Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A jury duty story

The government likes to call jury duty our "civic duty" in order to make us feel bad about hating it, but we know what we know. Everything about jury duty is dreadful. The waiting around, the getting behind at work, the possibility that we will end up on the Scranton Strangler case and be stuck in a courtroom for weeks...it's all dreadful. Alas, we all have to pay the piper at some point and this was my time. 
What I didn't expect was that I would be walking into the year's best comedy. Allow me to set the scene: 
My number gets called fourth from the end, which at first, was a really unfortunate place to be called. Especially once the lawyers started going juror-by-juror asking their questions, I realized that I'd be at the end of a very long-winded Q&A. This was complicated by the fact that the two lawyers were like Statler and Waldorf without the comedy. 
The plaintiff was also in the room, which I wasn't expecting. He looked like one of the aliens in the first "Men in Black" movies crossed with Quasimodo, which was kinda entertaining. He sat in the corner and grumbled a few words to his lawyer every now and then. 
His lawyer was this short, very loud-speaking, man from Boston whose accent was thicker than his waistline. His long comb-over toupee was a dark charcoal color while his actual hair was white as could be. He spoke loudly, yet incredibly slowly–some might even say glacially–and he was the type of man who thought his wit and humor was sharper than it actually was. He also enjoyed repeating himself and restating things he'd already said, but in a more cumbersome way. 
The defendant's lawyer was more down to Earth, except when he had to challenge the first lawyer because he was giving away evidence (happened), started defending his client (happened many times) or when he slandered the defendant (again...happened). The argument became so heated that they had to remove themselves and have the judge sort it out before they continued. I liked the defendant's lawyer much better, perhaps because he had a "Miracle on 34th Street" Santa vibe happening, perhaps because he wouldn't take crap from the first lawyer, but I did.
Because they were so long-winded, they didn't even get to me on the first day. On the second day, they arrived late, just to tell everyone to go take a break. It like watching someone slip on the ice in slow motion, except you knew it was funny so you didn't try to catch them. The plaintiff waddled in late too and his lawyer motioned with his sausage-like fingers for him to go sit in the corner. It was all very strange.
I was content for this to play out for as long as it needed to because I am deep into Jane Fonda's memoir and this was giving me ample time to continue reading it. But as it turns out, the case had something to do with the plaintiff suing Con Ed for negligence that apparently injured him. I'm honestly sure that happened because...well...it's Con Ed. But they also told us this wasn't the first time this dude had sued due to injury. It wasn't even the second time. This was a pattern, in my opinion, and since I saw it as such, I was not chosen to be a part of this jury. 
I watched as the other potential jurors stared at me when I picked up my coat and left the room. I was tempted to yell out "FREEDOM" George Michael-meets-"Braveheart" style, but I thought better of it.
On my way I went, away from the courthouse and back to work. I did my "civic duty" and I met some characters along the way. They may have just been cantankerous real-life Muppets, but I can't say I wasn't entertained while I sat there. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

I expected better from Meghan Trainor

I expected so much better.
Meghan Trainor, the current one-hit wonder behind "All About That Bass" releases her first full-length album next week and after a listen, I'm very disappointed.
Yes, I know she has another song on the radio, but if you can seamlessly go into your second hit without changing the key, beat or tempo of your previous hit - then they are the same song just with different lyrics. Which is the first problem I have with her album. It's the same song, 11 times, with different lyrics.
Meghan can sing. She sounds the same live as she sounds on the album, which is rare these days. I even think she can sing well and I didn't give her a negative thought at all until I heard her in an interview. Y'all it was like watching the southern sorority girl version of an Eminem interview from 2002. It's been probably that long since I've heard such an affected, wanna-be-black, white person interview. Not even Beiber comes across as that affected.
The reason I find it so irritating is mostly because of the furor involved with Iggy Azalea. She has come under such fire for being a blonde white girl from Australia who raps with a voice that appears to be an affectation. So...why hasn't anyone called out Trainor for the same thing? At least in interviews, Iggy doesn't sound affected. But Trainor is nothing if not consistent in the way she speaks and sings.
Cultural appropriation is one thing. I'm actually all for it because it's what has happened over and over again throughout history and in our global culture we live in, it's impossible to not be inspired by the cultures that surround us. Having said that, it's off-putting to me that she speaks and acts like the black-girl stereotype from a late 90s teen movie.
She's a pretty blonde girl with a great album cover who is proud of her "curves" (I put that in quotes because she barely has any), and she has had a catchy song, but at the end of the day, I want her to act like herself. It's 2015 and being yourself counts for something. People fight for their right to be themselves. Why is she trying to be the black girl from the "Scary Movie" franchise?
Musically, I expected better. I also don't find her songs about one-night-stands empowering in the slightest. But mostly, I think we should expect more than an affectation from someone we are putting the spotlight on.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Ten Commandments for 2015

Most of us are familiar with the actual 10 Commandments - the ones about stealing and killing and adultery. Well I've got a few commandments of my own that I think you should adhere to with me in the new year. There's nothing scientific about them, but they're solid. And I'm following them right along with you.

Smile.
In the film "Boyhood," one of the best films of 2014, there's a scene when the boy is introduced to his class at his new school. The students turn around and look at him with blank stares. I realized I've been guilty of doing the same thing. It's incredibly intimidating, no matter what age you are, to be stared at like that and since it doesn't cost anything to smile at someone, we should do it more. We should smile on the train, on the street, in our car - wherever. Because why not? On the flip side, you know what it feels like when a stranger smiles at you. It's like a beam of light pierces into our cold exteriors. Be a light. It's free.

Do something that scares you.
I don't mean to do something foolish, but we all have fears (both rational and otherwise) and there's not much higher accomplishment than conquering one. It could be speaking in public, or perhaps it's it's changing in front of people in the gym locker room - whatever it may be, conquer it. Slay it and move onto the next challenge. Imagine looking back on 2015 with a checklist of obstacles that now lay crushed behind you? Which leads me to...

Keep a list. 
Write things down. Write down your goals (not resolutions - goals), and write it down when you meet those goals. Then, make a bullet point on how to improve on that goal, and so on. Write down the big events that happen. Write down your progress. Keep is somewhere where you'll see it and remember it. Don't lose sight of those goals, mostly because they are yours and only yours. Goals are the stepping stones to growing as a person. Following those 10 Commandments isn't enough. We've got to be ever-growing. Keep a list of that growth.

Let the walk from the locker room to the elliptical machine inspire, not discourage you.
Everyone wants to look better tomorrow than they do today and plenty of people hinge their body image goals on January 1st for some reason. For a lot of people, the Photoshopped bodies on the covers of magazines are what make them feel like they are perpetually standing in front of a funhouse mirror. For me, I live in New York where the hottest person you've ever seen is replaced tomorrow by someone even hotter sitting across from you on the subway. It's easy to become discouraged, but it makes more sense to allow it to encourage you. Use that as a jumping off point toward your own growth. Add a picture to your list of goals and work toward it. Which leads to...

Understand that perfection is a fallacy.
Jane Fonda said, "We're not meant to be perfect. We're meant to be whole." Those ten words changed my life. The magazine covers, the "in-depth" interviews, the outward appearances - none of it is perfect and most of it isn't even accurate. The quest for perfection is an empty one. There are lots of people who look "perfect" but are completely hollow inside. The closest we will ever get to perfection is putting to action the knowledge that we must keep growing. That's it. As long as we are continually striving to grow, that's what actually matters.




Foster a relationship with someone in another country. 
There are a myriad of ways you can accomplish this in 2015 without having to actually go to another country. Whether it's through Instagram, a dating app, on Twitter, whatever - foster a relationship with someone who lives life differently than you do. There's nothing more informative about who we are than to be confronted with someone who is different. I've made a few friends around the world and though I may have never met them in person, we talk often online and I've learned a lot about their countries. Everyone can always use a wider worldview.

Examine where you place value.
We each place importance on different things; some of us have it figured out and some of us don't. Some place value on people, some on things. Some place it on success and some find value in the process. I think it's crucial to examine what you hold to higher importance than other things. Is what you value something that's temporary or something that will last? Personally, I'd rather value people and those relationships than something tangible. Relationships will always mean more than status. But that's just me. Oh, and puppies. Puppies and people. That's what really matters to me.

Fall in love with a classic musician and absorb as much of their work as you can. 
There will always be new singers and musicians vying for our attention, but it's important that we not lose sight of those who laid the groundwork for them. And I'm not talking about making sure you know the lyrics to "Respect." I mean, find a musician you like and really delve into their back catalog, absorbing their musicality, their emotions and the period of time from which they expressed themselves. It will not only deepen your knowledge of music, but it will deepen your knowledge of the culture. You'll find yourself more firmly rooted in a world other than your own. My love affair with the music of Nat King Cole has enriched my life. Find someone to enrich yours.

Be selfish.
We live in a very toxic, me-centric, culture and the concept of doing something purely for yourself can come across as fitting right in with that toxic culture. But the reality is that so many of us rarely take any time for ourselves. We need to recharge, we need to reboot, and we need to be cognizant enough to know when to do so for our own well being. Perhaps that's a Saturday afternoon movie by yourself or maybe it's a trip to the beach with a book. Ask yourself, in the words of Janet, "What have you done for me lately?" It's okay to be (a little) selfish. Take time to make sure you're healthy, both physically and mentally.

Cut the bull shit. 
Yes, I said it. Just be yourself. Surround yourself with people who edify you. Stop being timid or arrogant and ask for help. Speak your mind. Own your feelings. All of these things can be filed under this heading. We only get one go-round on this Earth. Why spend it feeling crappy, or diminished, or less-than, or unhappy, or scared, or stifled? Just do it. Cut the bull shit that weighs you down and move on. And don't just say you're doing it. Actually do it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Goodbye 2014. Go away.

2014 is coming to a close and all I can say is THANK GOD.
This year, while it's had some great moments and some fun experiences, has not been awesome. I've just felt stagnant from the moment it started to the moment it's ending.

While I was in Dallas for Christmas, I attended church with my parents. While the church is in the same building it was in when I was growing up, it is, in no way, the same church. Here's some background:

I grew up in Dallas, the buckle of the Bible belt. I grew up attending a Pentecostal church and from the day I was born, I was at church every Sunday and Wednesday. My family is Methodist on my mom's side and Pentecostal on my dad's side. I sang in the children's musicals (I had the lead, thank you very much), I sang in the youth choir, and when I graduated from high school, I continued to lead the drama dept for the youth group. As much as I didn't want to fit into anyone's mold, I fit in that "church kid" mold perfectly. Everyone had the same opinion on most things and we were unified in that.
But as I got older, I began to question things that I wasn't really supposed to question. Namely: Just because it's been done one certain way for so long, why does that mean we have to keep doing it that way? Replace "it" with whatever is the hot topic of the moment. 
I wasn't alone by any stretch of the imagination. I feel like I was among a generation of church-going young people who all began to ask questions at the same time. I had friends who were in school to become pastors and many of the professors would get upset with them because they didn't want to run their congregations with the same legalism and rigidity that so many churches functioned in. 
At 21, I left the church I grew up in, and began attending a Baptist mega-church down the street where I attended until I transferred to a college further away.

I say all of that to say that this church was almost a second home. I was there all the time. I remember when the building was being built and we toured it, I remember when we were building the youth center and we canceled drama practice so we could go play in the rain inside the steel shell that would become that building. Most all of my teenage memories are tied to that place and the people inside of it.

But being inside there on Sunday, I was left with a hollow feeling of loss. It's nothing like it was. The people are different people, it's a different staff, it's even been remodeled somewhat so it's physically different. There's no remnant of what was previously so vibrant in my life. I sat through the service, trying to pay attention, but my thoughts were continually stolen away by looking around and seeing that nothing was the same.

I left there knowing I won't be returning. I care far too much about those memories to allow them to be diminished by whatever this new/other things is.  It's mildly appropriate that it happened at the end of the year. I'm so ready for a new year to begin. Usually, the fall is when I reboot, and that's true, but there's just something about this new years that feels so right.

I'm ready to close the door on 2014 and focus purely on what's ahead. There's nothing I hate more than being stagnant and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get out of that state of mind.

So thank God. Here's to 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The movie industry has two problems.

The movie industry has a problem. Well, its problems are legion but specifically, two problems rose to the surface yesterday, one of which dominated the news cycle and the other has been a steady factor for the past three years.

Problem One.
Yesterday, in a studio conference room where I'm sure all electronic communication of any kind was prohibited, studio execs decided to take the upcoming James Franco/Seth Rogen movie "The Interview" off the release schedule, due to threats from the Sony hackers. Personally, I think most every James Franco and/or Seth Rogen movie should be shelved, but this is different. This is a group of executives who were, ultimately, scared that more of their private info was going to be released and they buckled under an anonymous threat. No matter what is in that stupid movie, I guarantee worse has been said about and done to North Korea on "Family Guy" or "Robot Chicken" - both of which seem to be playing at all hours of the day. When "Team America" was released, no one saw it as a threat. (I will, however, argue that "Team America" had its farce was built into the characters, literally. No one expects any semblance of reality when watch puppets fight one another, no matter who they look like.) I'm sure there's much we don't know about the situation and I'm sure the FBI is very much involved - but as it stands, it reads as "freedom of speech is fallible and farce isn't allowed if someone doesn't like the joke you're telling."

Problem Two.
The other problem Hollywood had this year was an unnecessary problem.
One of the year's would-be biggest films was "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," and although it made $700M globally, it did not fare anywhere near where the studio would have liked. The root of that issue is that it wasn't great. In my opinion, it wasn't even good. But mostly, it was unnecessary. As was the first outing Andrew Garfield made with the Spidey suit. Unnecessary. It's hadn't even been ten years since the last film but the drive to reboot was apparently so all-consuming, Sony was unable to ignore it.
There have been plenty of unnecessary films this year. "Dumb and Dumber To," "The Expendables 3," "Sin City: A Dame To Kill For," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,"/"Transformers," (basically anything Michael Bay had a hand in) - but the most glaring example of uneccesary filmmaking in 2014 (and 2013 and 2012 for that matter) remains "The Hobbit" franchise.
I loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I couldn't wait for each film to open, then I couldn't wait to get the DVDs to re-watch it and explore all I'd missed. The announcement of "The Hobbit" coming to the big screen was unsurprising, but when it was announced by Peter Jackson that the planned two-part story was going to expand to a three-part version, I knew this didn't actually mean good things. Jackson is one of the most accomplished filmmakers working today, but he also seems to have an inability to say no in both the writing and editing rooms. The Lord of the Rings films were long and inflated, but because the public is such a fan of the source material, they let it slide. It didn't hurt that the films were all but spotless renderings on screen, a feast for the eyes, ears, and emotions. "The Hobbit" however, didn't have nearly the volume of source material to work with and the added filler stories left fans scratching their heads. Nothing can be exact when it comes to the translation from book-to-screen but this seemed to be a bit much. (The same could be said for stage-to-screen for that matter. This year's "Into the Woods" has garnered raves from musical theatre fans who have seen it to be a faithful telling of their beloved stage show, but when "The Producers" was released as a film that was basically a shot-for-shot reproduction of the stage production, it was maligned.)
I sat through all three of the films that made up "The Hobbit" and I did enjoy each of them. They felt different than the previous trilogy in Middle Earth, but that didn't really bother me. But at the end of what I'm calling, "The Hobbit: The (Incredibly long) Battle of the Five (four and a half really) Armies," I was left with the fact that this story could have been told in two volumes, not three. The first words out of my mouth were "It was good, but it didn't need to be three films." It was unnecessary to expand it in the way they did. Fleshing a story out makes sense, but this was so fleshed out, it was gluttonous and served the interest of a money-grab, not storytelling.

Hollywood has a problem. I fear there's no way to stop the unnecessary filmmaking and those films will usually find a way to saturate the conversation. But the way Sony just bent over and let the hackers have their way is unsettling. Perhaps time will tell the rest of the story, but for now, it seems freedom of speech lost a silly, yet very real, battle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"[name not found] It's Cold Outside"

I realized something very odd recently. I am ever the single-man when it comes to Christmastime.

The last time I had a reason to sing "Baby It's Cold Outside" was when I was a freshman in high school and I had a girlfriend named Amanda. I don't remember what exactly I got her, but I remember she got me something with Marvin the Martian on it. Perhaps it was a big plush version of him? Either way, that's what I remember. Not exactly the fodder for a Nicholas Sparks screenplay.

Not that I'm one of those people who is perpetually in a relationship, but the times when I have been, those relationships have met their demise before the holiday season has begun to materialize on storefronts and TV commercials. It's just how the cosmic timing of my life has panned out.

I don't suppose it's entirely upsetting. Beyond the fact that it makes having a "Love Actually" moment in real life momentarily impossible, it just means I hadn't found/been found by the right one yet. I think for some people, that upsets them. Some want to be in a relationship so desperately that the thought of flying solo at Christmas keeps them double-fisting the eggnog through all of December. I don't really feel that way. One day, that will be great. Til then, I've got a whole crew of folks to be merry with, I don't have to worry about where to spend Christmas, and I can still have all the eggnog I want without inciting stories of woe-is-me as I'm put into a cab. Though when the time does come, I plan on showing up outside with signs.

This whole "being single at New Years" thing usually parlays into being single for Valentines Day, something I'm completely comfortable with. I can enjoy the chocolate without having to share. Plus, Hallmark and Duane Reade have put such a weight of expectation on Valentines Day that it's really not fun or exciting. It's expected. And to me, expected is the enemy of romance. The best things in my life haven't come from being calculated or trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit just so. The best things in my life have been unexpected.

So while I won't be singing any rendition of the drunk, slutty and moderately misogynistic Christmas classic, "Baby It's Cold Outside," this year, I may look for that Marvin the Martian thing, to see if that still exists in the back of my old closet at my parents' house. And who knows, maybe this time next year, I'll be writing about using signs at Christmas and how I "feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes." I won't expect it, but it'd be nice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A song that lingered

This week, I attended a showcase for new composers and lyricists of musical theatre and one of the songs that was performed was from a show in development called The Boy Who Danced On Air by Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser. The song I heard, "A Boy of my Own" was a beautiful ode from two young men that is ultimately about their desire for their future sons' lives to be better than their own.

Guiseppe Bausilio & Jamen Nanthakumar  


The song stayed with me, long after the singing ended, and I found the documentary that inspired the musical on YouTube.

In 2010, "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" aired on PBS. It chronicled the lives of men involved with bacha bazi, a form of sexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent and adolescent boys are sold to wealthy and powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities. They are taught to sing, play music and dance like women in order to perform for these rich men.  This ancient practice has all but disappeared in the world, except where it's thriving in Afghanistan. Many men there keep dancing boys as status symbols, even though it's illegal under Afghan law.

Beyond the apparent backwards mentality of both slavery and child prostitution, what I found so cripplingly painful was the fact that these boys are being raped and taken advantage of by rich men, in the name of entertainment. As someone who has first-hand experience of male-on-male rape culture, I didn't have to try very hard to put myself in these young boys' shoes. It's the type of pain that takes a very long time to move past and, that's if you have a support system that allows you to grow past it. If you are young and alone, as a piece of property, I can't imagine what that does to them.

The documentary states that the police treat this like just another taboo subject and they pay little attention to it, which has enabled it to spread. There are organizations like Hope for Justice who are working to end human trafficking, but this just shows how much more there is to do.

Watching the documentary, I couldn't help but feel glad that there's a team of theatre writers who are working to bring this story to the stage. In a culture that seems to only champion the film-turned-musical genre, having a new work written about something topical and timely is more important than ever. In the way The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is illuminating a human story on stage, I hope this will as well.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Conundrum.

Last night, I found myself with a bit of a conundrum.


co·nun·drum
ˈnəndrəm/
noun
noun: conundrum; plural noun: conundrums
a confusing and difficult problem or question.
 
Dating can be confusing. When I was younger, I over-thought everything. We all do that. But as I've gotten older, it's become easier to just let it roll off my back and realize, it may work out or it may not. There's no reason to over-think the things we can't control.

Having made that very rational statement...last night, I began over-thinking again like a junior high kid who just had his first kiss on the dance floor as "I Swear" plays. It wasn't my first kiss. It wasn't even our first kiss. But it made my brain spin.

Why does this happen to us? Why do we find ourselves with butterflies in our stomachs, no matter what our age is? I think it's probably healthy to feel that way. Being jaded isn't attractive on anyone, so having a moment of pre-romantic-nervousness is a great way to ground us again. It reminds us we're human and that we aren't invincible. We're all just mush underneath, no matter how tough our exteriors may seem.

So a kiss left me feeling like mush, and I think that's fine. I prefer to be very much in control of what happens, but facing this conundrum of not being able to control things, I'm just gonna have to roll with it. And yes, think about it some more.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wanna be on top...

I feel like most of America forgot that "America's Next Top Model" was still on TV. The ratings have dwindled and the impact on pop culture is all but invisible - but this show has somehow survived the network chopping block and has been, apparently, trying to reinvent itself. 
I say apparently because I haven't been watching. The most of my Top Model watching occurred when I was in college when we would watch the all-day Saturday and Sunday marathons of previous seasons. I don't know that I've ever committed to watching the show when it originally aired. 

But this week, I felt oddly compelled to watch this season. Actually, the reason I felt compelled to watch was because I read an interview with the person who won this season. Oh - that's something else that has changed since the last time I watched - now, there are both guys and girls in the competition, which is fun, and a bit odd.

Today, I've spent hours reconnecting with the current incarnation of the show I use to binge-watch and it's been an oddly enlightening experience. Enlightening primarily because I wasn't able to reconnect with it at all. It's not that I haven't been enjoying it, I happen to really enjoy competition shows, but this wasn't the show I used to love. This was a completely different monster. Sure, there are a few similarities to what it used to be, but it's a different show. Not a bad show. Just different.

I recently had a similar experience with an old friend. We hadn't connected in such a long time and when our paths finally crossed again and we were able to have a real conversation, it was very apparent that the connection we once had was palpably different. We didn't have a bad time, but it wasn't what I used to know.

That happens. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. We're all works in progress who continue to grow and change. Sometimes we grow and change with people, sometimes we don't. I don't know when my friend and I are going to get together again, only time will tell. But I'm going to finish this season of ANTM. Mostly because I like photoshoots and pretty people. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Avalanched

I have a really emotional response to today. I'll be the first to admit that I'm overly emotional on a regular basis. I feel deeply, things affect me deeply, I want things for myself and for others in a deep and almost tangible way. But today came out of nowhere but I should have expected it. 
It happened at the convergence of stress and joy. Those two emotions don't plug into each other. One always overtakes the other and while we hope that joy is the victor, sometimes it's the other way around. But today, they collided into each other in my far-too-cluttered brainspace and the effect was this sort of avalanche of feelings and thoughts gone awry. 
This isn't making much sense. 
Let me rephrase.
You know in James Bond movies when they are trying to out-ski the avalanche on the side of the mountain, and they just so happen to have a jacket on that inflates to being a bubble around them, keeping them unharmed? Okay, now imagine Peter Griffin and the chicken fighting each other within that inflated bubble jacket. There. That was what it felt like. 
Great things, less-than-great things, petty things, important things - they all mixed together like the ingredients in a sauce Rachel Ray would make while shouting at her audience about the wonders of unripe tomatoes. And the great things overtook the less-than-great things and what I was left with was a really call feeling that things are actually going pretty well. 
Yeah, some big things went wrong over the past week, but some even bigger things went right. For some reason, my disappointment over the things that went wrong was disproportionate to what the situation warranted. Guess that's just another time when hindsight is 20/20. 
As jumbled as all of this sounds, we've all had those overwhelming moments where we can't process what we're feeling and aren't sure how to articulate it. But I tried to articulate it and it came out sounding like the above. There's no moral to the story or any real rhyme to why I had to write this. I just had to get it out. I had to try to process the thoughts into something I could grapple with. 
And now I kinda want chicken for dinner.