Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Quiet Mind

I don't have the best track record with Meetup groups.  I've signed up for a few because I like the idea of them, but then I never go to any of their events.  OK, I went to one once. It was a vegan Thanksgiving potluck and I only went because I already knew some people that were going.  See, the problem with going to Meetups is there will be people there and I might have to talk to them.  So when my friend Chex invited me along to a Meetup group that does totally silent full moon hikes for introverts, I thought, well, here's something I can get behind.  Of course, this was after I stopped laughing over the idea of a silent hike for introverts.

I'm not sure why I found the idea so funny.  I guess it was partly because it's...so Boulder.  My Colorado peeps will understand what I mean.  Those of you who don't, think Portlandia.  It could very easily apply to Boulder.  Subtract a little flannel and coffee, add beer and Subarus, and you're good.  Like the creators of that show, I poke fun with love.  There are so many silly things about Boulder, but I do adore it.  Even when its affluent, highly attractive, fashionable-yoga-outfit-wearing citizens do not respect my personal space in the Whole Foods.

The introvert hiking group also struck me as funny because I kept thinking of this meme I saw on Facebook that said "Introverts unite!  Separately!  In our own homes!"  We were going to be uniting for the hike, but for all intents and purposes remaining alone in our little bubbles. It was absurd. I loved it.

I was told the hike would be about two hours long: 45 minutes up Marshall Mesa, 25 minutes of meditation at the top, and 45 minutes back down.  I pictured us trudging along the trail, single file, not uttering a word, and you know what?  That's exactly what happened.  I just didn't expect it to be so goddamn funny.

Now, I have to preface this by saying that the hike was wonderful and I would like to do it again.  The nighttime air was refreshing after a hot summer day; the full moon -- a blue moon, actually -- was gorgeous; the trail was neither too challenging nor too wimpy.  The humor I found in the whole experience really has more to do with me being an inappropriate jerk than anything to do with the group.

A lot of times when I'm in situations where speaking or laughing would be frowned upon, I get the worst case of the giggles.  Especially when I'm with a friend.  All they have to do is look at me and it sends me into paroxysms of stifled laughter.  Tears can, and often do, ensue.  (Sometimes this works in my favor as people will think I'm overcome with emotion at, say, some sort of church ceremony.)  So as we walked up the mesa, I thought about my tendency to chuckle in very bad places and was proud of myself that I did not feel the urge to do so at that time.  But then I thought what if someone farted really loud right now? and scooted slightly closer to the cliff of inappropriateness.

I know one of the goals of the hike, besides getting us out of the house and amongst other humans, was to meditate and reflect. I felt like I should be thinking about deep stuff: maybe a little self-review, re-evaluate life goals; move on to the nature of consciousness and our place in the multiverse.   I succeeded at this for a good two, maybe three minutes, but then it sort of fell apart. I started thinking about this British miniseries I've been watching and what I was going to eat later.

The moonlight illuminated our path well enough.  We had the option to use head lamps but nobody did.  If we were going to deprive ourselves of speaking, you can guaran-goddammn-tee we were going to deprive ourselves of light too.  Every once in a while one of us would stumble on a rock or misjudge a dip in the path and do one of those straight-legged keels forward where you think the ground is about four inches higher than where it actually is.  When I did this I desperately wanted to look around at the group with my hands raised like Russell Crowe in Gladiator and yell, "Are you not entertained!?" But the awkwardness that would follow would be too much to bear, and I didn't want the hike organizer to tell Chex not to bring her weird friend back.  Instead, I acknowledged my stumble with a quiet pffff.

It's so weird coming close to biting the dust and not being able to laugh about it. Chex was in front of me and had a couple near falls as well; she just turned around and looked at me with wide eyes and pursed lips.  What's the fun of tripping if you can't point and guffaw?  I tried to communicate telepathically to her that I thought her last stumble was hilarious.  I also tried to communicate telepathically to the person behind me that, contrary to all appearances, I wasn't drunk.  I'm not sure she believed me.

We reached the top of the mesa and spread out so we could enjoy 25 minutes of seated meditation, presumably to meditate about the 45 minutes of meditating we just did.  I sat and gazed up at the sky, trying to will my mind once again to think about important stuff, which one feels required to do when sitting on top of a mesa under a full moon, but again my thoughts turned to the mundane and the cynical.  And then we heard it, ambling through the peaceful night air like a drunk patchouli-scented hippie.  Someone started playing the flute.

The flute.  

My first thought was you've got to be f***ing kidding me.  The hike was already super Boulder-y, but the addition of the flute was like extra crunchy granola topping.  I tried to act nonchalant, like I was used to people bustin' out the flute during hikes, and I casually craned my head around to identify the offender.  I couldn't tell who it was without ogling, so I returned to my "meditation", closed my eyes, and imagined that it was a half-man/half-goat with a fringed leather jacket and beads sitting on a rock who was playing.  Later I found out it was the lady who had introduced herself as "Rainbow*".  OF COURSE.

(*Name altered...though not altered much.)

Because jumping up, running over, and punting the flute out of her hand wasn't an option, I had no choice but to go with it.  Again, I willed myself to meditate on something meaningful, but just ended up thinking about how hard Chex and I were going to laugh about this later. Our 25 minutes of nearly-silent-except-for-the-flute meditation ticked by.  Every time I heard a noise in the nearby trees, I imagined it was a bear and thought about the absurdity of wildlife happening upon a bunch of silent hippies staring at the moon to the sound of a flute.

On the way back down, things started getting weirdly competitive with the some of the hikers.  Up until then we had walked single file at a moderate pace.  Now a couple of women behind me were wanting to pass everyone up, even though the trail wasn't conducive to it.  I think they mistook "silent hike" for "hike where you show everyone how awesome and fast you are".  They started creeping up beside me and Chex to pass us, even though we were right behind the leader and were keeping up a good clip.  Outwardly I was totally zen; inside I was like, bitch, please.

I gave up on meditating on the way down.  I should know better than to try to quiet my mind.  Why fight it?  I thought about this one time in German class at UW when we were supposed to be listening to our instructor, and my classmate caught my eye and motioned to this drawing of a boy in our workbook.  It was one of those language 101 drawings accompanying the phrase "his name is" or something. Anyway, the boy's name was "Ulf".  I looked at her and she mouthed "ULF" at me, eyes wide, and we both laughed into our fists until tears streamed down our cheeks.

I love it when that happens.

Turned out we weren't the only weirdos using this trail at night.  Some people on horseback passed us going the opposite way as we descended.  They probably wondered who these freaks were, marching along wordlessly, and to which cult we belonged.  One of them asked snottily why none of us was using a head lamp.  No one in our group responded to her.  I admit I felt a little surge of pride.  Way to not fold under questioning, guys. 

As we neared the end of our hike, something very, very pointy decided to make its presence known inside my shoe.  With every step, it jabbed the bottom of my foot.  Ow, I thought.  As one does in times like this, I allowed my thoughts to wind their way to a logical, yet ridiculous, conclusion.  This little burr would become embedded in my foot, get infected, and naturally lead to me having my entire leg amputated.  I imagined showing up at the next full moon hike with a prosthetic leg and yelling, "LET'S DO THIS!" a little too cheerfully, leading to my future career as a life coach.

Back at the trailhead, we formed a circle and went around sharing our thoughts and feelings about the hike.  Instead of telling everyone how proud of myself I was for not laughing, farting, or assaulting the flute player, I picked something bland and safe to say, like, "I had a great time!'  The organizer of the hike shared that he found himself plagued by repetitive thoughts, and I guffawed a little too loudly, realizing too late it wasn't supposed to be funny.  Chex and I held it together until back in my car, where we whooped it up until I was coughing.

I can't wait to go again.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Thwarted Review

Earlier this year, a local startup (which shall *cough, cough* remain nameless) put an advert on craigslist looking for freelance reviewers of various things, including movies.  Though excited by the idea of it, I was pretty depressed at the time and talked myself out of applying to be a film reviewer because, as one does when one is depressed, I thought I sucked and everything sucked and they're going to laugh at me and who the hell did I think I was, believing I could write about anything at all?

Harumph.

I told mom about my brilliant rationalizations (see above), and she got all mom-ish and threatened to be very disappointed in me if I didn't at least try for the gig, so I did.  I put together a review of a movie we had just watched, submitted it, and was pleasantly surprised when they told me that they liked my sample and would like me to go out on my first "assignment".  Turn in a review, they said, and we'll do some edits and then post it. There was pay involved, but so negligible as to just distinguish it from volunteer work. But I wasn't doing it for pay. I was doing it for experience.  I was doing it for art, man. 

Kevin talked me out of going to Denver to review something bonkers playing at one of the Landmark theaters (good call; gotta play to the demographic), so I picked the most nonmainstream movie I could find in a two-county radius and took my notebook and my own personal pep squad, a.k.a. mom.  And goddammit if it didn't feel awesome taking notes during the film and thinking about what I was going to say. I spent a chunk of the weekend deciphering my scribbles from the darkened theater and putting together a review.  It was a challenge, but it also made me feel pure, unadulterated glee.

Anyway, blah, blah, blah, I turn in my review.  A week goes by.  Nothin'.  I e-mail the publisher to check in.  No response.  After a few weeks, I resign myself to knowing this won't go anywhere and realize I have two possible conclusions to draw from it:  (1.) They thought what I wrote was such monstrous rubbish that it didn't even warrant a "thanks but no thanks" message, or (2.) as a new startup, they are disorganized and my review was forgotten, or at least pushed off to the side until it was no longer relevant, perhaps pondered for a millisecond, and then forgotten.  The only clue I have into the mystery is that they have, to date, not posted any movie reviews whatsoever on their website. Call it ego, but I'm going with option 2.

At first I was a little hurt. If they thought it stunk, they could have told me.  I'm a big girl.  I can take it. In fact, I wanted the criticism so I can become a better writer. Time, however, has eased the sting of rejection/being forgotten. But it wasn't all for naught.  I really enjoyed this project, and I realized more than ever that writing is, for me, one of those things that makes the rest of the world fall away.

Here's my movie review below, just in time for, um, its release on DVD.

(P.S.  For some reason, posting this on my blog is a scarier prospect than putting it out there for a town full of strangers to read.  Eep.)

Generations collide with mixed results in While We’re Young

Independent filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s latest work, While We’re Young, is a dryly funny and poignant study of a hip, mid-forties couple who are struggling with the changes brought about by middle age and their increasing discomfort with their childless marriage.  Josh (Ben Stiller) is a documentarian who has been spinning his wheels for nearly a decade, trying to edit and complete his film, and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) works for her father (Charles Grodin), himself a heavyweight in the documentary world, with whom Josh has a prickly relationship.  Their marriage receives a breath of fresh air after meeting impossibly cool twenty-somethings Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) in a film class, and they all begin hanging out after the younger couple heaps praise upon Josh’s little-seen work. 

Josh and Cornelia become enchanted with Jamie and Darby’s live-in-the-moment zest for life. Soon they are shopping for interesting hats, taking hip-hop dance classes (one of the highlights of the movie), and participating in ayahuasca ceremonies together, and as they continue to fall down the hipster rabbit hole they increasingly alienate and perplex close friends Marina (Maria Dizzia) and Fletcher (Adam Horovitz), who’ve just had their first baby and are trying to persuade Josh and Cornelia to do the same.  In one particularly funny scene, Josh gushes over Jamie and Darby’s egalitarian approach to high- and lowbrow art, appreciating Citizen Kane as much as The Goonies.  Fletcher, unimpressed, says, “When did The Goonies become a good movie?”

Their burgeoning friendship with Jamie and Darby injects new life into Josh and Cornelia’s relationship and into their pursuits—even spurring Josh to finish his film—as much as it unearths the midlife crises simmering within.  Ultimately this is a tale about getting older and the wistfulness aging can bring, and this is where the movie’s strength lies.  Baumbach strikes gold when depicting the juxtaposition between Generation X and millennial hipsters, veering into Portlandia territory with Jamie and Darby’s affinity for artisanal ice cream, typewriters, and vinyl, but never becoming mean-spirited.  Threaded into the story is commentary about our relationships with modern technology and the alienation one can feel being childless amongst baby-worshipping peers, which dovetailed nicely with the main theme but were not explored enough to feel satisfying.

Alas, the film goes a bit off the rails in the second half as Jamie enlists Josh, and later Cornelia’s father, to help with his own documentary and his worship of Josh begins more and more to look like strategic maneuvering.  A heavy discussion about ethics and truth in documentary filmmaking ensue, which is not nearly as interesting a storyline, and though Ben Stiller gets to show more of his dramatic range, the denouement doesn’t quite reach the emotional depths that it could have had the story just been about getting older. 

Stiller and Watts do some great work here, as does Adam Driver as the alluring yet insufferable protégé; Amanda Seyfried isn’t let off the bench much except to convey a seething resentment just behind those luminous eyes.  It would have been great to see the friendship between the two women fleshed out a bit more rather than just set up as a backdrop to Jamie and Josh’s bromance. 

Baumbach could be called the spiritual descendant of Woody Allen, tending to focus on New York intellectuals and their neuroses.  Unlike some of his previous films, While We’re Young is relatable and less pretentious.  Unfortunately it has a bit in common with Josh’s sprawling, unfinished opus: it tries to go into too many directions at once rather than sticking with what is, at its core, an interesting story.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dobby

Well, shoot.  I've put this off for nearly a year now.  I reckon it's time to write about it.

In January 2014 I wrote a "look back at 2013" post. One of the things I mentioned was my oldest brother and how New Years Day 2014 would be the seven-year anniversary of the last time he talked to me.  I wondered at that time if 2014 would be the year we'd finally speak.

It was.

This should have been big news, a cause for celebration and a follow-up post about how great it was to begin the process of mending our relationship.  But it was something I didn't share with many people because it turned out to be so anticlimactic...and left me in little doubt that my brother could not be less interested in having a relationship with me.

We may have gone another seven years without speaking or seeing one another were we not brought together by our grandmother's 100th birthday party in May 2014. Since he didn't come to our wedding, I knew the list of momentous occasions that would force my brother and I to be in the same room was whittled down to "funeral" and "really important birthday".  I was afraid it would be the former; I'm grateful it was the latter.

When I found out he would be at the party, my internal organs went very wobbly. I became more and more nervous in the weeks leading up to it and had no idea what to expect, but I knew two things for certain: (1) my grandmother's birthday was definitely not the time nor place to work out our issues, and (2) no way in hell was I going to cry or get upset in any way.  Man, it was hard to maintain composure considering how hard my heart was pounding and how many sleepless nights I'd spent thinking about what I'd like to say to him, but seriously, you guys, I was a freakin' zen master. Breathe in, breathe out...  

I didn't know what to expect.  Actually, I expected nothing.  But I hoped he would show some interest in talking to me, maybe ask what's going on in my life and tell me what's going on in his.  After all, we had seven years of catching up to do.  Lots of stuff happened to me in that stretch; no doubt for him as well.  I also hoped we would part on an optimistic note that left things open to more communication.  Unfortunately, neither of these things happened.

Now, for his part, I imagine that was a tough room to walk into.  My whole family (except mom -- long story) was gathered for my grandma's birthday, and he hasn't talked to ANY of us in years. Why, you ask?  Dunno.  Well, I committed some sort of "offense", but I couldn't tell you why the others get the silent treatment. In any case, he knew he was about to face a bunch of people that he's ignored, which had to be difficult, but my family members are nice, decent folks, and none of them betrayed grudges or hurt feelings, so any fears he might have had about some big showdown were probably quickly put to rest.

The way he walked in and casually greeted everyone like absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary was both admirable and infuriating.

It was such a weird mix of emotions.  Here we are, celebrating the birthday of a remarkable lady, and there's this 400-pound gorilla in the room.  Oh, god, not that I think my brother shouldn't have come to the party.  No, no, no.  On the contrary.  It was absolutely the right thing for him to do, and long overdue.  Our grandma's been asking me about him for years, so his being there meant a great deal to her. That was what mattered most.

As for my interaction with my brother, it was pretty...empty.  He shook my hand and made a couple of bland pleasantries.  I tried to stoke the fires of conversation by asking about his kids and work, but there was zero reciprocation, so, naturally, it fizzled out.  It was like being in a three-legged race with a partner who just wants to lie down and take a nap. After a minute or so of awkward silence, the words "well, I'm going to go get more iced tea" actually came out of my mouth.

One of my nephews came with him to the party.  I hadn't seen him since he was a baby and had to introduce myself to him like a stranger.  We all did.  That was fun.  And by "fun", I mean "totally messed up".  I felt sorry for the kid, in this room full of people that he should know but doesn't know at all.  We've all missed out on so much...  

After the party I found a little private nook with my stepmom and had a bit of a cry.  I really hate to admit that I expended any more energy on this than it deserved.  I've been striving to be as indifferent to it as my brother seems to be.  All that emotional buildup just came tumbling out, I guess.

There was nothing ugly about the interaction with my brother, but I finally understood once and for all that he does not wish to have a relationship with me.  You would've thought those seven (now eight-plus) years of not answering my e-mails and calls would have given me a clue, but I guess it took seeing him in person again to drive the message home. My stepmom said (kindly) that I needed to accept it and move on because there is nothing more I can do, which is completely true.  It's just...when a sibling dismisses you, it is a massive rejection.  It's not the kind of situation where you go "lalalala, I don't need him" and then it stops hurting.

What makes the whole thing really, really suck is that the reason we are in this situation to begin with is stupid and petty.  It started off in the usual way: a misunderstanding that grew into a fight.  It's the kind of conflict people all over the world have daily and somehow don't fall to pieces over. I didn't burn down his house or steal money or hurt one of his children, which I think are all justifiable grounds for estrangement.  We both said hurtful things, we were both far from perfect, but nothing so bad that making up should be beyond reach.

One of my friends lost her brother last year.  She said she would give anything to have one more day with him. Well, here my brother and I are, with all this time being squandered as though there was an endless supply of it, and I know there will come a day when he looks back on it with regret.  He is not a heartless man.  I truly feel sorry for him and would spare him that day, because I know it will come, but that old phrase about leading a horse to water comes to mind.

In case you're wondering about the title of this post, no, I'm not talking about the elf from Harry Potter.  Dobby was a nickname I came up completely out of the blue for my brother when I was little.  No one really knew what it meant, but it stuck.  It is that relationship with him I like to think of, like how I took to wearing his dingy old red baseball hat for a long period of time, not because I wanted a dingy old hat, but simply because it was his.  I looked up to him and we were buds.  Maybe there's a parallel universe somewhere where that is still happening.







Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Very Abbreviated Year

It's already January 6th.  I've tried to write this damn "look back at 2014" thing so many times and it keeps coming out super lame, so I'm just going to keep it short and sweet rather than trying to write about everything.  Otherwise, we'll be here 'til St. Patrick's Day.

- One important lesson I learned in 2014:

It is better to focus on people in your life who care about you versus dwelling on, or wishing to change, the people who've hurt and/or rejected you.  (This is kind of obvious, but, well, I am very stupid.)

- One new skill I acquired in 2014:

How to play guitar  (Badly.  But I'm getting better every day.)

- One of my favorite memories 2014:

Going to Denver Comic Con

- One very sad memory:

Losing our guinea pig, Wembley

- One thing I'm proud of doing:

Running two more 5Ks (oh, god, please no more...)

- One thing I wish I hadn't done:

Got bangs again
(I only WISH they were this awesome.)


There ya go.  Year in review, Cliffs Notes style.  BOOM.