“So that was a condom, not a mint?” and Other Reasons Bunheads Should Not Have Been Canceled

Gilmore Girls is my favorite show of all time, and when I heard that Amy Sherman-Palladino was writing another show, I had to watch it. Bunheads (ABC Family) did not disappoint! Although the story line is different, it made me realize why I like Gilmore Girls and Sherman-Palladino’s work so so much. Bunheads has the same clever and fast-paced dialogue that I love and missed (and A S-P apparently can’t get enough of Waiting for Godot jokes). Like the citizens of Stars Hollow, the kooky residents of Paradise, CA, remind us that we are all a little bit crazy. It was even fun to see a few familiar faces, like Liza Weil, Kelly Bishop, Sean Gunn and Rose Abdoo, in new and equally wonderful roles.

Needless to say I am extremely sad that the show has been cancelled. I am sad because I think more shows should be like this one. I am sad because if I had a daughter or a little sister, this is the kind of show I would want her to be watching.

The girls (Sasha, Ginny, Boo, and Melanie) are good role models. They are passionate and dedicated young ladies who spend hours everyday practicing the thing they love until they get it right. At the same time, they are still normal teenage girls who enjoy sleepovers and going to the movies. No one is without flaws, yet they are intelligent, talented and motivated, and these qualities help them navigate the drama that friends, family, and romance bring to their lives.

Example: at the end of the season, Sasha decides that she wants to have sex. But she wants to make sure she is ready, she wants to be informed! So she rounds up Boo, Ginny, and Melanie…and they read about it. They go to the library. She seeks the advice of a trusted adult. This plot development, where Sasha and Boo consider taking their relationships to the next level, was handled in such a refreshing (and adorable!) way. Sex wasn’t made “unsexy” but it was treated like the real and very major decision that it is, and I think more people need to see that kind of behavior on television.

The ballet itself also makes the show special. The girls aren’t just attending class–performances add another artistic dimension to the episodes that is really beautiful. I’m not a dancer (and I imagine that people who do dance will have a different response to this aspect of the show) but I really came to see dancing as the form of expression that it is. The moments when Michelle and the girls are dancing were an essential part of the storytelling, like dialogue and music.

For example, this scene which expresses Sasha’s emotional turmoil, or the final scene of the show, a dance to “Makin’ Whoopee”–a fitting musical choice in light of the episode.

James Poniewozik wrote a great article for TIME about the show. The importance of the show, he says, is “to prove that there are different kinds of stories worth telling outside the usual genres.” He also writes, (and I’m quoting him because I literally cannot say it better): “But death is not the only thing that makes your life worthy of your attention. There’s growing up, finding your limitations, learning who you are. There’s being grown up, being forced to reassess your life, figuring out who you still can be. There’s wanting things and pursuing a calling–which does not always have to be building the largest meth operation in the Southwest.”  Bunheads is not Breaking Bad*–it doesn’t have that kind of suspenseful, high-stakes, high-adrenaline feel, but that might make it all the more worth watching. And like Poniewozik also points out–between Fanny, Michelle, and the girls–this show speaks to multiple generations

I am disappointed, but I’m not the only one. I hope to see more from Amy Sherman-Palladino in the future, and some more creative and intelligent shows like Bunheads on television.



Poniewozik, James. “On the Importance of Bunheads”. TIME. 26 Feb. 2013 Web. 4 Aug 2013 http://entertainment.time.com/2013/02/26/on-the-importance-of-bunheads/

*I am not hating on Breaking Bad.


Thoughts on “The Fault in Our Stars”

It has been a shamefully long time since my last post–my apologies! Even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been doing plenty of reading, thinking, and writing. From Final papers to personal statements (and wedding speeches!) it feels like writing is all I have been doing for the past seven months! But enough excuses. I just read  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Penguin Books Limited, January 2013). It was a beautiful book and I’m sharing some of my thoughts about it in this post.

I was yearning for “light” reading and I am huge sucker for romance. Somehow I ended up choosing a novel about teenagers with cancer. Romance, check! Light, not at all.  This book may be categorized as “young adult” fiction, but I think it is a worthwhile read for anyone. At times heartbreaking, at times humorous, and often both at once, this story transcends age. The protagonists are teenagers, but this story is not about “coming of age” –it is about coming to terms with death, and coming to terms with the life you have lived. We are all going to have to come to terms with death. For Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters, the time comes tragically too soon.

Many reviews praise Green’s handling of the subject matter, and I read the book partially out of curiosity: how does one write about terminal illness and “boy-meets-girl” in a way that isn’t maudlin or trite? I think Green achieved this by not making cancer the focus of the book. It’s always there, in Augustus’s prosthetic leg and Hazel’s oxygen tank, but disease doesn’t define the characters in a tiresome and limiting way.  Perhaps this illustrates the power of writing to illuminate something otherwise invisible. The novel shows how illness can be conspicuous and draw unwanted attention, but in words printed on pages, the characters have the opportunity to be seen as so much more than their diagnoses.

In the simplest of terms, I would describe TFIOS as  a story about how literature affects people (and what English major wouldn’t love a novel about that?). Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction (shout out to Emily Dickinson) is about a girl who has cancer and Hazel is utterly enthralled by the way the author (this is not a real book) writes about the disease. This book ends mid-sentence, and she desperately wants to know what happens to all the characters, and has written the author several times to find out. At first I found her obsession a bit simplistic –why do you really need to know what happened? What makes you think that the author has an ending for them? In school, especially this past year, I have been trained to challenge my very desire for these answers. So I did this for Hazel too, and I think that her preoccupation with the “afterwards” reflects the way that she, with her terminal diagnosis, “misses the future.” She worries about her parents. She worries about being “a grenade” and hurting Augustus by dying.  She is concerned about what will happen when her story ends. I’m not really a fan of books-in-books, and the author, Van Houten, is the most unpleasant part of the novel. Yet this “function” for An Imperial Affliction and Hazel’s obsession with its ending is what makes TFIOS incredibly sad. A lump rises in my throat even now, perhaps because of my propensity to daydream all the time. I imagine the future–who doesn’t? But I am in my daydreams of the future. Hazel is not in hers.

As Google will tell you, the title refers to a line from Cassius to Brutus in Julius Caesar, and the title of the fake book refers to a poem by Emily Dickinson. In this day and age, you don’t have to have remembered the line, or be well-versed in Dickinson to know that these are allusions (although I strongly believe familiarity affects one’s emotional response). Do a Google (or Bing, whatever) search of “An Imperial Affliction.” Emily Dickinson’s poem “A certain slant of light” is now forever tied (at least via the internet) to the title of a fake book (and TFIOS). The first page is actually all hits related to the fictional book. I can’t decide if this is strange or cool. Probably both. Maybe people who read TFIOS will go read or reread the poem, leading to a newfound appreciation for Dickinson. I also like that, in a novel published in 2013, teenagers battling terminal illness challenge the assertion that “the fault is not in our stars, but ourselves”, engaging in a dialogue with Shakespeare, as well as a story that was thousands of years before Shakespeare. Just as the literature of the present responds to (or is inspired by) the literature before it, intertextuality allows the “old literature” to be be considered in a new context–this is exciting to me.

There are many poignant and insightful moments that I would like to explore, but I’ll stop here for now. If you haven’t read the book yet, you should! It is a quick read, but one that is not soon forgotten. Just keep a box of tissues close by.



Poems (and blog posts) are made by fools like me

I must come across as the kind of person who likes trees (read: I have the capability of becoming emotionally attached to them) and thus I was given a bonsai tree for my birthday this year. And by “given a bonsai tree” I mean that I have an awesome person in my life who managed to pack a bonsai tree and bring it on a plane to give to me. I joked that I didn’t just get a token celebrating another year of life, but a new hobby. Really, though, the tree is wonderful and it makes me incredibly happy. I’m proud and relieved that I have managed to keep this tree alive for six months, and here is a post in its honor.

Before July, I did not realize that “bonsai” refers to the way that the tree is cared for and maintained–any tree can be a bonsai tree, the goal is to keep it short while allowing the trunk to grow in circumference. Of course, some trees make better bonsais than others. My tree is a Brazilian Rain Tree, native to, as it’s name would suggest, a tropical climate. But it is a hardy tree as well as a beautiful one, and it has done splendidly in Pennsylvania (it can withstand temperatures above 35 degrees Fahrenheit). I just have to keep the soil moist, watering it every three days, feeding it nutrients about every other week, and allow it to sit in plenty of sunlight.

Bonsai is more than just a way of caring for a tree, it’s an art form. One that I haven’t particularly gotten the hang of yet. I removed the wire in August, as I was supposed to, and I’m hesitant to wire it again. The wire was difficult to remove, and I don’t have an artistic vision for the tree yet. I like seeing how it grows on it’s own, always pleasantly surprised to see where a new cluster of soft green leaves has decided to burst. Pruning it is so difficult! I never know where to cut, wanting to give all the new growth a chance, to see where it goes.

My favorite thing about this tree is its dynamic leaves. Every evening, the leaves clusters close, and bow their heads as though drifting off into sweet leafy dreams. In the morning, they lift and open, reaching out to soak up the sunlight. It is a constant reminder to me that this tree is indeed alive and responsive to its environment.

I’m also fascinated  by this tree’s resilience. Like a protective mother, I have held this tree in my lap for several hours in the car, in spite of eye-rolls from my family. But trees aren’t meant to travel so much, and somewhere along the way, a branch was injured. However, according to an online bonsai forum, if the cambium is still intact, you can super glue a branch back together. Problem solved!

Perhaps most remarkable of all is that trees can live for hundreds of years. If this tree is well cared for, it could live longer than I do. In the spirit of growing up, and recognizing my own insignificance (while still trying to be significant anyway?) I may be just a small part of its life. And it has certainly changed me–I have the responsibility of remembering to take care of something other than myself (I’ve never had pets, okay?) and I never thought I would be browsing bonsai forums online, videos of old men talking about aerated soil on youtube, or ordering pruning shears on Amazon, but here I am. I don’t mind the person I’m becoming–on a Tuesday afternoon, taking a 15 minutes after class to prune and admire my beautiful tree is a welcome and much needed break.

Pictures (yes I made a collage stop judging me)

tree picframe


P.S. If the title of this post has you puzzled, read this poem by Joyce Kilmer.

The Olympics

I am not particularly athletic, nor do I follow sports.  However, I love the Olympics and I always watch. I was born in an Olympic year, and apparently my mother would watch them as she fed us in the evenings, so I suppose you could even say I’ve loved it since I was born.

My favorite sports to watch in the summer games are swimming and gymnastics. I know how to swim, but I am completely gymnastically challenged. I’ve never even been able to do a proper cartwheel. This is one reason that I love watching the gymnasts so much;  I am just so in awe of what they are able to do. This year, I feel so…old. All of the women gymnasts are younger than I am. It has put in perspective for me just how incredible it is for them to be there. Their accomplishments come with sacrifices; to say that they are dedicated or that they have worked hard is an understatement.

While I was watching yesterday, I admired the speed, agility, and strength of some of the world’s best athletes. I also admired the way they handled defeat. Or maybe not defeat, but not doing as well as they wanted to, or as well as they know they could have done. We’ve all felt that way before, perhaps after a test or a violin recital, but not at the Olympics. Not in front of the world.   To say “It is disappointing” can’t possibly even begin to describe how they really feel, but that’s what they tell all the reporters.  These people are pushing the limits of what human bodies can do. How fast they can propel themselves through water? To what degree can you defy gravity and and gracefully flip your body through the air? It must be hard then, when inches or fractions of a second get in the way of your dreams.  Watching John Orozco fall off the pummel horse, or the one slalom kayakers flip over in rapids, I want to tell them, “I’m sure you’ve done that perfectly thousands of times before! Otherwise you wouldn’t be there!” Their ability to accept their own humanity and continue to persevere is something we can all learn from them. I will never have the abdominal strength required to hurl my own body in the air, but I hope I can be as dedicated in the things that matter to me. I hope I can always believe in myself, even when I don’t do as well as I want to. There is something to be said for being proud of silver, or even fourth place, while still always aiming for the gold.

Sister, Sister

A few days ago, as my sister Fatema and I were walking back to the lab after lunch, a lady stopped us right in the lobby of the Perelman Center and just asked “Twins?” We smiled and said “Yes.” “Y’all are beautiful,” she responded, before continuing on her way, which was very sweet. We’ll never know why she was so interested–perhaps she is a twin herself. Perhaps she is the mother or sister of twins. Or perhaps she simply happened to notice us and was fascinated by our remarkable resemblance (we are not identical, but many people think we are). It’s definitely not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but in honor of our twentieth birthday (!) a few weeks ago, I am writing tonight about being a twin.

We decided to make the entire weekend a celebration, and had a lovely weekend at home with our family. The occasion called for my mother’s biryani, chocolate mousse cake from 33 East…and watching some baby videos. My favorite video is one in which Fatema and I are being really hyper in her room. It’s probably about 9 pm and we should be getting ready for bed but instead Fatema is doing somersaults with her beloved stuffed polar bear and I am really interested in my Dad’s camera. Giggle fits, shrieks, belly laughs, and two little girls running around the room in footie pajamas. What I love about the video is that so much has stayed the same. My sister is still the more active of the two of us. She might just start doing crunches in a spare fifteen minutes instead of somersaults. Late night chats happen regularly (minus the footie pajamas) and giggle fits can occur at any time of day (our good friends can confirm that!) She is the person who can make me laugh the most. Even though she is only five minutes older than me I still look up to her and learn from her.

People often ask if we fight a lot. I really hate this question. First of all, I would never think to ask it. Secondly, it always asked with a smirk or this sense of intense curiosity that makes me feel very uncomfortable, as though the person would take great pleasure in watching my sister and I argue. It’s not fair because I’m too honest to say “no” although that is probably the best answer. We have a really wonderful relationship, but no one likes everyone 100% of the time, especially someone with whom you spend almost all of your waking hours.Think about it: The people you are closest to and love the most are also the ones that you are more likely to “fight” with. You care about them. You care about the things they say. Knowing someone well also means you have the power to hurt them, and all power is inevitably abused at some point. So when someone asks me this (and especially if I’m in sassy mood, which is more often than not) I will respond “Well, do you and your siblings ever get annoyed with each other?” in an effort to shut them up.

As much as I love being a twin, and embrace the “sharing” aspects that are included, being constantly lumped with another person gets old. It’s not cute when you are the one being lumped. FatemaandFarida, FaridaandFatema. It’s hard, because we don’t make it easier to for people to differentiate between us by finishing each other’s sentences, having similar interests, referring to ourselves as “we”, and ordering the same food all the time (seriously. Except when she eats like a vegetarian).  If you don’t recognize me as an individual, how can I get to know you? Ultimately, we are two individuals, and when someone doesn’t make an effort to tell us apart, or think it is cool to call us “the twins” it makes it difficult to be close to that person. Only big sisters get to do that.

It may seem to some people that we just can’t escape each other. Our colleges are two miles apart, and even in college we know the same people and have some classes together. This summer, we not only worked in the same lab, but in adjacent bays. I could peek through the shelves and see her hard at work isolating platelets. Honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Partner in crime, partner in gym class, partner in bio lab. Movie date. Party date. Company for the car ride home. It’s pretty sweet and I appreciate it more and more every day.

The One Thing I Might Have in Common with Spiderman

I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man on Friday night. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I was actually surprised that they were even making another one. Fortunately, it was awesome (go see it!). In this interpretation, in which “cross-species genetics,”  emphasizes the wondrous and horrific possibilities of science, you feel the familiar chills and thrills as you watch a shy but smart young man transform into a superhero. And you get to stare at Andrew Garfield for two hours and sixteen minutes.

I’ve never actually read the Spider-Man comics, or for that matter, any comics about superheroes. Also, the violence that is generally part of action movies makes me dizzy. I cringe throughout the climax, as the beloved protagonist becomes covered in blood, bruises, and burns. Yet when I watch the scene in which Peter is too angry and resentful to help stop the robber, and that robber ends up killing Uncle Ben,  I feel like my heart is literally being wrenched out of my chest. I can only imagine how Peter is struggling to live with his remorse.  And then there are lighter moments, like when he can barely ask Gwen Stacey on a date: how can anyone who has ever had a crush on anyone else not relate to him? In the darkness of the theater, I was totally grinning from ear to ear (and blushing) as he stuttered and shrugged his way through the most awkward and adorable asking-out ever. The moments like this, in which we witness a character’s vulnerabilities,  are perhaps more meaningful than the moments in which they save the world. One could argue that their superpowers make them who they are; it is what sets them apart from the rest of the population. However, it is their vulnerabilities that dictate how they will choose to use their power. Peter is first motivated by vengeance, then by moral responsibility. But as Spiderman, he can’t bring Uncle Ben back, nor can he always protect everyone he loves. His helplessness is a reminder that he isn’t so different from us after all.

In the previous film, the memorable line from Uncle Ben that the audience and Peter are left to ponder is “With great power comes great responsibility.” In this version, I left the theater thinking about something that happened in the last scene, words from Peter’s English teacher. She says how her English teacher taught her that there were ten plots in literature, but he was wrong. There is only one. It is “Who am I?” In Spider-Man, a search for identity is the ultimate driving force: he must figure out how to use his powers to do the most good, while also learning more about his parents and their past. But if this is one common theme in all literary works, then it is perhaps the theme of our stories too. Our day to day actions can be accounted for as part of a search for our identities. We are constantly carving out our spaces in the world. We build and manage relationships that give us a sense of place and purpose. We develop and hone our own superpowers, hoping to make a difference. We express ourselves with music and art and words, so that our individual voice may be recognized and appreciated. Maybe that’s why I am writing this blog: with the hope that, by writing, I will somehow give a more definite shape to my identity.