He was the best at being human.
As I watched today’s Google doodle, I cried happy tears remembering good things from childhood, sad tears that one of my heroes is no longer with us, and even sadder tears thinking how much the world of 2018 needs his voice.
I remember once—I must have been about four—when we were running late for preschool and my mom was super busy. I don’t remember why we were late, maybe one of my siblings was sick or something. But my mom, frazzled, handed me my clothes in the morning and told me I could get dressed while watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I dressed behind the couch so Mister Rogers wouldn’t see my underwear.
That’s how real he was to me. His calm, measured voice, and the way he looked at the camera, made me certain he was talking just to me. So of course, I assumed he could see me too.
Have you seen the documentary about Mister Rogers?
I sobbed my way through that one too, along with the rest of the audience. It turns out that the Mister Rogers we saw every day on television really was the same in real life. He was the best of us. He was the human we all aspire to be—kind, understanding, smart, playful, and seemingly without ego. And he could play piano too.
Along with that intense hit of nostalgia right to my heart, Won’t You Be my Neighbor made me think. What would Mister Rogers say if he was alive today? What would he say about the Nazi rally in Charlottesville? About the shootings in Orlando, in Las Vegas, in Parkland? About refugee children taken from their parents and locked in cages?
Even in the hardest of times, Mister Rogers seemed to know the right words to comfort children—and adults, too. His “look for the helpers” quote got a lot of us through 9/11 and it seems to pop up on social media whenever there’s a tragedy.
I don’t know what Mister Rogers would say about our current world. But I know he would say it with kindness and empathy. He would teach us lessons about living in harmony with other people. He would acknowledge how important our emotions are. And he would never, ever let us forget that he liked us, just the way we are.
If you need me today, I’ll be watching some old episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on Netflix. You’ll probably find me behind the couch.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She’s trying to be a better human.
Getting away with it in plain sight.
(There are mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)
I went to see Ocean’s 8 last weekend and it was a delight. It had everything I love in a movie: a tricky plot, fun dialogue, genuine female friendships, characters who are great at their jobs, and an underlying theme that makes you think.
And the men? Eh, they were there, and yeah, they added a thing or two, I guess. They were more plot devices than actual characters.
Oh, wait… Could that, maybe, have been the point?
The women of Ocean’s 8 aren’t love interests or motivating factors for men. They are the heroes. And they are so, so good at what they do. The heist at the center of the movie—set in the world of high fashion and a fancy ball—is specifically female coded. Men literally could not do it.
What I love most about Ocean’s 8 was the way the gang uses society’s assumptions about women as one of their weapons. When one of them asks why there are no men involved, Sandra Bullock’s character says, “A him is noticed, a her is ignored.” Women, especially women of color, are invisible, allowing the gang to pull off the heist in plain sight. Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina play the janitor, the dishwasher and the waitress. Time after time, people look right through them. Sandra Bullock gets to play the entitled, middle-aged white woman—another easily-dismissed stereotype. Even in the film’s final act, they use old women as fences. And they get away with it, of course. If middle-aged women are invisible, then old ones might as well not exist.
The only women who are ever noticed—ever seen—are the young and pretty, so why not use that fact as well? Anne Hathaway’s character becomes a magnificent distraction. Every eye in the room is on her while the brown and black and over-the-hill women get on with the job at hand.
And what do these women buy with all their ill-gotten millions? Surprisingly modest things. A business, a production company, a solo motorcycle trip, an apartment. But they all represent the same thing—a woman who is the boss of herself, where she’s in charge.
And maybe, for once, even seen.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor. She loves being her own boss and is glad she didn’t have to pull off a heist to make it happen.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]
A pretty ring, quick thinking, and the best moment of my weekend.
I went to a great science fiction convention last weekend. I learned new things, got inspired, and hung out with friends old and new.
At one point, I wandered into the dealer’s room, which was filled with geeky things for sale. I admired the Firefly and Star Trek t-shirts, flipped through some awesome-looking books, and ended up at my favorite jeweler’s table, which was my ultimate destination all along. I was pretty sure I’d be bringing a new ring home with me.
As I tried on rings and chatted with the jeweler, a man sidled up to me and inserted himself into the conversation. This would usually be an okay thing to do. People are very friendly at cons and we enjoy the small talk. But this guy was interrupting a nice conversation between two women, and he was critiquing my choice of jewelry.
I ignored him. I ignored him hard. No eye contact. Shoulders turned away. I was going to buy myself something pretty, and I didn’t need him to tell me what that was.
Then the “conversation” took a weird turn, and my new “friend” told me that he was surprised that a woman would buy a ring for herself. That’s when I quickly paid for my selection, slipped the ring on my finger, and got out of there. I recognize negging when I hear it, and I didn’t want to give this guy the satisfaction of a response.
I sat on a nearby bench and took out my phone. A moment later, he was standing in front of me. “Well?” he said. “Let me see the ring you bought.”
I was wearing it on my middle finger and I should have flipped him the bird. But I held up my whole hand instead.
“Very nice!” he said. “I approve.”
And that’s when I had my best moment of the weekend.
Because usually things like this make me tongue-tied. I usually think of the right thing to say hours—or even days—later. Not this time. This time, the right words came immediately out of my mouth. I even nailed the tone of voice. Not mean, not defensive, just completely deadpan. Just telling it like it is.
I didn’t even look at him. I kept my eyes on my phone. “Don’t need your approval, buddy.”
There was a moment of surprised silence as he backed away a step. Then another. Then he turned tail and fled.
Honestly, I was not trying to be mean or put him in his place. I was simply stating a fact. But it got me thinking. Why do men do this?
Why do they assume their opinion is always welcomed and their approval always needed?
Why do they insert themselves into conversations and talk over women and mainsplain things to people who know more than they do?
Why do they think random women can be negged into interacting with them?
And could they just…you know…not?
About the Author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She likes to buy herself pretty things, and doesn’t need anyone’s approval to do so.
“It’s like the Discovery Channel…with beer.”
Once a month, nerds gather at their favorite bars to see a trio of 20-minute talks about…well…everything. It’s called Nerd Nite and it happens in cities all across the country. Because I live in a college town, and our Nerd Nite is sponsored by our library, we get a wide range of topics. I’ve attended talks about the science of LED light bulbs, how to critique architecture, and why fruit flies love cake. You never know what you’re going to get at Nerd Nite. Sometimes it’s history, sometimes it’s physics, sometimes it’s…me.
In October, I was a featured speaker at Ann Arbor’s Nerd Nite talking about everyone’s favorite science fiction genre—cyberpunk!
Cyberpunk was everywhere in the 1980s. It started in science fiction, but it influenced fashion, movies, comics, games, advertising, and architecture. After a decade of high-tech, neon-colored, future-looking pop culture, cyberpunk just…went away. Or did it? Could cyberpunk stories still be with us, hiding in plain sight?
Our awesome Ann Arbor District Library taped the talk for their collection, and you can watch the video right on their site.
So if you want to see me nerd out about the genre I love best, here’s the video you never knew you needed.
About the Author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor. She loves seeing people nerd out about their passions.
[Photo: Lara Zielin]
Because I love this movie like Miracle Max loves a nice MLT.
The Princess Bride is a fairy tale that turns the cliches upside down and inside out, while at the same time, giving us every familiar theme we love. I’ve seen this movie an inconceivable number of times, but I’ll always happily watch it again. It’s a comfort movie, perfect to watch when I’ve been mostly dead all day.
The Princess Bride is both modern and timeless, with nifty life lessons in some of the most quotable dialog ever. So, what can we learn from a kid’s fairy tale—a (gasp) kissing book? Well, let’s just start with what we have. (It’s for posterity, so I’ll be honest.)
10. Kind of like when you mix up your and you’re on the internet.
9. …And if you haven’t got health insurance, you’ll soon have less than nothing.
8. There is such thing as a fatal amount of confidence.
7. Being right is no good if you’re also too late.
6. Every time you stand in line for something, you pay twice: once in money and once in time.
5. If Westley can survive the Pit of Despair, you can survive your Monday morning meeting.
4. You went to the grocery store on an empty stomach.
3. Those conspiracy theories your weird relatives spout off? Some of them are true.
2. Karma will always catch up to you in the end.
…and the best, most important thing to remember:
1. There is nothing better than sharing a book with someone you love.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She never goes against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
[Photo credits: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation / Act 111 Communications]
Life lessons are everywhere, even in the Wasteland.
Mad Max Fury Road cleaned up at the Oscars on Sunday, winning six Academy Awards. So, of course, I had to watch the movie again. This time through, I thought beyond the plot, beyond the subtext, into the deeper meaning behind those iconic lines.
Here are ten life lessons that I learned from Mad Max Fury Road, that we can all use to make every day more shiny and chrome.
10. Get your rest. If you go to bed at 2:00, you’ll be wrecked for work the next day.
9. Someone’s always wrong on the internet. Don’t waste your time.
8. Know your goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never arrive.
7. Don’t settle.
6. Don’t waste your effort. If someone didn’t listen to you the first time, he won’t listen to you the second or third time, either.
5. Tell your friends about your achievements. They want to be happy for you!
4. Standing your ground isn’t always the best course. Sometimes, you gotta get the hell out.
3. Never leave your friends behind.
2. Everyone you meet is a human being, and worthy of respect.
1. There’s always something to be thankful for, even when you’re driving into a fire tornado.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. She lives each day shiny and chrome.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]
The less I care about how I look, the more I feel like myself.
I’ve had exactly one manicure in my life and that’s because someone gave me a gift certificate to a spa. I don’t color my hair. My favorite lipstick is chapstick. I’m always clean, well-groomed, and appropriately dressed, but everything else is optional, and I prefer not to opt in.
This is my current twitter picture.
No makeup, unfussy hair, not even trying to hide the circles under my eyes. But it’s exactly how I look day-to-day and I want to be my authentic self online. My authentic self is a low-maintenance gal.
Being low-maintenance does not mean I’m lazy or I don’t like pretty things. Nor does it make me less of a lady. I smile a lot. I flirt. I love to hold babies and my favorite color is pink.
My style icon is Firefly’s Kaylee Frye.
She’s sweet, she’s feminine, but she’s just not interested in obsessing about her looks. Kaylee dresses up sometimes, but only when it’s fun to do so.
So in honor of Kaylee Frye, here are the top ten benefits of being a low-maintenance gal.
10. I don’t spend money on makeup. I slap some sunscreen on my face and I’m good to go.
9. My bathroom is tidy because I don’t have a zillion little jars all over the counter. There is always room on my countertops and in my vanity drawers.
8. I travel light. That TSA rule about 3 ounce bottles in a quart-sized ziplock? No problem.
7. I can walk for miles and miles in my very cute, very flat shoes.
6. I’m a good role model for my kids. I’m showing them what a healthy, confident woman looks like. I don’t criticize my own looks and I hope they never criticize theirs.
5. Getting dressed up can be fun sometimes. It’s even more fun when it’s outside my usual routine. And special occasions feel even more special because I’ve made an effort.
4. I have nice skin. Maybe it’s because I don’t put makeup on it. Or maybe it’s the other way around and I don’t have to put makeup on already good skin. Either way, I’m happy.
3. I can get ready to go at a moment’s notice. You want to go somewhere fabulous five minutes from now? Come pick me up. I’ll be ready.
2. I’m compassionate. With my own very low beauty standard, I’ve got no place to judge yours. I have never—not once—commented on someone’s weight, hairstyle, or clothes, not even in my own mind. Because I literally do not care. I notice what people wear and how they fix their hair. I enjoy their efforts. I don’t keep score.
1. I’m never going to be the prettiest or best dressed person in the room. It’s incredibly freeing. I’m the opposite of self-conscious. I’m okay with not being the pretty one or the cool one or the fashionable one. I can just be.
Other people like to go all-out with clothes and shoes and makeup and that is great. A chic hairstyle and flawless makeup is a joy to behold. Fashion is an art form. It truly is.
Like Kaylee, I appreciate all the pretties. I love that these women make our world a more beautiful place.
And I especially love that they never ask me to go to shopping with them.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire who owns exactly one lipstick.
[Photo credits: Fox Film Corporation / Mutant Enemy Productions]
Let’s abolish this phrase once and for all.
I always cringe when I hear the phrase guilty pleasure. I hate it most when it’s in a review of popular entertainment. Cultural critics apply it to catchy pop songs, big action movies, and engrossing books. As if the critics—whose job it is to tell us what’s entertaining—can’t admit they actually like something. Or can only admit it if they also claim to be above it.
But it’s not just critics. I hear this phrase everywhere. People use “guilty pleasure” as a shield, putting things down before others do it for them. I hear it a lot from fans of manga or romance novels or YA novels. Like they know they’re supposed to be reading Proust or Faulkner, but they just couldn’t help themselves.
But here’s what really bothers me. The phrase “guilty pleasure” is always, always applied to entertainment that appeals to the emotion rather than the intellect. It’s as if we’re afraid to have an emotional experience unless we kind of hate ourselves for doing so.
No, people. Just no.
Life is too short to worry about what your entertainment choices say about you as a person. And life is way too short to mock the things you love just because they bring you big laughs or big tears.
You know what I love? I love Pippin the musical. I love Star Trek, Mad Max, and any movie that has Jackie Chan in it. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block and the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines. And I will watch anything on HGTV. My favorite are those home makeover shows where the people cry at the end. Sometimes I cry too.
All these things are awesome. These stories feed my mind and my heart. and I refuse to label them guilty pleasures. I don’t have to justify the feelings I have toward them—or the feelings I get from experiencing them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some friends coming over in a few minutes to watch Mad Max Fury Road. But first, I think I’ll queue up the Pippin soundtrack and dance around my house while singing “Corner of the Sky.”
And if my friends catch me doing it, I won’t be embarrassed.
I’ll invite them to sing along.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who never feels guilty about enjoying the books she’s reading.
Everything you need to know about Mad Max Fury Road is found in its midpoint scene.
Fury Road basically explodes in your face, so you have to wait until the adrenaline wears off to poke around in the ashes for things like character and theme. I saw it in the theater multiple times and each viewing made the movie a richer experience. There’s a lot to unpack here. Is Fury Road a feminist movie? Of course it is. But feminism is just its starting point, because everything in this movie is over-the-top, including its theme.
This post is filled with spoilers, which is why I waited for the DVD release to write it. So watch the movie, then come back so we can talk about…
This scene. Everyone’s favorite.
It comes sixty-six minutes into a two hour movie. It’s the centerpiece of the film, not just in plot but in theme.
But to understand why it’s so important, we need to look at an earlier turning point. About a quarter of the way into the movie, Max and Furiosa are still enemies. Max has disarmed Furiosa’s party. He has all the guns. He’s holding Angharad as a hostage. And Furiosa says the strangest thing to him.
She doesn’t ask for his help. She doesn’t threaten him with her hidden knife. She doesn’t try to negotiate. She says four simple words that don’t make any sense at all.
“I need you here.”
Except they make perfect sense in the context of the entire movie. Because Fury Road’s central question, “Who killed the world?” does not lay the blame at the feet of all men. Nux and the other warboys are victims just as much as Immortan Joe’s wives are. So is Max “Bloodbag” Rockatansky, whose only mistake was trying to survive alone in the Wasteland. The problem isn’t men. It’s toxic masculinity—the pointless machismo that glorifies power for power’s sake and values battlefield prowess above all else. (The Citadel’s society is so toxic it has literally become cancerous.)
Which brings us to the midpoint scene. The Bullet Farmer is coming after them in the dark. Max takes a shot at him and misses. Toast shouts, “You’ve got two left!” Max misses again.
We know action movies. We know what’s supposed to happen next. The hero is supposed to smirk over his shoulder at the girl who dared to sass at him and then fire off the perfect shot. That’s what we’re conditioned to see on the screen.
Instead, Max thinks about it for a second, then hands the rifle to Furiosa. He knows she has a better chance of success. Remember, earlier that day, she killed two men on a moving motorcycle with one shot from a standing position.
Furiosa can probably make this shot, too.
But in the Wasteland, with one bullet left, probably isn’t good enough. She needs a tripod, and there’s nothing in the landscape but mud and a tree. Max, however, is solid and steady, exactly what she needs, and he knows weapons well enough to understand why it’s important. When Furiosa rests the rifle on Max’s shoulder, she’s telling him (in actions this time instead of words) “I need you here.”
And then they go to meet the Vuvalini, which is when things really get interesting.
Because everyone loves the Badass Biker Grannies of the Wasteland. Heck, many of us want to be Badass Biker Grannies someday. But nobody seems to notice that the matriarchy is every bit as dysfunctional as the patriarchy.
As bad as it was, the Citadel at least had water and plants and children. But the Vuvalini see all men as the enemy and their society is dying. The Green Place is gone. The Earth is too poisonous to grow anything. And in case the audience misses those clues, we also see one of the women trying to grow a seedling in an animal skull.
Gee, who else uses skulls for every possible purpose?
There is only one way to fix the broken world. There is only one way for Max and Furiosa—for all of us—to achieve redemption, and that’s by working together.
So when Furiosa wants to keep running across the salt, Max convinces her that becoming like the Vuvalini won’t help. You can’t escape the problems of the world. You have to face them. He insists they can go back to the Citadel and overthrow the old order. It will be a hard day, but if they work together, men and women can make a better world.
When Max holds out his hand, you see him alone, but when Furiosa clasps his hand in agreement, it’s from the reverse angle, showing everyone together—because Furiosa has waited for every single person to be on board before agreeing to this plan.
That’s the central message of Fury Road. Is it a feminist movie? Of course it is.
And it’s also so much more.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is an editor-for-hire. Mad Max: Fury Road is her favorite movie.
[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]