My 10 Favorite Things about Thor: Ragnarok

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When Thor: Ragnarok came out a couple of weeks ago, I treated myself to seeing it on opening night. I enjoyed it so much! It was a weird feeling, because I really wasn’t looking forward to it or expecting much and then it surprised and delighted me. I love it when that happens! It’s a welcome contrast to earlier this year when I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a movie that I had been desperately anticipating, and ended up being underwhelmed.

 

Thor: Ragnarok definitely isn’t perfect, but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to nitpick and complain about movies, because well, I’ve never made a movie. It looks like it’s pretty hard, and whenever people make an effort to write, direct, act, edit, score, photograph, etc, I like to respect that effort. A movie has to be pretty bad for me to declare it unwatchable (like, Soul Plane bad). Thor: Ragnarok is definitely way more than watchable, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a movie apologist. The story is actually pretty simple, but the writing of the characters is so strong that it makes the plot points seem much richer. It’s a superhero movie that seems committed to exploring personal relationships and personal growth, and I’m down for that.

 

I’ve made a list of all the reasons I liked the movie so much. Beware, there be spoilers ahead! (Come on though, dude, it’s been two weeks. Why haven’t you seen it yet?)

 

  1. Taika Waititi: I keep hearing this name and wondering, “Who is this guy?” Now I know who this guy is, and he seems pretty awesome. Coincidentally, I just saw “What We Do in the Shadows” for the very first time several weeks ago. Watching that movie, I couldn’t believe how insanely funny and creative and perfect it was. I also couldn’t believe how much I fell in love with Taika Waititi’s character, Viago the vampire dandy. Waititi co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in that movie, so it had his personality all over it, the same personality that comes through in Ragnarok. He’s hilarious and heartfelt, scattered and clever, masterful and silly. Also, it’s refreshing to see another brown person get to make their voice heard in Hollywood, especially on such a huge project for one of the major studios. You go dude!

 

  1. Fuck You Sky Beam! We all love watching our favorite heroes from comic books and cartoons come to life on the big screen, but we are all sick to death of the same formulaic plot that ends in the same predictable boss battle that features the same blue energy beam shooting up into the sky. Enough already with the sky beams! Choosing to step away from the act three sky beam big bad showdown is a risky choice, but a necessary one. You need cool fight scenes, but you also need originality and genuine stakes. Ragnarok successfully subverts the sky beam while still satisfying my appetite for kick-ass punching, flipping and sword-clanging. The climax and resolution in act three feel fitting for the story and like a new and brave choice for a superhero movie.

 

  1. Cool Villainess: Ever since Tom Hiddleston first joined the MCU, people have been talking about how Loki is clearly the best comic book movie villain in a landscape peppered with baddies with vague motivations and paper-thin personalities. As usual, Loki shines and delights in this movie, but he’s not the main antagonist. That job goes to Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and she is magnificent. I knew she was a good bad guy, because I was definitely rooting for her to win for a few minutes there (just a few minutes, it’s hard to root for the slaughter of innocent civilians). She had what good villains need, what they’re often lacking: a relatable backstory, rational motivations, and an actual personality. What drew me to her was the sense that she just really enjoyed being bad. She seemed to savor causing death and destruction and that made her mesmerizing.

 

  1. Bromance (or maybe more like Brenemies): Remember that God-awful movie that came out last August, I think it was called something like Suicide Squad? One of the most cringe-inducing moments of that cinematic disaster was when the fire dude (I don’t even remember his name) declared that he’d already lost one family and he wasn’t going to lose another. Dude, you’ve known each other for all of a few days, and all of you are cold-blooded criminals. You want me to believe that you bonded that hard that quickly!? You barely even had any conversations! What!? Contrast that to the relationship between Thor and Loki in Ragnarok. Watching the dynamic between them resonates so hard with anyone who has a sibling, cousin, play-cousin, or really close friend who becomes like family. You learn their quirks, their failings, their strengths and their weaknesses. Sometimes you support them, sometimes you fail them and sometimes you rescue them. Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth really portray the relationship of brothers who are locked in a vicious sibling rivalry but also can’t help but care for one another, because in the end, no one knows you like your sibling.

 

  1. Refugees: So a little over a month ago, Trump capped refugee resettlement in the US at 45,000 for 2018. Just for context as to how terrible that is, in the almost 40 years that a US refugee admissions program has existed, the quota has never been lower than 67,000. Trump has done this at a moment of crisis when the number of refugees is astronomical. There are 65 million people displaced worldwide, a number that the UN calls “unprecedented”. The big kicker is that no one admitted into the US as a refugee since the program started in 1980 has ever committed a fatal act of terrorism in the US. No One. Nada. Zip. Zero. Refugees are not committing acts of terror in the US! What they are doing is struggling to survive in camps, makeshift housing, wartorn areas and ravaged lands. They need stable homes, jobs, medical attention, nutritious food, clean water, which are all things we have in abundance here in the US. Which is why it really doesn’t make sense that we’ve decided to turn our backs on people we could help who mean us no harm.

 

“Um, Wednesday, I thought this was a listicle about a comic book movie. Why do you have to make this all political?”

 

Shut up! People (mostly black and brown people) are suffering and being oppressed and all of us are complicit! The least you can do is read about it in this stupid comic book movie listicle. Then go donate some money to Sea-Watch, because people actually are drowning refugees on purpose. Like, nightmare, hellscape shit is happening to refugees at the very second that you’re reading this.

 

Okay, now I’ll bring it back around. Spoilers Begin! Thor: Ragnarok ends with Asgard being destroyed in a fiery battle between Hela and some smoldering lava demon dude. It’s cool, though, because Thor and co. manage to get all the Asgardian civilians onto a big ‘ole spaceship and out of danger before everything goes boom. It’s not cool, though, because now the Asgardians have no home. At the end of the movie they’re all huddling on the ship, trying to decide what to do next, and Thor is like, “Let’s go to Earth!” Do you know what that makes the Asgardians? It makes them refugees! Through no fault of their own, their home was destroyed by violence. They had two choices: stay and die a terrible death or flee in the hopes of building a new life elsewhere.

 

It really struck me that this movie was a positive portrayal of a refugee situation at a time when a lot of rich, powerful white guys are doing their darndest to demonize refugees. Something else interesting is that the Asgardian citizens are portrayed by mostly white actors and actresses. Being a Marvel movie, Ragnarok will be seen by a large swath of the American population, including bigots, er, I mean Trump supporters. My hope is that the image of a bunch of white people seeking shelter as refugees will penetrate the skulls of some people and drive home the message that, “Oh, a refugee could look like me. Refugees could be anyone. I could be a refugee one day. Refugees are just like everyone else! We should help them!” Even if those refugees are a race of god-like aliens stranded aboard a spaceship, it still feels timely and topical. Spoilers End!

 

  1. You Win Some, You Lose Some: Things are, like, really aggressive you guys. Mass shootings keep happening. Nuclear tensions are rising between the US and North Korea. A war-fueled famine is killing people in Yemen. I keep having to break up fights between 8-year-olds at work. It’s a tough world out there, and the rule seems to be that might makes right. As someone who is not powerful in any sense of the word (physically, economically, mentally, politically), I really just wish that everyone would try to get along, because I’m not trying to become collateral damage. It seems like the cause of a lot of bloodshed is the fact that people just won’t back down. We have to prove how tough we are. We have to be dominant. We have to emerge victorious. Superhero movies are some of the main culprits when it comes to perpetuating this narrative. The good guys always have the biggest bombs and the fastest spaceships. Even if they take a hit, they always recover and vanquish the bad guys. To do good, to be a hero, you have to be the strongest, you always have to keep fighting. Well, it’s not so in Ragnarok, and it’s refreshing. Throughout the movie, when faced with a challenge Thor rises to it and when other characters question why he insists on persevering he simply says, “Because that’s what heroes do.” Spoilers Begin! During the movie’s final showdown, Thor admits that there is no way he can overpower Hela. Physically, she is completely capable of decimating him, and there’s nothing he can do about it. Instead of continuing a fruitless battle that would probably kill him he assesses what’s the most important in the situation: saving innocent lives and then GTFO (getting the fuck out)! Not only does he admit defeat and turn tail and run, he also gives the villain exactly what she wants. He surrenders Asgard to Hela…after unleashing a demon on Asgard that he knows Hela will fight, destroying herself, the demon and Asgard in the process. Thor gives up. Thor loses. Thor retreats. In doing so, he rescues the civilians of Asgard and saves his own life. I would also like to point out that Thor is no less of a bad-ass masculine beefcake for having done so. Hmm, it’s almost as if being a man doesn’t have to be synonymous with never ever having a moment of weakness. Sometimes in life you get overpowered. Sometimes in life you lose face. Sometimes being a hero is just making the best of a bad situation, even if the end result is kind of shitty. Spoilers End!

 

  1. The soundtrack makes me nostalgic for the 80s even though that is physically impossible as I was born in 1990.

 

  1. Thor and the Hulk (not Bruce Banner) as roommates is magnificent and needs to be a sitcom right now. Fuck Young Sheldon.

 

  1. I really thought the black guy was going to get killed, but he lived! Way to go, Idris Elba! Is this a spoiler? I don’t think it really counts as a spoiler. Guys, Idris Elba’s character lives…and he’s black.

 

  1. After I watched The Silence of the Lambs, I never thought that I would be able to watch Sir Anthony Hopkins on screen and not be afraid of him. Without Thor: Ragnarok, I never would’ve overcome my fear of Sir Anthony Hopkins. He’s totally, like, an encouraging dad in this movie. He doesn’t cannibalize anyone.

 

So, there you have it! An entirely too long listicle about why you should go see Thor: Ragnarok! Brevity is not my strong suit!

 

K, thx, bye!

 

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A Penchant for Darkness

I’m really sad, guys!

“But, Wednesday, aren’t you always sad?”

Shut up! I’m extra sad right now, more than my normal levels of sad.

The spooky season is officially over, and it’s a real tragedy. The month of October is my absolute favorite time of year.

To cheer myself up and to perpetuate the idea that every day of the year can be a spooky day, I’ve decided to post this essay about why I love scary things so much. Stereotypically, it all started with a formative experience in my childhood:

I love horror movies. I absolutely love them. For all of my childhood, though, I was terrified of horror movies. Well, it was like I felt a terror that wasn’t quite mine. I had adopted my mom’s terror of horror movies, and it was covering up my true love of all things eerie and spooky.

It’s hard to explain why I love scary stuff. People who detest horror seem to have the moral high ground. They talk about how the depictions of violence are disgusting and how it’s creepy to be so gleeful about slaughter, even if it’s fictional and campy. They might be right, because when I have to come up with an explanation for why I love horror so much I can’t come up with anything much more substantial than, “I like the thrill.” I guess I find horror inherently fascinating.

So anyway, I was three-years-old, and the TV was on in our living room. My mom was watching the news or something, and when it went to commercial a horror movie trailer came on the television. The film being advertised was “Ghost in the Machine”. As the trailer played, complete fear filled my poor little body. I had never seen anything so frightening, and in my memory that trailer is the scariest horror movie trailer that has ever been made. I started screaming and crying, and my mom rushed in to snatch me away from the mean, old horror movie trailer and comfort me. Afterwards, she was extremely miffed that the television network would play a horror movie trailer during the dinner hour when young children would be watching TV with their families. This was the beginning of a trend that would last for my entire childhood. Shows like Goosebumps, Bone Chillers and Are You Afraid of the Dark would come on, and I would immediately flip the channel. I wasn’t allowed to watch those shows, and even if I had been allowed I would have been too scared to dare. Underneath my obedient fear, though, was a rabid and unsatisfied curiosity. Just what was it that was so forbidden and terrible about the horror genre? I wasn’t quite ready to admit to myself that I wanted to know.

When I got a little older I would desperately question my classmates about the plots of horror movies that they had watched. “What happened then? How did they get killed?” I would query hungrily. I didn’t know why I needed to know, but I just knew that my parents would never allow me to watch a horror movie, that I did not get invited to the kinds of cool sleepovers where horror movies were watched, and that there was a deep need inside of me that was satisfied only by chilling tales.

My first taste of horror came with the Disney Channel show, “So Weird”. It was a show about an unbelievably cool teenage girl who investigated a different paranormal phenomena every episode. The main character was named Fi, short for Fiona, (unbelievably cool name) who toured around the country with her rock star mom (unbelievably cool life), and everywhere they went Fi encountered unearthly occurrences. I was hooked from the first episode that I saw. Seeing as how it was on the Disney Channel, though, it was pretty tame fare.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m in high school. My best friend, Lisa (who is still my best friend) absolutely loves horror movies. She has accepted the sacred and imperative duty of baptizing me into the church of spooky shit, and at a sleepover at her house I watch my first two horror movies: The Village and the shitty remake of Thirteen Ghosts starring Tony Shalhoub. Yeah, yeah, I know. The Village is a weird-ass disappointment that starts out as a horror movie but then morphs into one of M. Night Shyamalan’s countless exercises in stroking his own ego. Thirteen Ghosts contains a flagrant example of the hip-talking, street-smarts-providing, black horror movie character, but at least it doesn’t add insult to injury by killing her off. Even though these definitely aren’t the best that the horror movie genre has to offer, they were enough to get me hooked. I think what really reached into my mind and pulled me in, was that fact that after a lifetime of having my mom tell me that horror movies were horrible and gross, I watched a couple and nothing bad happened. I wasn’t possessed by the devil. I wasn’t so scared that I died of a heart attack on the spot. I actually enjoyed myself. I could experience the exhilaration of thrills and chills while remaining safely snuggled on a couch with a friend. I was an exuberant convert. I loved horror movies.

My mom was not thrilled at the change. Throughout my youth and still to this day, when a horror movie trailer comes on the television she flips the channel and bemoans how dark and gory Hollywood has become. When the leaves start turning she dreads the proliferation of grisly rubber masks in store aisles and chilling TV spots. This isn’t such a surprise, though. My mom is a devout Christian, and when I was a kid we attended churches that held sanitized “harvest celebrations” where “satanic” Halloween costumes were forbidden and “Biblical” costumes were encouraged as an alternative to trick-or-treating. Even as a small child, I had the innate sense that being taken to the “harvest celebration” dressed as an angel rather than dressing up as a witch and extorting candy from strangers was unacceptably pathetic. Even the candy at the “harvest celebration” didn’t taste quite as good. When the Harry Potter books, one of the best-written and most valuable and edifying pieces of children’s literature ever created, came out, the church we were attending at the time denounced the series as promoting witchcraft, and my parents forbade me from reading them. The censorship went so far that when in middle school a friend of mine lent me the wonderful fantasy book by Garth Nix, Sabriel, about a young girl who comes from a long line of necromancers, my parents confiscated it from my room without telling me and only returned it when I asked if they had seen it, with strict instructions to give it back to my friend without reading it. This level of worry may seem ridiculous (it certainly does to me now), but this was the era when many parents (including my own) harbored very real and very inaccurate fears that Dungeons and Dragons was really satan worship in disguise.

My parents, especially my mom, were hell-bent on keeping me away from any media having to do with darkness, mysticism, gore, the supernatural and the occult. Ironically, as I grew, my fascination with these subjects only increased. I’ll never forget begging my mom to take me to my absolute favorite store, Hot Topic, and then totally regretting it when she began fretting over the fact that there were skulls all over everything and books that actually purported to contain magical spells for sale. With great concern, she wondered why I seemed to have “a penchant for darkness”. I could only respond with extremely teenage eye rolls. She wasn’t wrong, though. I did have an undeniable penchant for darkness, and I wanted to foster it.

By this time, I had completely thrown myself into my love of horror. Halloween was (and still is) my and Lisa’s favorite holiday. We spent the whole month of October planning our costumes. Lisa began working at local haunted houses. During my sophomore year of high school, I hosted a Halloween party at my house. My mom was aghast when I insisted on renting The Ring for my friends and I to watch at the party. She couldn’t believe that I was bringing a horror movie about supernatural forces that go around killing people into her house, and we actually argued about it. It was as if she thought that evil spirits were hiding on the rental store DVD, waiting to be carried into a house where they could leap off and curse the inhabitants. I won the argument, and The Ring was enjoyed at the party. After the TV screen had gone dark, and my friends and I lay snuggled in our sleeping bags on the floor of my pitch black living room I raised my voice in a sinister whisper. “Hey guys, what if the TV turned on right now, and it was just static, and we couldn’t turn it off?” “Shut up!” one girl cried out, frightened and perturbed. Gleefully, I complied with her request. Now that I had gotten over my own fear and become a devotee of all things horror, it was my joy to proselytize and terrify others.

The best moment came two months later, on New Year’s Eve of 2015. Lisa’s older sister worked as the night clerk at a hotel in town, and for the holiday Lisa and I were allowed to spend the night all by ourselves in a room…with Lisa’s mom sleeping just down the hall to keep an eye on us, but it still felt like we were super grown ladies, living large and partying the night away. We had not one, but two, rented DVDs, Scream and Chicago, and all of the snacks from the Wal-Mart snack aisle that our pubescent hearts could desire. Watching Scream was like a revelation, it was an awakening for my soul to how much I could actually love something, especially when I shared something culturally significant with a loved one. Lisa had seen Scream countless times before, but this was my first time. Scream was everything that we loved, it was snarky, it was funny, it was mysterious, it was funny, it was sexy, it had a quirky best friend, the slaughter was creative and not too gratuitous in its bloodshed. Lisa had a huge crush on Matthew Lillard, and I really wanted to go to the kind of house party where I could sit around with attractive people in their mid-20s pretending to be high school students and drink alcohol while Jamie Kennedy explained the rules of horror movies to me. That New Year’s Eve when we watched Scream became one of those legendary nights of my youth where I remember feeling a contentment and joy so pure and so distinct, because it is possibly inaccessible to me in my adulthood. Lisa sharing the miracle of Scream with me became part of the mortar that binds together the bricks in the fortress of our friendship, just like all of the poetry slams that we went to together and all of the crab rangoon that we shared. We chased away the post-Scream chills with a screening of our second DVD, Chicago (we also loved musical theatre) and then spent the rest of the night reminiscing about the past year, planning for the coming year, and snuggling in the warmth of friendship that deepens into a familial bond.                

It’s weird, but when I watch a really good horror movie, underneath the thrills and chills, it’s almost like it touches something warm and fuzzy deep down inside of me. It seems counterintuitive, but horror movies mean comfort to me. They signal the close drawing in of the brisk, golden days of fall, the time spent huddling with loved ones in fuzzy blankets, sipping something sweet and spicy. When we watch horror movies, we immerse ourselves in a world of deep fantasy. There may not be magical swords or time-traveling telephone booths, but the glee that I get from watching Michael Myers stalk Jamie Lee Curtis, is similar to the glee I feel when Legolas and Gimli fight together to defend Helm’s Deep.

If I’m really honest with myself about why horror movies are so sacred and core to my identity, it’s because I really do have a “penchant for darkness”. When my mom said that about me, she definitely didn’t mean for it to be taken as a positive attribute. She wanted to exorcise the shadows from my soul and leave behind a child who was holy and obedient, who loved going to church and listening to gospel music and memorizing scriptures. I was never going to be that child, though. For awhile I felt bad about that, but I think I’m turning into someone who would rather embrace darkness. Maybe that’s why I’m not a Christian anymore. At the core of them, the Abrahamic religions are about a cosmic battle between a force of pure good and a force of pure evil. Everything is very cut and dry. If you don’t emphatically declare yourself a follower of the things that are good and light, you are automatically doomed to be consumed by all that is base and dark. As I grew, I felt myself constantly being marked as sinful and wrong for following my natural proclivities. I wanted to be righteous and good, but it just wasn’t in my nature, and I felt drowned in shame because of this. Finally, I had to wonder, what was the point of always trying to be good when deep down I was hungering to know all about everything I’d been told was bad. It’s hard for me to believe in one force of supreme goodness and one of supreme evil, when everywhere I look, including inside myself, I see a duality. No living thing is all good or all evil. I just don’t see how it can be so. Sometimes, things that exist on the darker side of life: demons, murders, disappearances, spirits, madness, can be morbidly fascinating and undeniably tempting. I don’t know why I’m like this, but something about darkness and horror resonates in a deep and thirsty part of myself. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I’m fascinated by the ways in which people get hurt. Ya know, with the exception of children, animals and elderly people.

One day in the recent past, out of curiousity, I looked up the trailer for Ghost In the Machine. It’s stupidly easy to find on YouTube, and it’s only about two minutes long. It’s kind of ridiculous, because even though I watched The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby without flinching, my heart started to flutter as I watched the trailer for a super cheesy horror movie from the early nineties that nobody remembers. If you need a chuckle, you can watch the trailer here. One day when I feel like I have time to waste, maybe I’ll give the whole movie a watch. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that it won’t be nearly scary enough to satisfy me.  

 

Podcaster Laughter

So, I’m not a very happy person.

I think this blog has made that rather clear.

I don’t particularly like being an unhappy person, but it’s just how I am. I’m learning to cope with it, the way a person copes with acne or a receding hairline. Even my best moments are tinged with melancholy. I’ve been this way since puberty hit. It’s just a part of me.

When you’re sad all the time, things that suddenly and unexpectedly jolt you into smiling stand out like flashlights on a moonless night. One of those things for me is the sound of laughter, very specific laughter.

Besides being a sad person, I’m also a lonely person. The situation with that is about the same as the one with the sadness: it’s just a part of me. Since the moment when I graduated high school, well more like the moment when my best friend’s parents, best friend’s sister and I delivered my best friend to college, my loneliness has only intensified. I’m currently learning to make peace with it, but at certain points over the last few years it became so crushing that I just couldn’t stand to be alone anymore. The only problem is that I’m not that great at initiating and maintaining friendships, and even when I do start to hang out with people the wall around my heart refuses to let the warmth of human interaction penetrate to the core of me. Enter podcasts and YouTubers.

The many high school and college age YouTube stars who post videos of themselves just hanging out make you feel like you’re in a conversation with an attractive pop-culture-savvy friend.

The plethora of podcasts being constantly produced and streamed allow you to plug the voices of other humans directly into your ears. It feels like immediate intimacy. What’s better is that you can choose what those humans talk to you about: film, TV, politics, tech, true crime, comic books, standup comedy. It’s like having a super cool, instant friend whose interests align perfectly with yours. Okay, you can’t hug them or talk to them, but it’s better than crying alone in bed (not that I do that. much. shut up!).

The voices of your favorite podcast hosts become familiar and reassuring. They wash over you as you do the dishes, jog, and snuggle into bed at night. You associate their vocals with relaxing or listening enrapt. One of the best parts of letting yourself be totally wrapped up in someone else’s voice is the sound of their laughter.

Laughter in itself is nice to listen to, but there are certain laughs that just catch your attention and spark an answering joy inside of you. You don’t even have to know what the person is laughing about, just the reassuring sound of their chortle cheers you up.

I haven’t done a ton of (or any) listicles yet, but thinking about my favorite podcaster laughs has prompted me to make one. So, here are a few of the laughs that never fail to lighten my cold, dead heart:

1.Crissle West of The Read

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Crissle is one half of The Read: a show hosted by two queer black friends living in NYC. Her co-host is Kid Fury. Together they give a hilarious rundown of all the fuckery happening in the world of black pop culture, dole out tough-love life advice to listeners and stick it to racist assholes. I think all white people should be required to listen to at least one episode of The Read. Regular listening can help you qualify for “woke” status. You can hear Crissle’s free-spirited laugh here, on a segment she did for the show Drunk History.

2.PJ Vogt of Reply All

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Podcast networks are getting more popular. You’ve probably heard of ones like Earwolf, Panoply, and Maximum Fun. The CNN of the podcasting world seems to be Gimlet Media, and their first show to get really big was Reply All, a show about any and everything having to do with the internet. The show’s deep and engaging reporting on topics from websites that crowdsource diagnoses for medical patients suffering from mystery maladies to how fake locksmiths use Google ads to con people make it fascinating and addictive. The other best part of the show is the relationship between the hosts, the lovable curmudgeon Alex Goldman and the eagerly snarky PJ Vogt. PJ’s laugh is deep, throaty and unapologetic, and it makes me smile every time. You can hear both of their laughs in this clip.

3.Paul Scheer of How Did This Get Made

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This is one of the most popular podcasts from the previously mentioned Earwolf network. If you need to cheer up on a rough day, this show is one of your best bets. Paul, his wife, June Diane Raphael, and their friend Jason Mantzoukas are the three hosts. They’re all comedic actors in LA, and they know a thing or two about how ridiculous showbiz can be. That makes them perfectly qualified to pick apart some of the worst movies ever made. Each episode is dedicated to their observations of a god-awful film. You don’t need to have seen the movies to join in on the fun, and most of the time you’ll be glad to have never seen these movies. Paul’s laugh is monotone and steady, and reminds me a bit of Squidward’s laugh on Spongebob Squarepants. His dry laugh reflects the absolute ludicrousness of the terrible acting, writing and special effects that they are witnessing. What makes it better is that Paul is often reacting to Jason Mantzoukas saying something terribly and hilariously raunchy (which seems to be the only kind of things that Jason can say). You can hear Paul’s laugh and a great story about his own experience acting in a bad movie in this interview.

 

Happy listening, guys!

 

Self-Worth (Or a Lack Thereof)

My roommate has a way of looking at me really intently. I squirm under her gaze. I’m used to being invisible, unseen, unnoticed. I’m quiet, and I’m not good at getting attention. Instead of asking for it in positive ways, I hang around awkwardly and lurk in people’s space, hoping attention will be bestowed upon me. When that doesn’t work, because why would it, I skulk away bitter and disappointed.

I’ve never been seen by someone the way that my roommate sees me. She’s like an older sister to me. She hunts me down with her questions and her looks and doesn’t tolerate my bullshit.

When I dream of being seen, I dream of being coddled and worshipped. That’s not how my roommate sees me. She challenges, scolds and provokes. Sometimes I don’t want that attention.

 

She sees right through me in uncomfortable ways and holds me accountable. It’s not fun. It’s painful. It’s necessary.

I’ve never been loved so aggressively before. I’ve never been cared for in a way that’s so inescapable. I’ve never felt someone cling to me even when I let go of them. It’s terrifying. It’s amazing.

I don’t love myself. I don’t even like myself. I don’t understand how my roommate can so fiercely love a person who I can barely tolerate.

I hate cooking. I absolutely hate it. I’m actually not that terrible at it, but the activity itself makes my anxiety levels go through the roof.

I was determined to cook radicchio. What’s radicchio, you ask? It’s a bitter leaf that’s kind of like cabbage. It’s super good for you. You can tell that it’s really good for you, because it tastes so nasty.

That’s not fair of me to say. The internet told me that radicchio is packed with nutrients that are hard to obtain due to a prohibitive lack of deliciousness. The internet also promised me that the recipe it was providing me with would make radicchio super yummy.

I’ll never know if that promise was true or not, because what I pulled out of my oven was a burnt pile of flakes that loosely resembled the shredded leaves that I put into the oven. Before you curse the internet for its lies, know that this disaster was entirely my fault. The recipe gave instructions for roasting entire heads of radicchio. I had shredded leaves. In my complete lack of common sense I was like, “Um, derp, yeah I guess I won’t reduce the cook time or temperature at all, it’ll totally be fine, probably, whatever.” God, I’m so stupid sometimes (read: most of the time).

Anyway, that shit came out of the oven burnt to a crisp. There was nothing left. The smoke alarm in our apartment even tried to warn me that the situation was beyond salvageable by going off. So, I did the only rational thing: I ate that pile of charred mess.

Okay, okay, before you judge me hear me out. I hate wasting food! Yo, motherfuckers are starving in Yemen and here my stupid ass is scorching up perfectly good nutrients. The least I could do was choke some down. Plus, I had actually been excited to see if the recipe would turn out delicious or not. Um, what’s that you say? The fact that I burnt the hell out of it meant that there was no possible way it could be delicious? Get out of here with your common sense!

Fast forward to the next morning when my roommate came home to find a pile of burnt leaves in the trash (I was smart enough not to eat the whole thing) and me in bed with an ice pack and a bucket next to me. I didn’t puke, though! It was just a precautionary measure after some rather unpleasant business on the other end. Despite all my reassurances that I was fine, she was deeply concerned.

 

But, I was fine. I was FIIIAAAAANNNN. Seriously, shortly after waking up, I got up and started puttering around, feeling much better than I had the night before. After being satisfied that I was not at death’s door, my roommate put her hands on my shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes.

 

“Why?” she asked me. “Why don’t you value yourself?”

 

Uncomfortable with being called out for my profound lack of self-worth, I tried to laugh the situation off, but my roommate held her ground.

 

“I pray for you that one day you will value yourself the way I value you and that you’ll be able to look at yourself with love.” Her face was so intense as she spoke, and it really hit me how much I had hurt her by hurting myself. That meant that she loved me. No one has ever loved me this way before. How can I be so precious to her when I constantly feel like a human trash pile? If there are things about me that make me lovable, why can’t I see them?

 

I wish I could say that this experience finally got through to me and I am filled with self-love, but that hasn’t happened. I still despise myself. I still go through life feeling constantly disappointed and disgusted by my very existence. I’m pretty used to it by now. Living any other way would feel weird.

 

If I fuck up a recipe, I think that I deserve to suffer through eating the burnt mess. If I fuck up in life, I’m tempted to draw the sharp edge of a box cutter across my skin as atonement, the way I used to in high school. If I find myself physically attracted to someone, I instantly remind myself that it would be rude of me to inflict my ugliness upon them. If someone hurts my feelings, I swallow my frustration and remind myself that I probably deserve it. If I start to think about my career goals, I think about how I’ll probably never actually accomplish my goals, because I’m lazy and weak. In every way, I look at myself as a non-entity, a failure, a dumpster fire of a human. It’s a shitty and counterproductive way to live, I know. I don’t really know how to fix it, though, and the idea of fixing it is kind of scary.

 

At least now what I do know is that I need to do better. I need to get better. Someone loves me. Someone sees value in me. I want to find out what they see.

 

Every day I constantly think of ways to add worth to the refuse heap that is me: I could lose weight, I could become fashionable, I could learn how to do my makeup, I could go to graduate school, I could publish a book, I could make more money, I could become a good cook, I could learn to dance, I could single-handedly destroy Donald Trump’s political career. The way I see it, I’m like one of those secured credit cards with a starting credit line of only $100: I’m virtually useless until value is earned and added. My roommate sees so much inherent worth in me, so much so that it baffles me. Why do you love me, I can’t even cook chicken properly?

 

I’m starting to warm up to the idea that maybe just existing makes me worthy of love and other good things. I’m definitely not in a healthy place, but you have to start somewhere. Maybe I’ll start by refraining from comparing myself to waste materials. Or at least, better waste materials. I could be like a pile of those air cushion things that you get in boxes from Amazon. Sometimes you pop and recycle them, but sometimes you save them for when you need to mail a figurine to your great-aunt. That’s a step up from hot garbage.

 

One day maybe I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror and say, “Hey, you pessimistic, pudgy, bearded, sloth-like lady with low earning potential, you deserve to love yourself and be loved.” I hope that day comes. I can’t promise that I’ll get there soon, easily or ever at all. I did, however, promise my roommate that I will never again punish and sicken myself by consuming a charred pile of ashes. I’m really grateful that I have someone around to love me, since I can’t yet seem to love myself.   

 

Hot dog

Hotdog_Princess

I really, really, really wanted a hotdog for lunch. It’s such a simple request, and I just didn’t understand why it could not be fulfilled. We had hotdogs in the fridge. We had water and pots and a stovetop where things could be boiled, so why wasn’t I enjoying a delicious hotdog for lunch? Well, my parents said that I couldn’t have one.

 

I was four-years-old at the time, if that helps with context at all. My developing brain just couldn’t wrap itself around my parents’ reasoning for why I couldn’t have a hotdog. I don’t remember what they were offering me instead, but it couldn’t have been nearly as good. They were saying something about healthier and sodium and chemicals, but four-year-old me was not trying to hear that noise. A hotdog was one of the most delicious things that I’d ever eaten, and I honestly couldn’t understand why we didn’t eat them twice a day every day.

 

My parents just wouldn’t fold, though. My deep desire for processed meat product could not sway them, and I was powerless to make my own hotdog. Even though I couldn’t even reach the stove, I wasn’t going to take this injustice quietly. I parked myself on the living room couch, folded my arms and frowned at nothing and no one in particular…quietly.

 

Now that I’m an adult who regularly cares for kids in homes and schools, this sounds like a dream situation. Well, a dream situation would be a child jumping for joy when presented with celery sticks and lean cold cuts for lunch, but this is a close second. A quiet, non-destructive temper tantrum, it’s the perfect moment to let natural consequences take their course. You’re at home, not in public, so you don’t need to worry about transporting the child to a car or other second location. The child isn’t destroying anything or causing bodily harm to herself or anyone else. The child is quiet and still and not in any immediate danger. It’s the perfect time to do one of my favorite things, wait out a stubborn kid. You fire up Netflix or grab the book on your bedside table and relax, because what kids don’t know is that adults are way better at waiting than they are. In some time, you will have a hungry and reticent child surrendering to baby carrots or kale chips or whatever you’re trying to feed them. Or you’ll have a child who wasn’t really that hungry go off to play and return to the kitchen hours later, actually rather happy to see apple slices or dried apricots or whatever. The best thing about waiting a kid out is that it’s a strategy that works over and over again. You’re going to have so much extra time on your hands, you’ll probably re-tile the bathroom or finally learn French.

 

Waiting out a kid who’s quietly frowning is preferable over sweeping up soupy mac and cheese after it’s been thrown across the kitchen, getting whacked in the face, being locked out of the house, or hearing an ominous cracking noise as glass chess pieces are being launched into the air, which are all things that have actually happened to me while I was performing in my professional capacity. While these experiences were daunting, and I was tempted to throw a response tantrum, recognizing that I was the adult in the situation, I responded with calm, understanding and patience. Okay, full disclosure, the glass chess piece thing did make me raise my voice, but that seven-year-old was not at all afraid of me.

 

Recollecting my childhood while simultaneously caring for children has brought me to one huge conclusion: I was a pretty good kid. I wasn’t perfect. I definitely had my moments, but sitting quietly and frowning is about as bad as my temper tantrums tended to get. What’s confounding is why my parents didn’t then respond to me with calm, understanding and patience. My memory of that afternoon on the couch, silently protesting the withholding of a hotdog, is that my dad came over and sat down next to me. His face looked like a thunderstorm, and suddenly I was frightened. He was so angry and so scary. He didn’t lay a hand on me, but he told me that I needed to stop it and go to the kitchen and eat some broccoli florets and be glad about it or else a spanking was coming. Cowed, I complied.

 

I learned then, to be scared. I learned that my own anger is unacceptable. I learned that people in power can always “out angry” me, and so I shouldn’t even try. And, if I do try I should be prepared to turn it up to 11. I learned that people wouldn’t be patient with me. I learned that I was bad for expressing my displeasure. I learned that I was bad for trying to get what I wanted, for trying to feel good. I learned that I was bad. I still carry these lessons with me today. Rather, I should say that I wearily drag these lessons behind me.

 

Adult me wants to scream back through the years, “It doesn’t have to be that big of a deal! You don’t have to make her feel like a bad kid! Just be patient! Just be kind! Just be nice! Just let her be a normal kid! Just let me be!”

 

My dad was not and is not nice. My mom lived and, even though they are no longer married, still lives underneath the weight of his impossible expectations of perfect obedience and complete deference. Neither of them could give me the space that I needed and still do need, the space to fuck up and then recover. I needed to be able to be imperfect and then look around and realize that the world was still standing and I was still breathing in spite of my imperfection. Since no one gave that to me as a child, I blundered into it as an adult.

 

Now I can peer back through the years and whisper to that little girl. “You’re doing fine. It’s okay that you’re angry. The anger won’t make things go your way, but feel it anyway. The anger isn’t a logical or rational response to this situation, but feel it anyway. Sit and frown. Don’t talk. It’s okay. Just feel. Feel that anger. Let it burn you up. Ride on the crests of your waves of indignation. There you go. That’s it. Don’t worry, you won’t drown. You’ll rise above it. You’ll breathe, and the anger will fade, and you’ll amble into the kitchen and enjoy some grilled cheese on whole wheat bread with iceberg lettuce salad, and no one will think any less of you for it. No one will love you any less even though you were less than perfect for awhile. There you go, you’re doing fine.”

  

No Regrets

Captain_America_God

I’ve always been the kind of girl who wants to follow all the rules and get all the gold stars. Well, I was. I never wanted to make mistakes or be imperfect. I needed constant tangible proof to reassure me that I wasn’t a worthless failure. Being raised an evangelical conservative Christian was the perfect environment for a little girl constantly hungry for approval and praise. I remember my parents sitting me down when I was four-years-old and explaining that Jesus had died for my sins because he loved me. They told me that I needed to pray to him to forgive my sins and accept him into my heart. Even at that tender age, I understood perfectly what they were telling me. I latched on to the narrative of good and evil immediately. I wanted, needed, to be good. I was all in, 110%. They told me it was about the love of Jesus, but there wasn’t much love in my parents’ religion. There was an exacting demand for perfection. There were strict regulations and lines to stay inside. There was the looming specter of my inevitable inadequacy, my inescapable capacity to sin, and the grim realization that I could never repent enough.

 

So the constraints of my reality for the next twenty or so years were set. It was like my parents put me in a cage but left the door unlocked. Looking back, this seems a little rude. My parents took away my opportunity to determine what I believe for myself. I eventually reclaimed it as an adult, but after a whole lot of grief and guilt. Not that I’m a (mostly) functioning and reasoning adult, I don’t want to do that to a child. I know they were trying to do what they believed would be the best thing for me. To many Christian parents, not raising your children as God-fearing followers of Christ is like not teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street. You’re sending them out into the world without crucial life-saving knowledge. It’s like being a millionaire and leaving none of it to your children. You have a wonderful thing of immeasurable value, and you’re not sharing it with your beloved offspring.

 

I understand this mindset. I was raised in it. I was brought up to think that it would be better to die a Christian than to continue living as a non-believer. I once argued with a friend in college over whether or not it was wrong for Christian missionaries to go into foreign countries and preach the gospel to people who could be persecuted or even killed for converting. In my piety, I argued that it was better to spend eternity with Jesus than to never hear the “good news”. She argued that the missionaries were forcing their religion on people and endangering the lives of people already living in a difficult situation for no good reason. Now that I’ve grown up some more, I realize that she was right. (Sorry, Samira, this is my belated apology). I also realize that no matter how hard you try to pound religious beliefs into a child “for their own good” there will come a day when they will have to evaluate what they’ve been taught and choose their own beliefs. That day came for me, and it would have been easier if I hadn’t been told that to have doubts about the beliefs espoused to me and to make my own choices was to be evil and risk an eternity of torment. Fear is a powerful motivator, but it doesn’t work forever.

 

After two decades spent as a “believer” I did some serious self-evaluation and realized that I didn’t like being a Christian. A spiritual path is supposed to bring you meaning and fulfillment. It’s supposed to help you find peace and ground you amid the turmoil of life. It’s supposed to connect you with meaningful traditions and allow you to bond with people who share the same beliefs. Christianity didn’t do those things for me. For a long time I hated Christianity, because it was supposed to be everything for me, and it ended up being nothing. I still get angry sometimes, but the hate has faded away. It faded, because I realized that Christianity doesn’t have to be everything for me. I don’t have to be a Christian. That fact seems really simple, but it took me forever to figure it out. Christianity was not the spiritual path for me. It works for some people, which is great, but it’s not for everyone. Coming to that realization hurt so much, because it was pounded into my head that Christianity was the end all and be all. It was hard to rip those blinders off, but I felt so much better once I did. I felt better, because Christianity didn’t make me feel like I was part of a community where I belonged. It didn’t make me feel connected to a higher power and purpose. It made me feel ashamed, confined and frightened. By the time I left Christianity, I was completely disillusioned with it, which I think was actually a good thing. Illusions can be nice, but reality will always have to be confronted.

 

To be honest, sometimes I do miss Christianity. Then I have to look deep inside myself and ask what it is that I’m missing. I miss the idea of being right, no matter what. That was one of the strongest messages I got from Christianity: as long I was a Christian I was safe. What I believed was right and true. I wouldn’t go to hell. That’s what I miss, the constant reassurance that I’m safe and correct. When I dwell on that, though, those feelings don’t seem particularly healthy. It is impossible to have concrete proof that one spiritual path is any better than another. So, why do I need that? It is impossible to say what will happen when we die, so why do I need to know? Why do I need to obsess over whether I’m safe from hell or not? If being saved from a punishment that may not be real is my only motivation for being a Christian, is that worth it?

 

I decided that it wasn’t. I really have no idea what the truth is. I may spend eternity burning in hell. Jesus could be frowning at me right now. However, it just wasn’t worth it to keep adhering to a religion that I felt wasn’t contributing positively to my life. The funny thing is, growing up, I was always told that being a Christian was the best thing that could ever happen to a person. Being a Christian was, supposedly, the only way to find peace and fulfillment. Ironically, I feel much more peaceful now that I’m no longer a Christian. Christianity was stressing me the fuck out, and I’m grateful that stress is gone from my life. When I left Christianity I finally had a chance to take a breath and think about what is really important to me, what contributes to my feelings of satisfaction in life. I realized that the most important things to me are putting positive energy out into the world, connecting with other people, doing my best not to harm others but instead doing what I can to ease suffering. Those things are definitely compatible with Christianity, but they aren’t exclusive to it or any religion. Realizing that gave me the sense of freedom in my life that I had been looking for, that, for so long, I felt Christianity actually blocked me from. It feels good.   

Chicago Missive No. 2

Dear Fellow Commuters,

 

It’s rush hour. It’s been a long day, and we’re all tired. What did you do all day: consulting, executive assisting, banking, lawyering, telemarketing? That’s nice. I spent the day chasing young children around. If it was a good day, they also learned something. Well, this seat I’m in sure is comfy. It’s such a shame that you don’t have a seat, too. You know what you should’ve done? You should’ve gotten on the train at 63rd and the Dan Ryan, like I did. Oh, you’ve never been that far south before? You’re worried that if you go that far south you’ll get shot? I wouldn’t worry about that if I were you. There are so few white people in Englewood, especially white people wearing business casual, that everyone would just stare at you in confusion until the CPD rolled up and asked you if you were lost or trying to buy drugs.

 

Wow, this seat feels nice. It was so easy to get, too. When I got on the red line, right smack dab in the middle of the hood, there were so many seats open. Every time you get on the train at Grand at 6pm, it’s already jam-packed, and you end up clutching the overhead bar and trying not to stumble over some dude’s loafer-clad feet. That never happens to me.

 

Oh, are your feet sore? Is your back aching? Sorry, I’m just savoring this. This is the only time that the racial and socioeconomic segregation of Chicago communities works in my favor. If only you had gotten on the train in the hood, you too could be enjoying a seat right now. Oh well, sucks to be you, attractive, well-educated white person in your twenties or thirties with a middle- to high-income job. At least, for 90-minutes of daily commuting it sucks to be you.

 

Here we are at Fullerton. It’s time for me to get off. You can have my seat now. My black ass kept it nice and warm for you. Enjoy the rest of your night. Hopefully, by the time I’m finishing up seeing my therapist and heading back to 63rd you’ll be finishing up dinner or an evening workout or this evening’s episode of The Daily Show. Good luck putting your kids to bed, doing some data entry left over from work today, and/or discussing with your partner whether you should buy holiday plane tickets this month or next month. Take care, and if you’re ever feeling adventurous, come visit us on the South Side. You can get some pretty nice leggings and t-shirts for super cheap at the beauty supply store and stock up on raw shea butter. I know you don’t think that you need shea butter, but, trust me, your knees and elbows will thank me. Also, parking is way easier down here. Oh wait, I guess you don’t have a car. That’s why you’re standing on a train at 6:30pm. Well, see ya later.

 

Sincerely,

 

Wednesday