I’ve written before about Desert Island Discs, a BBC-produced podcast that interviews public figures about the eight songs they’d want access to if they were stuck on a desert island. In between explanations of each selected song, they discuss their upbringing, the growth of their careers, and what they anticipate in time to come. Its archive goes back to the 1940s, and while most new episodes feature figures only those in the UK would know, there are also plenty of appearances from American and global stars.
The reasoning behind guests’ song choices varies. Some may pick music that is significant to a certain time in their life or has always meant something to them. Others think more rationally, considering which records they wouldn’t tire of on a desert island. I tried my hand at this selection process with both angles in mind.
1) “Piano Man,” by Billy Joel
Now Paul is a real estate novelist / Who never had time for a wife / And he’s talkin’ with Davy, who’s still in the Navy / And probably will be for life
If you were born and raised on Long Island in the last 50 years, a love for Billy Joel and this particular song runs through your blood from the very second of your first breath. He’s our local bard, our very own William Shakespeare of music. This is the song that was there before my memories even formed — I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know it. Its lyrics ache with lost potential, pessimistic optimism, and the sad comfort of an often pathetic routine.
I’ve never really identified as a fan of reality TV. With the exception of the Bachelor franchise, I don’t watch what I think reality TV has become nowadays – irritable housewives’ Bravo shows, the ever-persistent singing competitions, and delectably sweet baking shows.
Instead, I associate more with the earlier concepts of the genre. Strangers thrown into a house together, competitors in a remote location proving survival of the fittest, and relatively unproduced docu-series. Starting from when I was nine years old and lasting throughout my teens, the age of reality TV’s rise and fall left a decent influence on my cultural identity. I hope you’re ready for a trip down memory lane, because I wanted to share thoughts about some of the reality TV seasons that most contributed to this shaping.
America’s Next Top Model, Cycle 6
The first eight cycles of America’s Next Top Model summarize exactly what was so great about reality TV in the early 2000s. Contestants still didn’t realize how production could portray them wrongly, social media fame didn’t quite exist yet, and personal fashion was simultaneously simple and horrendous. I also love Cycle 3 and its whackily entertaining cast, but I was first introduced to ANTM through an MTV weekend marathon of Cycle 6. Can you even call yourself an ANTM fan if you don’t live for Jade’s one-liners in this season? On top of that, the rest of the cast was also funny and complex, and Tyra Banks was at her peak of zaniness. I always resort to Cycles 3 and 6 when I need something brainless to play in the background as I do something else. After all, nothing truly beats a reality competition series with all of the old-school ANTM elements.
I wish for…
Taylor Swift to act in something not horrible.
A Bachelorette over the age of 25.
Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain to play sisters in a project.
I’ve never been one to flow with the crowd. I resist the year’s hot new thing and delve into the hot new thing from five years prior, taking my time with it without facing the pressure to catch up with everyone else. As a result, I’ve only kept up with extremely current culture in recent years, when my job required it of me.
Still, my natural way of action is to explore what I want and not what critics, friends, and the people on the train are watching. Such was the case this year, when I leisurely read whatever caught my fancy and gleefully ignored whatever popular film just seemed unbearable to me. Life’s too short to sit through crappy entertainment.
As always, my favorite books and movies I read and saw this year are not limited to 2019 releases. These are the titles that left an impression on me throughout the year.
1) Man Up (2015) – Seen January 1, 2019
I love a rom-com with an unconventional leading man. Lake Bell’s pessimistic Nancy accidentally ends up on a blind date in London with Jack (Simon Pegg), going along with the case of mistaken identity as she starts to fall for Jack. The film follows their night spent together, eventually detailing their confrontations with their own issues related to love and relationships. Man Up is such a fun romp through London and presents a unique storyline, which is always a plus in the rom-com genre.
In 2014, I wrote a post about the five fictional characters I related to most. Those picks are still solid when it comes to who I identify with, but the more I’ve watched since then, the more I’ve seen myself in unexpected ways. You understand different sides of yourself as you grow older, and I feel like the TV characters below have come to represent me in my 20s whereas the picks from my older post feel very much like lifelong representations.
Diana Trout (Younger)
In December 2018, I finished the notebook of quotes I’ve kept since I was nearly 16. I started filling a new moleskine as soon as I received it Christmas morning, and in this Part 2, I’ve started incorporating quotes from interviews, articles, and podcasts. Nearly a year in, the notebook is already more organized and complex than the last one, capturing my state of mind and interests at a very specific phase of life.
2019 has been the year of discovering female columnists in the UK, reading YA with a 20-something’s nostalgic view, and devouring lengthy podcasts interviewing celebrities. I’ll look at the most recent quotes in my notebook someday and link the words to these days, but as I did with my past posts on book quotes, I trekked chronologically through the last few pages of the first notebook for this addition.
“I like your kind of quiet. Your heart isn’t quiet.”
Love and Other Words, Christina Lauren
I think it’s become more difficult for naturally quiet people to thrive. So many situations require you to put your personality on display almost immediately, which sometimes sends my introverted, former-shy-kid self into a panic. Love and Other Words‘ exploration of childhood best friends revisiting their feelings for each other as adults was so tender and sweet, and remarks like this quote are exactly why.
What we consider our favorite things says so much about us. While some books, songs, or films may remain lifelong favorites, our tastes may change, and what we once loved might not touch us in the same way.
I wanted to track what I consider my top favorite films for this reason. Some choices were immediate and easy, and others took more consideration. There are movies I love and consider important to how I’ve grown, but if I could only watch ten films for the rest of my life, which ones would pass that test of watchability? Going by this test, some surprises snuck into this exclusive group, but life can’t be all comedy or drama or camp or fantasy. We need silly, inexplicable stories just as much as we need the serious ones.
So these movies are the ones that never fail to delight me, the stories that inspire me and comfort me at this time in life.
TV became an art form to me as I watched Lost for the first time in my late teens. I obviously loved the medium beforehand, but I know that now because I’ve seen how much the heavily literary message of late ’90s and early 2000s PBS Kids programming influenced who I became. Lost taught me how television adapts ancient narrative devices, philosophies, and instincts into a masterful story, but in between crying about Desmond and Penny’s love and biting nails during Ben and Locke’s confrontations, it is not the show to utilize when you need to turn off your brain and seek healing from TV.
Blame the rom-com revival seemingly surging in response to the state of the world, but I appreciate a TV show that doubles as a gentle salve now more than ever. When it comes to my televisual education, I’ve yet to see Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and probably many other dramas known for their brooding leading men and dark realities. Maybe one day I’ll feel like cracking into those, but for now, I want the stories that simultaneously make you laugh and consider life’s cyclical pattern of generosity and good people getting one through a mess.
Luckily, I’ve found my classic, go-to balms and discovered shows that particularly brought me delight in recent months.
Friends, for being my sitcom standard, the show I can play in the background for an instinctive dose of familiarity if I’m feeling sick, stressed, or upset.
Dinner Date, for confirming that nothing is more captivating than watching a man cook for a date, whether or not he is doing it competently.
Winning a Broadway ticket lottery for the first time.
Finishing and adoring Gavin and Stacey just in time for James Corden’s announcement of a Christmas special.
Soaring through the Morgan Matson books I hadn’t read yet.
Getting the shivers over The Act and reading countless articles about Gypsy Rose Blanchard.
School is a steady constant in most suburban children’s lives, but my experience was particularly steady for my first ten years of education. I went to a Catholic grammar school from preschool to eighth grade, seeing several new students arrive each year but essentially growing up alongside the same 40-ish faces for a decade. My entire world was within those brick walls, and now with a whole other decade of life under my belt, it’s mind-blowing to remember how confined everything was.
My morning routines before school were almost as predictable as the way I knew my mother would always pack my latest lunch craving (consistently a turkey sandwich by middle school) and how we could expect the rare father or two volunteering on Pizza Day to stack empty boxes as high as they could (“More, more, more!” the student mobs would chant). Each morning, I’d wake, dress in my uniform, and pick at a breakfast bar, frozen mini pancakes, or cereal as I flipped through our local paper. It didn’t occur to me until I was much older that waking to the sounds of your parents listening to the news on the kitchen radio and subsequently reading the paper as a kid sounded a little strange to others.
As with anything print nowadays, the paper’s current state pales in comparison to my favorite section back then: the comics. Like clockwork, I’d skip stories of Long Island political battles and car accidents to skim the celebrity section, packed with Lohan family news and tracking which local reality star was cut from their TV competition that week (JP Rosenbaum, an eventual Bachelorette husband, is still our crowning glory in my eyes). Then, the piece de resistance: the familiar, simple stories the comics told. As I pored over the quickly resolved, otherworldly strips — Stone Soup, Baby Blues, Blondie — one comic always stuck out as proudly different.