Let’s Talk Aesthetic – Jessica Jones

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Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about aesthetic. Almost always, I’m thinking and reading about various superhero shows/movies coming out or already existing. The more I dive into the superhero genre, the more I notice how these on screen adaptations represent themselves to the public. DC strives for a gritty realism while also becoming entangled with philosophical material. Meanwhile Marvel steers into a brighter appearance and relies on a good dosage of humor.

Then of course the TV series for both franchises go on their own paths. Agent Carter seeks out a vintage style, Supergirl is a little more bubblegum, and Daredevil places itself in the shadows to illustrate the dirtiness of Hell’s Kitchen. Then there comes along Jessica Jones which I think has the most unique style because it incorporates the above aesthetics while also molding itself into something new while still having an air of familiarity.

One of the most evident elements in the Jessica Jones aesthetic is the noir theme. This captures that vintage style which has been finding its way into more pop culture. People like the look of older times while not always wanting to be there. Think of the 1950s ideal where people look at photographs of girls in big skirts and sweaters sipping a milkshake at the diner with their main squeeze. Those people want to go back there, but they don’t want the values and mindset of the 50’s – just the look.

Jessica Jones answers that need by placing a modern story with modern ideals on a stage with vintage decorations. She is the classic detective sitting in a dank office waiting for a case to walk in. The office itself is set up like one you’d see in an old noir film, but it still manages to stay within its time while replicating the style elements people yearn for. It’s the single desk in front of a window, dim lighting (possibly to capture that black & white feel), the straight man delivery of lines, and the typical customers one might see strolling in. Only this time the detective is a woman who also saves the day as a hero (though she wouldn’t want to be called that). This series mirrors that past aesthetic, but it doesn’t forget what and where it is. That’s partly why I was drawn to the series.

Another aesthetic this show uses is the grittiness that DC has been experimenting with. The show is dark both in manner and appearance. Hell’s Kitchen is a dirty, run down place with little sun and often seems cold judging by the heavy jackets the characters wear.Yet somehow the show never feels dark or lost in the shadows. There’s actually quite a bit of color popping onto the screen, most noticeably with purple. Even in the darkest moments of the show, there’s one vivid color standing out. This could represent a ray of light/hope in the worst times or even present a warning of danger (after all, Killgrave is the man in purple).

It’s refreshing to see how they take the gritty aesthetic and add in a splash of color. Just take a look at the poster for the series – it’s on a darker pallet, but the pallet still exists. It finds color in the shadows and satirizes those shades to make it stand out. The series never felt to me like the characters were trapped in a dark room – there was plenty of room to breath in the noir feel and bring it into day’s world.

What’s in a Backstory?

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The type of character background you’re given in a story depends on the story being told. In Lost each character has their own past which is seen in glimpses over the course of six seasons, but it takes much longer to learn the full story for a few while others can be told in one or two episodes. Also, some characters have their backstory presented early on while others remain a mystery for a better part of the season or series.

Sometimes the technique works because there are characters who are defined by where they come from and the audience needs to see this before they can move forward and feel attached to them. While this method doesn’t ruin a story, I think it does have the potential to weaken it.

Then we have characters like Ben Linus who’s backstory takes time to get to which works perfectly for him. Mainly because we’re first made to believe he’s a different person, but also because Ben is a character defined by what is currently happening on screen. All the audience and the other characters need to know is what’s given by the way he acts and the small details presented of his past. A lavish backstory isn’t necessary with Ben just yet.

When his backstory is given, it feels earned and comes at a point when he’s going through some major character development. It flows more smoothly to have this reflection on where he started even before he was introduced. Even if Ben’s story was never given, the audience still has a clear idea of who he is and where he’s coming from based on dialogue, facial cues, and basic actions or reactions. His development is all done within the now and I believe that’s how it should be.

You should feel like you’re on this journey with the character and not as though you missed it all and need a recap before jumping into a new story arch. A backstory should feel like a bonus to see more of this character and explore their personality and not be the only thing holding this character up and giving them a sense of worth or personality.

When some people watch a movie, I think they expect this fancy and detailed backstory for each main player and then feel disappointed when it isn’t given to them. To see where a character began their journey in a flashback and compare it to where they are before the credits roll presents a shortcut to character development. Instead of letting the character be looked at the way they progressed purely in the main story, they’re being judged on how they developed off screen.

Once in a while the backstory is needed immediately depending on the technique the writer is choosing to use, but in Lost I felt more attached to the characters who had their backgrounds given later on. This was because I got to know them as who they were based on their general behavior and not from what brought them to this point or influenced them aside from small hints here and there.

I do love a strong backstory, but I think they need to be waited on. If one is elaborate enough it should either be the story itself or it should be given near the end of the arch as a treat for staying with this character for so long. To understand the character as is makes the backstory all the more interesting to watch. Otherwise it feels like a long prologue that most would rather skip to get to the main plot.

 

 

 

Movie Soundtracks

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What makes for a memorable movie score?

Typically when people hum cinema tunes, it’s always something original. No one ever hums a pop song that found it’s way into the credits of a film unless they just stepped out of the theater and it’s still lingering in their mind. I understand why popular songs of the time sometimes work for films. Granted sometimes those popular songs make the film (think Guardians of the Galaxy). But they work because the songs become part of the movie. They aren’t simply “sad Adele song plays while girl breaks up with boy and walks out into the rain.” There’s a purpose to the score and there has to be an emotional value behind it.

The soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy works with the theme of nostalgia which is a vital part of the protagonist, Peter Quill, as a character. It creates an atmosphere with meaning and the film also mixes in some original music as well. The same goes for Full Metal Jacket. The soundtrack consists of songs that were popular or came into being during the time of the Vietnam War. In this case, they help with constructing that time period and creating an atmosphere that works with the story rather than playing popular songs for no other reason than that they’re popular. This is one of the reasons why I’m continuously unsure about how I feel toward the most recent Great Gatsby film.

One of my favorite movie composers is Hans Zimmer who I appreciate most for his work with the Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean. Most people know the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean well and I’ll admit, that song still makes me feel pumped up every time I hear it. It works well for the film because it shows the excitement and the fun Disney is having with a film based on an amusement park ride. Yet the score still has this dark undertone to it to represent the more grim areas of the film series. Yes, this is a Disney film about pirates, but it’s also going to aim itself at a slightly more mature audience. This is a tale of adventure on the high seas and it’s going to be a fun ride. Zimmer’s theme perfectly captures that feeling. To have songs from the Top 40s list at the time would ruin the atmosphere this film created for itself and also runs the risk of making it dated.

Original music or music that ties into the story allow a film to become timeless. The problem I have with the 2013 adaptation of the Great Gatsby  is that while the music plays with atmosphere, it also feels more commercialized than meaningful. Honestly, each time a new song play in the movie I was taken out of it. When I look back on it, it feels very 2013 and that’s not good especially with such a classic story that many people admire.

Perhaps is they took popular songs and redid them to sound like they were from the 1920’s it would have worked better aesthetically. Instead, it felt more like they were taking something vintage and trying to bring it into modern day without updating the plot or setting itself. As a result, it was jarring. Does this mean the movie is terrible and should never see the light of day? No. It just means that it lost a sense of meaning and atmosphere it could have easily had, had it been done in another way.

I think Star Wars also did well because of its score. The music from the original trilogy has become so iconic and the movies themselves are a large piece of pop culture. I was relived to see that John Williams had returned for the Force Awakens and that this series wouldn’t tamper with the music in order to market it to a modern audience. They kept the classic, timeless, and unique aesthetic that it seems only Williams can do for Star Wars. Rey’s theme specifically illustrates her character perfectly from the moment it first plays when she is introduced to simply hearing it on Spotify. This soundtrack does not tie the music to the year it’s being released, but to the environment of the story being displayed on screen.

Movie scores have a stronger effect on the audience than the audience may even realize. And because of this, it helps a film to create something timeless that also works with the plot, characters, and settings. These things cannot be separate of each other and the music needs to play with emotions, build ups, and ultimately place the audience into this world for just a little while.

 

 

In Desperate Need of an Adventure

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I am in desperate need of an adventure.

Everyone feels this way at one time or another (right? Or is it just me being, well, me?). I don’t think it’s the desire for a change of pace because, let’s face it, I’m not overly fond of change. I like routine and living in my comfort zone even though I realize it’s healthy to step outside those boundaries. My wish for adventure is fueled by the need to get outside for a moment. Sometimes life can feel claustrophobic even in a new location with a new schedule and new people and there isn’t always enough time to ease into it all.

 Sometimes adventure is the result of the desperate need to breathe.

What I want is to drive for a while. Travel new roads, explore new towns, take in fresh air, and step outside of my normal life for a minute, hour, day. When people take even just a day trip, it’s a chance to forget about what they’re leaving behind. Even if what’s being left is nothing terrible, traveling still presents the opportunity to get outside our shell and not look at a clock for a moment.

Time slows when you drive. You have the chance to think without thinking and move forward without ever really moving. And by the time you arrive back home everything feels a little clearer and you feel a bit more awake. Adventure isn’t the necessity to escape, but just the chance to breathe.

Even just for a minute.

As the World Falls Down

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There’s a strange feeling that happens when you lose someone you never knew. When an artist who inspired you passes away whether they were a painter, actor, musician, fashion designer, architect, etc. you feel as though you’re losing a bit of yourself.

When I tend to fall in love with an artist’s work, that artist is typically dead by the time I discover them. I’m usually inspired by old literature where the author has been gone for sometime and so I never think much about how they aren’t around any longer to create. Still, they inspire me even through words that were written decades or centuries ago.

David Bowie was different to me. I discovered him when most people my age did which was through watching the Labyrinth. I first time I saw it was in high school and the one part that stood out from all the rest was the ballroom scene. It entranced me. The song was beautiful, the set was fantastical, the lyrics hit me, and I remember going home and trying to find the scene on Youtube because I couldn’t get enough. I wished the entire movie was just that one scene because it was so hauntingly beautiful to me.

It wasn’t until college that I started to really listen to his music and I was captivated by it. His lyrics were fascinating to me because they were different than anything I’d heard before. I was drawn in by the surrealism of them and how each told this almost mythical story. I was inspired without realizing it which I think is the best way to be inspired. It’s that moment when you become lost in your own ideas and the world stands still for a moment.

When I first started writing my novel about two years ago, I had a ballroom scene near the beginning and I always play music when I write to act as a score. I listened to “As the World Falls Down” over and over again as I wrote this scene out because it fit perfectly and captured the fantasy/surreal tone I was aiming for. Even though I’m currently on the second draft which has had some major changes, that scene is still there because it was one of the better ones I wrote.

Hearing that he’s gone, I feel like I’ve lost something. Knowing that someone you admired won’t be creating anymore or standing on the same earth as you is jarring. These people do become a part of your life and to know they’ve passed is a little painful. You feel speechless and hurt, but that means they made an impression on you and a good one at that.

I could say much more like how I got so excited seeing him in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me or how I love that Flight of the Concords sketch where one of the guys keeps returning as different versions of David Bowie. I could keep going, but I would just be rambling and fangirling a bit. So instead I’ll leave it like this:

“Look at that sky, life’s begun
Nights are warm and the days are young” – David Bowie (Golden Years)

RIP David Bowie.

Thank you for everything.

2015 in review

The other day I got this little email telling me about how my blog did during 2015. It started out strong, I guess. I was blogging consistently, receiving comments, likes, and even some new followers. It was good and then it sort of trailed off into nothing. A perfect comparison for my year outside of WordPress.

2014 was a disaster. It was awful, pitiful, sad, and irritating. I graduated college and was faced with the wonderful “now what?” I won’t go much into 2014 because it’s over and it’s done. It was almost two years ago now and knowing that somehow makes it less painful to think about.

That being said, I thought 2015 wouldn’t get much better. I was expecting this repeat of the last seven months I went through and I’m glad to say that it wasn’t. Near the start of March I gathered up some courage and sent in a short story I wrote to a literary journal. Then a few weeks later I summoned even more courage and got in contact with people for a job I had tried to get months ago.

Typically, I’m someone who shies away from these moments. I keep quiet and watch things happen without ever saying what I want. I just let things flow which I try to play off as me being a cool headed, slightly carefree person, but that isn’t true. I let things happen because I’m afraid of putting myself out there. I fear rejection, failure, embarrassment, and the like. So I stay quiet.

When I did these things, my heart was racing. I was afraid to look at my gmail because I didn’t want to see a rejection email. When I got an email back from the place I wanted to work at, I couldn’t open it. It sat in my inbox for hours in a separate tab because I couldn’t for the life of me look at it. And then I did. And they wanted to hire me.

In 2015 I got my first real job and I loved that job and I miss it. Even now I wish I was going back to it after New Year’s.

In April I received an email from the literary journal and they published my story that May. For the first time I had something of mine professionally published. It felt unreal. As someone who has always dreamed of being an author, this made my entire year. It’s an accomplishment I still find myself being amazed by. How did I pull that off?

In June I found out that I got a TA position at the grad school I was going to in the fall. A position that would pay for my tuition. Again, it felt unreal. Why were they choosing me? I wasn’t smart enough for that. After losing so much self confidence in 2014, I felt it steadily returning and it was an amazing feeling.

During the summer I started an internship for an online magazine and I’m going into my third semester with them simply because I like it. I remember applying for internship after internship in 2014 and to have one now that I love is strange. It’s comforting knowing that all that waiting paid off.

In August, I left my job to be a TA and I also moved into my first apartment and a new town. I haven’t gotten the hang of living alone, but it does make me feel more like an adult. Well, that and paying bills. The town, well, I don’t want to stay there long. I realized this after one week.

The last couple of months of 2015 have all been dedicated to grad school and they’ve been rough. This is why I find myself dreading 2016 and feeling a little bleh tonight. It’s 11:13pm right now and I don’t know if I’m ready for the new year. I’m not sure if I still have all the courage or self confidence I found in 2015. If anything, I just feel drained. This is part of the reason why I stopped blogging. Why I couldn’t think of interesting things to say or find inspiration. I feel exhausted almost like I had a nice, light jog and then realized I needed to sprint to get past the finished line. Now I’m lying on the track thinking “I have to do all of that again?!”

I have been writing though. I’ve been writing my novel and countless little stories. I haven’t been reading as much which needs to be fixed, but I haven’t stopped writing. If anything, I’ve been writing more.

In 2016, I hope I find my footing again. I could fall flat on my face, but I’ll still give it a try.

I hope that you have a good 2016 too with some amazing days.

Half an hour to the new year.

Let’s go.

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Basic

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you may have come across phrases such as, “#dontbebasic,” “basic bitch,” “basic white girl,” etc. If a girl (and yes, only a girl) follows a trend or enjoys something that a mass majority of other girls enjoy then she’s labeled as “basic.” All of what could have made her unique is ripped away simply because she enjoys fall, pumpkin spice lattes, sweaters, uggs, “girly” TV series, or finds a specific male actor attractive. This girl apparently has no originality and is shamed for the harmless things she enjoys. So basic. How dare she enjoy pumpkin flavor in her coffee?

What gets me more about this trend is the #dontbebasic. When I see a hashtag like this floating around, I’m instantly reminded of the “I’m not like other girls” trend that typically appears in YA novels or shows/movies geared at teen girls. This is when the story is almost dedicated to making sure that the lead female role is different from ordinary (or “basic”) girls. This girl typically reads and drinks tea. The “basic” girls wear short skirts and she wears T-shirts. They’re cheer captain and she’s on the bleachers – you get the idea.

Not only is the “not like other girls” a terrible mindset to have because it makes girls feel ashamed for liking anything that most girls like, it also makes them feel the need to compete against these other girls in order to stand out. The “basic” trend makes girls think to themselves, “well, I don’t like this so I’m not basic like those other girls. I’m different. I’m better.” I know this because I was one of these girls in high school and even for a bit in college.I thought I had to be different from the other girls for boys to like me and to have a sense of worth. It was an ignorant idea and I’m thankful that I’ve since grown out of it.

This is not something that should be congratulated. No one should make it a big deal whether or not a girl buys her coffee at Starbucks, that obscure cafe, or Casey’s. Why should that determine a girl’s worth and uniqueness?

The trend also doesn’t bother to look at the girl’s other traits. There can be 100 girls who all love fall, pumpkin, Starbucks, and uggs, but I promise you that each one will have 50 or more things about them that separates them from the other 99. One girl will love art and be a fantastic painter. Another might spend her Friday nights watching old sitcoms on Netflix. Another might write. One might race. One might snowboard. I know they’ll have those other characteristics because they’re human beings and human beings are unique.

Also, there is nothing wrong with what these girls are liking that is labeling them as “basic.” Uggs are comfortable so people wear them. Starbucks is one of the few coffee chains around especially in the U.S. so people go there. Autumn is a gorgeous season filled with an intense color, atmosphere, and warmth so people are drawn to it. There is nothing wrong with liking these things. There is nothing wrong with liking something that a majority of girls like. Not to mention that this mindset severely devalues anything that girls enjoy for the sole reason that girls are enjoying it. By doing so, this also devalues girls in general.

I’m guilty of using the “basic” line too, but I’ve only used it on myself as a way of wearing the label with pride I suppose. Still, I plan to stop altogether. I love Starbucks. I love fall. I love pumpkin spice lattes. I love being a girl. If this makes me basic then I will happily accept that because I know that I’m not. I know that I am unique just by being myself and I refuse to let go of the simple things I enjoy so I can be elevated in status over other girls.

Please, don’t stop liking something so you can be different from all the other girls. Don’t compete with each other and don’t feel less original for the things that make you happy.

You are not basic.

 

Don’t Fall in Love (With Text)

In the wise and well sung words of Meg in Disney’s Hercules, “I won’t say I’m in love.” The truth of the matter is that I am, I just don’t want to admit it. Still, I can’t stop thinking about this novel that I’ve been in the process of writing and rewriting since 2013. It’s been a lot of fun, mostly because I haven’t been putting all of my hopes and dreams onto it, but as I’m revamping the story it gets harder and harder for me to delete mass amounts of text.

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This story is not the same one I began writing in my university apartment after watching a disappointing episode of a TV series I liked and thinking to myself, “I can do better.” The plot has been altered, some characters are drastically different (some even switching genders), and the point of view went from 1st to 3rd. The story is continuously transforming and it will probably continue to do so until I feel like it’s complete.

I hate changing it sometimes though. I have Word documents of all the rough drafts and outtakes because I don’t know how to let go of pieces of text that won’t work. I feel attached to scenes that aren’t any good and ones that are good, but no longer make sense in the story’s timeline. It’s almost painful ripping away bits of the novel to make it into something new, but it has to be done.

There’s also the fear that what I’ll write next won’t be as good. It’s easy to look at a first draft and think to yourself, “What if this is the best I can do? What if I’ll ruin it by changing it?” Maybe the muses helped you write that one draft and now they’re off doing other things. Or maybe none of the drafts are good and the constant revisions are for nothing. For me, writing is a fun hobby because I love art and instead of drawing, I express myself through words. If I let myself grow so attached that fear is always in the back of my mind, then I’ve lost myself to the craft.

I can’t fall in love with the text because at the end of the day that’s all it is – text. It’s words strung together in a Word document. The words have meaning to me and I look to them for inspiration and ideas, but they’re still only words. I have to learn how to let go of what is no longer helpful to me.

The revision process is one of the messiest breakups I will ever deal with, but that’s the only way I’ll ever grow as a writer. In the end, I’ll get out of a relationship that is lovely, but not quite working and hopefully find my way toward one that clicks.

What Makes a Female Character “Strong”?

One thing that always bothered me in media is that when writers wanted a female character to be portrayed as “strong” they immediately created a woman who was both beautiful and able to kick ass. She had to be able to throw a punch in red lipstick and keep up with the boys while running in heals. She had to have the physical capability as a male action lead in order to be acknowledged as someone empowered. If she was portrayed with little fighting experience or a pacifist, she’d be labeled weak because that’s not what the media’s definition of “strong” is for women.

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For a long time as I was growing up I couldn’t stand the stereotypical strong female character. She was always bland and her only redeemable quality was that she could fight. As someone who isn’t physically strong and terrified of confrontation, I had difficulty relating to these characters. I always felt more in touch with the girl characters who were typically off to the side – the ones that were only there to make the “badass” one look more badass. If a character fell into the “sidekick” role they were considered less valuable. If they couldn’t look sexy, they weren’t remembered.Yet, these were the characters I felt were more strong than the ones in leading roles.

For me, a strong character is one with values, personality, a purpose, a heart, and a passion. When I think of strong female characters I think of these:

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Olive and Chuck in Pushing Daisies

Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe from Friends

Hermione Granger in Harry  Potter

Fantine in Les Mis.

Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park

Glinda and Elphaba in Wicked

Any of the female characters in Studio Ghibli films

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Honestly the list goes on, but that would take up this entire post. I see capable and powerful women who don’t need physical strength to give them worth. And yes, I do still like the characters that can fight and I would proudly call them a strong female character as long as their combat ability isn’t their only defining trait. The fighter character works best and is more likable for me when she’s given layers and allowed to have personality beyond how hard she can hit. (Peggy Carter, Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, etc). What gets to me is when a character can be called worthless because she doesn’t step into battle. Is that really what makes her strong? Can’t she step into battle in another way?

There is something within these less battle geared characters that makes them steady. Even a character who is girly and silly can be powerful based on her values and heart (think Glinda in Wicked). Their strength  is shown in the way they treat others, how they solve problems, how they stay positive, how they stay grounded, and the reasons go on.

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Also, even if a female character falls in love and acts a little flighty over a boy, she can still be strong. The idea that falling for a man causes a woman lead to be anything less than strong irritates me to no end. Let’s look at the Shakespeare Much Ado About Nothing. Beatrice falls in love with Benedict, but she is still this sassy, hilarious, and confident woman.

Let’s also look at Friends. Monica falls in love with Chandler and marries him, but she still continues to be herself. She looks out for her friends. She stands up for her opinions. She acts goofy. She has this amazing give and take relationship with her husband. She doesn’t stop being herself because she finds someone to care about. Much like Beatrice, love does not make her weak.

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A character does not need to be a loner and fighter to be strong. A character can be soft and even a bit silly and not be weak. There is still that stereotype of the strong female in media, but when I look back at these wonderful stories and characters over the past decades or centuries, I realize there are thousands of powerful women in fiction. The problem is, they don’t receive that spotlight because they don’t fall into the expectation our media has set out for us. They’re viewed with less value which is a shame because it’s time for some of us to realize that kicking ass doesn’t define worth or strength.

 

 

 

Packing Up Books

This past week I’ve been working on moving out of my parent’s house and into my first apartment. So far it hasn’t been much of a challenge packing all my things and getting them over to my new place. I actually procrastinated until the day I had to go down there to start throwing things into suitcases and I did this all without running behind schedule.

That was until it came to my books.

I’m still trying to figure out a way to pack them. I have a few at the apartment now, but I have a box, a backpack, and a duffel bag currently overflowing. While cramming them in yesterday, I started to wonder if I even needed to take them all with me. It’s not like I was going to re-read all of them anytime soon. I really only needed the ones for my classes. I could just leave a bunch here and slowly get them over time.

It just didn’t feel right though. I love having a shelf full of books in my house. There’s something about that library aesthetic that gives off a calm and peaceful feeling. I like the way it looks just like I like the way my DVD collection looks because they’re little pieces of me. These are the stories that stood out to me and made me laugh or think so much that I went out and spent money on them. They have meaning to me and that’s why it’s difficult to let them go.

Which means the next few days will be spent with me either buying a new suitcase or figuring out a smarter way to carry these books to my car and then to the second floor of an apartment building.

julius ceaser