28 September, 2016

On Big Sur

McWay Falls ©2016 Sibu Puthenveettil
It's difficult to believe, when you visit places such as Yosemite National Park or the Big Sur region, that your hands and footprints would leave behind any trace at all. When you pass through the clusters of centuries-old Redwoods, and turn a bend over a precipice overlooking the rough coast of churning blue-green water over beaten rock, you feel the sensation of detached observation. You're floating through the coastal highway, which meanders along the edge of the continent, disembodied, like a ghost. It seems untouchable in its sheer scale and solidity. Though you only have to smell the air for a moment to catch wind of the flames that had, and continue to, burn through the region. The Soberanes fire is, to a vistior like myself, the sight of a scorched landscape, darkened in some areas, and bare. It is the sight of rangers at roadside entrances signalling park and trail closures. But to those whose foundations are in Big Sur, it is the loss of homes, memories, and even life, as well as residual damage that extends to the very air they breathe. That so much could have occurred from a single unattended(illegal) campfire is mind-boggling. That a lapse in judgement or a lack thereof would have ramifications that last several months and affect an ancient region and all those who touch it, is frightening. So, what was done by a few now must be undone by several others, as testament to the blackened earth littered with signs of gratitude to the incredible firemen(and women) working to contain the flames. We're all, myself included, in such a hurry to experience and be a part of these natural privileges that sometimes we don't consider the implications of not leaving these wonderful places just as we found them. And so, our inherent awe and appreciation for these areas manifest in ways that are sometimes unwittingly detrimental to them. It's important then, to be mindful(easier said than done, I know) of the footprints we leave behind, whether it be campground maintenance or even restraining ourselves from crossing barriers to get just the right shot. But, just as the firefighters offer glimmers of solace to the people of Big Sur, so do pockets of seemingly untouched areas exist, such as McWay Falls here, the trail to which was closed. But perhaps that's for the best.

29 June, 2016

Show Announcement

Hey gang, I have a piece featured in the  
Manhattan Borough President's Office's Works on Paper Show. 
Here's some info: 

Manhattan Borough President's Office
1 Centre Street, 19 fl
New York, NY 10007
June 29-August 31, 2016 
Mon-Fri 9:30am-4:40pm

Thanks and please come out! 

22 January, 2016

Fish for Jimmy

It's a wonderful thing when a children's book can approach a topic as heavy as the Japanese experience in the US during WWII with such earnestness and sensitivity, while still being palatable for young readers.
Katie pulls off a great balancing act here, thoroughly engaging young readers while also educating them and trusting them with the mature, poetic language she invokes.

Apart from what I mentioned above,  this book is special to me because it's a model for what I want my work with children's illustrations to accomplish. Fish for Jimmy retains the elements of fantasy and wonderment capable of drawing children's attention, yet is also informative without needing to water down the importance of the subject matter involved.

And, I see a great deal of importance in this; the education of societal conditions-past or present-and the understanding of the relativity of experience should not be bound by the walls of a classroom or the restrictions of a predetermined age of appropriateness. While I don't think that the enjoyment of childhood should always be encroached upon or stifled by the 'seriousness' of the world, it is important to be able to shine a light on the fantastic things that can and do exist through the filter of the world that they know, however harsh the world may be.

24 December, 2015

On Denali

 ©2015 Sibu Puthenveettil
At this point, this isn't a very timely post, but it's coming to mind because I recently went on a trip to Jasper National Park in Calgary(where I took the photo on the left).
I visited Alaska in 2013, and though I spent some sum of my life beforehand marveling over mountains in Nature documentaries, it wasn't until this 2013 trip that I was truly able to appreciate geologic wonders such as these, especially in terms of sheer scale.
I was happy to hear that President Obama recently re-named the highest peak in North America back to its original moniker, Denali. In Koyukon, the most geographically wide-spread language spoken in Alaska, Denali means 'the high one.' To much opposition from native Alaskans, the highest peak in North America was re-named Mount McKinley(after the 25th president) by the US government for reasons that are strictly political. And, when the name was recently changed, there was yet more opposition from the former president's home town.
Now during my trip two years ago, I hadn't really used 'Mt. McKinley' as the name with which I referred to the mountain, both because the national park is named Denali and that I read that Denali is how it's commonly referred to in Alaska. I hadn't even really considered the name Mt. McKinley, until my trip to Calgary.
Waking up in Anchorage or Northern Alberta, surrounded by the mountains, you are ensconced within a horizon that rises and falls, like a heart monitor for the earth-an encircling, endless track of the planet's beating heart. It is then that the environment reveals itself, especially to those who would otherwise not consider it, as being no more procurable or purchasable than a wisp of cloud or the fading light of a memorable day.
The branding of Mt. McKinley and the recent outrage is an underlying-and dangerous-habit of people to try to claim ownership over things which cannot be owned. Returning it to the original Denali, which served only as a descriptive title, even one of reverence, is a sound psychological step towards not only the appreciation, but the awareness of nature, of the earth, which is necessary if we're to continue living on it. It is necessary, as Alan Moore writes in Swamp Thing, because "If nature were to shrug... or raise an eyebrow...Then you should all be gone...."

17 May, 2015

Carlin's Mark on New York

In late October, W 121st Street, between Amsterdam and Morningside Drive, in New York City became George Carlin Way. The result of thousands of petition signatures and a very persistent Kevin Bartini(@kevinbartini), the small neighborhood in Morningside Heights is now branded with the late, great comic’s name.

George Carlin was conceived, yes conceived, in Curley’s Hotel in Rockaway Beach, NY, which means he was a New Yorker since before he was born. He often cited the neighborhood he grew up in as having had an indelible mark on his growth and development. So much so that according to his daughter, Kelly, he maintained contact with some of the people he knew then.

Carlin lived across the street from Corpus Christi church, and around the corner from several seminaries and other theological establishments. But while his immediate childhood surroundings were dense with religious influence, he spent most of his time a few blocks over in West Harlem with the Black, Hispanic, and Irish kids, who had the biggest impression on him.

His show business career began as a radio announcer, but got his comedic break as part of the comic duo Burns and Carlin, who then became The Wright Brothers. His appearances on The Merv Griffin Show and other daytime programs honed his skills in writing material, which he very prodigiously maintained through the end of his life.
It was during this time that he began to deviate from the clean-cut business crowd for whom he was performing. It was the ’60s and the counter culture in the US was becoming more and more prevailing and thoughts and ideas were intermingling with rebellion and insight and George Carlin really began to take shape, as did his beard. And the resulting metamorphosis took form on stage.

From there, he’s gone on to release some 21 stand-up specials, each one unique in its brilliance but all bearing the signature of his insights and relentless telling of the truth as he saw it. Two of the most famous all-time bits are the “Seven Dirty Words” and the “Invisible Man in the Sky,” the former being the grounds for a Supreme Court case by the FCC(that’s how you know you’ve made it). Carlin was notorious not only for churning out original material, but for doing it, literally, until the last year of his life.

One of the hallmarks of his work is that he was a true logophile. He loved words. It is one of the marvels of his performances to see him go on for several minutes playing with them, simultaneously like a master glass smith, making calculated, timed, and subtle adjustments and shifts, and also like a lion with a mouse in the complete and final control he had.

Over time, he stopped thinking of his material as stand-up routines, but as essays, one-man shows that he wrote out in completion and then performed. And they most certainly came across that way. I personally see his 20+ albums as the manifesto of a stone column that saw the blueprints for its house and was duty-bound to suggest how to make it better.

George Carlin is forever embedded in comedy by way of the innumerable comics he’s influenced. So, it’s only right that he be embedded in the neighborhood that influenced him. On the night of the unveiling, there was  a stand-up show at Caroline's on Broadway to honor this occasion, hosted by Colin Quinn, who spoke at the unveiling ceremony, and featuring guests Jim Norton, Eddie Brill, Kevin Bartini, Ted Alexandro, and others. They are all comics who strive towards Carlin’s model of artistic integrity, which is, according to Colin Quinn, “the ability to critique all the hypocrisies in society, yes, but also to be real enough to see that you’re as guilty as everyone else in the game.”

As featured on Newscult

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison has a way of stating truths that both illuminate the unknown and reaffirm the understood. Universal truths. Shared truths shaped by experience that often remain unrecognizable to others, and perhaps even to the individual. In her novels, she acts as the conduit that channels such thoughts and emotions, hitting a wavelength we all share but don't seem to acknowledge. And in the Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove is the repository for these insights: the need to reflect perceived beauty that forges a hatred within, which subsequently fosters a hatred without. Everyone, to different capacities, can understand the frustration in being unable to adjust to fit an ideal. 
This novel explores the African American condition in 20th Century America, largely through the eyes of a little girl with dark skin. Each of the characters in the novel is marred and reformed by societal conditions and what W.E.B. Dubois referred to as "double consciousness." Morrison explores this concept, allowing it to set and spread its destructive branches that first breaks the character, then permeates through to those they touch, with the clarity that aims to inform. The Bluest Eye speaks for a particular niche of the population that is a few shades different, which is why reading this novel is not only an emotionally tasking, tragic experience-it is an enlightening one.


A Few Words on Some Scary Movies

This short list of spooky films was written in the Halloween spirit because of course the perfect accompaniment to gratuitous sugar intake is a movie that will scare your pants off. So, whether you’re alone with a big bowl of popcorn, cuddled up with a loved one on the couch, or partying with your best group of friends, here are a few of the films—in no particular order—that will help the festivities get a whole lot scarier. Happy screaming!

Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott’s original space thriller is classically terrifying, in that what we’re dealing with is unfathomable and unyielding. There are far too many movies, including the sequels to Alien, where the chinks in the armor of the villain are understood and exposed too quickly. In Alien, the protagonists are being hunted down and taken out, one by one, by something intelligent and unstoppable, and all that’s left to do is guess who’s next.
IMDB: 8.5          Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Silence of the Lambs is proof that the enduring quality of a great fright film is believability. Jodi Foster and Ted Levine play their roles to perfection, but it is Anthony Hopkins’s seemingly dormant malice that is just viscerally terrifying. And when he finally releases the inner monster, the fear reverberates and ignites all that was unsettling throughout the entire film.Silence of the Lambs, top to bottom, is intense. Get used to the edge of that seat.
IMDB: 8.6          Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
The Thing (1982)
You know that The Thing is going to be a classic from the moment it begins and you hear the intense theme that’s quintessential John Carpenter. One of the great components of this film is the whodunit? factor, spelled out in the journal entries of Kurt Russell’s character, where nothing is safe and nothing can be believed. The biting cold of the Antarctic, the seclusion of the camp, and the constriction of the compound, amount to a palpable claustrophobia. It will remind you that you have to, on occasion, breathe.
IMDB: 8.2          Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Blair Witch Project(1999)
One of the main reasons why this movie was a hit in theaters, and remains a cult-classic spook-pic today, is that by shooting it as a documentary, its believability is implied. Documentaries are universally known as being based in reality and truth. So, while watching this movie, we suspend disbelief and dive into a window of actual occurrences. And when the implications are as severe as real life, the fear of every little thing is compounded ten-fold. And that’s how Blair Witchhits you and leaves you feeling unsafe, the subtleties.
IMDB: 6.4          Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Scream is a meta slasher film that deconstructs the rules and pitfalls of other scary movies and proposes questions that the viewer then keeps in mind. This is very effective in thickening the shroud of confusion and doubt and really hammering home the notion that everyone is a suspect. Scream has a fun, albeit sometimes campy, set of characters, and more than a few great spook scenes.
IMDB: 7.2          Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
The Shining(1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece has the burdensome dichotomy of being both beautifully shot and terribly disturbing. The Shining follows the violent, winding degradation of a man into psychosis as he sits as caretaker for a hotel with an evil history. Kubrick’s framing of shots and his careful selection of composition is not only haunting while watching the movie, but forms images that echo fear on afterward. While Jack spirals further and further down the path to insanity, we’re taken right down with him.
IMDB: 8.5         Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
The fear of the unknown is an underlying element in every horror film, and that’s largely what makes haunted house movies so frightening. And Insidious is just that: frightening.  Every scene, every turn, is an opportunity to jump out of your seat, because there’s nothing formulaic about the way this movie approaches frightening its audience. And conceptually, the film has an interesting and refreshing take on the genre.
IMDB: 6.8          Rotten Tomatoes: 66%
No Halloween scare list would be complete without this original. The personified evil, Michael Myers, the intelligently fearful Dr. Loomis, and the innocent heroine Laurie spell out a classic must-watch for the holiday. There is nothing to understand about Michael Myers that would in any way explain him. There no way of reasoning with him, no way of stopping him, and that is exactly what makes him so shockingly scary.
IMDB: 7.9          Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
The Exorcist(1973)
Often cited as the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist reigns without loss with each passing year. The disturbing aspects of the actual possession aside, the most dreadful aspect of the film is the exposure of Father Karras’s privacy. The private aspects of his life are used against him both during the exorcism as well in the dream sequences, which are edited to chilling perfection.
IMDB: 8.0          Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
The Conjuring(2013)
Much like InsidiousThe Conjuring is another modern haunted-house classic. It takes a more direct approach in collecting its scares, but the end result is effective all the same. It is always wrenching to see danger surround the indefensible, which is why having many children in a house that’s stained with malicious spirits is never a good thing—and neither is trying to traipse around in the dark after watching it. 
IMDB: 7.5          Rotten Tomatoes: 86%

As featured on Newscult

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

With the events that transpired at the end of book 5(Order of the Phoenix) comes a realization for both the characters in the book as well as the readers: the end is fast approaching. And with that comes a change in tone for the entire novel. Actions have larger implications, structure is breaking, and the ever-precarious divide between the wizarding and non-wizarding world is fallen. It is probably for this reason that Half-Blood Prince(along with Prisoner of Azkaban) is my favorite of the series: it's bleak. Hogwarts becomes less a place of wonder and learning and more an escape, a refuge from hostile climate and severe ramifications. And by the end of the novel, we see that even that's beginning to fail.
A major component of Half-Blood Prince that I love is that it really explores the evil of Voldemort. It is a popular device these days in telling a story from the perspective of the antagonist:Wicked, the Big Bad Wolf, Maleficent, etc; however, Rowling approaches explaining Voldemort differently. She doesn't sympathize with him or give an explanation for why he is what he is. Rather, she explains the grounds upon which a monster like the Dark Lord exists, very much akin to what Quint(Robert Shaw) did in Jaws. During the spectacular scar-showing contest scene, where Quint re-lives the sinking of the SS Indianapolis, he raises the tension of the present danger by recounting the past. Rowling does something similar with Voldemort, where Voldemort is not discussed directly, rather, we delve into his background and see the roots that developed into his evil. We learn about his ancestry and the history of pain and malice he comes from and then we are re-introduced to the present danger of the book. Learning about the enemy with Harry makes the inevitable face-off more immediate and frightening. Rowling does a fantastic job of building tension throughout the novel, concluding with the final details and a grand precursor to the final chapter, The Deathly Hallows. (I'm trying not to spoil too much.)