The Giver

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When media isn’t 100% good or bad, sometimes you need distance to really form an opinion. I remember enjoying reading Lowis Lowry’s novella in elementary school. I remember enjoying watching a few specific parts of the movie, the parts with Jeff Bridges that were closest to the original book. However, I also remember being quite bored, confused, and frustrated by the majority of what I saw. At the end, we were happy that we had gone to the cheap, second run movie theater instead of paying full price when it opened.

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Katie Holmes with a terminal case of resting bitch face.

And yet somehow… Katie Holmes with her resting bitch-face snapping “precision of language” every chance she gets has seeped into my daily life. She is my hero. That is my jam, as the kids say these days. Honestly, thriving in a dystopia built on rules and order and rationality would be a dream come true for me. I would be so content under such circumstances that I’d happily become the villain as soon as some inspired humanist starts to liberate mankind. Plug me in. I want to be assimilated.

So sometime a film changes your life without being extremely good or bad. Maybe it just takes one outstanding moment and the right mindset to be open to suggestion. I can think of another obvious example of this phenomenon in my life. Again, for a mediocre adaptation of a science fiction book I loved when I was in elementary school. Oh wait, that describes at least half the movies I’ve ever watched, so it’s not particularly helpful to add that observation as a segue. Anyways, Contact is a decidedly mediocre offering from the late nineties. It features Jodi Foster as a plausible lady scientist who hilariously shouts “okay to go” while her space ship is shaking. Over and over. Quite dramatically. Until the words lose meaning even. I wasn’t the first person to notice this, but it’s part of my life now too. It’s a good way to remember an old friend.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch The Giver depending on mood.

Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch Contact depending on mood.

Dracula Untold

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After a solid week of looking forward to a movie date of some kind, my boyfriend was sweet enough to up the stakes (ha ha) and bring me out to experience the newest offering in the vampire genre. Few things make me happier than the chance to complain about the exploitation of the vampire in pop culture, possibly because I liked vampires before it was cool. This is one of my personal hipster-isms. 

Luke Evans did a good enough job as Vlad the Impaler. Although my judgement might be shot because I’ve had a bad crush on the guy since he was Zeus in Tarsem’s Immortals. I even saw him as the detective in that nearly direct to video Sherlock Holmes rip-off where John Cusack played Edgar Allen Poe. Charles Dance was also notable as the father vampire demon spawn monster. Honestly, I would have loved more interaction between Evans and Dance, even a predictable boss fight at the end of the movie.

Which brings me to a general observation about movies; they are starting to feel like concatenated video game cut scenes. I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I feel like I’m becoming more aware of that narrative style. I supposed there’s a real name for it, but I don’t particularly care for precision of language right now.

A particularly frustrating part of this movie was the inconsistent size of the Transylvania kingdom. Several times, the Turks demand protection money and (exactly?) 1000 boys to train as soldiers. Yet, there appear to be about 300 people total under Vlad’s protection. There are maybe 15 guards in the castle, or about one third the number of monks living at that secluded monastery. Monks with a suspiciously detailed knowledge of how vampires work, but who never warn Vlad (what the hell you guys? what so we keep you around for?). Where does all the wealth come from? These seem to be dirt farmers, we see no implication of any productivity. Are there actually 1000 men total to possibly send to the Turks, let alone male children?

I will acknowledge that not every imaginary world needs detailed world building, but the background activities of the extras, the costumes, the weapons, should not directly contradict the dialogue and the plot. It would be nice to pretend that everyone working on the movie had seen a copy of the same script.

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Versus the Dolphin movie? I would re-watch Dracula Untold.

Anti-Procrastination Techniques

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I blame most of my lack of discipline on being a spoiled only child. I almost always mean the spoiled part more seriously than other people receive the idea, but then in the grand scheme of things I have more subtly in social situations than some other ‘onlies’ I’ve met recently. All that I mean to say is that I’m a professional at indulging myself and rationalizing my lack of will power. I’m sure that most adults reach a point where it’s like, gosh it was a hell of a lot easier to keep my room clean when my Mom was on my case all the time. It was also a lot easier to keep your room clean when it was, well a room and not an entire house. I suppose I would have got more cleaning experience at home if my mother weren’t so particular about everything while I was growing up. I was exempted from washing the dishes after dinner because my Mom said I did it wrong. I didn’t even unload the dishwasher efficiently enough so I was excused from that chore too. Again, spoiled, right? I manged to pick up her peculiarities through osmosis though, so it all comes out in the wash.

A few years ago I asked my Mom how she was able to stay on top of everything, to have always been carrying around an envelope with a to-do list of half scratched off items. “Oh sweetie, the envelope in my purse?” She said something about secretly seeding her list with tasks she had already completed, to get some momentum going. Brilliant.

So some strategies for self motivation that I’ve tried with varying degrees of success?

  1. Seeding the to-do list with items that have already been completed. Meh, moderate impact on my inertial sofa sitting. Mom can keep that trick.
  2. Focus on a Ta-Da list instead, only write down things you’ve finished doing, sometimes with a note of how long it took. This works when I’m dragging my feet because I’m think it will take 30 minutes to clean the litter box. That’s crap, and my brain knows it only takes like 1 minute max, 2 if I sweep up the floor too. This is actually about adjusting established schematic thinking, but I don’t use it enough.
  3. Work in intervals. I set the kitchen timer for 15 or 20 minutes and tell myself that I only have to do whatever it is for one ‘set’ and then I can switch to something else even if I’m not done. The problem with this strategy is that invariably one of the intervals involves taking a break by browsing on reddit, and I’m very very good at snoozing. I also have an odd fixation with starting my sets on even numbers, so if it’s 2:31, I have to wait until 2:40 to start doing anything, right?
  4. I try to establish better habits to make the work effortless, and then track my momentum, using something like a calendar. But building habits sometimes requires a reminder and having a reminder is like having an alarm and having an alarm means you can hit the snooze button.
  5. Hyperbole and a Half style, I sometimes lay the self-deprecation and guilt on until it’s oppressively heavy. Triggering a bout of existential depression is a bad long term strategy for getting the dishes done.
  6. Personification of non-living things. Yeah, this might be the best strategy I’ve found and yet the one I forget to use. I have a vivid imagination and I let it run wild. I’m not washing the dishes, I’m cleaning the little pot people and reuniting families of tupperwear in the caves below the counter-top meadows. This can get cloyingly saccharine though and I don’t want to put my reputation on the line.

That’s a lot of different ways to fail. I’m glad that I’ve learned through countless examples that nothing bad happens when you don’t get everything done or that the world doesn’t explode when things aren’t done the ‘right way.’

Pretzel Day

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So I’m sort of bizarrely convinced that routine is the key to productivity and happiness in life. I get fixated on this idea that if I could just get some momentum going, if I could just have a break where nothing is really happening, then somehow magically, I would be able to climb back on top of everything. Even the everything that I’m trying to manage is sort of amorphous, impossible to define, and probably imaginary, but still very real and overwhelming in my mind. In my last job, someone I loved to hate would frequently tell us to eat the elephant one spoonful at a time or something. I think I discounted his advice unnecessarily because it was punctuated with promises to discuss things ‘offline’ and to ‘drill down’ while we shifted paradigms outside of the box. I sort of shut down when the packaging of the message is wrong. My loss, generally.

Loving routine, delight in virtuosity of the mundane, mindfulness of details, I don’t know if I learned this from ballet or not, but I feel that as I grow older, I just want very simple things done perfectly. When you have a routine, it frees the parts of your brain that thinks to really reflect on the why instead of the what and the how. It feels amazing to get into a groove, to feel the pieces of your life circling each other efficiently. That’s all in my head too.

When you’re a cubicle slave, when you have no real accomplishments, when you don’t build anything… the little day to day variations can make a world of difference. I was not prepared for this shift in perspective when I started as an actuary. I was not prepared for pretzel bread sandwiches on Wednesdays to be the yardstick time was measured against. My boss’s boss, a professional businessman became like a child. He planned meetings around Wednesday lunch to make sure he would never miss the best day of the week.

I used to work for a life insurance company which began offering lunch to its employees during the Depression. Revoking such a benefit would cause a corporate mutiny, so up until about 2011 or 2012 when they moved to a new office we still received free lunch. Of course, you get what you pay for and most days we were trudging across the street to subway instead, but Wednesdays were a clear exception. Sandwiches on pretzel bread rolls. I usually got swiss cheese with tomato and a chocolate milk. Wow, my mouth is watering just remembering those lunches.

I’ve been procrastinating like it’s drinking water or something. I’ve burned through all my best motivational tricks to no avail. I want out of this rut. Am I even actually in a rut? I can’t even list all the things I think I need to get done. I don’t have a pretzel day right now. I need a pretzel day, I think that would help.

Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

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The new Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack is helping me push through this summer. Sometime after 4 in the afternoon, I’ll switch to that album and silently promise myself that I can leave work after the last song. My routine might be a little different if I had more music on my phone, but right now my other options are pretty much Rancid and Tool. Actually, I think it’s one of the A Perfect Circle albums on my phone instead, but the difference is negligible. My overall point is something about that movie soundtrack being the most positive music I can access regularly.

There is one song on the GotG soundtrack that I can’t really tolerate. Escape, the Pina Colada Song. It’s a catchy enough song, fun to dance around. It’s the lyrics, it’s always the lyrics that ruin the song for me, or as I am so fond of saying this summer, Face Down Booty Up.

I know lots of other people also hate this song, but for a different reason than my hatred. A commonly cited reason is because they feel like it’s about a married couple cheating on each other. It’s depressing, they say, and incomprehensible that these idiots would meet up for NSA sex and be excited to find out that their significant other wanted to cheat. While I also find the ending of the story of the song depressing, I think it’s hardly as upsetting as the beginning, or the implied back story.

I was tired of my lady, we’d been together too long
Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song
So while she lay there sleeping, I read the paper in bed
And in the personals column, there was this letter I read

Okay, ennui is a common thing to have happen in a long term relationship, that part is easily forgiven. However, I take issue with the protagonist’s word choice already. It’s not clear to me if the worn-out recording is a metaphor for the relationship or for his wife. Either way, this is a really poor analogy because the one thing you can’t do with a human being is replace them with an unused copy. Unless clones are involved somehow. Anyways, it’s the first verse and we’ve got a husband who perhaps thinks of women as replaceable objects. We’ll call him Jackie Treehorn for obvious reasons. So the text of the personal ad follows in the chorus…

If you like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
If you’re not into yoga, if you have half-a-brain
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me, and escape

Let’s expend far too much mental energy over-analyzing every word of this personal listing. First, I will note that this song was from back in the day where you had to pay, probably by the word or line, to publish an ad in the newspaper. So these words were not composed as whimsically as a craigslist ad might be today, i.e. they were all really important to the woman who submitted them. The proper grammar also distinguishes this personal from something found online these days.

The mystery woman posts a description of what she’s looking for, which is also presumably a description of herself. I suppose that’s not an accurate assumption, opposites attract and what-not, but she seems to be suggesting partner type activities so we’ll assume that she’s down for whatever she’s mentioned.

She likes fruity tropical drinks and public sex. She likes rainy days. She doesn’t like working out. She may be an intellectual snob (there’s nothing wrong with that). Let’s extrapolate, she’s probably a whiny, pasty, out of shape, lazy middle aged woman. She’s also desperate because she has paid for a personal ad in the newspaper. Sounds like a real winner, I sort of feel sorry for whoever married this lady. Jackie Treehorn has obviously not thought this through completely because he responds after only a moment of guilt, probably distracted by the briefly mentioned exhibitionism.

I didn’t think about my lady, I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my old lady, had fallen into the same old dull routine
So I wrote to the paper, took out a personal ad
And though I’m nobody’s poet, I thought it wasn’t half-bad

“Yes, I like Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
I’m not much into health food, I am into champagne
I’ve got to meet you by tomorrow noon, and cut through all this red tape
At a bar called O’Malley’s, where we’ll plan our escape”

So this is where I start seeing red. His response, is not only unimaginative, but manipulative. He says “Oh yeah baby, I totally love all the same things you do.” Then Mr. Treehorn demonstrates his critical thinking and listening skills by applying none of this information to invite her to meet him at… an Irish pub downtown in broad daylight. Based on the information she’s shared, that doesn’t really seem like her scene. Gosh, I hope this woman who deplores half-brained men is smart enough to avoid the oldest pick-up scam in the book. They can make margaritas with Guinness, right?

So I waited with high hopes, then she walked in the place
I knew her smile in an instant, I knew the curve of her face
It was my own lovely lady, and she said, “Oh, it’s you”
And we laughed for a moment, and I said, “I never knew”

“That you liked Pina Coladas, and getting caught in the rain
And the feel of the ocean, and the taste of champagne
If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape
You’re the lady that I’ve looked for, come with me, and escape”

So, despite all of the red flags, this woman shows up. Think about that. We all know someone who has tried online dating. I have friends who complain when men send messages that are like “Oh hey baby, I liked your profile. Let’s meet up for coffee.” when the profile clearly points out that she doesn’t like coffee. You don’t meet those guys because they are just creeps trying to get laid.

But Mrs. Treehorn’s personal ad only had four lines, and the jerk who responded could barely be bothered to read them…and she showed up anyways?! I’m sure this type of situational awareness is exactly how she ended up married to a guy who doesn’t listen in the first place. Depressed and longing for a beach vacation, she’s let herself go, until finally in her unloved middle age, she’s desperate for an escape.

So not only does she show up, but she is happy to see him even though he was trying to cheat on her. Who is this poor woman; she is married to a jerk who doesn’t really respect women, who she wanted to cheat on, and when he uses the same tired old lines on her that got them together in the first place, she swoons all over again. At this point most people are just confused about why these two aren’t angry at each other, I’m concerned that the lady is a victim of domestic abuse! This song is infuriating and depressing, just to think about these two miserable people, it doesn’t make any sense and they probably deserve each other.

Whatever it’s just a stupid song. I can replace it on my version of the playlist.

schadenfreude

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One of the things I love about the internet is that it provides an outlet for anonymous hatred. I am able to feel better about myself at the expense of others and no one needs to know. Well, I mean before this. Now everyone knows.

There’s that girl who used to be fat, and she lost a few pounds, and now posts the least flattering selfies everywhere. I mean, did you think you looked good today? If my stomach looked like that I wouldn’t be outside in public wearing less than a parka let alone posting pictures of my imaginary abs on the internet. There’s the amateur artist with his deviant-art account, selling shit that’s worse than the doodles I make during conference calls. The kid posting a photo of every meal on instagram and it’s like, dude, my leftovers look better than that crap.

Sometimes, this is all the same person, and I can delight in my perceived superiority. What did people do before the internet? Were we mean to each other for no apparent reason, with all that crankiness secretly bottled up with no outlet?

I suppose it’s also possible that other people just don’t care. That I’m a particularly bad person for sometimes comparing myself to other people to build myself up.

weekends and mornings

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It’s only 7 am and I’m doing something that requires thought and coordination and the desire to be alive. Typically at this hour I’m a suicide risk. Just another change in my life recently, maybe it’s part of growing older. Like maybe this is the first step towards waiting in life at the Old Country Buffet at 5 am, like in that South Park episode. My personal explanation is that life is fun these days, and I’m excited to be awake.

Most recently, while living in Owings Mills, I used to ride the train downtown to the office. Almost every morning I would be nauseous, weak, nearly ready to call in sick. At some level, I hated being there just that much, that my body waged a small annoying rebellion. Fridays were my favorite days, not because of proximity to the weekend, but because on Friday it feels like I have three days to catch up with life instead of feeling behind. Friday, I was already concerned about Monday and Tuesday. I’ve heard a lot of people get the Sunday evening dreads, minor depression or anxiety at the end of the weekend. I got that feeling Friday mornings, and it ruined my weekends.

For the first time that I can recall , I’m always looking forward to going home from work. The weekends feel like week long vacations. The mornings are considerably less horrible, and sometimes quite pleasant. I’m sitting here right now, with a smoothie and a cup of tea, about to go outside on the porch and stretch for a few minutes. Who is this person who doesn’t feel anguish at all times before noon?