“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself”
What makes something a favorite? Is it the way it relates to you personally? Specifically? There aren’t a whole lot of stories/movies/books about Asian Australian Mormons around, so I don’t really jive with that definition. There must be something more.
Most of the things I’ve listed below have impacted me in some significant way, whether through sheer emotion, amazing detail and craftsmanship, or just plain romance. Perhaps through writing about them, we can find out a little more about that unknowable quality that makes any creative output a person’s favorite.
Joanna Newsom – YS
There are few things in music that I would call perfect. Revolver by The Beatles is probably perfect. Juicy by The Notorious B.I.G. is perfect, no doubt. Joanna Newsom’s brave, stunning Ys is the highest concentration of perfection you can find on two wax discs.
Emily is my favorite song. I remember hearing it for the first time and being blown away, by both the intellectual rigor and the stellar songwriting, and the bizarre arrangements (courtesy of the legend Van Dye Parks), but more than anything, the core emotional impact, of missing one’s home and one’s youth, of dwelling on memories.
Squint skyward and listen —
loving him, we move within his borders:
just asterisms in the stars’ set order.
Martin McDonagh – The Pillowman
This play centers around the life of a fiction writer in a totalitarian future. Themes of storytelling, childhood, and one’s own legacy abound. McDonagh, as always, writes so naturally yet so perfectly, that every line is a joy to read — every moment is savored. There are no lulls and no boring parts. That’s the mark of a great writer.
This play especially, and McDonagh’s overall approach, are large influences on my own writing.
Alfonso Cuaron – Y Tu Mama Tambien
Sex and death. Apparently most stories boil down to one or the other. Cuaron manages to blend them both, as both appear frequently in Y Tu Mama Tambien, but through this discussion is able to create a sense of a third — life. Yes, we all will die, our lives and livelihoods are never a given, rather a faint and delicate and impossible to protect speck on the uncaring back of the world, but even though everything ends and we rush to that end, we must celebrate life and being alive.
Moments of in-camera montage, long immersive shots, powerful performances, and a recurring omniscient narrator show us that there is so much more to life than just being alive.
T. S. Eliot – The Death of Saint Narcissus
Come under the shadow of this gray rock –
Come in under the shadow of this gray rock,
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow sprawling over the sand at daybreak, or
Your shadow leaping behind the fire against the red rock:
I will show you his bloody cloth and limbs
And the gray shadow on his lips.
Eliot is not my favorite poet — he’s too academic and stiff, even though there is a great deal of beauty in what he writes. There isn’t enough playfulness for me to truly enjoy his poems beyond recognizing them as great. This poem, however, is one of few I have read in recent memory that has taken me to another place and made me feel wholly invested in that place.
Layering emotive imagery with a strong undercurrent of the life and death of an ancient martyr, as well as his own presumed experience, Eliot weaves a moving, honest portrait of the hopelessly human.
Raf Simons – De Stijl Hiking Boots
I’ve been invested in sneaker culture since my mum bought me a pair of Chuck Taylor Lows in 9th grade. It was the first piece of clothing I’d ever owned that I’d liked. That sparked a thus far lifelong obsession with sneakers and footwear, as well as fashion in general.
Raf Simons’ De Stijl Hiker Boot, affectionately referred to by fans as the “Lego Hiker”, is such a bizarre melding of disparate materials that somehow create a pleasing gestalt. Very hard to find, and I think never actually officially released, the boot is a holy grail in every sense of the word, and among my favorite pieces of footwear (though I sadly don’t own a pair).
Katsuhiro Otomo – Akira
This manga should be a reference material for anybody wanting to tell visual stories. The panel by panel progression is enough to justify the purchase. Here’s how Otomo does it:
- Establish Universe (the wide sense of where the scene takes place.)
- Establish World (the narrow sense of where we are.)
- Establish Scene (major players, what’s going on.)
- Anticipation of action.
That’s the formula, those are the building blocks, the whole thing is a classical example of masterful storytelling. The rhythm and the pace is such that it is inherently pleasing just to read it. Pick it up now, and enjoy not only an amazing story and some great characters, but a true master of the form consciously making his greatest work.
Can – Ege Bamyasi
What a song! What an album. CAN were one of the finest Krautrock groups ever, and vocalist Damo Suzuki has such a distinctive delivery. It’s hard to listen to it and think it was released in the 60s.
This is one of those bands in which every instrument and every sound is constantly doing something great, and listening to the album and following each “strand” of music is deeply rewarding.
Junot Diaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
It was like being at the bottom of an ocean, she said. There was no light and a whole ocean crushing down on you. But most people had gotten so used to it they thought it normal, they forgot even that there was a world above.
This book was really close to my adolescent experience, though I was from the suburbs rather than the ghettos Diaz writes about. It’s a weird thing being able to read a story about a young non-white kid trying to find his place in the world. There is some of that relatability I mentioned earlier.
While I don’t really freak out over lack of representation in mainstream media, I do find it refreshing and enjoyable to read something that I can relate to so closely, and to watch people on screen that look like me, or read words from authors that speak like me. On the flip side, it can be dangerous to only read things that relate to you — art should push boundaries, not reinforce them.
Ivan Kramskoy – Christ in the Desert
I love Mormon art but a lot of it leaves us with an impression of the Savior that I feel is, at times, not enough. We shun the suffering-laden paintings of other denominations, believing in Christ’s life. But at the same time, we do ourselves a disservice by focusing purely on His joys and happiness.
Kramskoy was an art-school dropout, too rebellious and caustic to work within any organization. I love this painting for its emotional impact. It forces empathy. It is such a strong reminder of the ways in which the Savior suffered for us, and captures that pain and suffering in a calm, dignified manner.
Dallin H Oaks – Revelation
“The Lord will not leave us unassisted when a choice is important to our eternal welfare.”
This talk was literally life changing. I printed out a copy on a P Day and pored over it daily, putting it into practice. I would highly recommend every member of the church to do the same, as it can and should change your life in bringing you closer to your God.
Revelation is a living reality, God cares about us and our goals and aspirations, He knows us better than we know ourselves. We cannot truly love ourselves unless we understand and comprehend the way that our Savior and our God loves us. We cannot understand or comprehend that until we hear it ourselves, by the Spirit, from the mouth of the Creator. And when we do hear it, it changes us irrevocably for the better, and delivers a happiness and peace that cannot be counterfeited by the world. This talk will get you there.