Super Communication With the Help of Superheroes

When Jordan started watching the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series on Netflix, I thought it was so endearing that he was watching kid shows. I’d hear some of the over the top action-y music or some of the cheesyish lines and giggle in an “isn’t he adorable” sort of way.

But—serves me right—pretty soon I was sucked in too. The thing is that the series actually have some pretty compelling plot lines and they deal with subjects that are way more complicated than what you’d expect in a cartoon. Plus I fell in love with so many of the characters. Batman (I connect better with cartoon Batman than with movie Batman for some reason, though I do like both), Green Arrow, Black Canary, Vigilante… (I like Justice League Unlimited best because of the variety of great characters in it.)

This week I’ve been tutoring a Korean boy in English while he’s here visiting his aunt. We’ll call him “Cool Guy” since that is a phrase he likes a lot and since he is a cool guy and since I don’t want to give his real name. Mostly my job is to get him talking and teach him more English in the course of the conversation. I tutored him last year and I knew he loved super heroes (What 7 year old doesn’t?) so this year that has been our focus.

He has a book all about Superman through the ages. It highlights some other characters too, like the core heroes from Justice League Unlimited and I couldn’t help feeling ridiculously proud of myself for knowing so much about all of it.

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We talked about who they all are and what their special powers are. Then I pulled out the free copy of part 1 of the “All Star Superman” story that we got when we went to Las Vegas Comic Con. The first day it was a combination of telling the story as I showed Cool Guy the pictures and asking him questions about what he saw on the page.

“Who is that?”
“Superman.”
“What is he flying into?”
“The sun.”

Today I made him show me the pictures and tell me the story all by himself. He did a really good job.

“This is Superman. Superman is sick. That is a doctor.”

Since Cool Guy’s English is basic and my Korean is limited, we had to rely on “work arounds” in our communication. Ways of describing things that aren’t always accurate but mean about the same thing.

Cool Guy trying to explain how Lex Luther is remotely controlling another man that he’s basically turned into a monster: “That is Lex Luther. That is a Lex Luther robot.”

Other than the fact that Cool Guy is pretty much a tiny little genius (and hilarious to boot) what struck me was the power of a few pictures to tell a story. And even more than that, the power of a story to transcend, at least somewhat, barriers between language and culture.

It was also a reminder of how our experiences surrounding a story influence how we feel about it. Sitting down and talking Superman with Cool Guy has created very specific memories that will probably keep coming to mind when I see a Superman movie or read a Superman comic. I will remember how in our “Draw and Explain” segment today Cool Guy very meticulously drew every part of Superman’s costume, even the little curl of hair at his forehead, and I will smile about it and I will like Superman a little more because of the memory.

Life Aquatic and the Subtle Amidst the Loud

This was my laptop desktop image during my year in the MFA. Jordan put it on my computer, and it reminded me 1) that I have a cool husband and 2) to keep dreaming big.

This was my laptop desktop image during my year in the MFA. Jordan put it on my computer, and it reminded me 1) that I have a cool husband and 2) to keep dreaming big.

Watched Life Aquatic again, years after watching it for the first time. First, I have to say — I forgot how SAD it was. When we hit play, I did not expect to have my face drenched in tears before it ended. Somehow I’d completely blocked the sad part out of my memory and it came as a pretty big shock.

But the sad part is really not what I wanted to talk about. When I think about Wes Anderson as a director, what stands out the most are his exaggerated characters, his eye-popping production design, his picture-book-like cinematography. It’s all so noticeable and loud (and always so pleasing to the eye on so many levels), but watching Life Aquatic this time reminded me where Wes’ genius really lies:

Even though his characters are always so bigger-than-life and so odd, the relationships between characters—what’s going on between them—is handled more subtlely. It’s not that you can’t see the filmmaker’s hand there too. Just like everything you see on screen, just about every word feels like it’s there for a purpose. It’s definitely scripted.

The genius of it though, I think, is that to understand what the story is really about, you have to look past all the oh-so-satisfying “noise” of the production and examine the story being told in the tension between sentences, in the direction of someone’s gaze, in what’s not being said.

That’s one reason that several days after watching what might come across to some people as a silly, weird little movie, I am still thinking about the equally silly and weird characters and contemplating what it is that they’ve taught me about life and myself.

 

My Personal Soundtrack, Whether I Like It or Not

You know those songs that always get stuck in your head? You find yourself singing them when you wake up in the morning, in the shower, as you’re puttering around your house even though you haven’t actually heard them for years?

I made a little list of a few of the ones that have stuck with me over the years.

Peter Bjorn And John’s oh-so-chill “Young Folk.”

“Father Christmas” from the movie musical Scrooge. (Yes, I sing it with a bad British accent.) Oh man, I wish it was Christmas so I could watch this whole movie.

“Mr. Sandman,” which I have loved ever since I was a wee baby. (Kudos to whoever made this simple and adorable video.)

This silly song that was taught to me as a kid. It goes “Aye, Aye, Aye, Aye, in China they never grow chilly,” but a couple years ago I learned that it’s actually a really awesome Mexican song and I wish that it was this awesome version that got stuck in my head but, alas, tis not. Here’s a version of the limerick that is as ridiculous as the limerick itself.

And here is the real song, “Cielito Lindo”:

Everyone’s got at least one Disney classic in their repertoire, right? Mine is “Prince Ali” from Aladdin.

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” This is on account of it being in one of my favorite movies, Shooting Fish.

Here’s the trailer for the movie. “All praise to the quick-release trousers.” (Oh, Jez.)

“Here Comes the Sun.” Of course, I freaking love The Beatles, but I also have a pretty funny story that goes with this song. Back in the day before Saddam Hussein had been captured, I’d had the song stuck in my head for WEEKS and then I had this crazy vivid dream where I was swimming with my brother (who was actually serving in Iraq at the time) in one of Saddam’s palatial pools (don’t ask why). Then Saddam came to swim with us and he asked if we wanted to see his underwater aquarium. In my discomfort at being with Saddam I started sort of nervously singing “Here Comes the Sun” as we were heading into the aquarium and Saddam got WAY excited that I like the Beatles. He said, “That is a good song, but my personal favorite is ‘Hey, Jude.'” And then he started singing it. The end.

I couldn’t find a clip of THE Beatles playing the song, but here’s at least two of them (plus some friends–but hey, Ringo’s been known to get high with a little help from them). George’s hair = amazing.