Thoughts on Zootropolis

As Popeye might say after a very busy period of work, “Ug ug ug ug ug ug ug! I’ve been so busy lately, it has been really mad”, and I’d like to mirror those sentiments exactly as an explanation for why I haven’t written a blog in so long. I had my second year review deadline a couple of weeks ago and I also (perhaps foolishly, only time will tell) signed up to teach next year so have been doing some prep stuff for that, all the while cracking on with some hot talking animal/poetry research. Earlier in the week I was feeling a bit BLAH about the whole PhD situation, though I’m assured that’s just the general vibe of second year. Anyway, I decided to take some time way from my desk and approach my research from a slightly different angle…

…yesterday I went to see Disney’s latest offering, Zootropolis, set in a world where anthropomorphic animals rule with not a human in sight. Guyyyyyyyyys! It was really great. So I figured, since I’m passing this little cinema sojourn off as research I’d better share some of my thoughts on the film in the context of my PhD (for those of you who have forgotten/just don’t know, I’m studying talking animals in poetry). I’m aiming to keep spoilers to an abso minimum, but apologies if there are any – will flag ’em. Also the accompanying pictures are actual stills from the film that Disney sent me because they knew I was writing this blog.

The general story of Zootropolis goes: animals have evolved to a point where prey and predators live in complete harmony, within human-type cities, where they drive cars, wear clothes and speak perfect American-English. We follow the story of Judy Hopps, a bunny from the country who wants to be the first rabbit police officer, but LOL bunnies can’t be cops, can they?! (SPOILER) Well, as we see during the course of a handy training school montage, yes. they. can.

So while all the animals pretend that they’re bffs, there’s still some very clear animosity towards foxes, who are characterised as sneaky, treacherous, mean and violent, and apparently, out of all the other predators (including but not limited to, tigers, lions and wolves), are the most likely to break the sacred bond of trust made with prey animals in order to guzzle down a lamb or two. So OF COURSE Juddy Hopps is going to have to befriend a fox in order to succeed in her adventure. Enter Nick P. Wilde, a smooth talking hustler perfectly voiced by Jason Bateman.

zootropolis 1

This raw deal for foxes seems to hark back to the medieval bestiaries, where foxes are portrayed as devious lad pals of Satan who pretended to be dead in order to lure birds into their mouths – a trope that has been handed down through fables and fairy tales and is still fairly pertinent today. BUT what’s nice about this film is the shattering of these dull illusions to show that foxes ARE a-okay and deserve respect, just like all the other animals. Really, that seems to be the take home message of the whole film – be kind to others and treat everyone the same. GOOD WORK, DISNEY, making us all reevaluate our treatment of any number of political issues including but not limited to race, gender and religion by forcing us to see ourselves in these little animal dudes!

So yeah, I’ve been reading a lot lately about the “sympathetic imagination” and the ways animals can be used to activate this facet to provoke empathy and compassion in humans. I will (poorly) elaborate on this in the following few lines: The fact that there are zero humans in this film is great, because it means the audience has to put themselves in the position of the animal, therefore subconsciously eliciting more respect for animals and their feelings as living beings. At the same time the sympathetic imagination allows us to overlay the message behind the movie onto other aspects of our lives – if we follow Judy Hopps’s example of positive attitude plus helpful demeanor everything will work out in our favour (that’s kind of a spoiler, but this is Disney, I’m sure you saw it coming so no complaints).

feelings

Interestingly there were no domestic animals featured in this film, i.e. cats and dogs, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe because IRL pets (cats and dogs in particks) bridge the gap between humans and animals so we don’t want to see them in predator/prey situations? Or maybe the idea of dogs and cats fending for themselves (without our benevolent intervention) isn’t quite so appealing as a rabbit and a fox getting shit done and makin’ it work?

Anyway, this is now really long and even though I have 2 more pages of notes, I’ll stop. If anyone else has seen this movie and would like to discuss it, I am MORE than willing to go into way too much detail (I had a whole section on the self-referential nature of Disney, but I’ll save that for another day.) Oh also, if you like Disney in general, be sure to check out Me3 Comedy’s podcast It Disney Matter (It Does) by clicking here (basically me and my comedy/life partner Richard Hanrahan discussing Disney movies with a comedy edge).

Here’s a brief run down of life since last I blogged:

  • Poetry – Oh yeah I won a thing! The Grierson Verse Prize…so that was nice and surprising.
  • Drawing – Bought myself some Posca pens and a black page notebook and have been doing stuff, will post images soon.
  • PhD – Counted up and already have 40-50 poems, which means only like 30 more to have the amount necessary. Slowly getting back into research too…as I explained above. Currently reading The Animated Bestiary by Paul Wells and The Lives of Animals  by J.M. Coetzee.
  • Puppy – Chumbo turned 1 in March! He’s so grown up these days and ridiculously well behaved (most of the time). Here he is being undeniably adorable:

chumbo age1

Ciao!

 

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Readings and Risings

It’s been another alarmingly snappy week over here at Marianne Towers, so much so that I am apt to wonder if someone is playing a trick on me – pretty sure none of the clocks in the flat are correct, at least, none of them show the same time and often I’ll settle down for LITERALLY ONE GAME of Candy Crush and all of a sudden three hours have passed and I’m still not a published poet.

Did I say we bought a sunrise alarm clock? Well, we bought a sunrise alarm clock and it’s actually pretty cool. You set the time you want to wake up, then half an hour before the light comes on and gently brightens as though t’were a crisp spring daybreak and you feel like a little bird ready to wake up and sing. I genuinely didn’t think it would work for me, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to say that it does. I usually wake properly about 15 minutes before the alarm goes (you can have a beeper, just to make sure you get up) and get Chumbo up on the bed for a morning cuddle (we held off for months and months before we let him on the bed and now I can’t imagine why!) So yeah, my advice if you hate getting out of bed in the morning, and let’s face it, literally everyone does and if you say you don’t you’re lying to yourself and to us, then I highly recommend investing.

poetry swag
Poetry Swag

Saying that, I had a lie-in this morning because I woke up at 4am after I heard a ghost playing marbles in the empty flat upstairs, and then couldn’t get back to sleep for about a hundred years (1 hour). Also I was out last night at the Shore Poets Quiet Slam, where I took 2nd place, yay! My good pal, Russell Jones won overall with some top notch poems from his new book The Green Dress Whose Girl is Sleeping (buy it here << an imperative). Thanks to Shore Poets for having me along – really enjoyed listening to some fantastic poets and being allowed to get up and read for them in return.

Me and Russell, along with 3 other super duper writers – Lauren Pope, Aileen Ballantyne and Jonathan Bay (we’re collectively and affectionately known as Poetry Gang) – will also be reading at Wash Bar on The Mound this Thursday (4th Feb), so do come along if you’re free! It’ll be really relaxed and fun, and best of all it’s freeeeeee. We’re all Edinburgh University PhD-ers – Aileen and Russell have both graduated into official Doctors and are, I think, running a small GP (General Poetry) practice just outside of Glasgow, while we three others are slogging away in second year.

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Reading Deets (poster designed by Richard Hanrahan)

I’ve been doing quite a lot of editing this week, in preparation for said readings/sending things away to magazines because ain’t nobody gonna come knocking on my door with a publishing deal amiright? I’ve mentioned before that I am ridiculously lazy/nervous/picky about putting my work out there and I think it’s because of this editing process. Sometimes I discover old poems that I wrote years ago and filed under “Fucking Dire Never Read Again” and realise they’re not actually that bad after a few tweaks, but most of the time I wind up editing myself into a corner clutching words like “darkness” and “blood” and “eggs” and insisting I can squeeze them into every single poem if I just keep cutting and pasting. It becomes very boring very quickly and I only have myself to blame. I’m really working on an objective point of view for editing but it’s haaaaaard.

I am, however, finding it so useful to workshop pretty much everything I write with Poetry Gang (did I mention we’re doing a reading this week? Click here for more info). We meet just about every week and share thoughts on one another’s work. Having four voices of reason critiquing my writing in a friendly environment definitely helps to put stuff in perspective – you may have gathered, I can get really surreal really quickly if I’m not kept in check.

Anyway, I’ve spent bloody ages intermittently writing this, singing along to the Les Misérables soundtrack and refreshing my hot water bottle so I should really get back to some actual work. Here’s a round-up of my week:

PhD: Still reading Thinking With Animals and enjoying it. Need to go get the Medieval Bestiary back from the library since it was usurped before Christmas.

Poetry: Turns out I hate Shelley, but I really like Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. I think I’m gonna sub Percy out for Tony Harrison and tap into my Yorkshire upbringing. Elsewhere, I wrote TWO sonnets. Well one and a half…but I’m counting it.

Exercise: Nice dose of swimmer’s ear means no swimming this week, sad faces all round. Loads of walking and yoga instead though.

Puppy: Still super cute and virtually a real dog now, so will probably stop having to call him a puppy. Read something about a dog who died and cried loads and hugged him for about an hour.

Drawing: Errrrm, still not back to this yet. But I did start a new painting at the weekend, so that’s fun. Oh also, I know it’s not a drawing, but me and Hitch had a pottery lesson a couple of weeks ago and went back to glaze them. Super fun and shall share pictures eventually.

Comedy: Brand new It Disney Matter podcast for your listening pleasure! Check it out here

Enough now.

Back in Black (I’m wearing white)

Really struggling to figure out how to open this blog so let’s start with a short hello: hi! How have you been? That’s great. I’m alright as well, just hacking away at my little block, trying to make something meaningful out of it.

SO, PALS! I’m officially “back” after a short break from pretty much everything. In September I decided to take some time away from my PhD; a tough decision that wasn’t made lightly, but has been, I think, for the best. Basically I just wasn’t producing poetry because I was dealing with lots of mad life issues (see here for a very brief insight into that). I decided I was ready to work again in the new year, so properly started second year about a week ago.

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Current reading pile

Slowly getting back into a normal flow and trying my very best to stick to a rigorous schedule of research + creative writing every day. Completed one whole poem last week, so how’s that for prolific?! (Bear in mind I challenged myself to write 40 poems in 40 days a few years ago and succeeded…a poem a week be slowwwww, man!) I’m also trying to push my research in a slightly different direction now, but I’m not certain enough of it to form coherent sentences…watch this space though!

I’m also trying to get back to sending my work to magazines/journals, which I’ve never been the best at because I never feel like anything is good/finished enough for the eyes of others. Aaaaand the swiftness with which everything has been rejected lately only serves to reinforce that, but life is in the trying as no successful person ever said.

I took a break from Facebook because I was spending far too much time worrying about what my life wasn’t in comparison with everyone else’s instead of concentrating on what it is, which is not that bad overall. I don’t miss Facebook itself but I do miss out on certain events etc. though I’m undecided on whether or not that bothers me. Hey, what can I say? I’m a massive flake and I never go to anything anyway 🙂

I took a big break from swimming, which I definitely regretted come the new year when all the excellent muscles I’d been honing had shrunk away to nothing and I struggled to do EIGHT lengths, in comparison with the 30 I’d built myself up to previously. Persevering though and up to 20 lengths already, so I can officially tell M People that’s what I’ve done today to make me feel proud.

I took a break from Britain in November and went to Boston to visit one of my besties who just had a divine baby who taught me it’s okay to soil yourself and cry about it. It was also our 10 year friendiversary last year so it was great to be able to actually hang out in person instead of on WhatApp (Boston is just about too far to walk).

Boston pics
A few wee highlights

Obviously being on holiday meant leaving Chumbo behind, which was SO much harder than I thought it would be! I cuddled him and wept for about an hour the night before we were due to fly. Seeing him again when we got home definitely took the sting out of leaving the US. (Oh yeah, so obviously we kept Chumbo! As you might remember a few months ago we were having a lot of problems with him, but he’s had a major turn around and is basically a dream dog now. More posts about him in the future, I’m sure.)

Me3 Comedy took a break from comedy, although we did perform our very first live gig back in October! It was really good fun and I think people enjoyed it…I certainly laughed on stage when I wasn’t meant to, so I suppose at least one thing must have been funny. Here we are with Norris & Parker and Planet Caramel:

hot bed
Comedy creatures

We’ll be back to podcasting as of next week and (fingers crossed) will be filming a brand new sketch the following week, which I’m quite excited about.

I think that’s all my breaks so here’s a very quick round up of literally everything else I did in the last three and a half months:

  • Re-watched all of Grey’s Anatomy like a total LEGEND (loser)
  • Got really into ironing?
  • Rediscovered Shrinkles
  • Got shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and didn’t win
  • Developed a taste for coffee
  • Gave up sugar
  • Started eating sugar
  • Gave up sugar again
  • Chilled the flip out

So dat’s it. I was meant to write a blog last week to talk about all my new year’s resolutions, but it’s too late baby now it’s too late, though we really did try to make it, so they’ll just have to stay between me and my conscience.

Peace and love x

 

Embarking and EdFringe

(This is my new blog. I’m hoping to update it weekly and will use it as a means of documenting my life as a poet, researcher, dog owner, comedian and artist. Doing this because I read that Marianne Moore wrote 5 personal essays a week while she was a student and while I can’t really say that these posts will be “personal essays”, I’m trying to get more general writing done on a week-to-week basis and a blog seemed like a good way to do it. Plus Mazza Moore is one of my research subjects and she was a stone cold poetry babe master, so hers isn’t a bad book from which to take a leaf. I also want to use it as a means of perseverance  – life is kinda tough right now, but hopefully recording small achievements regularly will provide much needed encouragement, even if I’m the only one who ever reads them. Okay, here’s goes!)

Good afternoon, world, this is your captain speaking. When I say captain, I mean captain of this website/blog, rather than anything fancier like an aeroplane or a volleyball team. I was never very good at sports and can barely drive a car let alone a plane. However, I’m going to maintain this plane captain style of speaking in the hopes that it might encourage you to sit back, relax and enjoy what will no doubt be a turbulent, rambling flight through my life.

So right now the weather in Edinburgh is fine and sunny, a smooth 16°C for this, the first day of the Fringe Festival (I think the official first day is tomorrow, but there are a ton of shows already on, and I’m going to see my first one this afternoon (Ben Target: Imagine There’s No Ben Target (It’s Easy If You Try)), so we’ll call it the first day and have done with it; anyone who disagrees can see me after the flight. JK, of course you can’t mix with the captain! I’ll be busy moving through the airport in slo-mo, wheeling my tiny, perfect-square suitcase along behind me. I mean, what can I fit in there, really? Like one pair of pants and a toothbrush?)

This Fringe is quite novel for me because it’s the first one in all of (my own) Fringe history that I’m NOT doing a show. Admittedly it’s only my fourth Fringe, and I get that other people have been coming for a lot longer and have done more shows than I probably ever will, but I’m already enjoying the stress-free atmosphere that is abuzz in our little flat*. Up until about a month ago I was in fact scheduled to do TWO full-run shows, one as one half of Me3 Comedy (more about that later) and one as a cast member of a show called F-Holes (every day (except the Wednesdays) at Paradise Palms, 13:10 – go see it, it’s genuinely going to be great!) HOWEVER I’m also trying to juggle a PhD, a new puppy, a fledgling career as a fledgling poet and a haunting past, so decided that this would be a Fringe worth dedicating to something besides comedy/an inevitable nervous breakdown.

Am I sad about it? Slightly. Lots of friends are doing shows and it’s tough to watch them getting ready and excited about performing – there really ain’t nothing like the thrill of a successful stage appearance, folks. But at the same time, I don’t envy the high octane anxiety that they’re definitely going through – don’t lie, guys, you know putting on a show is really worrying. Also, big crowds of people make me super sad. I’m a fast walker, crowds are slow. I’m a polite person, crowds are RUDE. I understand that taking up an entire pavement to get a selfie with a statue of a dog is idiotic, crowds do not get it. So I am zooooo happy that I have the option to avoid it all this summer and see whatever the heck shows I want without having to plan it all around days off and my own performance hours.

Marianne MacRae
How did this get here?!

That being said, I am making a few guest appearances (that makes me sound so famous and in demand, so I’m sticking with it, but FYI, I’m the least famous/in demand person you do or do not know at this point). Me and my comedy/life partner Richard Hanrahan will be doing Backrow Presents… on the 8th and 15th, 21:45 at Banshee Labyrinth (we watch a bad movie and say shit over the top of it); I’m on at the Blind Poetics Big Night of Spoken Word event on the 10th (it runs from 8pm til 1am, and I’m on in the 9pm-10pm slot) and I’ll also be doing Chutney Exhibition’s Poets Against Humanity on the 21st , 20:40 at Chiquito on Frederick Street. They’re all sure to be good fun in spite of my presence at them, so do come along if you’re free and in Edinburgh**.

And now this blog is over. Here’s brief a roundup of my week thus far:

PhD Stuff
Read a bunch of essays on representing animals. Became very interested in the idea of animals representing the dead, so we’ll see where that goes.
Poetry
Started 2 new poems, finished 1 poem. Met with Poetry Gang to discuss last week’s poem; not gonna lie, it needs work. Put some work in an envelope to send to Mslexia. Have yet to buy stamps.
Puppy
No bites for me, one bite for Hitch. Slowly realising we’re in charge, but taking his sweet time about it. Balls off next week, promise to keep y’all posted on our dogs genitals!
Comedy
Me3 Comedy released TWO new podcasts; one about Disney and one dedicated to the Great British Bake Off. Listen here!
Exercise
Made it to 20 lengths in the pool, spent the next day in bed exhausted. Diagnosed myself with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Drawing
Working on some new things…I’m sure there will be hilarious/amazing illustrations to accompany these posts at some point.

*It’s clearly not stress-free, we have an excitable, five-month old puppy in our midst.
**This works on the assumption that anyone is actually reading this…if you are, hiiiii! Thanks for spending your virtual time with me ❤