I Said, “FOREIGN Films!”

I had such high hopes for this January. Hopes, goals, resolutions, whatever you want to call it, I was going to get it done, step it up, take it to the next level. I was going to be awesome. But then on the first day back to school, my youngest had to stay home sick, followed by constant illness rotating from kid to kid throughout the month. We’ve only managed to have six days all month without someone home sick from school. And now today, I’ve been slammed with whatever all these sickies brought into the house. Ok, January, I get it. You win. I’ve lost all my motivation, are you happy now?

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Because January has defeated me, I didn’t stray far out of my comfort zone for this week’s post. In fact, it was pretty much right smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone. But it was my first time, and (and I cannot emphasize this enough) it is January, after all, so I’m going to cheat a little. This week I went to BYU’s International Cinema and I wondered why no one had told me about it sooner. Foreign films in cushy seats in an uncrowded, not-overly-air-conditioned room for free? If only I had known.

When we first moved back to Utah, I taught a Relief Society lesson in church (Relief Society is for all the women in the congregation). I was new in town and was very nervous. My lesson turned out to be a rambling mess, at least in my mind. For the entire week following, I replayed the experience over and over, picking apart every dumb thing I said or forgot to say. Eventually, my husband convinced me to just get over it and I was finally able to recover from my humiliation.

The next week, at a toddler playgroup, one of my neighbors pointed to another and said to me, “Did she tell you what we thought you said in your Relief Society lesson last week?” They proceeded to tell me that at one point when I said, “I like to watch foreign films,” everyone thought I said, “I like to watch porn films.” Yup, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.

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I do like to watch foreign films, though, and that’s why this discovery makes me so happy. We went to see The Wind Journeys because it’s about Colombian vallanato music, which is something my husband teaches in his world music class. I have that one 1995 Carlos Vives album, so naturally I assumed I was an expert on vallanato.

 

But until I saw this movie, I had never realized that performances take the form of rap battles with accordions, with lots of bragging and smack talking. The film reminded me a lot of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou, with the troubadours’ odyssey taking them from one amazingly gorgeous part of Colombia to another, encountering strange or magical characters along the way.

I loved the movie and I’d tell you more, but right now my eyeballs are burning and I need more cough medicine. It’s really too bad I’m sick because I was honestly considering jumping into a frozen lake for my next challenge. Maybe I can try next year. There’s always the chance that January won’t be so bad, but who am I kidding?

 

 

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Yada Yada

It might not sound like hard work, but this week’s challenge has actually taken me the longest to accomplish. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pleasant, but I did it. I spent the last seven months watching every single episode of Seinfeld. That’s right, I worked my way through all nine seasons, thinking that maybe, just maybe I would begin to understand why it was one of the most popular shows on television.

I didn’t liked it when it was on in the 90’s so I never watched it. My in-laws really like it and refer to it often, so I thought maybe I just missed the point in the few episodes I had seen. I thought if I just gave it another try and really stuck with it from beginning to end like they did, I would begin to see its charms.

Midway through the second season, I realized maybe the mom jeans and bad hair might be contributing to my dislike of the show, and I couldn’t rationalize taking the time to actually sit down and watch that many episodes of a show I don’t even like, so I decided just to listen to it instead – kind of like a book on tape with a laugh track. I streamed the show on my phone and plugged the audio into my car stereo when I went on long drives or ran errands without kids, and little by little, month by month, made my way through all 171 episodes.

If I came across an episode I knew I had seen before, I skipped to the next. But I only skipped four episodes – that tells you how much I didn’t like it the first time it came around (or the second time in the ‘00’s when you couldn’t turn on the television without being saturated with Seinfeld reruns). And yet, even though I wasn’t a regular viewer, I wasn’t surprised at how many phrases from the show have worked their way into everyday conversation. Close talker, bro/manzier, regifter, yada yada… Even I often refer to double dipping or man-hands (because, let’s face it, I totally have man hands).

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Watching from beginning to end showed me just how many of the jokes are self-referential, but also how many would not work today. I found myself increasingly annoyed by all the crazy miscommunications that happened just because there were no cell phones. And there were so many scenes involving video stores, it almost made me miss video stores. But most tiring to me was that so many situations involved Jerry and George doing something elaborate and ill-advised (Why do they even listen to Kramer’s advice? When will they ever learn?) just to reconcile with a woman. Again and again. And I kept thinking, why bother? They rotate through women so quickly, it’ll never last anyway.

The episodes that involve being stuck in a situation involving endless waiting (waiting to be seated at a Chinese restaurant, trying to find a car in a parking garage, getting stuck in traffic because of a parade), were the worst for me to endure. I guess they thought it would be funny, but being stuck somewhere with no end in sight is bad enough without having to endure it with annoying people. Those episodes made me crazy.

The real problem with the show, for me, was that I just didn’t find it funny. Out of the 167 episodes I watched, I laughed out loud exactly four times. Four. Once when George described sitting on a handicapped toilet like a perched gargoyle, and then these three other times:

I knew going into this that the thing that would stand in the way of me liking the show would be my intense dislike of every character. The sound of Jerry’s voice (especially when shouting), his habit of smiling at his own jokes, and the way he said, “this woman…” hundreds of times. I’ll never understand the appeal of Kramer, and I could just never warm up to Elaine, although she annoyed me the least. But of all the characters, George Costanza had to be the worst – slimy, smirky, shouty, whiny, squirrely, sneaky – just the sound of his voice made me want to throw my phone out the window onto the freeway. They have absolutely no redeeming qualities. And because I couldn’t stand any of the characters, I could never actually like the show.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to have these complaints, but the Seinfeld writers were smart. They knew the best way to fend off criticism is to preemptively criticize themselves. In the episodes about Jerry and George making a t.v. pilot, there are plenty of jokes about Jerry’s bad acting, the lack of plot lines (“a show about nothing”), and the annoying qualities of the characters. The finale episode is centered entirely around pointing out how the four main characters are just awful people with no moral compass. And it worked – anything I might have written to criticize, they’ve already beaten me to it. Genius.

The thing that struck me in the first few episodes was just how mellow and pleasant Jerry, George, and even Kramer were. They were warm and friendly, maybe even likable.

But as the show progressed, the characters became less like real people and more like caricatures. And as the exaggerated qualities became more entrenched, those qualities determined the character’s actions, which further cemented the caricature.

I thought about how this plays out in real life – the ways people tend to pick a personality trait to represent themselves, and then make decisions based on this representation. For instance, someone who openly (sometimes proudly) admits, “I’m terrible with names,” has give himself a ready-made excuse and finds little motivation to actually make an effort to learn names. Other examples include, “I’m not much of a reader,” “I just can’t seem to get out the door in time,” or “I’m just a stick-in-the-mud.” Each of those phrases seem to be followed by a silent, implied, “…so why should I even try?”

In a conversation with my family this weekend, I realized one of my personality traits I tend to caricature is my bossiness. “I’m just bossy,” is something I say often to myself and others. It sounds like I’m being self-deprecating, but I wonder if I don’t use it to serve a different purpose. If I tell people openly that I’m just bossy, then if I’m rude or overstep my bounds in some way, I have that ready-made excuse to spout as I shrug and go on my way. I worry that if I’m not careful, I may turn myself into a Seinfeld character – openly admitting my flaws and then reinforcing them with my behavior. 

My one hope as I write this is that my husband’s family can forgive me for not liking the show.  At the very least this allows me to have a little more shared background with them. I still probably won’t speak Seinfeld as fluently as they do, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Go To Here

I’m taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to inform you that if you live anywhere within driving distance of BYU, you really, really need to rearrange your schedule this weekend (January 21-23) to come experience Off the Map. Part of the Bravo! series, Off the Map brings in performers from around the world. It is an experience that defies categorization, with no defined boundary between theater, dance and music. This is Off the Map’s third year, and we’ve loved the lineup of shows each time we’ve attended. We were so impressed by the performances the last two years that I just have to suggest (is insist too bossy? I’m pretty bossy) that everyone needs to experience it.

The first year we attended, it was just two weeks after my father-in-law passed away and it just so happened that all three performances dealt with grief and losing a loved one. It was very painful to spend three hours opening up fresh wounds, but it ended up being a very cathartic and healing experience. My friend described her experience as “life-changing”.

We started by watching The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, part puppet theater, part animation. It was sweet and cute and so creative, but it was also painful to watch the scenes that mirrored our recent experience of loss. We loved it and wished we had brought our kids to see it.

Then we walked over to the concert hall to watch Translunar Paradise, a mix of theater and mime and dance. If you had asked me before if I would enjoy watching mime, I would have laughed, but it really was a beautiful experience. As I watched, I realized I have always held the ridiculous assumption that, since death is less unexpected for elderly people, it must be less painful for them to lose a spouse. After watching this, it suddenly hit me: “Oh, crap, it’ll only get harder the longer we’re together.” That shouldn’t have been a revelation, but it was, and it kind of bummed me out.

The last show we saw was Iran’s Leev Theater Group’s performance of Hamlet, Prince of Grief, a one-man retelling of Hamlet. It was interesting to see how he fit the entire story into thirty minutes using toys to represent the other characters, but I flinched as I sat next to my husband every time Hamlet said, “My father is dead.” It felt like maybe it was too soon to immerse ourselves in so many portrayals of grief in one evening, and if we had known the subject matter ahead of time, maybe we wouldn’t have dared, but it turned out to be an important part of our healing process and we were so glad we came.

The second year of Off the Map was much less heavy and life-changing, but still very entertaining. Performances included The Shanghai Restoration Project, a Chinese-Ameican musical group that combines hip-hop, rap and traditional Chinese music, The Elephant Wrestler, a mostly one-man play about an Indian tea seller, and Linea Cie Sens Dessus Dessous, a delightful juggling/rope wrestling performance that we wished we had brought our children to see when we heard the laughter of all the kids in the audience.

This year, I’ve decided we really do need to let our children experience Off the Map with us. We always regret not bringing them, and the two shows offered this year both seem pretty kid-friendly.

This year’s performances are LEO:

“This solo physical theatre piece challenges gravity and reality through the clever interplay of vibrant acrobatic performance and high-tech video projection. Universally appealing to adults and children alike, this is the funny, intriguing and moving journey of a seemingly ordinary man whose world becomes physically unhinged. Jaws will drop as LEO takes “off the wall” to a whole new level.”

And Next Door:

“A blend of personal memories, shared stories, and movement, Next Door is low-fi, physical storytelling that celebrates imagination, connection and the importance of human relationships. When Ivan Hansen’s neighbor dies, Ivan suddenly realizes he didn’t even know him. Puzzled by knowing nothing about the man he had lived next to for so many years, Ivan begins to wonder, in this acclaimed two-character play, what exactly it is that joins people together.”

Although all the performances we’ve seen have been very different, the common thread to me has been smart, creative people doing smart, creative things. I can’t recommend this experience more emphatically. Get your tickets, even if this seems like something out of your comfort zone. Especially if this seems like something out of your comfort zone! 

 

 

 

Stairway to Heaven

In the early ‘90s, I discovered that for me, a date to a laser show was a guaranteed relationship killer. The thing about a laser show is that nothing happens. You pay admission to sit and stare at a ceiling and listen to loud music for 45 minutes. That’s it. It’s even more boring than fireworks, if you can believe it. So, left with nothing else to capture my attention, the two times I was taken to a laser show on a date, my thoughts turned to the person sitting next to me: “Why am I here? Why am I here with him? Do I even really like him?” 45 minutes is a long time to devote to a listing of grievances. Lots of time to think. And think. And why does he always say “Bueno”? He doesn’t even speak Spanish! As a result, both times I attended a laser show, I left with a firm resolve to squirm out of the relationship as soon as possible.

The last laser show I attended was Pink Floyd’s The Wall one month before my first date with this guy, so I count it as a lucky break.

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Not just another brick in the wall.

I haven’t been to another laser show since. We’ve had a great marriage for almost 20 years, but why tempt fate? And also, why make ourselves sit through that? Then again, that kind of sounded like the perfect blog challenge to me. So last weekend we decided to go to the Clark Planetarium for their Led Zeppelin light show. We knew the dangers. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, that it could possibly ruin all we have built together, and yet we forged onward from the land of ice and snow up the stairway to heaven.

I wasn’t expecting much. After all, isn’t watching a laser show pretty much like staring at a screen saver for 45 minutes?  Or staring through those kaleidoscope glassesI honestly think the only ones who truly find laser shows interesting are stoners and cats.

But we gave it a try. I was surprised to find that, instead of feeling bored and antsy, I felt relaxed and slightly hypnotized by the psychedelic animation (very swirly).

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Nowadays, I don’t seem to mind having time to myself to do nothing, so it didn’t feel like torture the way it did when I was eighteen. I was also surprised that I didn’t actually know much about Led Zeppelin. Each song that came on, I thought, “Oh, is this by them too? I kind of like this one.” And when the show ended, I was surprised that it had felt so short. I had expected to go crazy with boredom.

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My husband slept through most of it, which was completely understandable. And then he apologized several times, which was completely unnecessary. After all, mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing. And sure, this time he slept, but who knows about the next time? Because in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.

We both came out of the experience still as committed to our marriage as ever, if not more so. We realized that then as it was, then again it will be. Though the course may change sometimes, rivers always reach the sea. Plus, we’ve got a whole lotta love.

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When I stopped to think about it, I realized that in our two decades together, we’ve endured a whole lot of boredom in airports, hospital rooms, movie theaters, cars, churches, school auditoriums and concert halls, and our living room. What’s one more hour in one more place? In fact, maybe they should include that in wedding vows along with sickness, health and poverty. Because whether we realized it at the time, when we married, we committed ourselves to entertainment and monotony, to stimulating conversation and everyday minutiae, to amusement and tedium. And I like it that way, because who wants to feel like they have to be “on” all the time? That would feel like a first date, and isn’t one of the perks of marriage that it saves us from ever having to go on another first date? So I love it when he tells me about the dry cleaner losing a button or about the traffic on the freeway and I tell him the exact route I took while running or which bills I paid. I’ll take that over first date banter any day.

Maybe the problem wasn’t with the laser shows (although I still don’t see the point). Maybe the problem was that I was a teenager and was inclined to find something wrong with just about everyone I dated (apologies to anyone who falls into that category). Or maybe the answer can be found, as almost any answer to any question, in the books of Jane Austen (substituting “laser show” for “poetry”, obviously):

“I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”

“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,”said Darcy.

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”

This weekend’s outing verified just how stout we are…I mean, that we’re not slight and thin…I mean…never mind. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my show. It’s really good. I’ve been binge watching for days.

 

 

Palette Envy

Surprise, surprise – I am not the favorite parent. My husband is much more entertaining and fun to be around. I have known this for seventeen years and it doesn’t surprise me or hurt my feelings. One year, my husband was out of town for my son’s fourteenth birthday so the poor boy had to go out for the traditional birthday dinner with me instead. I drove him an hour to the restaurant he’d requested and as we sat across from each other, he said, “This is boring. I’d rather be here with Dad.” I told him I didn’t blame him because I’d rather be there with his dad too.

I completely understand why my kids prefer Dad – I’m always around, I’m always nagging them to get their work done, not to mention the fact that I say things like, “I’d rather be here with Dad, too.” My husband is funny and smart and sweet and likeable. I don’t harbor any disappointment or resentment that I’m not the favorite. I think my kids are pretty lucky to have him for a dad and I’m glad they recognize and appreciate that.

This year for Christmas, we decided to give our boys experience gifts instead of more stuff – gift cards for activities to try with one of us. I naturally assumed this would mean my husband would be the one chosen to go with each child and I was fine with that. But my youngest surprised me by insisting that he wanted me to go with him to paint some ceramics at Color Me Mine. Me? But I’m not the fun one! I’m not even a good artist! But he insisted he wanted to go with me.

I’m not sure why I thought this would make a good blog post. I mean, sure, it’s out of my comfort zone. But posting about it meant that I would have to take pictures of my creation for everyone to see. To paraphrase Keira Knightley who’s paraphrasing Jane Austen, I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say I’m terrible at anything artistic.

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Because I was so worried about not looking dumb, I listened carefully to the speedy instructions, read all the signs posted with helpful hints, and worked hard to get all three base coats on my plate.

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My son took the opposite approach: diving in, slapping on some paint, and then instantly regretting it. He loves drawing and will spend hours filling notebooks with picture after picture, but he’s all about speed, never technique. His purpose in art is to get whatever thoughts he has in his brain down on paper as quickly as possible.

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He was disappointed when he realized that, unlike the pages and pages of legal pads I buy him in bulk, there was only one plate. He was stuck with his first draft.

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I tried to get him to spend more time on it so he’d feel better about the results, but he just sighed and said, “Mine doesn’t look good. You’re way better at this than I am.” He started to get increasingly uncomfortable looking at his plate and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. As one who feels self-conscious about my perceived failures quite often, I understood how he felt. But I also really wanted to spend more than ten minutes there, especially after investing time, money, and my pride in this project.

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I tried to keep him occupied by letting him take selfies on my phone, buying myself more time to finish my plate, but the more details I added, the more he compared my plate to his. “You’re good at this. Mine looks stupid.” He seemed to be approaching our fun day of painting the way he does any board game we try to play. To him, it was a competition to be won or lost, and he really hates losing. It started to dawn on me that maybe that’s why he chose me over my husband. I had the sneaking suspicion that he didn’t want the pressure of painting with someone who’s actually good at it, and that’s why he chose me as his partner.

My husband tells me I’m crazy for thinking this, that I might just have to admit that my son actually likes me. And as I write this, I realize that all of Fritz’s comparing, of seeing life in terms of winners and losers, isn’t very different from the way I’ve always perceived my boys’ affection for their dad. I didn’t think I was viewing it as a competition because I’d naturally assumed I was the loser and I was okay with that. But just because I’m not a sore loser, it doesn’t make my long-held perception any less warped than Fritz’s. It could even be damaging, like the times I think to myself, “They don’t like hanging out with me anyway, so why bother?”

Maybe I should adjust my way of looking at our family dynamic and think of it like our painting session. My plate might not be as snazzy looking (or even centered as properly) as others’, but I’m still there, putting in the time and effort. It will still be just as useful when serving a meal. And when I stop to think about it, just like Fritz, I’m really the only one who thinks what I have to offer isn’t good enough. And that’s just silly.

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When we left the shop, I told Fritz that the baking and glazing would make his plate look so much cooler but I’m not sure he believed me. For several days he worried about it and even suggested that maybe it would accidentally break in the oven so he wouldn’t have to bring it home. But when we finally got the finished product, we were both pretty pleased with the results. Look what we did!

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