Thursday, December 29, 2016

Resolve to survive the January blahs

January is a terrible time to resolve to do anything.

Yes, I know that it’s the start of a new year, and the whole new year=new you mythos is what started the whole New Year’s Resolution mess in the first place, but there’s literally nothing else to recommend it. It’s the calendar equivalent of a ditch, a cold, empty stretch of time that we all fall into after the bright, delicious fun of the holiday season. People’s bank accounts are still recovering from the expenditures of Christmas, school starts back up, and nowhere has anything fun planned because people need to actually get some work done after all that time off they took in December.

In short, January is absolutely the worst time of year to try to scrape enough of your willpower together to make any kind of significant changes in your life. Not only is your willpower completely out of practice because of the holidays, but there are some days in January where you need every shred of willpower you have left to get through the dreary grayness of an average day. The third Monday in January is actually referred to as Blue Monday, and is officially recognized as the most depressing day of the entire year. Look it up if  you don’t believe me.

And when you add New Year’s Resolutions on top of this, things somehow manage to get even worse. Because the kind of resolutions that end up getting capital letters are always big, serious resolutions with a lot of moving parts. I’m going to lose 20 pounds. I’m going to go to the gym every single day. I’m finally going to write the novel I’ve always dreamed about.

These things are hard enough to do when you’re at your best, and in January literally no one is at their best. But the unrelenting gray of the weather is getting to you and you’re desperate for some hope, and you charge ahead like you can magically fix yourself if you just want it badly enough. You’ll push ahead toward your goal for a few days, maybe even a few weeks if you’re feeling really determined.

Sadly, most of your internal resources are devoted to just making it through January and you don’t have enough to deal with how overwhelming your resolution suddenly feels. You’ll give up, if not in that moment then soon after, because not only are you tired but your goal suddenly seems even further away than when you started. Then, of course, you’ll feel even worse about yourself because you’re now one of those dreaded “quitters,” and will possibly try to drown your sorrows in some indulgence that will cause you to fall even further behind on that great scale of becoming a Better Person (TM).

So if you’re going to do any big resolutions, wait until spring. It’s got even more symbolic juice behind it that the new year – nature is restarting, plants are growing, everything is waking up and renewing itself – and a general atmosphere that’s way less depressing than January. Anything you start then will have more of a chance.

And if you insist on beginning your self-improvement project in January, start small. Pick one fairly simple thing you can do in a day. If you don’t accomplish it, don’t worry – that’s now officially become your goal for tomorrow. When you do accomplish it, find another small goal you can achieve in 24 hours. It’s fine to even make it the same goal, if that’s what helps you.

These are the kind of resolutions meant for a month like January. Good luck out there. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

"The Muppet Christmas Carol," "Elf," and the eternal debate over Christmas movies

©  Disney
When it comes to Christmas movies, a certain amount of negotiation is usually required.

Thanksgiving generally marks the official beginning of Christmas movie season, the first point where people pull out blu-rays of their favorites and holiday specials are capable of popping up anywhere. It also once again renews the question of what the “true” Christmas movies are, a question that can differ dramatically from person to person and from household to household.

Even movies generally thought of as being on the “Greatest Hits of Christmas” list can be up for debate. “It's a Wonderful Life” and "Miracle on 34th Street" are both seen as Christmas classics, but a lot of people I've talked to who love one of the movies have almost zero interest in the other. Then there's the question of the black and white versus the colored versions of the movies, which can get more intense than people not interested in either movie could possibly imagine.

“A Christmas Carol” is an entire argument all on its own. There are enough versions of the movie to fill several different pages of Google, even when you don’t include modern variations, and fans of the story all have their favorites. The dozens of different factors that are involved – animated versus live action, classic retellings versus modern variations, fealty to the original story versus more streamlined retellings – and each argument has its champions on both sides. My personal votes are 1992’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” for best original version – yes, I know, but the story is actually fairly faithful – and 1988’s “Scrooged” for best modern adaptation.

Then there's a comedy subsection, the most common representatives of which are “A Christmas Story” and “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” Technically, both are period movies – “A Christmas Story” intentionally evokes the 1950s, and “Lampoon’s” due to the fact that we’re moving increasing further away from the 1980s – and involve significant amounts of slapstick. Still, it’s nearly impossible to find both movies on a person’s “must see” Christmas list, and that’s not including those people who would happily ignore either for “Home Alone.”

Though it’s also a comedy, “Elf” seems to be in a category all its own. Discussions about holiday movies suggest that there are two very different opinions on the movie – either people love it and watch it every year, or they tried it once and immediately vowed never to watch it again. In case you’re curious, the people in the latter category always look faintly pained at the mere mention of it.

You'd think kids' movies would be considered universally acceptable, but even they have some mortal enemies. My best friend absolutely loathes all Rankin/Bass Christmas movies, particularly the classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Her least favorite character in that movie is the elf who wants to be a dentist, so much so that even a mention of him is enough to inspire a rant. It’s bad enough that she’d rather watch any number of schmaltzy Christmas movies, which she also dislikes, rather than be forced to watch a Rankin/Bass special.

Then, of course, there are wild card favorites. Some people argue that “Die Hard” is the only acceptable movie (it counts – the setting is a Christmas party), and others who consider “Nightmare Before Christmas” to be required viewing for both Halloween and Christmas. There’s even a few people who love “Ernest Saves Christmas,” but most probably won’t admit it in public.

The real answer to the question of the best Christmas movie, however, is surprisingly simple. It’s the one that makes you think of favorite childhood Christmas memories, or the one that makes your child smile. It’s the movie that still makes you laugh, even though you’ve seen it no less than 20 times, or the one that still reliably chokes you up even though you know it well enough to have all the dialogue memorizes. It’s whatever movie makes you not mind the snow outside (if there is snow) and makes you feel like Christmas lights look in the darkness.

So champion your Christmas movie, loud and proud, but don’t knock anyone else’s, either. It means Christmas to them, and that’s what matters. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Not quite human

Have you ever had anyone look at you like you were an alien from another planet?

And I know I shouldn't complain, not really. I'm white, and cis, and so I've never had hate speech tossed at me. I've never had to fear for my life. And on top of that, I have people who love me. In a lot of ways, I'm really lucky.

But there's a look, people get sometimes. It's not the same as the "oh, she's so quirky" look, or even the "you poor awkward thing, why did anyone let you out of the house?" look. The latter makes it clear they're slightly charmed, and the latter inevitably falls somewhere between amusement and pity.

No, the "alien" look is far more clinical, as if you're being genuinely studied. It's worse than an insult, sometimes, because the person honestly looks they have no idea what on earth you're doing standing in front of them. It's a look that says, at least to them, you don't quite pass as being human. And because they never actually say the words, you can't even fight it.

It burns. And it scars. Because no matter how many people are kind to you, who look at you and see nothing wrong, there is a part of you that will always remember that, in some people's eyes, you don't count.

To anyone who has ever looked at anyone like that, whether it's because of their race, their faith, their gender, their sexual preference, or the fact that they're the quiet kid in the back of the class who smells kind of funny, don't you dare think that you're any better than those people who hurl insults at them or try to hurt them. Don't you dare think your silence buys you any kind of civility, or that your thoughts don't condemn you just as thoroughly as your words would. Because you cut them just as thoroughly, your brothers and sisters who are just as human as you are (and how dare you even for a second think otherwise) and you should be just as damned for it. You are the reason the world is broken.

And if you've ever been looked at like that, by anyone, please know that they're wrong. The fact that they can't see you correctly is their failing, not yours, and I wish I could be there to punch all of them in the face for daring to be dismissive of your magnificence. Because you are magnificent. You are precious, you are beautiful, you are amazing, and whoever you are I know this to the very depths of my soul. I pray that each and every one of you find someone who looks at you and sees the wonder that you are, because you deserve it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Dreamless" fancast vol. 2 - starring Cate Blanchett, Patrick Stewart and Jeremy Irons

Back for more "Dreamless" fancasts, and this time we're taking on the book's main villain and some of the more colorful supporting cast.

Ariadne - Cate Blanchett

In my mind, Blanchett is the only choice for Elena's aunt, who needs to be so many things throughout the course of the story - loyal, loving, jealous, angry, passionate, heartbroken, penitent, cold, hopeful.... Not only does Blanchett have the range to handle all that and more, but she exudes the kind of poise and power Ariadne would have needed to have at the top of her game. Also, she actually looks like she could be related to Elena and Queen Illiana, which is always a nice touch.

Dr. Flyte - Patrick Stewart

I imagine this would be a voice acting gig, though it's possible the CGI team could use Stewart's features to make the suggestion of the good doctor's face in the surface of the magic mirror. I'd want Stewart for the gig because he could handle both the doctor's humor and more clinical side equally well, along with the caretaker-style warmth he feels for Elena. Also, his voice is rich and varied enough that it can make up for the fact that, as a magical mirror-turned-therapist, the character doesn't have any limbs or really defined facial features to act with.

Braeth - Jeremy Irons

Another voice role, this time for an undead wraith who also happens to be another old family friend of Elena's. Irons is perfect because he can inject so much disdain and sarcasm into his voice while still keeping it wonderfully cultured, which is just what I'd expect from someone who has hundreds of years of knowledge and experience on everyone he talks to. At the same time, he can also sound gentle, which is important because undead wraiths still know how to care about people. I might modify Irons voice a little to give it more of an echo, though - I'm not entirely certain Braeth has a mouth or vocal chords as we recognize them.