10 Things I Learned from Pretty Little Liars

Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned From Pretty Little Liars.

This post concerns everything up to the episode that aired on 6/28/11.
Scroll down to the next red text to pass the spoilers.

 So, after watching tonight's episode of Pretty Little Liars, and being thoroughly nerved out every time Spencer looked out a window, I have come up with a list of 10 things I learned from watching the girls deal with their stalker, A.

1. Lock your doors—even though we've seen that A is sneaky enough to find a way in, there's no harm in creating one more barrier between you and the creepiness.
2. Never ever look out a window when all you can see is your reflection. A is probably standing right on the other side of the window. How would you know? You can only see yourself.
3. If you need to be alone anywhere for any length of time, get a dog. A big, mean one. With teeth. And a spikey collar. You can name it Brutus.
4. Not everyone is out to get you. I promise. Some people you can trust. Like Ezra. And your fellow Liars. Like Jack Sparrow says: “You can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest.” Still....
4.5 Don't trust anyone.
5. Watch what you say. And when you say it. And who you say it to. Actually. Probably better if you don't say anything at all. About anything. Ever. Anything you say can and will be used against you in everything you do, every day.
6. Even though life's not fair, it's still worth it to do the right thing. Like apologizing to Lucas. And trying to make up with Melissa. Forgiving Ezra. Tearing up the faux scholarship letter.
7. Don't give in to A's demands! Every time a Liar decides they just HAVE to do what A wants, I cringe. Remember Hanna and the cupcakes? And the breaking of Sean's heart?
8. Keep asking questions, even if people doubt you. (What is Jason doing back in that old house and who else was in there?) But....
8.5 Don't jump to conclusions. (Ian never did admit to killing Allison, and Spencer should be careful what she says since A wiped Emily's drive and planted the fake-bloodied trophy.)
9. If A gifts you with evidence, don't yap about it, and don't let it leave your SIGHT until you get to the police.
10. Always... always (this is very important) have perfect hair and the latest clothes. If you are going to be harassed, you had better look damn good while doing it. :D
I would just have said “stop lying” at number one and have done with it, but then we'd have no show and my Tuesdays would just suck. Also...I can understand why the Liars lie. They're doing their best with a difficult situation in which it seems like they have no friends.

Truth is hard. And when you have secrets like the Liars do: when you feel ashamed, when you fear other people's opinions of you, it's even harder. No one wants to get in trouble. In that moment when someone is about to find you out, if you are skilled at lying, it can seem like an easy way to escape the blame. Allison was a heedless liar, and she taught the other Liars well. She also tangled them up in her lies, and that is a sticky web to try and free yourself from, especially with A hanging around the edges: A, who knows all of the dark, dirty truths. 

The following is spoiler free, to my knowledge.

Pretty Little Liars with a Big Ugly Problem: Stalking 

That list was partly in jest, and partly—not. Stalking is serious business and should be treated as such. It is a crime and can be really harmful, as we see on the show! Stalking is kind of an iffy situation because harassment is really subjective, but law cannot be subjective. The definition of stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person fear,” according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, but that's not a legal definition. And the legal definition is different depending on what state, district, or tribe has jurisdiction. So a person might have what they consider a stalker—a person who causes them fear—but go to the police only to find that the definition does not fit. Most of the laws don't cover new technology, and we've seen A send e-mails, use flash drives, and send text messages. And in some places, it's not stalking unless a person specifically threatens to harm you.

The Parents' suggestion that the Liars see a therapist was well-meant, but since the Liars aren't admitting that they're being stalked, The Parents don't realize that stalking is the problem, and not grief. Victims of stalking are more likely to be depressed, to miss work, and live in fear like the Liars. And the Liars still have to finish their homework at the end of the night! Stalking is no joke, and I was absolutely enraged that A ruined the therapist for them as a safe haven.

There is tons of great information at Stalking Awareness Month. If A's behavior on Pretty Little Liars sounds a little too familiar, you can find out what the laws are in your state, get help about how to handle stalking, and even get buttons and magnets to promote awareness. Stalking Awareness Month is January, but victims of stalking deal with it every single day of their lives, sometimes for years.

Take away the entertainment aspect of Pretty Little Liars, and it's a pretty grim subject. But that's one of the things I love about the show. It is absolutely fearless showing these girls deal with (and sometimes exacerbate) tough problems. Each girl has her own issues and secrets, and it's part of what makes Pretty Little Liars so engrossing.



So, after being anti-iPhone for a long time, (mainly because we weren't about to jump ship from Verizon) my husband finally hopped onto the bandwagon and got one of those trendy little rectangles.

Very Simple Augmented Reality.
And, it's funny, you know. We really did think our BlackBerry Storms were so cool. But our Storms could only hold a measly five apps or so, and all those cool apps you hear about? Yeah. They're not usually available for BlackBerry.

But now, the app store is so chock full of cool STUFF that it's really hard to tear our eyes away. Not least of which are the plethora of augmented reality apps. These apps are so cool, they're kind of freaky. Your iPhone knows, and it knows you know it knows, and it is not intimidated.

Okay, so since augmented reality is a kind of klunky term for a really slick concept, let's define it, shall we? Mirriam Webster (m-w.com, my go to for all my word-defining needs) defines “augment” as “to make greater, more numerous, larger, or more intense.” So augmented reality is taking reality and adding to it. At present, it's a mainly visual augmentation. You have a camera (a webcam or your iPhone or Android camera) and it sees the world and ads images on top of that. It's your very own at-home (or wherever you are) CGI.

I think BusinessInsider.com said it well: “Think of an augmented reality app as a lens through which you can see the world. One lens might be restaurants near you, and another might be pointing out exactly how far away the pin is on a golf course.” They also have a good list for apps if you're in the market.

AR tattoo.
Some AR (since it's so flipping long) programs require you to print an image out: they are programed to respond to that image. My firstexperience with AR was like this, and I'm glad its still on the web so I can share it with you. It's from GE's SmartGrid campaign. Hold up the target, and out pops an illustration of solar or wind energy (you can pick which one you want to do: I like the windmills best.) I like this one because I could easily draw the target image (I didn't actually need to print it) and when the 3D image is visible, you can also interact with it. Blow on the windmills, and they go around. Tip it down and you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mobile AR apps, however, use other cues as to what to respond to. iPhones tend to use a combination of the camera, the gyroscope, and the GPS to add digital images on top of the “real” image the camera sees. In London and Chicago (at least!) you can get an app that knows which train station you are at, when your next train is coming, and what direction you should walk in for a burrito. All you have to do is turn your app on, and point your camera down the track. Your GPS knows where you are and the time of day, and it superimposes the information on your screen so the image you see is the real world—with more information displayed. Look at a restaurant, and Yelp can give you reviews, right on your iPhone screen. Walk down the street, or move your head and that image is stationary in “space.”

Another cool thing you can do is create AR with your Kinect. I am not nearly computery enough to do it (nor do I have 2 Kinects) but there are a couple videos on YouTube, including one where a computer savvy dude puts a 3D character from Doom on his desk.  He speaks really quietly, so you'll have to turn up your volume, and the other images in the room are wobbly because of the “shadows” the cameras cast: the parts of the room the cameras can't see. But this is pretty fantastic. The idea that once you know the principles, you can create just about anything you can imagine...it makes me pretty excited.

This also makes me curious about the future. You're probably thinking it too: true virtual reality is just one step up from augmented reality. Today: we're putting wind farms in our hands, interacting with them. Tomorrow, we put glasses on that constantly feed information about the world around us straight into our eyeballs. Next week, our bodies are only there to support the brain, wired to experience a “better” reality.

I shudder to think.

ToyStory Mania in Hollywood Studios. (Go early & get a fast pass.)
Okay, lets bring it back from the apocalypse. Say we don't give our lives over completely to virtual reality. Lets take a baby step (a really tiny step) to the kinds of games they have at Disney World. Toy Story Mania is probably one of the most popular rides in the whole (Disney) World. You ride in a car and play a series of 3D carnival games. You put on 3D glasses and have little guns that lob balls of paint or softballs or rings at targets. You pull a cord to shoot a ball or toss a ring. You have to aim. It looks, for all the world, as if these paint balls and rings are shooting out of your little cannon and into the scene before you. In some of the games, the carnival things attack back. Shoot a ring around a rocket and it comes shooting at you, along with puffs of air that elicit yelps and screams from the riders. As of right now, Disney is the only place (besides a real paint-and-plastic carnival) that has games quite this interactive. But 3D TVs are moving up from ridiculous extravagance to household norm pretty quickly, just like flat, wide-screen HD TVs did. (I can't imagine buying a big old tube set. I bet it would come with a free VCR.) And Kinect? You don't even need a controller. It sees you. Not only does it see you, it interprets the things you do and reacts accordingly, accurately!

You add Kinect and a 3D TV together, and Disney World's gotta up its game. The kids who go there in five years are NOT going to be impressed with Toy Story Mania. (I'm sure it will still be there, though. I mean, hell, Carousel of Progress is still there, and they are showing kids playing virtual reality in the 80s.)

But it could be beautiful. Imagine watching a movie with all the interactive technology Disney uses . You step into Lothlorien and smell the flowers. You step into Potions and feel the humid air. Surround sound easily lets you hear the chatter in the Great Hall. You wear a pedometer like device so you can walk around Hogwarts. Jets of air let you know when an orc's arrow hits you. You can smell the sweeter air that leads you out of the mines of Moria.

On the other hand, I was listening to @Pottercast's episode on @Pottermore, and in jest (I think) John Noe mentioned something about it being such an interactive reading experience that it would be like virtual reality. I immediately thought, “Wow, that is something that you would get addicted to and have to go into therapy to try and quit.” Wouldn't that level of escapism be detrimental to a person's mental health? I know when I have a bad day, I crave the thickest fantasy possible. I want to dive into Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Kushiel's Legacy. I want to get completely lost in another world. If it were possible for me to hop into virtual reality...It would be so easy to forget the real world. Or, can you imagine if World of Warcraft were virtual reality? It's already an addictive problem for some people. Who would ever leave?

But we're not quite there yet, and I think AR apps are kind of fabulous. They can be useful and fun all at once. My husband has one that puts a little robot dude on a piece of paper that you print that looks like the moon. You can bug him with your finger, and if you spin him enough, his head flies off! I think the application AR has for information distribution, gameplay and even fun little nothings like the little robot. In the UK, at the Natural History Museum, they just opened a Darwin building, and it has an entire room mapped for AR

“A film, Who do you think you really are?, features a unique film-making technology which allows Sir David Attenborough to take the audience on a virtual journey back through our evolutionary past, where digitally overlaid extinct creatures appear to roam around in the studio,” 

Richard Smith writes on Culture 24. I would LOVE to see a room like this. Experiences like this, blending new technology with natural history and other sciences can help kids (and big kids like me) become more aware of science and technology. And the more people who are interested in science, the farther our world can advance.


Seasonal Impressions

I have a blog coming up for all of you very soon, but I was searching through old gmail attachments, and I found some things worth sharing.

My mood, generally, is very dependent on weather. Sometimes, all I need to restore me is a cool breeze across closed lids. These are two instances, on that took place in a Chicago fall, and one that took place in a Chicago spring, as I was on the eve of heading back to my home state, Michigan.



The Belmont el stop.
The best place to see the sky in Chicago is at the Belmont el stop. A couple of days ago, the transient weather of fall meant that from the open air station, I could see several days of weather in one sky.

To the west, the sky was clear, an enameled cerulean blue.To the northeast, wedding white mares tails, little ice crystal clouds moved in sync to the southwest like lacy old ladies arm in arm, clipping down the street in their sturdy black shoes. To the southeast, however, trouble broiled. Cobalt cloud mountains faded into black marshy mists, and the illuminated buildings against that dark sky looked cut out of the scene. The trains coming from the south were coming wet, and those monsters were rolling towards me, grumbling and snorting in their anger.

The wall of rain over took a few of the orange afternoon-lit buildings and they were suddenly studded with diamond raindrops. With the sun at my back, I saw the rain advancing toward me. A rainbow jumped out in front of me and tried to hold back the torrent, but the storm threw a bolt of lightning and shattered it as it’s partners reached the sun disk in the southwest and shrouded it.

I stepped into the capsule of the train as the rain came beating down. Hissing and roaring, the storm lamented my escape. The train started up and we sped off towards the west. With a few raindrops on my shoulders and the leafy smelling wind still in my hair, I turned to gaze wide-eyed out of the train.

Ahead of me, the sky was still a vibrant tangerine color.

I was thinking today, as I passed over the Chicago River on the el, about things I can sink my teeth into. Like rivers. Like Lake Michigan. Like ladder-like pine trees. Like dunes. Like a steep grade and a narrow path, good shoes, and leg muscles. Like fresh air and flowering trees, like raindrops and layers of history exposed on the sides of sandstone cliffs. Like that yellow-gold-green that leaves turn when you are seeing the sun through them. Like dragonflies and those odd bugs that walk on the surface tension of river water. Like crayfish. Like waves. Like the copper-tasting water in the upper peninsula. Like arctic breezes, lost and wayward down here in the Midwest.

In short, I was thinking today about Michigan. I'm going back to Michigan in one week. I can hardly breathe without wishing I were breathing Michigan air. I can hardly cross the street without wishing I were crossing a Michigan street. Through the library windows, I could see Lake Michigan stretching out away from the city, miles of water and fish and seaweed, shipwrecks and sand. On the other side, waters are a clear cerulean. Here, they are an odd perversion of teal that looks sickly.

Around my neighborhood here in Chicago, I feel differently. I will miss little Albany Park when I'm gone, I think. Getting off of the Brown Line at Francisco, I sometimes find myself thinking of Chicago the same way I think of Grand Rapids. It's not quite words, more like a strong inclination. I get the urge to climb trees, explore houses, walk down alleys, roll in the grass, and slip behind bushes into their secret kingdoms.

Today, the sun came out just before sunset to give the world a hallowed kind of look. The flowering trees in front of the apartments across of Sacramento street gave off a wavering scent in the cool breeze. The rain a couple of days ago washed away the thickness of the air, and now it was clear and sharp. Now, you could inhale the fragrance of those tiny white flowers all the way down to the bottom of your lungs without stuffing up your nose, without causing your eyes to redden and tear. The grass was brightly green against the reinvigorated blackness of the soil. In the house on the corner of Sacramento and Leland, someone served dinner in the airy dining room. The streets were clear and dry. I wanted to get out my bike and tool around, or cover the sidewalks in chalked hopscotch boards. I wanted to get into those bushes and create worlds out of their encompassing branches. I wanted, desperately, to be little again, to have the freedom of late afternoons again. I didn't want to think back or ahead, I just wanted to exist in the ocher-golden light of the evening, and play.


 I don't write like this much anymore, and I wonder where I lost it. But I still feel the sense of wonder at the changing of the seasons whether I am in Michigan, Chicago, or here in silly old Maryland. The earth is beneath me, the sky above, and nature pervades throughout.

“I feel a pull on the rope, let me off at the rainbow…” - Genesis, “Anyway”
“I can see the orange sky in front of me, I can see things you’ll never see...” Days of the
New, “Whimsical”



Every year has new artwork.
Last weekend, I got a real treat!

The fates (and the finances) aligned themselves so that Gordon and I got to drive up to Michigan for the weekend, surprise our parents, and go to one of my favorite Grand Rapids summer traditions, Festival.

Festival (follow them on twitter!) is the largest all-volunteer arts festival in the country. The first weekend in June every summer sees downtown Grand Rapids shut down, marquees and stages go up, and hundreds of thousands of people descend to listen to music, people-watch, sunbathe, eat food off sticks, watch performances, create art, and more! It's a tradition to get your first sunburn of the year at festival, and it marks the start of summer in Grand Rapids.

I remember going to Festival when I was little, and it was a wonderland. As a kid, you can ride in a giant tire swing hung from an iron sculpture. You can create masterpieces with wood pieces at the Glue-in. You can paint pictures. You can do swing art, which is when you suspend markers above a large piece of white paper and swing it back and forth and around to create spirally, loopy, helixy patterns. There's a station where princes and princesses can make crowns and hats. There are buckets of sidewalk chalk to mark up the paths.
From the iron sculpture hangs a giant tire swing, the di Suervo Swing.

For adults, there's music at almost every corner, a pavilion where local artists sell paintings, sculptures, jewelery, what have you. Monroe street is lined with booths from local communities offering every kind of food from Mexican to Polish, American, Bosnian, Indian, Vietnamese...Things that don't even look like food, but smell like heaven.

In addition to all of the things out in the newly-summery sun, the art museum is free the whole weekend! If you feel like you're about to get sunstroke out in the street, you can head into the cool of the museum. In the museum, you can see the Art Prize winners from the previous fall.
Click to view full size!
My mom and I only went one day this year, Sunday, the last day. We were in a mood to praise Festival as one of the triumphs of Grand Rapids, after all of this business with Newsweek allowing idiots to post things saying that my pretty city was dying. And as we walked through throngs of people in tank tops, shorts, tshirts, and sundresses, right down the middle of the street, through clouds of wafting smells, hearing snatches of music, I realized that not only is Grand Rapids emphatically NOT dying, it is improving and becoming a better place to live every year.

I only get to go back every few months, so the changes are really apparent to me. I notice how things are getting cleaner and newer. Every time I go home, new buildings are being renovated. Every time I go to an event downtown, it's more successful. Every time I hear about Grand Rapids, it's something positive.

And this year's festival was full of people to reinforce that.

Calder Stage, with Calder's sculpture, La Grande Vitesse. 
There were many stages at Festival: the Calder Stage (right in front of the sculpture by Alexander Calder that is the symbol of the city,) the Fountain Stage (on the corner of Monroe and Fountain streets,) City Stage (on the corner of Monroe and Ottawa streets,) and Circle Stage (a permanent stage in Rosa Parks Circle, which can be seen in the ubiquitous lip dub.) There is no way anyone can see all of the performances throughout the festival, and admittedly, some are better than others. My mom and I had no interest in the mediocre gospel choir, but back at the Clock Tower stage we found a duo we liked and sat in the sun to watch

On the stage were two men, one with a guitar (Bruce Evans) and one with a bass (Gene Brott.) They were playing a popular Matchbox Twenty song we both knew, which is what drew us in, but primarily they play classic rock. They admitted to the audience after the song that they were only two of a complete band, but the soulfulness of Evans's voice and the fullness of the music could have fooled me. They were a part of a cover band called CounterBalance, described in Festival's program as "a 1968 to 1988 classic vocal rock band." After the Matchbox Twenty song, they played a few songs from those years, and then closed with "Freefalling," and it was a perfect summer moment for me. The sun was hot, and there was good, live music in front of me.

Bruce Evans and Gene Brott of CounterBalance
After the duo from CounterBalance finished, we decided to wander off and see what else there was to be seen. At the City Stage, we found the Ardan Academy of Irish Dance  performing. They were young people, from a tiny 7 or 8 year old girl in white-bright blond hair, all the way up to teenagers. The music was energetic and modern, and the dancers matched every beat of the intricate music under the bright sun as if it were effortless. Even the tiny girl hit every mark. When they came out as a group, they were in sync. They were a joy to watch, and there was not a seat to be had in the audience. My mom and I jostled for a good view, and when the dancers finished, we clapped enthusiastically along with the full audience.

Festival this year was hot and crowded, just as it should be. It remains one of my favorite parts of the year, whether I get to go all three days or just one, whether I stay for hours and do everything, or stay only a short time and enjoy the ambiance.

And it reinforces to me the values that are evident in Grand Rapids: Community, innovation, involvement, and enrichment.