Meaningful Media

SONG: "The Gambler" by fun. 

I first heard this song when I was in eighth grade. The most popular girl in our middle school rather cryptically wrote "I will buy the flower shop and you will never be lonely" on her Facebook page. Intrigued by everything she did, I couldn't stop myself from Googling the line, which I learned was a lyric from this song. I began to listen to the 4-minute medley on repeat, moved both by the story it tells, of a young man's love for the woman who would become his wife, and the teller of the story, the son of that loving couple, who so clearly adores his family.

This has remained my favorite song for almost 5 years now. Unlike some of the other items on this list, it's beauty is not diminished with repetition. 

PAINTING: "Portrait of a German Officer" by Marsden Hartley


There is something aesthetically displeasing about this painting. It is, as my mother would say, "very busy." The colors are aggressive, the symbolism easily lost, the eye misdirected. You get the feeling you have been absorbed into an episode of "Hoarders" featuring a military memorabilia collector. But the story behind it appealed to my 16-year-old self so deeply, I was able to let go of my superficial misgivings, and I can say, with only the smallest reservation, that this is one of my favorite paintings.

The story behind the painting is short, sweet, and more than a little ingenious. Hartley, the painter, created for us an engaging portrait of his lover without ever revealing even the slightest hint of his lover's face, bust, or body. We learn about this German officer not through the lines in his face, or the faint smile sitting on his lips, but through initials, numbers with unknown import, bits of a uniform, and pieces of a flag. 

POEM: "Having a Coke with You" by Frank O'Hara

When I went away to summer camp at sixteen, to befriend fellow aspiring writers, and bathe my soul in soft sunlight and the scent of citrus, I managed (much to my surprise) to convince three young fiction writers that I was worthy of adoration and commemoration. They read this poem, by the mid-century American poet Frank O'Hara, in their class (it was an educational camp), and each decided separately, and then together, that when they read these lines, I was the girl who first came to mind. (Nevermind O'Hara was gay and this is clearly written about a man.) 

Nothing ever happened between me and any of these boys besides friendship. None of them ever offered me a coke during those wonderful weeks. It was only after we were all once again spread safely around the world that each one told me of this poem, and of their secret hopes for that summer. My relationships with all three of them have disintegrated. I would say I lost contact, but in the digital age, that would be a lie. We have moved on, we different people, different priorities in our lives now. But the poem, and the memories of that summer wound up in its verses, are with me always. 

BOOK: "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

This is a book I have sworn never to read again, because I fear it won't stand up to closer inspection, that it won't be as touching and profound on second read as it was the first time around. 

I pre-ordered this book and it arrived in early January 2012. I read it in a night and I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, my facial muscles decidedly hard, feeling unable to cry or move. I was fifteen, just a year younger than the cancer-ravaged protagonists. I was struggling with the idea of mortality -- mine and others -- but I was (and, fortunately, still am) doing it from the general's quarters, miles from the battlefront. I am not sick and my friends and close family are healthy. But death is lurking, and this book brought that truth into my bedroom. 

TV SHOW: "Girls" on HBO

This show, and its creator/writer/director/producer/star Lena Dunham, are veritable phenomena. Every quote has been Tumblr-ed, every song on the soundtrack marked on Spotify, every "excess" pound on Dunham's body scrutinized. With all the superficial arguments surrounding its production, it's easy to forget what makes the show great -- the unflinching gaze it turns on its characters. The four girls in question are navigating unpredictable terrain in the in-between space after graduation, and before "adult" status is truly achieved. Even when equipped with the most accurate maps and highest quality gear, they are all prone to walking off cliffs and getting caught in storms. 

I think my relationship with this show will deepen in coming years. Currently, I watch it from the comfort of my college dorm room. I can't imagine how close I will feel to Hannah Horvath and company in the future, when I'm watching them from my own just-above-squalor apartment after my 9-5 day at a less-than-ideal job. 

MOVIE: "Don Jon" (2013)

I don't know exactly why this movie, which, too be honest, is a very strange movie, captivated me so completely, but it did. On an artistic level, I greatly admire Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial style, the way he cuts so sharply between scenes (all of them short enough to be categorized as vignettes) reflects not only the way his character lives his life, but also mirrors the way my generation consumes information -- in short, quick bursts.

I also appreciate each of the performances, namely Gordon-Levitt in the titular role of Don Jon, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly as his parents, and Brie Larson as the omnipresent, but totally silent, sister delights. 

But I think what really appealed to me, without giving away the plot, is the character's personal growth. The collegiate world of dating, hook-ups, and cheesy matchmaking apps can make you forget that people do find love and it has the power to change them, for the better. That's the ultimate message of "Don Jon," and it makes the awkwardness of his porn addiction worth suffering through. 

PODCAST: WTF with Marc Maron

I saved the most meaningful for last. WTF, in short, makes you feel like you're not alone. Marc Maron, who was struggling as a stand-up comic when the show first began, talks to other comedians (and, increasingly, actors and other Hollywood professionals) about what makes them who they are. 

Maron recently marked his 500th episode of the show, which has featured everyone from father-son directors Ivan ("Ghostbusters") and Jason ("Juno") Reitman to Lena Dunham, Louis CK, and Zach Galifinakis. Guests have cried and yelled and laughed hysterically, revealed secrets, talked nerdy, and revealed the darkest parts of their personalities. 

I had been a casual listener for a couple years, but my commitment to the pod was solidified just last month. I was studying abroad in French Polynesia, literally stranded on an island, with a bunch of strangers. They were all good "experiential" learners (in other words, they were partying it up on the beach),  but I yearned for the classroom, for intellectual engagement, for a dialectic. When I realized, after several uncomfortable attempts at analytical conversation, that I would not get what I needed from the members of my travel group, I turned to WTF and I was restored. Listening to these people talk, with intelligence and vulnerability, made me feel complete when I felt most alienated from myself. 

This podcast is raw. It is human. And you really need to listen to it. Visit the website

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