Monday, January 27, 2020

Turns Out I Am Not Good At Daily Blogging

As I write this, my first "daily blog" is set to come out tomorrow, and I have written a grand total of seven blog posts (eight counting this) in a month. I mean, granted, that's more than I'd written in a month for ages, but it's not what I was hoping for.

However, if I can write seven blog posts a month, that's actually decently sustainable. That's blogging twice a week, which keeps my blog active. I just need to schedule them out ahead out of time so I can have time to have writer's block and then suddenly write a bunch at once.

So you will probably not see a blog from me tomorrow... But hopefully sometime next week you'll see another one.

This is not an exciting blog. Um... have a YouTube video!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A Small Turning Point In My Church Journey

I've talked about my problems with church a lot on here. It's been a long difficult road and I'm far from finding a church community, but I wanted to share a recent piece that I think has been a definite turning point for me.

I've always felt kind of weird about my alienation from the church, because, come on, it's not like they ran me out of town or told me to my face I wasn't welcome. I've had to deal with much less than a lot of people I know, so why can't I suck it up and just go? Why do I have such strong emotions about this? What did the church even do to me except just "not feel like a home"?

Well, I'd been thinking and praying through this for awhile. I talked with my mom about it and she said she felt like God was going to show me something, like he was going to help me find the core of my hurt, like there was going to be a specific moment that he was going to bring to my mind that I had blocked out or ignored.

And I think he did -- or if it isn't the actual core, it's something extremely close.

I think I was listening to the Good Christian Fun podcast when it came up. I don't remember the words they said that jarred this memory, but I suddenly got a vivid recollection of a teacher in our church speaking to a group and saying, "Your good deeds are like filthy rags to God."

This is a paraphrase of a verse from Isaiah 64, which talks about the sins of the people of the land as the reason why God has abandoned them to their enemies, that evil has become so deeply ingrained in them that even the good they do is pretty crappy. The second half of the chapter asks for God to come back and fix what has gone wrong.

But that was definitely not the context in which this verse was used at me. I was not being told that God had abandoned me to my enemies.

It was used in the context of, "You cannot earn your salvation."

So this may not be how everyone hears and processes that verse in that context, but this is where that goes for me:

"You cannot earn your salvation. Because your good deeds are like filthy rags. And filthy rags are disgusting. And even the good things you do, even when you try you hardest, God thinks you are disgusting. God is super grossed out by you. Like that other verse these teachers like to quote a lot, about God vomiting you out of his mouth. God looks at you and just wants to puke. Good thing Jesus is standing in front of you so God can see him instead of your gross, disgusting, sinful face."

And that sense of disgust, that God was disgusted with me even when I was doing the right thing, began to permeate my sense of self.

None of the people who said these things to me would ever say it as explicitly as it translated to in my mind. None of them would use the words "God thinks you're gross." And they'd probably be horrified that my mind took it to that extreme, they'd probably insist, "That's not what we meant, that's not what we were talking about." In other words, it would be my fault for misinterpreting their words as a child. (I am assuming a little bit here, which I probably shouldn't, but it is based partly on how people have reacted when I have tried to point out possible consequences of certain teachings. The answer is usually, "You should know that's not what we meant.")

Anyway. Now, years later, even as I have recovered that sense of self and that sense of God's true, deep love for me, I still struggle to not feel like other Christians are looking at me in disgust. Because that is how I and my peers were taught to view people and ourselves, as fundamentally pukeworthy. And I'm absolutely positive I'm not the only one who was a good teachable Christian and internalized it.

Things clicked into place a bit after this realization. I think I found The Main Thing that made me so uncomfortable around other Christians and in churches. Now that I've unraveled it down to its core, I'm starting to actually clean out that hurt and fear and anger that I couldn't find before, and then maybe start building it back up. In the meantime, unveiling that hurt has brought up feelings I didn't know I had but have clearly been sitting in my soul for awhile. Turns out when hurt is brought to light, it brings anger, and I've had no idea what all what to do with that, ha, so I'm working through it slowly and trying to let go so that I can move on. But in the meantime it feels like a "darkest before the dawn" moment, so I'm feeling my feelings, evaluating them, and figuring out which ones are good to keep and which ones I need to dismantle.

Maybe someday I'll be able to clean this all out enough that I can talk to members of my former church growing up without feeling waves of panic, or that I can post something like this without mentally bracing for backlash that may or may not come, or that I can walk into a church without my heart rate skyrocketing.

Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Best Song From Waitress

So I just recently got familiar with the musical Waitress, and while it's pretty consistently fun and interesting and solid all the way through, there was one song that stood out to me the most, and it's probably not any of the ones you're thinking of.

The song that most captured my attention was "You Will Still Be Mine." It's sung by our protagonist's self-centered abusive husband. It has all the earmarks of a classic love song -- a romantic line the two sing to each other, a hearkening back to the early days of their relationship -- but it's all twisted and dark to highlight his obsessive, controlling nature.

The thing that hits me the most every time I hear it is how he pushes her to say the words that will keep them together. The general overview of the first verse is him remembering back when he used to write her love songs, and he asks her, "What was that one line? Something about sunshine... I sang it every night." And he keeps guessing wrong until she corrects him: "'Til the sun don't shine, you will still be mine." He responds, "That's right!" And the first time I heard it, it sent shivers down my shine. He's doing a subtle abusive thing where he pushes her to promise to be with him, so now if she leaves him, she's the one breaking her promise and don't the wrong thing, not him. She's the one who said the words. His "That's right" in response doubles as both a, "That's right, those were the lyrics" and a "That's right, you will still be mine and I will still be yours and nothing you can do can change that."

It's just such a terrifying song about feeling trapped. I feel claustrophobic for Jenna just listening to it. It's such an incredibly well-written song that touches on the not-always-obvious ways in which abusers hold on to their victims.

Friday, January 24, 2020

I Started a Podcast!

Since I haven't been blogging, I never posted about it on here, but back in November, I started a podcast! My friend Jennie and I had been on the lookout for creative opportunities somewhere, though not necessarily together, and then I came up with a podcast idea and asked her to join me.

The podcast, called Somebody Write This, is based on a writing game I used to play with my sisters, where we'd randomly generate a character, a setting, and a plot action from lists I had on the computer, and then we'd have like half an hour to write a short story featuring that.

I put together a more elaborate (and often more difficult-to-work-with) random plot generator online, and at the beginning of every episode we generate one and then spend 15-20 minutes talking it through into a possible actual story. Sometimes this gets complicated -- in one episode, our protagonist's main action was "unwittingly comforting" someone. In another, an MI5 officer and a gentleman rat were apparently solving crime together. Others lend themselves more naturally to full-length stories, so we get to get into the details a little bit more.

At the end of each episode, we put out a call to the listeners to take any piece of the story that may have inspired them and turn it into something. Any listeners who do write something based on our goofy brainstorming can share their output with us and, with their permission, we'll share pieces of it on-air and publish it or a link to it on our blog. To our delight, we've gotten a couple responses! Our first two episodes yielded a one-act play and a sonnet from our listeners, respectively.

If you're interested in listening, it's available wherever you get your podcasts, or you can check out our host page on Anchor.fm here. We also put up transcripts on the blog so our hard-of-hearing subscribers can be part of this too, so check that out! Subscribe, and if you use iTunes, which seems to be the only place you can review podcasts (get with the times, Spotify), go ahead and give us a review, because that boosts our visibility.

I shall leave you with three random synopses from our generator. You may see pieces of these popping up on the show in the future, who knows?

  • A biography of a group of friends, who must follow a clue.
  • A Canadian intelligence officer and the Jedi Council face life in a drab police state, looking for a nerve gas attack and a Walkman.
  • With a special heritage, the brother of a prominent district attorney is brainwashed to want a book.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Christmas Gift Adventures

I've written before about my family's gift giving tradition, where my siblings and I shop for each other at the dollar store. It stemmed from the days when we had little money and a lot of people, and it allowed all the kids to be involved in the act of giving even when we couldn't afford elaborate gifts. It's a tradition that remains even while most of the siblings are now working and could afford more than a dollar per person, and it's become a bit of a game to see what kind of ridiculous things we could get for each other.

This year, since I wasn't going home for Christmas, I roped in two of my siblings to help shop for me. They told me when they went shopping for their own gifts, and I sent them text messages throughout the shop as if I could see where they were and could direct them to the right object.

For example:

"OH! That one's perfect, because it begins with N and Nathan's name begins with an N!"

So my sister hunted for around for an item beginning with N, purchased it, and gave that to Nathan for me. In this case it was a ninja mask.

One sibling told me what I ended up picking up for them, the other did not, so seeing them open it on Christmas Day via Google Hangouts was as much a surprise to me as it was to them. It made for a lot of laughter.

The other prompts I gave and what they yielded:

"Elizabeth told me she had a gift for Micah, but she didn't want to say it out loud. So go find her, and whatever she's looking at, that's what he wants." --> A reusable coffee filter. (Micah does not drink coffee.)

"Ok, now find Elizabeth one more time, and get whatever is BEHIND her. She's facing away from it because it hurts too much to look at it, thinking she won't get it. Boy, will she be surprised!" --> Italian dressing.

"Ooh, up there, the very last thing on the top shelf, on the right. That'd be a good gift for Bekah. Especially if you drew a tiny caterpillar on it. (Can you do that please)?" --> An empty red bottle, which wasn't so easy to draw a caterpillar on, so my sister drew one on paper, cut it out, and taped it to the bottle.


"I really have no idea what Joel wants, but one of his recent Facebook posts began with 'TLDR,' so that must be some sort of clue. What would you say is the most 'too long' thing in the next aisle over?" --> A shoehorn you could use while standing

"Oh, right there, Bethany told me she really wants that thing to your left. Even though it's kind of gross." --> A wooden birdhouse to assemble.

"What would you say is the MOST orange thing on that middle shelf? Dad would be happy with that, I think." --> An orange bag of dog treats. (My family does not have a dog.)

"At first glance you'd think that thing on the bottom shelf is what Mom wants LEAST, but it's actually what she wants most! She's just too embarrassed to say it!" --> A bag of Epsom salts.

"Definitely get Seth the fifth thing in that stack. Oh, and that round thing behind you! Those go so well together! What an amazing duo gift for him!" --> A large aluminum cake pan and a box of moon pies. (As far as gifts going together, it could be worse.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Worst Movies I Saw in 2019

Just to even things out, here are the 20 worst movies I saw for the first time in 2019, most of which were part of my attempt to watch 100 movies from 1968. Turns out there are a LOT of bad movies from that year. Fight me on these if you want!

20. Legendary Weapons of China (1982). I'm sure this is better than my ranking. I just think kung fu movies are so boring.

19. Epic (2013). This movie is such a nonentity, I had to go look up my review to remember what it was even about.

18. Will Penny (1967). There were a LOT of westerns in 1968, solidifying for me how very dull and one-note I find cowboy characters.

17. Blade Runner 2049 (2017). I don't like the original Blade Runner and I don't like sequels, so this was probably unexpected.

16. Cocktail (1988). Did Tom Cruise show someone his party trick of flipping liquor bottles and someone say, "Let's make a movie about this, but, yeah, that bottle trick, that's the heart of it"?

15. Pretty Poison (1968). A pretty upsetting movie where I think I'm supposed to kind of root for the leads to be together when she is 16 and he is an adult. Later plot twists don't make this any less upsetting.

14. Jezebel (1938). It's like Gone With the Wind, but with less likable characters and less interesting cinematography.

13. Mute (2018). What a wildly disappointing, dull, ugly take on what could have been a good premise.

12. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). This is the laziest kind of biopic.

11. You Were Never Really Here (2017). I don't think Lynne Ramsay and I speak the same film language. I just didn't "get" this one.

10. Wuthering Heights (1939). Oh my goodness, do I hate these characters.

9. Devil's Knot (2013). A very messily made movie about a very interesting true crime case.

8. Graveyard of Honor (2002). The last non-1968 movie in the bottom 20 for me. This character is wildly unappealing and I just didn't want to see him on screen anymore.

7. Shalako (1968). Another bland western. Sean Connery as a cowboy is very weird.

6. The Green Berets (1968). This pro-Vietnam-War movie feels like far more propaganda than storytelling, and I'm not interested in that.

5. Murder a la Mod (1968). A very early Brian de Palma which is all over the place.

4. Greetings (1968). Yet another very early Brian de Palma, and it's exceptionally student film-esque.

3. The Birthday Party (1968). I'm sure there's art behind both this play and this movie adaptation, but I just don't get it.

2. Barbarella (1968). This is so boring and sexploitational which isn't my style at all.

1. Head (1968). A truly nonsensical, dull movie that just feels like the Monkees trying to be the Beatles.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Best Movies I Saw in 2019

Did I write this blog on December 21? Heck no! Am I still going to write one and hope I can pick back up with this daily blogging thing after the chaos of the holidays? Heck yes!

So everyone else is doing year-end (and now decade-end) posts. I'll jump on board and tell you my top 20 movies that I saw in 2019. Doesn't mean they came out in 2019, just that I saw them this year.

20. Miss Saigon (2015). A filmed production of the stage musical, which is not without its problems but has some truly gorgeous performances.

19. Finian's Rainbow (1968)What a weird little movie, but gorgeous cinematography that really makes the most of its musical numbers.

18. Dead Ringers (1988). Easily my favorite Cronenberg so far, I think. Dark and unsettling but so compelling.

17. Kuroneko (1968). I'm finding I really love Japanese folk horror, and this is a great example of it.

16. My Name Is Joe (1998). A thoughtful and touching drama. The same director did another film much higher on my list that I'll point out when we get to it.

15. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). This title is so apt, because this movie just oozes loneliness. And what a great performance from Alan Arkin.

14. Romeo and Juliet (1968). I love theater but not always Shakespeare, as even professional performances of his works so often feel stilted to me, like the actors are still wrestling with the speech. This is natural and lovely.

13. Woman in the Dunes (1964). The images from this film continue to haunt me. (In a good way.)

12. Dreams (1990). A strange little anthology film from Akira Kurosawa, and while they vary in terms of quality, it's so fascinating.

11. The Cameraman (1928). This is such a charming and funny little film. Keaton's eye for gags is so perfect.

10. Shoplifters (2018). I haven't seen a lot of foreign films from last year, but this one is such an interesting, touching story.

9. Broadcast News (1987). Pretty sure I just want to be Holly Hunter's friend in this movie. She's so relatable.

8. Knives Out (2019). A gloriously classic whodunnit that still feels seamlessly modern. That's an impressive feat.

7. The Seventh Continent (1989). Oh, OOF. My heart was punched out of my chest with this one.

6. The Kindergarten Teacher (2018). Maggie Gyllenhaal is a terrifying villain in this story, and you see her self-justifications every step of the way. What a powerful performance.

5. A Simple Plan (1998). A crime story that surprisingly roped me in from minute one. The build of tension is perfect.

4. Eighth Grade (2018). What a ridiculously relatable movie.

3. Mirai (2018). One of the most sweet and charming films I've ever seen about childhood. It captures the infuriating powerlessness of being about three years old.

2. Kes (1969). By the same director as My Name Is Joe (my #16). It's a sad and beautiful story of a young boy's relationship with a falcon he manages to train.

1. Us (2019). I think I like this even better than Get Out. Jordan Peele continues to knock it out of the park.