All posts by jeaninerussaw

Jeanine (@JMarieRussaw) is a recent graduate of Hofstra University's journalism program. An avid reader and an insatiable lover of travel, she is currently seeking the SCOOP while navigating the fast-paced New York City streets.

BOOK REVIEW||TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN

Image result for talking as fast as i can book cover

photo credit: Penguin Random House

TALKING AS FAST AS I CAN (audiobook)

Listening to Lauren Graham recount the exciting moments of her life in this audiobook is like inviting your coolest friend over for brunch. Not dinner… brunch. She’s just that hip.

Graham comes across as witty, trendy, and most importantly… true to herself. After listening to her story, it’s not surprising that she has had staying power in an industry with very little scruples about tossing aside those who no longer fit the ever-changing mold of what a “star” looks like.

To be honest, before listening to Talking As Fast As I Can (from Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between)I did not know much about her other than that she had played the fast-talking Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and was the brilliant author of Someday, Someday Maybe. 

I came to the series pretty late. I was a senior in college when Gilmore Girls appeared in Netflix for the first time and was pretty amused when the internet freaked out over it. My roommate was a die-hard fan of the entire series and knew almost everything there was to know about its actors and writers. She was the one who lent me Graham’s first book Someday, Someday Maybe while playfully demanding I start watching the show.

I fell in love instantly. The writing of Amy Sherman-Palladino was clever and lively; it was fast-moving and had a rare rhythm that absolutely captivated me.

BUT.

That was all I knew. I did had no idea what she had done before and did not realize she had worked between the ending of Gilmore Girls  and its highly-anticipated netflix reboot Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. 

Halfway through listening to her speak I found myself going to the netflix app on my phone and adding Parenthood  to my queue. It sounded so good… and if Lauren Graham was in it, I KNEW I would be interested.

Talking As Fast As I Can details Graham’s life before acting, the struggle of the early years before arriving, dating, overcoming obstacles as a writer, returning to Gilmore Girls, and her charming “Old Lady Jackson” personality.

NOTE: The “Kitchen Timer” and “Old Lady Jackson” chapters were probably my two favorites of the entire book.

And did I mention she does it in under 5 hours?

True to her word, Graham really does talk fast… or rather, her words have the same famous wit and quick-moving rhythm she conveys as Lorelai Gilmore.

If you are a fan of Gilmore Girls (or a fan of any of Graham’s work), this book should be at the top of your #tbr list. It can be listened to in a single afternoon — if you are so inclined– or may spice up an otherwise dull night in.

Rating: 5/5

WHAT’S IN MY QUEUE? || Stranger Things (season 2)

Image result for stranger things

photo credit: wired.com

Like most viewers, I wasn’t sure what expect going into the second season of Stranger Things.

Without a missing Will Byers to locate and “El” seemingly out of the picture, I couldn’t help but wonder: would the second season be as magical as the first? Or would the 1980s  throwback lose its luster and fall into an oh, so common sophomoric slump?

But as everyone else continued to rave about it, I knew that my watching it would be fast-approaching… lest I be smacked in the face with a dreaded spoiler.

It’s only  fair to admit I was pretty late to the party with the series.

I only watched the first season AFTER  season 2 came out — though I devoured it in a matter of days — and clearly took my time getting to the show’s second installment.

BUT.

It did not disappoint.

In fact, it was better.

The second season picks up with central character Will Byers being put through the ringer. I’m just going to say it — the season was not kind to him (not that the first season was either!). The trauma of being in the “upside down” for so long has a powerful grip on him… though to say more would be giving too much away.

It’s worth noting that while Will Byers is in many ways the conduit between the characters’ hometown of Hawkins, Indiana and the unknown dimension referred to as the “upside down,” Stranger Things is an ensemble show in every way imaginable. The actors play well off one another and each shines in their own personal relationship to the plot at large.

With nine episodes in the season, there are quite a number of  twists and turns to keep track of. We see the evolution of Nancy and Johnathon’s relationship while they grow into a roles that protect their younger siblings. Winona Ryder is brilliant as Joyce… and the most attentive parent in the series.

Now, this is a personal pet peeve of mine in ANY series: when the kids are SO MUCH smarter than the adults. I mean, unrealistically so.

While I understand that many kids are, in fact smarter than their parents, that does NOT mean all common sense and rational thought has to elude the adults in scenes opposite their kids.

However, I can let that one slide because focus is mainly pulled to the many new and exciting characters introduced this season.

“Mad Max” appears on the scene as the perfect addition to the eighth grade gang’s posse, albeit with an abusive stepbrother who introduces the element of racism to the show with his clear contempt for Lucas.

On that tricky subject, I will express an annoyance for the scenes Lucas’s sister is in. They are few, thankfully, because her portrayal of the stereotypical “sassy black girl” is highly offensive, and something I positively CANNOT abide.

I don’t care if the series is set in the ’80s. This is 2018. Shame on the Duffer Brothers for directing her to act that way.

Other than that, the writing and directing was spot on… though this is coming from someone who was not alive in the ’80s.

However, the intricacies of the fictitious world of the “upside down” continues to create a beautiful and haunting allegory for forces beyond human understanding… and an unwillingness to give up.

The question remaining is: will there be a third season?

I certainly hope so.

The January Book Review: Halsey Street

Image result for halsey street by naima coster

photo credit: Vox / Little A

Let me start of by saying that as 2018 approached,  I felt a TREMENDOUS amount to pressure to choose the next book I would read.

I know… silly, right?

But I felt that with the late start I had in staying true to my New Year’s resolutions, I had to just relax. And by relax, I mean quit dwelling on the things I CAN’T control and begin focusing on what I CAN.

Things I can’t control: other people’s opinions, what my bosses assign me at work, what my roommates do, the state of our country… basically, an infinite amount of things.

Things I can control: My attitude, how I handle things, how I manage my time, how to do things that make me happy, WHAT BOOK I READ… not as many as the first list, but a lot more than what I’ve just written.

Boy, did I take that last one to heart. I love to read, and figured the first book I ready of 2018 would really set the tone for what is shaping up to be another chaotic year. However, despite the unnecessary stress I put on myself to make what is usually a completely arbitrary choice…

I finally picked up Halsey Street.

Friends… I made the right choice.

THE BOOK

Halsey Street  is the stunning debut novel by Naima Coster.

It was released on the first of the new year.

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Naima Coster

photo credit: Jonathan Jimenez

The story takes us on the journey of 28-year-old Penelope Grand, an artist who moves from Pittsburgh to Brooklyn to care for her ailing father. The story unfolds beautifully between the past and “real-time,” all set against the disarming backdrop of gentrification.

Early in the book, we are introduced to the Harpers… the white family Penelope lives with because she just can’t bear the thought of living with her father again. The Harpers mirror everything Penelope isn’t; they have everything she doesn’t have. They’re white,  well-off, and happy.

Noticeably absent from Penelope’s thoughts in the first chapter of the novel is her mother, Mirella. An intelligent, independent Dominicana, Mirella has struggled to maintain a relationship with her independent, multi-racial daughter.

Halsey Street compares and contrasts the lives of Penelope and Mirella, while skillfully pivoting between their strong voices. As the story unfolds with the Harper Family looming in the background, we see how thin family ties can quickly come unbound with the help of a drastically changing landscape.

WHY IT MATTERS

This novel offers a glimpse into the lives of people from marginalized communities, battling tooth-and-nail for their livelihood (and at the heart of it, very existence) due to the circumstances of an unjust society.

Halsey Street is the story of surviving in a world of racism, colorism, elitism, and suffocating inequities. It’s the story of driving oneself down a dark path to both conform to and rebel against what such a society demands of you.

It’s about crumbling family ties, and incredibly strong women.

If you can relate to the experiences described in Halsey Street, this book is for you.

If you can’t relate to the experiences described in the story, this book will educate you.

The January Movie Wrap Up: The Shape of Water… Lady Bird… I,Tonya… The Post & Molly’s Game

It’s proving to be an exciting time for lovers of the silver screen.

2017 has seen blockbuster film after blockbuster film… and diverse voices are FINALLY being heard. It wasn’t too long ago that the twitterverse blew up with #OscarsSoWhite, and I’m happy to say marginalized communities have been winning small victories in the battle for fair media portrayals. We still have a long way to go… but for now I choose to focus on the positive.

photo credit: thenewscasters.com

THE SHAPE OF WATER

I went to see this charming film the day after Christmas, without knowing a single thing about it. It’s rare that I see a movie without watching the trailer first, but for this one I’m glad I didn’t.

As it happens, the movie (directed by Guillermo del Toro) takes place in America at the height of the Cold War and race for technological supremacy between the United States and Russia… but there’s a twist.

The story follows the journey of a non-verbal Latina named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). Esposito works in a government agency developing what is supposed to be the country’s greatest weapon in the war against Russia… but again, there is a twist.

Adding the perspectives of Espositio’s homosexual neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and black co-worker (Octavia Spencer), the movie was polished with the painfully accurate experiences many from marginalized communities faced during a time fraught with stifling injustice and despicable societal inequities.

The performances of the trio were exquisite. They played extremely well off of one another in roles that were not “easy” to embody (is any role really easy to portray?).

“The Shape of Water” opened ( and ended) in one of the most haunting, ethereal ways imaginable. I don’t believe in spoilers, but I will say that I encourage everyone to see it. Were it up to me, this would be MANDATORY viewing for so many reasons.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

photo credit: The New York Times

LADY BIRD

“Lady Bird” (written and directed by Greta Gerwig) was the scrappy coming of age movie I expected it to be… and so much more.

The story played with some interesting themes: mother/daughter relationships, gratitude, truthfulness, and the always interesting dynamic between the person one is versus the mask they show the rest of the world.

While I haven’t always been a huge fan of watching movies in public spaces (more on that later), this particular movie was a blast to see in theaters. Everyone reacted in similar fashion to various show-stopping points in the movie… which is not common in so diverse a city as New York.

Gerwig knocked it out of the ballpark with “Lady Bird.” Coming of age stories are always hit or miss (pardon the baseball puns… completely unintentional!) simply because everyone grows up in a different way.

However, when you can capture enough voices and perspectives to have nearly everyone in your audience reflecting on an relating to misguided stories of their youth… you know you have a winner.

Rating: 4.8 / 5

photo credit: Rolling Stone

I, TONYA

I will admit… I did NOT know much about Tonya Harding before going out to see this docu-style feature. I knew the basic story of how she and her ex-husband allegedly sabaotaged her fellow figure skaters career by hiring a goon to bust her kneecap during  practice.

Now, this movie is said to have shed a true light on what really happened on that fateful day and the circumstances leading up to it. It’s all highly debatable, and we, as the public may never know the true story. There is no proof.

BUT.

This movie did teach me a lot about the Tonya’s journey as a figure skater. Through domestic abuse, dealing with elitism, domestic abuse (again) and abandonment issues, it’s clear that Ms. Harding did not have an easy life.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Splicing the real interviews of Tonya, her ex-husband and his friend into the end was a nice touch.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

ThePost_1photo credit: susangranger.com

THE POST

To be honest,  the only reason I went to see “The Post” was for the performances of acting legends Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. 2016 and 2017 have been such politcally charged years, that I wanted no parts in watching historical drama about he follies of the Nixon administration. I go to the movies to ESCAPE reality, after all… and dare I say, history has a funny way of repeating itself.

But it was a great film, which isn’t unusual of a Stephen Spielberg picture. Considering the star power behind The Post, its greatness was practically demanded.  Again, I don’t believe in spoilers… so I won’t delve too much into it. However, if you don’t know much about the infamous Pentagon Papers during Nixon’s presidency, this movie is a great place to start.

Rating: 4.75 / 5

 

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 photo credit: rottentomatoes.com

 

MOLLY’S GAME

Aaron Sorkin wrote it. Need I say more?

Molly’s Game is the brilliant re-telling of a true story. Molly Bloom was an olympic-class skier until the day a nasty tumble on the slopes ended her career.

Facing unresolved issues from her childhood and a need to escape the suffocating  mindset of perfectionism, Ms. Bloom leaves her home town for Los Angeles and ends up working for a rather shady character running an underground poker game.

She takes control of the game, loses it… and loses herself.

The movie takes place in both the past and present… where Ms. Bloom is helped out by her intuitive and charismatic lawyer (Idris Elba). A lot of themes come into play, and Molly’s voice shines brilliantly throughout.

Did I mention Aaron Sorkin wrote it?

Rating: 5 / 5

NEW YEAR, NEW SITE!

As usual, my January began in free fall.

The holidays were pleasant enough, considering the tragedy that struck my family in the middle of 2017. And yet… I just can’t seem to get myself together.

I wanted to finish off the year strong — adding new stories to my blog of Huff Post, launching the podcast I’d always dreamed of, and uploading videos to youtube for the first time (more on that later). I was blessed with audio equipment, a new camera, and the best day planner I can think of…. and yet I could not help but feeling stuck.

When I finally was able to form some semblance of a schedule and decide the direction my blog is going, the proverbial rug was pulled out from under my feet. Without warning, Huff Post (am I the only one who can’t get used to not calling it Huffington Post?!) decided to close its contributors’ platform.

It was unbelievable.

The site will still accept content from non-staff writers, albeit on a “smaller scale.” According to their new policy, creating a more inclusive platform for writers creates an environment where the “loudest voices often drown out the most deserving.”

While I come to grips with such the rather shoddy way of doing business, I have decided to acknowledge the platform’s closing for the blessing it is. I’ve been using it as a crutch for way too long.

Writing for Arianna Huffington’s brainchild has been a gift. I began my contributor’s page at a particularly tumultuous time in my life, and had a lot to say. The page helped me regain my footing and garner more experience as a writer.

However, it also caused me to neglect my own blog… and in a way, myself.

I was taking the thoughts and ideas in my head and giving them away to a site that offers no returns. I gave away my power. I gave away my creativity.

I’M TAKING THEM BACK.

 

 

One on One with Musician, Artivist & Force Behind the BUST School for Creative Living, Janeth Gonda

Espejismo
Photo by Amanda Lynn

 

Emotionally speaking, I was not in the best place when I ventured out of my hot apartment — only to step onto an even hotter street— on a sunny day in August. My stepfather had died only a few months before, the very notion of grief enveloped me like a deadly hug, and I couldn’t escape the stench of death no matter how fast I ran.

I had no desire to honor the plans I made to meet an old college friend in the Village and only begrudgingly deleted every fake excuse I had at the ready to cancel said outing from the center of my mind.

As the light of day hit my face for the first time in what felt like ages, I shook off the wave of sadness that had been my oldest friend. I was determined to greet the day head on, feeling slightly ashamed by the fact that the person I was meeting had just gotten back from a hiking trip and was probably one of the busiest women I knew…and I was not.

A quick trip on the downtown A and a 10 minute walk later, I saw her sitting on the steps near Babbo, the restaurant where we agreed to meet. She was a stunning creature who managed to maintain a pretty face of makeup and perfect hair despite the fact that it was a sweltering 95 degrees outside. Janeth Gonda embraced me like a long-lost sister immediately, despite the fact we hadn’t seen each other in more than two years. That is just who she is.

I reached out to Janeth because I thought she would make a great story. She has a great story… but more on that another time. Her posts on social media captivated me. She was in New York sharing her gift with the world— and at the age of 25, clearly living her best life.

A talented musician, Janeth is lead vocalist of the band Espejismo; which translates to “mirage” in English. Soon after catching up with her, I learned that she and her band have travelled with their art— performing on tour in Colombia for a short time in the years since she graduated from Hofstra University… and returned to engage in additional projects.

How did she do it all? I wanted to know. Maybe if I knew the secret to her hustle, I could apply some of it to my own life.

Further into our conversation we found ourselves atop the roof of a bar, sitting in directly in the sun with a couple of drinks. She was candid about her life and her ambition, which include her business, Barranquilla Studios and a full-time job at BUST magazine.

As the Events and Promotions Manager for BUST, Janeth deals with all aspects of the magazine’s promotional happenings.

“I would say the most exciting part of the job is getting an empty space and filling it up with an eclectic variety of people who together create a positive and powerful atmosphere. Having an idea and making it turn it into reality is really fun for me,” she said.

Janeth is currently working on BUST’s Craftacular, a holiday event at the Brooklyn Expo Center which will feature more than 200 different companies, business owners and musicians. Janeth went on to explain just what a labor of love the occasion is; meant “to provide a space for badass female identifying ladies to be able to showcase their work and speak their minds.”

This year the extravaganza is actually three events in one: The BUST Craftacular, BUST School for Creative Living, and a female-fronted music festival.

In attendance will be powerful women such as actress and activist Amber Tamblyn, author Kristen Sollee, sexpert Sophie St. Thomas, New York Times writer Lindy West, Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean, and many others.

 I listened, rapt by her endeavors.

I also had my answer. Her work was not solely about herself or promoting her brand… a dangerous trap all of us millennials tend to fall into. It’s how we get stuck sometimes. It’s how we feel worthless— especially when we don’t feel like we’re connecting with others.

Janeth is an artist. She creates beauty and she collaborates with others in a way where everyone shines. After several hours in her company I returned home with new understanding. I felt a new light, though the sun was no longer shining on my face.

***

READ MY Q&A WITH JANETH BELOW!

Inside Brooklyn-based Barranquilla Studios

JMR: You are largely self-employed, right? You make your own music, book your own gigs and invite fellow musicians to play in your own space, which you call barranquilla studios…?

JG: Well at this point I work full time at BUST, but I also work full-time for myself. Outside of working at BUST I am writing music and preparing to record my first album with my project, Espejismo. I am also working for this really cool project called Brooklyn Gypsies, throwing shows, and seeing good music.

JMR: Tell me more about yourself as an artist and why are events like the BUST Magazine Craftacular and School for Creative Living important to you.

JG: I am an Afro-Colombian artist with a lot on my mind. My passion is with my project Espejismo. We describe ourselves as dark gypsy witch rock, pulling aspects from some of our greatest influences such as Tool, Portishead, and Massive Attack. The project is a blend of Middle Eastern and Western sounds that create an ethereal dark experience. The lyrics of my music are rather heavy, dealing with the dark issues that I have had to go through in my life. I sing about topics such as mental health which can often be ignored, or belittled. It is important for me to speak and sing about the truth. That is definitely the same kind of vibe that I hope to bring to any event that I do. At the BUST Holiday event, we are offering workshops on topics that simply can no longer be ignored. We are here to raise our voices.

JMR: The event you’re organizing is clearly geared toward empowering women. Why is this is so important in today’s political climate?

JG: Well, as we all know the current state of our country is crap. To me, this event is important because we are attempting to bring this issues to the forefront. We are providing safe, closed off areas during the event where people can have a discussion and work with professionals to deal with issues that are important to them and BUST. If we are able to help even one person, then for me the entire event will be a success. If 20 people come together and discuss, they will each go and discuss with another person— and so on and so forth. Before you know it, touching 20 people turned into touching 300. I want to pay attention, take action and organizing an event such at this is a start. There are a number of FREE workshops regarding safe sexual reproductive health, mental trauma, consent and political education.

JMR: What do you want those who attend the Craftacular and the BUST School for Creative Living to walk away with?

JG: I want people to walk away with new knowledge, a stronger sense of community, and a bag of unique and handcrafted gifts. But more importantly, I want to get the conversation started in everyone’s minds off of Facebook status and prayers. I want help start a movement of not only words but action.

On the Precipice of Everything and Nothing

 

Sometimes I get tired.

I wonder, who am I fooling? Does what I do really matter?

Like this blog, for example— I’m still not convinced that anyone outside of my immediate family reads it anyway. Of course, like my proverbial friend the tree in the forest, I have to wonder if I am being heard. Because if not, do I even have a blog? Am I even writing?

Yes. I do.  Yes. I am.

I realize I have to believe that… or I would NEVER get anything done.

Looking back over the past two and half years since I moved into the wonderful New York City (where everyone aspires to be, and I am so lucky… blah, blah, blah), I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself with how little I’ve accomplished. Or rather, how little I’ve accomplished of my running list of goals and dreams.

On the precipice of everything and nothing.

That’s where I stand. It is a comfortable friend; a space I know well.

I am in the land of great possibility and ample opportunity… not to mention I am apart of the tech savvy “can do” generation known as the millennials. So where is my stop? I must have missed my exit, taken the wrong train, or got off at the wrong bus terminal. It’s the only explanation for the predicament in which I now find myself.

At first I thought the amount of excuses I made regularly was holding me back, but if I’m being honest with myself…

Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing anything.

It sounds terrible to say out loud, and it feels even worse to write it.

When someone doesn’t feel like working— when they literally have to drag their broken down , beaten-by-life-carcass into work everyday— it’s safe to say that person should be in the market for a new job. But is anything safe to say when someone can’t even get it together long enough to pursue their own passion projects?

It is a funny thing, what we call “work,” and how it relates to what we call “pleasure.”

When the two blend together into the seamless fabric of one’s life, it is impossible to realize the difference between the two. It is impossible to function.

Take that, and combine it with the fact that everything and everyone is on social media. Everyday I feel like I’m being sucked further and further down into the rabbit hole of perfectly curated instagram posts where every girl manages to maintain model-gorgeous looks while leading lives of purpose and glamour.

After so many of those “perfect” posts, I instantly compare myself to a life I know nothing about, while wanting to grab a pint of ice cream and crawl into bed. How on earth do I compete with that? What do I have to contribute?

And then, of course, there is the execution of the so-called passion projects… particularly when they demand the support of others. The reality of the situation can appear daunting at best, crippling at worst.

So you take a break. You heal.  You rediscover what the project first meant to you, and you redirect. You move on.

I move on.