“Lost Horizons” and Sinking Ships: Thoughts on Mad Men’s End

When Don Draper finally said it,  finally tacked “McCann Erikson” on to the end of his name like a trained monkey performing for his higher ups, it seemed as if Hobart had done it: Ahab finally nabbed his “white whale.”

But does anyone remember how Moby Dick ends–with Ahab, drowned by his own harpoon line, the Pequod, sunk, and Ishmael, the sole survivor, left floating atop a coffin until drifting to safety? We’ll have to wait for the two remaining episodes of Mad Men to see whether death and destruction will rain down upon the frat-ish freighter that is McCann Erikson, but “Lost Horizons” leaves us to wonder whether the survivors of the SC&P crew have any fight left in them. While Peggy refused to leave the cavernous shell of SC&P for anything less than a private office, the ever-pleasant Joan drew a line between dignity and degradation, and Don could not be contained, the enchanting whale-tale allegory ends there. “Lost Horizons” was less concerned with depicting an underdog team’s triumph, than it was with impressing how their respective fights for equality, respect, and purpose, fights that began in the show’s first season, remain both complex and very much unfinished.

Thinking back to those early days of Mad Men, when Peggy was testing Belle Jolie lipstick and Joan was being lustfully described as “so much woman” (A Night to Remember), the sexism was shocking–infuriating, difficult to stomach. And yet, with the passage of time, so, too, came progress, and for Joan, in particular–with her lavish shopping trips, her supreme competence, and, most recently, a new love interest– things seemed to be looking up. As she firmly reminded Pete in weeks past, however, the other foot was primed to drop.

Joan

Joan and Hobart. Who knew the devil had a Saint Francis haircut?

And, boy, did it stomp. This week, every corner of the McCann labyrinth seems to offer a separate minotaur of insulting incompetence, lechery, or blatant malice in the forms of Dennis, Ferg, and Hobart. Joan threatens Hobart with law-suits, the ACLU, and a crowd of feminists at his doorstep­–her simmering frustration at a full boil­. And for a glorious 15+ minutes, I believed it, only to have any hopes for an Angry Woman spin-off dashed, by Roger’s urging her to take the money–to not hide behind politics. Though she argues it has nothing to do with it, when competing with the well-oiled machine of corporate bureaucracy, maybe $.50 cents on the dollar and a promise to never see Hobart again is as good as it gets. Leaving could easily be read as giving up, but given that current age gap leaves women with an average of just $.27 more, I can’t blame her. With a framed photo of her son and Rolodex in tow serving as badges of a life waiting for her beyond the walls of McCann, once can only hope Joan’s career end will really be, as Don said in last week’s episode, a sort of beginning, even if it lies miles from the one we’d all been hoping for.

Baller.

Baller.

Peggy–skating through the gutted SC&P, refusing such quotidian tasks as cleaning spilled coffee– provided the necessary triumph the episode’s red tape and defeats needed. “Advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone” Shirley reminds Roger, but as Peggy told Pete in the last episode, it’s the only job she’s ever had, and try as she did to resist McCann, it was a necessary move she made with unparalleled panache. I will forever hang the image of her walking down the hall with a smoking cigarette hanging off her lips, a 100+ year old pornographic painting under her arm, and sunglasses (INDOORS), in my mental alter to badassery. Whether the glowing ember of her dramatic entrance will withstand the scattering ashes of SC&P remains to be seen, but if this episode gave us anything to hope for, it’s Peggy Olson, climbing the proverbial ladder, while Joan lands on a tragic chute.

So, what of Moby-Dick Whitman? Ferg’s painfully terrible impression of Don proved what we, and Hobart, already knew–that Don is a force of nature, unique to himself. Refusing a cushy life of box lunches, Meredith’s relentless baby-ing, and a distant promise to work “Co-ca Co-la,” he bucks his saddle, mid-meeting, and begins a long drive, away from the claustrophobic halls of McCann to somewhere he can, as Don’s hallucination of Cooper describes, “play the stranger.”

Don’s bleary-eyed flight is not so much an escape from McCann-Erikson, as it is from his own listlessness. Earlier this season, Don grappled with the question of what the future held and with Megan gone, SC&P defunct, and a daughter too independent to rely upon her father for a ride , it’s hard to extrapolate the answer. In a sweet scene between Don and Bettie, “Birdie” bids Don “bye-bye” with her nose in Freud and shoulders sore from textbooks, happy to finally do what she’s wanted to do. Will any such line ever be spelled next to Don’s name in a Mad Men script? It’s doubtful and the way it plays out is painful to watch.

When Don points to an image of a white and red apartment on a page earlier in the episode and tells his secretary-turned-home-dectorator he wants to “live there,” we’re forced to question whether it’s the apartment’s furnishing he wants, or whether wants to jump into the glossy pages, themselves– to deep dive past the machinery of advertisements and copy he once expertly manipulated and into a pristine world of fantasy. Speaking of dives, my heart stopped when Don raised his hand to test his new office window–not so much out of a genuine worry that he’d jump, but fear that the show runners had actually made good on fan predictions claiming he would. While Breaking Bad’s ending had been foretold from the series’ inception, a conclusion drawn from the opening credits feels unnaturally tidy. Thankfully for all involved, the window barely budged, but the subsequent episode had me wondering whether the open ended nature of the life ahead of him will do him much good.

Don

On The Road.

The ropes tying Don to dock have been struck, one by one, securing him a freedom from restraints Peggy and Joan would kill for. Recent episodes, however, have witnessed him uncomfortable with the uncertainty. Though quick to reject the drudgery of corporate structure, in his personal life, Don has long let others provide him with his choices. He is led through his new office by Meredith (maybe that bell would be useful), he shirks at the opportunity of furnishing an empty apartment, and when faced with an open road, his compass needle gravitates towards something familiar, having him bee-lining towards Racine, Wyoming in search of Diane, the “tornado” he hopes can sweep him away from reality into Oz. When the consequences of her recklessness, namely a grown daughter and an embittered husband, force him to turn away, he takes directions from a hitch-hiker, mindless of the fact that they’re in the opposite direction of home. Don lost contact with Ground Control long ago.

But for an audience, sitting with two episodes remaining and the end times of what has been an incredible season fast approaching, there are no wrong directions. Just time to enjoy what’s left of the ride.

The 87th Annual Academy Awards

Two thousand fourteen was an incredible year for the news. Cases of Ebola swept West Africa and paranoia concerning it struck American news outlets, the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sent hundreds into the street protesting and launched national conversations about race and police force, Sony was hacked, Robin William committed suicide, and, yes, the “screens in our jeans” got a little bigger.

oscars_10_featuredLast night’s 87th Annual Oscars honored films, born into this year of turmoil, that offered us both trips into compelling worlds (Birdman, Whiplash, Grand Budapest) and forums for discussing our own (Selma, CitizenFour, American Sniper). As this “day after” rolls into existence, so, too, will the internet’s roar of injustice and criticism. Online reporting has increased both the volume and rapidity with which Oscar coverage is delivered for years, but with an article criticizing “What Was Wrong With Patricia Arquette’s Acceptance Speech”– a speech in which she received a Best Supporting Actress award and advocated for equal pay for women– popping onto my twitter feed before the Oscars had even ended, I’m going to refrain from justifying Boyhood’s lack of wins, or rant against an E! host’s advice to “Roll your shoulders and pop your booty!” during a “How To Pose For The Oscars” segment (File Under: Completely Necessary Information). Enough of that. There were wins last night that deserve celebrating.

Inarritu1With statistics claiming Academy voters to be a whopping 94% white, it is no secret that the Oscars are lacking in racial diversity. That made Alejandro González Iñárritu’s three wins for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director all the more affecting. In his series of three speeches, Iñárritu concluded with a dedication that blew Sean Penn’s “Who gave this [guy] a green card” comment out of the water:

“I want to dedicate this award to my fellow Mexicans who live in Mexico, I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. The ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country I just pray they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

Speaking to an audience seated in Southern California, a region very much part of Mexico until the 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo, his call for “dignity and respect” was as relevant and it was necessary. Add Iñárritu’s victories to Alfonso Cuarón’s Best Directing Oscar for Gravity last year and Emmanuel Lubezki consecutive cinematography wins (Gravity, Birdman) and there is no denying that incredibly talented Mexicans filmmakers are gaining the recognition they deserve. One can only hope this means Mexicans will gain more representation on screen, as well.

Better writers will laud Common and John Legend’s moving performance of Glory (or pen odes to Chris Pine’s single-tear). For every article bashing Arquette’s acceptance speech (linked above), I’m sure twenty will rush to her praise. It’s time to praise the people not-so-obviously responsible for the praise: the graphic designers.

Neil Patrick Harris opened with an ode to moving pictures, and by night’s end, I was singing the same tune to whoever was responsible for the night’s motion graphics. Their beautifully arranged photo-shoots for production design (see below) took a traditionally unnoticed category–full of behind-the-scenes montages and short interviews– and turned them into works of art worth of the films being nominated.

When applied to the “In Memorium” segment, in which the Academy offered illustrated images of passed actors (rather than the usual clips from each of the deceased’s life works),   I questioned whether the design had grown too self-involved. The bane of good design is, after all, that it goes unnoticed–that it disappears into a seamless user experience or background. Given that the event’s legacy of aesthetic appeal, however, I can only applaud the bold choice.

Sure, the Oscars weren’t amazing, but I’ve never expected them to be. I went into the Oscars with friends by my sides and a veggie plate on the table–ballots scattered on the floor and a bingo sheet in my hand. It’s about everything terrible about America. It’s everything great about America. It’s the glitz and glam. It’s the genuine work and artistry it superficially represents.

And I can’t imagine missing the 88th.

A “Young Journalists” Reflection and Notes on Art-Working It

Has it only been eleven days since the #AdviceForYoungJournalists hashtag trend hit our collective feeds and struck my writerly conscience?  It is hard to believe how time has slipped and stretched since. Through the hashtag has experienced its trademark hashtag lifecycle of rapid popularization, subsequent neglect, and straggling satire, the urgency with which the realization that I must dedicate more time to simply putting words on a page has yet to fade.

I’m ashamed of the fact that this blog hardly reflects it. Too self-conscious about the quality of my writing–too ambitious about the scope of my reporting and research– I have been exchanging sisyphus boulder, for sisyphus boulder, admittedly overwhelmed by the freedom of my current situation.

Oscar Nominations. Gilmore Girls. The Chapel Hill Shootings. A Review of Me Before You. Feminist Essays. A Surge in Tech News and Reporting. These topics, so deserving of thought and commentary, wail siren songs that blend into a cacophony and make those simple, familiar, and visual worlds of design and illustration all the more appealing. (A taste below.)

An Illustrated Snack

An Illustrated Snack

A Color Study

A Color Study

A Storyboard for R's Film

A Storyboard for R’s Film

I’ve realized I operate on two obsessive, creative modes: visual and literal.

Rather than dip a toe in either tide pool and exist safely, steadily, placidly near the shore , I plunge into their seas in week-long stretches, only to be buffeted by alternating waves of euphoria from a well-placed word or pen stroke and swells of self doubt. Frustrated by the lack of ‘progress’ or direction, by a lack of material payout, I emerge, take a breath, then dive into the next.

The ocean metaphor may be a tired one, but it’s apt, and I’ve spent time reflecting on a obvious solution: scheduling, deadlines, and settling for completion over perfection. I find a certain promise in these trademarks of business culture–and so do other writers.

In a recent Studio 360 Podcast, Kurt Anderson, interviewed Black Mirror series creator, Charlie Brooker. Brooker claimed that he is only able to complete his scripts when the voice in his head telling him he is running short on time is yelling louder than his inner critic. (To think I was complaining about cacophonies.)

While I have spent an early lifetime treating visual and literary arts as a hobby, with school behind me and a year or more to attempt to make a career of writing, design, and illustration, it’s time to apply the rigorous method of my education to the madness of creative production. A recent invitation to intern as a designer with the ABC Television Group’s research division will force me to follow a routine, where the seemingly infinite stretch of weekdays without a class schedule has failed to. Volunteering as a designer with the American Youth Literacy Foundation should expose me to more people, and give me the opportunity to do good.

It’s hard to reconcile myself with methods and work-patterns I’ve fallen into that seem out of my control. I tell myself I am writing for no audience other than myself. Now comes the part where I start believing it.

Fighting Discouragement With #AdviceForYoungJournalists

TwitterTimes

It’s time to confess an abundantly obvious fact: I don’t write enough. And as an aspiring and/or self-proclaimed “writer,” that’s a problem.

Last night, the hashtag #AdviceForYoungJournalists took my Twitter-feed by storm in what I later learned was a response to a short article by Fusion’s Felix Salmon. Discouraging those aiming to break into the field, Salmon’s describes journalism as a “dumb career move” and says what essentially anyone trying to ‘make it’ with a humanities degree already knows: that there is no set path to success, that there are more talented people than there are desirable jobs, and that, odds are, you’re better off in a different industry. Top this off with his blunt assertion that blogging is dead and it’s easy to recognize why his “advice” generated such a reaction.

Hundreds chimed in to argue against his emphatically dismal portrayal of dedicating a life to writing and these ripples, emanating from the initial shock of his article, carried a clear message: young writers, ignore old writers. Work hard, learn a lot, and, ultimately, keep at it. Grantland staff writer Rembert Browne went so far as to offer “dear young journalist[s]” his email and a claim that he’ll “get back to you”(If you’re wondering, of course I emailed him.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 11.02.06 AM

Reeling from my initial dive into the optimistically sage #AdviceForYoungJournalists feed, to the cynical article and the comments on it posted by grounded journalists, it’s hard to tell where I fall­—whether to fess up to the fact that I have little-to-no experience in a field I’m interested in exploring, or to “work hard” and “keep at it.” As I wrote to Rembert, “though I’ve written about race struggle in Chester Himes, conducted a Foucauldian analysis of patriarchy in Austen, and enjoyed the insane ride that is a Tom McCarthy novel, when it comes to current issues that extend beyond the microcosmic world of fiction, I feel muted somehow–as if this mountain of podcasts, news, and online writing is so steep I can barely approach.”

This debate, in which both sides offer equally ambiguous courses of action, doesn’t do much to help, but, at the very least, it offers me the comfort of knowing that what I am striving to achieve is widely acknowledged as difficult, and that, in the absence of a “right” way to go about it, there is a correlate lack of a “wrong” way to go about it. As an undergrad in English and Digital Humanities, struggling to cohere my fascinated reactions to literature into structured essays, or raking through data to derive a coherent analysis, one piece of advice kept me going: The only way to get through it is to get through it. Though admittedly unimaginative, and likely to be incoherent, this simple line applies more to a post-grad life of applications and uneasiness than I could have ever imagined.

Amidst the cover letters and the website redesigns, the networking events and the fruitless LinkedIn invites, I’m increasingly faced with the obvious fact that to be a writer, I simply have to write. I listen to Podcasts. I read essays, skim articles, and appreciate the occasional novel. I’m incessantly learning, but it’s time to leave written record of the fact.

Learning must be tested, or at the very least flexed. What better way than to relish this time than by typing away, regardless of mood, of subject, or of how fruitless a task Mr. Salmon believes it to be?

I recognize that it’ll be years whether I’ll know if I’ll make it as a journalist, or turn writing (or design, or illustration for that matter) into a career. We humanities grads live in an unmapped landscape–a Wild West populated by shifting media and mediums– that I have been warily traversing with a search-engine for a compass and resume for a walking stick. I know I have miles to tread, but regardless of where I end up, leaving my words as cookie crumbs sounds like a solid bet.

Eager as ever,

Iman

Valentine’s Day Sitcom Episodes For Your Netflix Binge

VDayNetflix

Forget the flowers, the chocolates and the declarations of love. Everyone knows the best part of Valentines Day is the influx of themed sitcom episodes. Carla and I have been scouring the internet for some sort of index, but came up short; therefore, I’ve compiled my own. Prep for Valentine’s Day with these Netflix-streamable classics.

30 Rock

3.11 “St. Valentine’s Day”
4.13 “Anna Howard Shaw Day”
6.6 “Hey, Baby, What’s Wrong?”

Arrested Development

1.12 Marta Complex
2.9 Ready, Aim, Marry Me

Frasier

6.14 Three Valentines
7.15 Out with Dad
8.13 Sliding Frasiers

Friends

1.14 The One with the Candy Hearts
8.15 The One with the Birthing Video

Gilmore Girls

6.15 A Vineyard Valentine

New Girl

1.14 Valentine’s Day

The Office

2.16 Valentine’s Day
5.16 Blood Drive
7.15 PDA

Parks and RecreatioN

2.16 Galentine’s Day 216
4.14 Operation Ann 414

The Job Hunt

Throw together eleven job and internship applications at various corporate, production and radio outlets, one interview, a whole mess of cover letters, three resumé redesigns, a WIP website and a whole lot of waiting and you’ll have a rough sketch of what the past six months have looked like for me. I have graduated from college ahead of schedule–without a set job, without set grad school plans, suffice it to say, without a clue– and after years of being in school, it’s hard to feel entirely comfortable off of a set track.

Comic_1.13_ResumeStressing

See, I’m one of those infuriating drifters–someone that picks at a buffet of skills and talents, without ever sitting and committing to an entire plate of anything. While I’ve met kids who know exactly what drives them, the last time I remember having a set answer towhat I wanted to be when I grew up was my four-year-old self’s reply of “a dog.” I’ve been happy doing my best to fulfill set aims– doing well on exams and family responsibilities, pushing through work outs, etc.; but there is no way to ‘ace’ an indefinite stretch of inactivity and job searching.

At first, I had been excited by the fact of an early graduation, thinking it would set me miles ahead of my peers, many of whom would not start legitimate job searches until late in the year. Roughly three weeks into what is ever so accurately deemed a “Job Hunt,” a few things have become clear to me:

  1. Unemployment must suck. To be clear, I am lucky enough to have the support of my parents and have my basic needs fulfilled. The simple fact of not having a set daily routine, however, is jarring. Days are blending together into an assortment of trips to the grocery store and workouts, with weekend highlights of Jenga and Gilmore Girls reruns with my sister. The very fact of my writing this stems from an overwhelming desire to feel like I am doing something of substance.
  2. People’s consolation isn’t always consoling. While I value my family members’ support and appreciate friends’ good-hearted encouragement to ‘enjoy my time off,’ the frustration of not hearing back from job applications is increasingly coupling itself with the disappointment of having nothing to report to loved ones. Call it selflessness or self-preservation, I notice my replies to “Have you heard from Company X” and “Are you applying places?” have grown as cryptic as they have optimistic.
  3.  Closure is invaluable. If I ever own or manage a company, I vow to notify applicants when positions are filled. This limbo of not knowing is agonizing (though I’m sure I’ll decide rejection, if or when it comes, is pretty bad, too).
  4. Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom is my hero. Of course I’m half joking here, but Nightcrawler reads like so much more of a success story from the wanting side of the “life purpose” spectrum.

I recognize that these conclusions are by no means unique. If they incite eye rolls from people with bigger, graver problems, I cannot blame them. But worries persist: I worry that, in interviews, I may come across as insincere or scattered. I worry that my cover letters are paragraphs too long and my experience, too short. I worry that “Get a job you love” will slowly fade into “Get a job you like” to “Get a job you tolerate,” until reaching the blunt end-point of “Get a job. Period.”

But I’m keeping faith.

Iman

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

After a college-imposed diet of lean prose and writing that was inarguably “good for me,” I wanted the first book I read upon graduation to be a light treat­– something sweet and simple. To name Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? “the exact literary dessert I was craving,” feels horridly clichéd, but nothing comes closer to describing the experience of reading it. Offering a quick and easy-to-read dip into a myriad of topics–ranging from Kaling’s childhood hobbies to her thoughts on Pierce Brosnon’s chest hair– Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? carries on with the easy pacing of a conversation with a best friend–honest, engaging throughout and enjoyably chaotic in retrospect. In response to a book so sincere and earnest, I have to return the favor and simply admit that I liked it. A lot. And that surprised me.

Recognizing Kaling not from The Mindy Project but from her convincingly irritating portrayal of Kelly Kapur (The Office), I committed that blasphemous error of aligning Mindy with her character on TV. With Kaling plastered on the pastel, paperback cover dressed in pink under a title that ponders her social standing, can you blame me? Kaling, however, respectfully embraces her similarities with Kelly–eschewing her love for shopping, television and RomComs– while firmly dismissing complete verisimilitude. She compiles a succinct list of things Kelly would do that she, Mindy, would never consider (near the top of which includes ‘faking pregnancy’).

For her wit and openness–her, sappy as it may seem, narrative heart– Kaling’s prose won me over. In fact distancing myself enough from this little compendium of opinions, gossip and occasional advice to properly review it feels awkward. Of course, there are opinions I disagree with, in this book (namely, that I enjoy exercising and would push against pop culture’s joke of maintaining a beef with it); but Kaling’s unabashed confidence in admitting her flaws already accounts for and diffuses any critique I may lodge. Maybe my discomfort with criticizing the book simply arises from the fact that I found little to explicitly criticize. Her book sets its own standards, fulfills them brilliantly and manages to never grow grating. For fans of Kaling as a comedian, her detailed outline of her ‘rise to stardom,’ one achieved through a lifelong dedication to her craft, a commitment to friends and hard work, demystifies an otherwise ‘dream-status’ job for many, including myself. That one can grow from and eventually profit off of childhood passions was exactly the advice I needed to hear in a post-graduation state where Lean In seems the go-to text.

In terms of more personal issues, Kaling’s decision to admit a lack of confidence in her body, in an age marked as wholly by selfies as it is campaigns for self-love, struck a valuable, empathetic note. Additionally, her close relationship with her family, implied by her frequent descriptions of calls to her mother and father, or her fear of disappointing her brother as a child, was refreshing. Despite the frequency with which American culture depicts inter-family eye-rolls and dramatic “Can you believe my sister?!”s, neither her parents, nor her brother, bears the brunt of any witty jabs, a choice I, as a daughter of Mexican and Iranian immigrants, thoroughly appreciated.

With the surge of celebrity comedian/actor/writer authored books within the last few years (Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, etc.), it feels safe to say these quasi-memoirs have formed their own genre, blending female empowerment, advice and humor and feeding broader arguments against “industry” standards on female social roles. Kaling’s book earns its membership in this pantheon not by explicitly shouting “Woman Power!”, but by living it. Remaining true to her effervescent self, Kaling embraces her readers and encourages them to do the same.

Be it a literary dessert you’re craving, or a 200+ page hug, the question Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me? answers itself with a resounding “No.” The book is sweetness, warmth and fun incarnate. Indulge.