paperwork together, lead Jake and me to the desk. A woman who sat behind s pane of glass with a large circle in it gave Jake his papers. He signed in two places and she confirmed his identity by looking at him, at his ID card, and back again. She handed me my paper. I signed where she indicated and handed them back to her. Then she handed my paper to Jake and indicated that he should sign my paper, too.

Confused, I asked, "Why didn't I sign his paper?"

The translator sort of smiled and sort of giggled and said, "He is your husband," as if that were a totally acceptable answer. As if I cannot be trusted to sign my own paper. As if my signature isn't valid unless his is there, too.

I know this seems like a small thing. I know many of you are thinking I'm blowing this out of proportion and that I should think about where I am or really consider whether this small act is of any actual substance.

Make of it what you will. I'm just sharing my experience.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some Enchanted Evening

Since arriving in Turkey, we have, in the timeless words of Blanche, been depending on the kindness of strangers. Yesterday was no exception.

We have been receiving incredible help and support from a colleague, Tonguc, in setting up our internet. He has driven us to the company, given the company his phone number (in our absence of both Turkish and a working phone), and has been offering his time to help us translate in this matter.

Long story short, Jake and I were told that someone would be there to set up our internet on Thursday or Friday night. Thursday came and went with no internet, but on Friday, Tonguc called the company and they said it was all set.

Alas, no.

So, Saturday, we trek over to the Internet cafe - a dingy two-room computer hovel where League of Legends has a shortcut on the desktop - so we can communicate a bit with you lovely people and do a little bit of work. We're there for maybe 10 minutes when Tonguc Facebook messages Jake to ask about the internet. Upon receiving Jake's response, Tonguc calls up the company and says, "Go home. Someone will be there in a couple of hours."

I sign off. Jake continues to type to Tonguc who eventually encourages Jake again to "Go home." On our way home, we meet the service guy who calls Tonguc so we can communicate. Great? Great. The guy parks his car, ready to bring us back to the 21st century. We're walking into the building when one of our neighbors, whom we hadn't yet met - greets us in English.

"If you need some help, I can help you," she says.

Let's face it: we do need help.

So, we, Ezgi (our neighbor), and Yaris (the tech guy) trek the four flights up to our apartment.

The next part of the story is quite dull and, to save you the time being bored out of your gourd, basically involves the perpetual failing of our internet.

"Do not worry," says Ezgi. "You can come use ours."

So we follow her across the platform to her building, ascend the four flights, and are welcomed into Ezgi's mother's home.

Recently divorced and ready to take on the town, Ezgi's mother loves Barack Obama and hates George Bush. Instant connection.

She brings me water and sits with us as we surf the Web a little bit. When Baris - her 14 year old son comes - he is excited to show Jake wrestling videos on YouTube and, in a moment of indelible enthusiasm, attempts to show Jake spoilers from Season 5 of Game of Thrones, which we haven't seen yet.

Saved by Ezgi.

The balcony invites a welcome breeze, and the day is incredibly pleasant; the type of day where the sun doesn't shine and you don't really miss it.

Ezgi's mother announces that we will stay for dinner. Not so much of an invitation as a proclamation.

Soup - corba - is the first course. "It's potatoes and..." Ezgi's eyes search the ceiling for the translation, "something Turkish."

Ezgi's mother sets the second course in front of me almost as soon as I'd finished my soup.

"In Turkish, pilaf," she says.

"In English, pilaf," I respond.

"Ah-hah!" She iterates a distinctly Turkish sound of recognition. "No problem!"

Ezgi's mother knows slightly more English than we know Turkish, and Ezgi is the only one with a command of both languages, but the conversation is natural and fun. We discuss politics, religion, race, gender issues, and ideology, only to discover that we have corresponding opinions.

The sun sets over Bursa and the mosques alight - a bizarre Cinderella's castle.

"I shall teach you how to play Tavlar!" Ezgi exclaims.

No complaints from us. We love games.

She comes back a few seconds later and places the board in front of us and we can't help laughing.

It's a backgammon board.

Four games, three cups of Turkish cay, and several hours later, Ezgi has beaten us four games straight.