Amanda Gates
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A Musings - January 2012

I’ve always loved where I lived. From pretty much day 1, my parents exposed me to the museums, arts, sports and attractions that MSP has to offer. But I never truly appreciated it until I started working in publishing and got paid to write about our awesomeness. I learned things I never knew; and now I spout that knowledge to anyone who will listen. (Sorry to family and friends who have heard the same “fun” facts over and over.)

Two weeks ago I saw Pop Candy’s new blog feature called Pop Traveler, where she was asking readers to submit posts about why their cities were awesome places to visit. And I thought to myself, “Uh, piece of cake.” That’s my JOB, to tell visitors why they should come to Minneapolis-St. Paul, so 1.) I could easily whip up a post, 2.) What a great way to hype up our Twin Cities on another avenue besides the publications I work on and (selfishly) 3.) This could be some good exposure for me.

(Note: It was hard to narrow it down to 10! I could've easily included the Mall of America, Target Field and so many other places... I love my town.)

I contacted Whitney, she was game for a post and then yesterday she posted it: 10 Reasons to Visit Minneapolis-St. Paul. I have to admit, I was really excited. I’ve been reading Pop Candy for years and am envious of whom she gets to meet and the experiences she gets to have. But what pop culture junky isn’t envious of Whitney?

I have to say, the outcome has been pretty cool. This website got 75 hits yesterday (perspective: 25 hits is a very, very good day around here). In the past 24 hours, I’ve gotten nearly 20 more Twitter followers. My post was tweeted, RT’d or Facebooked several times, by organizations like Target, Hennepin Theatre Trust, Minneapolis CVB, The Local, First Avenue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts—and those are only the ones I found on my own. Plus, several locals whom I’ve never even met tweeted my post and messaged me that they liked my list (not to mention all the love from my friends). I even got a personal email thank you from one of the organizations.

All in all, it’s been a lovely surprise to see the response. It strengthens my faith in humanity, increases my love for my city and state and gives me a little spring in my step. Minnesota Nice indeed! Thanks to Whitney for posting it, to everyone who read it and to those who reached out to me. I appreciate it so much.


Posted: Tue, 01/31/2012 - 14:50 | Comments: 4

I feel a bit sorry that Mindy Kaling’s book came out the same year as Tina Fey’s. Because the comparisons are going to be there, and one is definitely the stronger, funnier book (Bossypants). But then, Tina Fey has a longer, more varied career (plus a marriage and children) and much more material from which to draw. With that being said, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? was definitely a delightful, quick read.

I like how Kaling affirms that people think she’s just like Kelly Kapoor on The Office. I like the stories of a writer’s life and how she really worked to get where she is today. I like how she’s just more proof that kids who were on the fringe in high school can go on to make it big. I related to so many of her ideas: having best friends, wanting marriage and a family, not understanding one-night stands, the difference between boys and men. And while I’m not in the limelight like she is, her struggles with being a size 8 or 10 (and fluctuating) and being accepting of that, especially in Hollywood, were taken to heart.

Some of her other essays were just quick peeks into her creative and silly mind. While some were head-scratching and a bit of a miss, others were completely hilarious. Like I said with Bossypants (again with the comparisons), it’s refreshing to read a self-deprecating book about someone famous and realize they could be your friend in real life.

So, my request: Amy Poehler, you’re next. I want to read about you! Because both Tina and Mindy have the most wonderful things to say about Amy that I know I’d love to read essays by her too.

Posted: Mon, 01/30/2012 - 08:49 |

We read Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden for book club last year and it ended up being one of my top books of 2011. After falling in love with that story, I wanted to "Jodi-Picoult" Morton. What’s “Jodi-Picoult-ing”? When I read one book (i.e. My Sister’s Keeper) that I think is fabulous and proceed to read every other book by that author. Alas, I did get tired of Picoult’s formula after several novels and haven’t read her since.

Anyway, I grabbed up The Distant Hours almost immediately last fall, but once I got about halfway through, my library holds kept popping up and I had to put it down until the new year. Like Picoult, Morton has a formula. She tells stories that take place in different times/generations; there’s usually one main narrator, but her stories will jump away from that person frequently. And she always jumps away right when you don’t want her to. You’re constantly like, “No! I was just on the edge of my seat and now I’m back to 2006 again…” But it works. (I’ve heard the formula is similar for her other book, The House at Riverton.)

Morton has a way of telling haunting, mysterious stories. There’s usually even a creep factor involved, but not so creepy it turns you off completely (or the creepiness comes right at the end, so by that time you're done). The Distant Hours focuses around a young editor, Edie, Edie’s mother Meredith, and a castle in England, which houses three sisters who Meredith stayed with during WWII. The story bounces between all these characters, and centralizes around the mysteries that the castle, and the sisters, hold. Morton does a good job of throwing you off the scent, which is saying a lot, because I can usually figure out the mysteries of books, movies and TV shows well before the mid-point.

If I had to compare, The Forgotten Garden is better. I was invested a bit more in the characters and the mystery wasn’t quite as creepy. I was left thinking for days about the story, and not so much with this one. And while both have a sad note to them, The Distant Hours is far sadder. I expect that one could get tired of Morton’s formula if she had five or more novels to burn through. But she really does excel at jumping back and forth in time, and developing secondary story lines that are just as intriguing as the main story.

Posted: Tue, 01/24/2012 - 15:54 |

Warning: There may be spoilers.

After I got all caught up with Mad Men, I turned to Friday Night Lights. So many of my friends (in real life and Twitter life) have watched this show and claimed full-out love. I’ve even seen the phrase “best show on TV ever” thrown around quite a few times. I’m now in to season three. Is FNL the best show I’ve ever watched? No. But do I love it? Yes. Here are a few thoughts so far:

The Bits of Ridiculousness

Teenage Drama: My main concern with getting into this show was the teenage drama. I hate teenage drama. If that’s all FNL was going to be, no thanks. (It’s not, see below.) However, there’s still plenty of it and some of it drives me insane. The “I love him, I hate him” stuff with Lyla & Riggins and Lyla & Street and Tyra & Riggins and Tyra & Landry – it gets old. Julie Taylor’s whiny-ness also gets old. All the testosterone in that locker room when those football boys get together – enough already. The drinking, the sex, the more-mature behavior than seems natural… I didn’t grow up in that world, so maybe I just have a hard time understanding it, but it all seems over the top. (If high school is really that way, then I’m home schooling my kid.)

The Mexico storyline: Completely ridiculous, because juniors in high school just take taxis down to Mexico for a week without their parents worrying about them. It meant nothing to the story arc overall and definitely didn't need to last over four episdoes.

Tyra & Landry’s secret: If your dad’s a cop, you call him. You don’t dump a body. And then a couple episodes later, it’s all OK? Please.

Buddy Garrity: Why does Coach put up with him? I understand his place and his importance (he’s the money), but he’s so annoying!

What I love

The Taylors: Hands down, the marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor is my most favorite parts of the show. They’re so cute I could squeeze them to death. I love the sarcasm, I love the respect, I love Coach’s grumpiness, I love how Tami is (almost) always right. In a life where I can only imagine the stress – that town, that job – it would be hard to maintain such a great relationship, yet they do. Plus, I love the way they love those kids. They take them in, they teach them lessons, they offer tough love. They’re great. Love them.

The football: I’ve been a football fan for a long time, so I enjoy the football scenes. I also like the behind-the-scenes peek at the coaching meetings, the locker room and the coach-player relationships. And while it frustrates me to no end the pressure that’s placed on these teenagers – and then what they go on to become in college with the bling and the cars – it’s still so intriguing to get a peek into that life. These kids are put up on pedestals by an entire town and it gets even worse when they’re in college. No wonder they have a hard time when anyone tries to say no to them.

The different types of families: You have single moms (Smash’s mom is kick ass), rich families, down-and-out families, blue-collar families, Matt and his grandma, white, black and Hispanic families. It’s a nice mix they put together and while it may not be representative of every community out there, it would be hard not to find a family you could relate to in some way while watching.

The characters: Besides the Taylors, I like Riggins (it took me 30 episodes but I finally discovered why he’s a favorite character), Matt (he can be a bit of a sad sack, but he’s sweet), Landry (he’s an actor who says his lines just like they do on Parenthood; I really see the overlap between the two shows when I watch Jesse Plemons speak, plus he's funny) and Tyra (minus her wishy-washy love life, I like her spunk, her toughness and her hair).

FNL falls right up there with my other favorite dramas like The West Wing, Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, Six Feet Under and The Wire. So, another “bit of ridiculousness” is the fact that this show didn’t gain a following big enough to stay on NBC. Why is it that reality TV, procedurals and Two and a Half Men always beat out the truly great shows? That’s another post entirely.

Posted: Thu, 01/12/2012 - 16:16 | Comments: 2

While it’s not hard for everybody, high school can be a bitch. I wasn’t popular, but I also wasn’t picked on either. (I was bullied in elementary school, but that was one stupid boy, and not after fifth grade.) I think I just didn’t make enough waves with the way I acted or dressed, etc., to merit much attention from anyone who picked on people. (Basically, I was pretty boring.) But, high school wasn’t fun. My friends and I still got in fights. We still gave each other the silent treatment. I knew of sex, drugs, smoking and stealing happening, but I never felt pressured to participate – probably because I wasn’t in the groups that were doing it.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth takes a look at the “cafeteria fringe,” those kids who just don’t feel like they belong because one or two groups create a culture of conformity (or the school itself promotes conformity) and if you don’t conform, you’re weird, scary, creepy, nerdy… what have you. Alexandra Robbins, famous for her ability to relate to and write about teens (see The Overachievers and Pledged, both excellent), interviewed fringe students all over the country and focused on a few – the loner, the nerd, the new girl, the popular bitch, the gamer, the band geek, the weirdo – and followed them throughout a school year. The stories of these kids and their struggles are so engaging and interesting, plus Robbins intersperses all the stories with facts and studies that prove why the “fringe” have the qualities needed to be successful (think Spielberg, Taylor Swift) and why conformity and group dynamics can really mess things up.

I mean, the world is pretty much one big high school, isn’t it?

One theme of the book that I found really interesting is Robbins’ look into the school system in America and how it pretty much sets up “fringe” students for failure. Football is celebrated; the math team isn’t. Popular kids get away with everything; emo or goth kids get told to change their hair or their clothes. Plus, teachers have their own cliques, too, and leave out, and even bully, other teachers. At the end she gives parents, students and teachers several ideas to help change this behavior and they’re good ideas.

Again, while it may not be true for everybody, I believe once you get to college, everything is better. Everyone is back on an even playing field. When I was a freshman, the only few people I knew in my dorm were kids who were considered “nerds” at my high school. Fortunately, I related a bit to the nerds and when I needed one of them to help set up my computer, he did. But, think if I’d been a popular bitch, now all alone at college, why would he help me? All of a sudden, he could be the popular one and ::poof:: the tables are turned. If my child has any trouble in high school (or if he turns out to be a popular jerk), I’m going to remind him of this reality.

Anyway, once again, Robbins writes an engaging, fun, insightful book where I even learned a little something. (I also read that Jennifer Garner is working on producing a TV show based on the book for sometime in the future.)

Posted: Fri, 01/06/2012 - 16:39 | Comments: 2