Friday, August 30, 2013

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 8

Recap: Skye is perfect. That's pretty much all the author wants you to know at this point of the story. Oh, also, this is the day she's supposed to go dolphin-kissing with Morgan.

Turns out this is a long chapter and it's all awful, so this is a long post. Just a heads up.

Skye arrives bright and early at the Hamiltons' room (like before Tammy's awake early, because, again, Skye's parents don't care what their kid does) and immediately starts referring to Morgan as her dad.
Skye leaned closer and her voice fell to a whisper. “He said something about parents having to be with me when I swim with the dolphins. I think it was some legal mumbo-jumbo.”
Well, I'm just shocked. The cruise wants nine-year-olds to be with their parents when swimming with dolphins in a foreign country? That sounds almost like responsible parenting, a concept we're pretty hazy on in this book.

Morgan's in the shower, but Skye is in too much of a hurry to wait for him, so she dashes away to grab breakfast with a message for Morgan to meet her.
Tammy shook her head, staring at the youngster sprinting down the long, narrow hallway, and almost running into a couple coming out of their stateroom. “Excuse me!” she yelled, without breaking stride.
Again, this is why Skye can hardly be called a "polite" child. Rambunctious, yes, but polite children do not run through hallways yelling early in the morning when people are sleeping around them. She's not doing it to be malicious, she's just being a kid, but this is why I can't at all buy this "Skye is the perfect child" nonsense, because she's not even particularly well-behaved. (But then again, Rothdiener thinks it's charming for kids to run up and down the hallways in an airplane yelling too.)

Morgan gets out of the shower and he and Tammy talk for awhile about how awesome Skye is. We learn she speaks five languages:
“That’s interesting. I guess with parents like hers, and the places she has visited, she would need to communicate in different languages.”
I don't think by "parents like hers" he means "parents who drop her off with random strangers in unknown countries," but, yes, with those parents, she absolutely needs to be able to communicate in different languages.

Then we get a bit of dialogue that is so hilarious and weird that I just have to snark each piece of it.
“What is the topic this morning at the conference?” Morgan asked.
“Batten disease.”
“Batten? That’s extremely rare.
"Certainly not appropriate for a convention about rare childhood diseases or anything."
“I know. They’re discussing some of the rarest childhood diseases,
"...even some extremely rare ones!"
and how we can raise awareness in our society.”
"Have they considered writing an article about why we should care about rare childhood diseases?"
“Interesting topic,” Morgan said.
"And totally unexpected, given the nature of this conference."

Seriously, these people talk like they have NO IDEA what this conference is about, and, furthermore, have no expertise in the field.
Morgan continued, “There is something I’m curious about. I wonder why today’s meeting is so important that her father would miss spending the day with his daughter. Obviously, he adores her. I’m surprised that anything could keep him away from spending time with that girl.”
Which is obviously why Skye gets dumped at random people's houses, sent with strangers to Jamaica, and pawned off on unknown couples for days at a time. The times Skye and her father have been together on this cruise is far less than their time apart.

Tammy warns Morgan not to get too attached to Skye, because when the cruise is over in two weeks, they'll probably never see her again.
An ache settled in Tammy’s heart. “I know how much you love children. I’m sorry I can’t give you what you want.” 
He swallowed, noticing the room had grown quiet.
First of all, there's pretty much no textual indication that Morgan actually wants kids, given how callous he is about the whole thing. I am really, really unhappy that Tammy's pain is consistently framed entirely in terms of how Morgan feels about it. She's the one who's been depressed and inconsolable, while he's been all, "Why can't my wife just get over this?" and here she is apologizing to him because she feels it's her fault.

Secondly, "the room had grown quiet"? Was there all this ambient noise we were unaware of? Was Skye running up and down the halls yelling again? It's not like there was some mysterious phenomenon where The Room Grew Quiet. Tammy was just done talking and Morgan hadn't started yet.

I'm going to do that, now. If I'm in a room with someone and it's just us talking, I'm going to start saying, "I notice the room has grown quiet," during every single pause.

A moment later, Morgan has a mini crisis of faith when his wife expresses sorrow that all she can do to help rare childhood diseases is talk about them at this conference:
Morgan’s thoughts flashed to his conversation with Skye’s father the night before. Prayer came to his mind, but the thought quickly faded. There was a time when he and Tammy would pray for others, as well as their own needs. But their prayers seemed to never be heard; there was only silence from God. At least, that’s what they felt. If God wasn’t listening, if He didn’t care, why bother praying?
And this is why I'm so very confused. Generally, with people who are going through faith crises or doubting their beliefs, they don't go around telling other people to be Christians (as he did with "his conversation with Skye's father the night before"). I mean, maybe, if they're trying to keep up a facade or act pious and feel like they need to do that to keep up the front, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. Morgan seems to be jumping back and forth between "God's probably not even there, so why bother?" and "Excuse me, sir, have you ever told a lie?" without a second thought. It makes me very uncertain what level his actual faith is at.

From a better writer, we could end up with a complex character who was doubting but still felt obligated to share, or someone whose old evangelizing habits kicked back in, or who was going through the motions of being a Christian in the hopes that they could jumpstart how they felt or something. But this is none of that. This feels much more like, "Whoops, I forgot this guy doesn't believe in prayer anymore!"

Morgan meets up with Skye and goes to breakfast with her, while Tammy meets up with Malinda Leontiou to do some chatting.
“I hope your husband is ready for a busy day. When Skye’s feeling good, nothing holds her back.” 
“When she’s feeling good? What do you mean by that?” 
“You know, when a girl’s happy and excited, nothing holds her back.”

That needed to be clarified?

Is this some terrible foreshadowing that maybe Skye has A TERRIBLE DISEASE, maybe even a RARE CHILDHOOD ONE, and sometimes doesn't feel good?

Or does Tammy just not understand what the word "good" means?

Malinda offers Tammy and Morgan a job at their clinic, because one can never have too many people who really understand why we should care about rare childhood diseases, and then they chat some more:
“Well, thank you. I’m honored. What is your history? I mean—” 
Malinda smiled. “You mean, why am I so much younger than Layland?” 
“Well, I wasn’t really alluding to that, but since you said we would talk girl talk, where were you born?”

That's like doing this:
"You mean, why am I so much younger than Layland?" 
"Well, I wasn't really alluding to that, but since you said we would talk girl talk, what is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?"
The two questions have nothing to do with each other, unless Tammy's assuming that like... Layland was around being a teenager when Malinda was born or something, which is a really creepy way to start telling that story.

Tammy finds out more about Malinda. Her parents are Canadian, she was born in Sweden during a cancer convention, her parents "discovered several breakthroughs in cancer treatment," and then their plane in Africa was shot down by rebels and they died. Which totally answers why she's so much younger than Layland. As I knew it would.
Tammy hesitated, giving Malinda a moment. Finally, she spoke. “How long have you been married?”
OK, that's a much better lead in for the question you're trying to ask and still being coy about for some reason even though Malinda brought it out in the open already.

Malinda talks about her first marriage, where she "dumped him like a can of beans" after he cheated on her. (Is this a phrase? I haven't heard of it. Do cans of beans get regularly dumped?) Then she talks about how she met Doctor Layland Leontiou at a convention, since that is apparently all that any of these people do.
He was a gentle man, but strong. He had to be strong in the world of business.
This line just makes me snicker. It sounds so much like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. "Seriously, Betty, you know what this meteor could mean to science. If we find it, and it's real, it could mean a lot. It could mean actual advances in the field of science."
“I’m sure you have picked up on how protective Layland is with Skye.”
*spits water*


A brief lesson for all you writers out there. You can't just tell me what your characters are like. You have to show me. They have to demonstrate that with their actions. Otherwise everyone in the story looks delusional, like Malinda does here.
“It grieves her father not to be able to spend these couple days with her, especially today. He really wanted to share the dolphin experience with her.”
Malinda stirred her coffee. “Skye lives every day to the fullest. She’s an extremely organized, happy-go-lucky girl, who never thinks of herself. She’s always busy, always learning, and always excited.”
“It’s strange,” Malinda said, “but she never has shown an interest in video games, like most of today’s kids. She does things that help other people. And she’s definitely gifted.”
OK, let's first note that Malinda says the first paragraph and the last one... and presumably the second one, but if so, why in the world do we have three separate paragraphs telling us that she's basically just talking for awhile? It would be quite logical to assume Tammy was talking in the second one, given that she's that needlessly gushy about Skye on a daily basis and the fact that it's sandwiched in between two paragraphs of Malinda speaking. Basically, I'm not convinced this script ever made it to an actual editor. I think they just skimmed, said, "Yup, it's about Jesus," and printed it.

Secondly, I am ever so TIRED of them hyping up Skye to me, especially when it doesn't always match what she does either. I don't think she's nearly as selfless as they're hyping up, given the fact that, for example, she thinks it's appropriate to mock someone for their fear.

But she MUST be a perfect child! She doesn't play those evil violent video games! Right?

Malinda explains Skye has tested "extremely high academically, genius level," and is also a super talented pianist and artist. She then gets really defensive all of a sudden about how busy they are with their lab work and how sometimes they don't have time for Skye.

Then they talk about the cruise for awhile. Turns out, Doctor Layland Leontiou started it and pays for the cruises. It started out as essentially just a doctor vacation, but then it turned into a fundraising idea-sharing time. Malinda says she and Doctor L. L. are close to a cure for... some disease. It doesn't ever actually say which one. It's all really vague, with talk of "experiments" and "lab work" and "tests," but hardly ever does anyone mention a specific disease. THAT is how you raise awareness, people.

Now after all the important and essential things we learned in that forever-long section, let's zoom over to see what Morgan and Skye are doing.
Morgan held Skye’s hand tightly as she led him through the food line. He had never really babysat before, at least not by himself.
Uh, and I'm not sure he is now. From the sounds of it, she's babysitting him. Yesterday she taught him how water slides work, today it's food lines.

Skye talks with all her new friends as she gets her food, including one guy she's praying for. She makes some comment about how her prayers are always answered, and Morgan has another mini faith crisis wondering why God answers her prayers and not his.

And then we have... the weirdest breakfast conversation.

Skye says that her parents' clinic is in the Aegean Sea, near where Atlantis is located. She says that Atlantis is true because "the folk singer, Donovan, sang about it back in the sixties," and "Plato talked about it. He never talked about anything but the truth." Then she tells him, sincerely, the history of Atlantis and how it was destroyed.

Now, if she wasn't supposed to be a SUPER SPESHUL BRILLIANT MARVEL OF NATURE I'd assume this was just usual imaginative kid talk, where she'd heard about it, heard 1960s folk songs about it (which she sings to Morgan), read Plato about it, and incorporated it into her framework of real life. But with Skye and with all the hyping they've done... I have a horrible feeling Atlantis might actually be found at the end of this book.
Morgan was amazed at the girl’s ability to learn, to remember. She obviously was brilliant. How does Skye know everybody’s name?
I wouldn't call being good with names "brilliant." Maybe Morgan is just hugely incompetent at remembering names, and so she seems brilliant by comparison.

Skye then scolds the waiter who brings her ketchup for not calling his kids yet like she told him to. He says he is too ashamed, she tells him he needs to call them to feel better, and he says she's right. Because apparently everybody is ready to take life advice from a nine-year-old.

Then breakfast is over, and it's time to go dolphin kissing. Morgan and Skye get off the boat, with Doctor L.L., Malinda, and Tammy all watching them (though for some reason Doctor L. L. is watching secretly. And crying about it).

I gotta tell you guys, this was an exhausting chapter to get through, with nearly every line being just... wrong. I have no idea how people have been reading this seriously. But apparently people have. It's still got all five-star reviews on Amazon. Sigh.

(Chapter 9.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

6 TV Shows I Love That None of My Friends Seem to Watch

Well, we've had lots of serious posts over the last week and a half, about introversion and depression and church... so now let me do a slightly fluffier media-related one. A few weeks ago I wrote about my all-time favorite TV shows, but there are plenty of other shows I watch. I figured I'd devote this blog entry to telling you about six great TV shows that, apparently, only I ever watch.

These are in order from least favorite to favorite. I love them all, but my favorite of the bunch will be last.

6. Jekyll

Steven Moffat may be best known for his work on Sherlock and Doctor Who, but this six-episode show he wrote is great fun. They were expecting a second season which they did not get, so it ends on a rather abrupt note, but up until that point it is an intense, fascinating modernization of the Jekyll and Hyde story. James Nesbitt is thoroughly likable as Tom Jackman and mesmerizing as his alter-ego, Mr. Hyde. An excellent little miniseries-length show. It is quite a bit darker and gorier than Moffat's more family-friendly work on Doctor Who, so don't sit down with your kids for this one, but it's well worth watching.

Where you can watch it online: Netflix and iTunes.

5. Garth Marenghi's Darkplace

I looked this one up because I noticed it had Matt Berry and Richard Ayoade in it, both actors I loved in The IT Crowd. I ended up thoroughly enjoying this little six-episode series as well. The premise is that a (fictional) horror writer named Garth Marenghi filmed six episodes of "Darkplace," a horror television series in the 1980s, but it never aired because it was too disturbing, too radical, and too far ahead of its time. Now, here, we have the first screening of the six episodes that were filmed before the project was shut down.

Of course, "Darkplace" is not disturbing or radical or ahead of its time. It's just poorly written, poorly acted, poorly edited, poorly mic'd... basically everything that could be bad, is. The show is interspersed with clips of interviews with the "actors" today, reflecting on the show and their work with it. The whole thing is absolutely hilarious, and fans of bad movies or cheesy parodies will definitely want to look this one up.

Where you can watch it online: The only place you can find it online is YouTube. The full series is available there.

4. Coupling

Before Steven Moffat was known in the U.S. for Doctor Who and Sherlock, and even before Jekyll, he did a sitcom. And it's hilarious. I first heard it pitched to me as "a British version of Friends," but Coupling is significantly raunchier... and, I'd argue, significantly funnier. The first season is a bit stagey, but as it gets into later seasons and hits its stride, it offers some of the most truly hysterical moments in sitcom history. My favorite moments are when a character has to explain his way out of something and just keeps digging himself in deeper. Those moments are many in Coupling, and they all make me laugh so hard. (I've shared my very favorite one on Facebook many times.)

Where you can watch it online: iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu.

3. The Neighbors

I am completely surprised that this got picked up for a second season, because if the people I know are any indication of what the people in general are watching, nobody cared about this show. I, however, think it was easily the funniest offering of last year's mostly-blah TV sitcoms (The Mindy Project is the only other standout). It's a funny and original story about a family who moves into a gated community populated entirely by space aliens who were sent here many years ago and then lost contact with their home planet. The humor is definitely on the "silly and absurd" side, but it usually makes me dissolve into helpless giggles at least once per episode. If you haven't watched this, check it out before season two starts.

Where you can watch it online: iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon.

2. Wilfred

If I was surprised The Neighbors got a second season, I'm even more surprised Wilfred's on its third. Delighted, but surprised. This is a weird, weird show. It's based on an Australian show I've never seen, but I absolutely love this U.S. version. Elijah Wood plays a depressed, anxious, highly phobic individual trying to get his life back together after a failed suicide attempt. Everything goes a little bit wonky when he meets his next door neighbor, Jenna, and her dog, Wilfred... who he views as a man in a dog costume. Wilfred talks to him, advises him, smokes pot with him, and generally gets him into all sorts of trouble.

What I love most about this show is that, even though its central focus is the dark humor circling around Elijah Wood's mental state and how truly terrible a personality Wilfred is, it really manages to make some very poignant and beautiful points about things like overcoming fears, letting people in to your life, and responding to the darkness in your mind. Its overall cynicism makes its few deep moments that much more compelling... and, may I add, Elijah Wood has never been better than he is in this role.

Where you can watch it online: iTunes, Netflix, Amazon.

1. Slings and Arrows

Oh, gosh, how I love love love Slings and Arrows. It's a Canadian show set at a Shakespearean festival in the fictional town of New Burbage, following the dramatic ups and downs of the cast and crew every season. If you are at all into theater, you really have to watch this one. It's one of the best on-screen interpretations I've ever seen of the thrill of the stage, from both a director's standpoint and an actor's. It's worth watching for that alone, but it's also a very solid drama/comedy. The characters are vivid and entertaining, the dialogue smart and funny, and it's easy to follow even if you're not an avid theater fan. This is one of those shows that I like to watch when I need to feel better.

Where you can watch it online: It recently left Netflix Instant, and I got so very sad, but then discovered it's still available to watch online on Amazon.

Honorable mentions for a few that got scooted off the list because I know quite a few other people who watch/watched them: Bunheads (a witty and funny show about ballet from the creator of Gilmore Girls), Alphas (a FAR FAR FAR better superhero TV show than Heroes), and QI (a Stephen Fry-hosted trivia panel show that teaches me something fascinating and bizarre every episode).

Have you seen any of these? Did you like them? What are your favorite mostly-unknown TV shows?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Leaving Church Doesn't Mean Leaving Community

One of my very favorite writers, Rachel Held Evans, wrote a blog three weeks ago or so about why millennials are leaving the church. Everything she said was pretty much exactly right, and it brought to mind my series I wrote awhile back about my struggles with church and how I'd been on a break from it for awhile (you can read that here: part 1, part 2, part 3).

(As an update on my state since that series: I'm currently attending a church on a regular basis, but more as a matter of practicality and social expectation than out of anything I am able to get from or give to it. I feel as if I'm still on a break from church in my heart, as my view of God and my relationship with Him shifts ever further away from the church-based model in America. But back to the main point of the post.)

Evans' post got oodles of backlash, and then responses to that backlash, but as someone who has been struggling through and blogging about the purposes of church in my life, I wanted to respond to one specific bit of feedback that seems to be coming up a lot in responses to the post.

One of the biggest criticisms of the millennials leaving the church and pursuing their faith elsewhere is the idea that we need each other to grow, our faith dies in isolation, we need to connect with other believers and learn from them and encourage each other.

And I totally agree with that idea.

I just think church is no longer the best place to do that. Certainly not for me, and possibly for many other people around me.

To quote a bit from my earlier series on church:
  • I have so many people I would consider good friends, but I have not formed a single real, lasting friendship with anyone I ever went to church with.
  • My greatest spiritual mentors are people I didn't go to church with.
  • Church was home to most of the loneliest moments of my life.
  • I have felt true community many times. These times have all been outside of a church group.
Nearly a year later, this is all still true.

The model of most American churches is just not at all set up for me or my fellow introverts to make close friends. In many, the level of social interaction is constant enough to be draining for me and not deep enough for it to be enriching or encouraging for me. I come home with an odd combination of being completely socially drained and yearning for truly meaningful interaction... only now I'm too tired to seek out that meaningful interaction, and that need goes unmet.

Here's the point, though: The fact that I have stopped looking to church to supply my actual fellowship needs doesn't mean at all that I have retreated into spiritual isolation. Far from it. I have frequent discussions about spiritual things with friends via Facebook, text, or instant messenger. We ask each other for prayer and godly advice.

Most of the time, for me, I just hope I make it through social interactions at church with enough energy to have the truly enriching social interactions later.

Those who leave the church aren't always attempting to "make it on their own" on their faith journey. Very few are stepping out of community altogether. They may simply be replacing an unfulfilling community with a fulfilling one, a community of their own choosing.

For those who do find their church family to be a fulfilling community, that is fantastic. That is a blessing. You walk in that community and strengthen it and love it.

For me, my faith community is scattered across the country, everywhere from Texas to New Hampshire. My community grows a person at a time as I find people I trust enough that I can open up and share my spiritual struggles. Rarely am I ever gathered with them in person, but the spiritual encouragement we get from each other is more than enough to fulfill my need for fellowship, and I am happy and blessed for them to be the primary faith community of my life, rather than my church.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 7

Recap: Nothing really happened in the last chapter, except Morgan and Tammy hung out with Skye and then Morgan tried to witness to Doctor L. L. Today's schedule is apparently Skye, Skye, and more Skye. Gee, I can't wait. I haven't been told enough by the author yet how amazing and witty and compassionate and profound she is.

Morgan and Tammy are awakened from their morning shaving and coffee (respectively) by Skye pounding on their door, insisting that they go explore the ship NOW.

Yup, super polite child.

Turns out she got up at 5 to go work out with Gym Kim and her fiance Zack.
“You know Kim and Zack?” Morgan made a strange face.
“I sure do. Zack’s a hunk.” She patted her heart. 
Morgan rolled his eyes, grinning. “Zack’s a hunk, huh?” 
“I’m a hunk, too!” Morgan said flexing his muscles and realizing his face was still lathered with shaving crème.

"Your parents put me in charge of you for the day. Notice how hot I am!" Seriously, even as a joke, that's a weird thing to say to a child. Especially a child you met yesterday.

Also, what is this "strange face"? I choose to think it was this one:

Fortunately, Skye ignores his creepy attempt to draw attention to his attractiveness by explaining that doctors can't be hunks.
Skye hollered, “Come on, let’s go!”
She's hollering? Right now all I can hear is Lilo from Lilo and Stitch, who was one of the most annoying movie children ever because all she did was yell. Her parents need to teach her to use her inside voice.

Morgan and Tammy do the worst awkward flirting in the world, and then they all go around the ship, exploring it (though why? Skye and Morgan did all that yesterday). They eventually run into Doctor Layland Leontiou:
“I’m surprised to see you. What are the chances we would run into each other on this huge ship?” Morgan sounded surprised.
“Actually, the chances are very good. Skye has a GPS tracking device on her. See her bracelet? It tells me where she is at all times.”
And this is why he lets his daughter go off with random men. Because at least he can track her. Although it was pretty dumb of him to just cheerfully admit this to the man who's going to take his daughter off the boat to another country the next day. That's how kidnappings happen and you don't even realize they're gone for hours, possibly days.

Doctor L. L. asks Tammy to come meet some of the other speakers, and Skye wants to go play checkers with Morgan. Then this bizarre exchange happens.
“Before you get too excited, Dr. Hamilton, let me tell you, Skye has rarely lost a game of checkers,” her father boasted.
“You’re kidding, right?” Morgan crossed his arms.
“No, you’ll see.” Layland glared.
The heck?

That got really hostile out of nowhere. Though actually I suspect this means that J. L. Rothdiener simply doesn't know what "glared" means.

Instead of playing checkers, Skye wanders into a "crew only" section because she wants to get a picture on the deck of the ship. But before we get to that, I have to address this weird bit of writing:
In broken English, someone greeted them from the deck above, “Good morning, Skye.”
...That's not broken English. That's perfectly acceptable English. I looked ahead to see if the character was going to speak in broken English later, but nope, every single sentence is pretty much spot-on. I suspect what was meant was that the character had an accent of some kind, but... COME ON, DUDE. SOMETIMES KNOWING WORDS IS HELPFUL FOR WRITING BOOKS.

Anyway, Skye wants to take a Titanic "king of the world" picture. And the book then devotes like four entire pages to this endeavor.

I do want to complain about something minor, not because it's a ridiculous thing that could never happen in this story, but because it hasn't been done successfully.

This book was released in 2013 and doesn't indicate that it's set in the past. Therefore, Skye was not born when Titanic came out. In an earlier scene, she referenced "Beam me up, Scotty" from the original Star Trek. While it is obviously not unthinkable that she would have watched these things years after they were released, it is unlikely that she would have caught on to iconic moments from these two. When kids watch things, they tend to latch on to what they like best, not what the culture remembers (certainly not if the pop culture memory of it was years before they were born).

The author is writing things that he remembers without even bothering to point out that Skye's viewing material is somewhat... unlikely for her age, and that she's somehow pulled out culturally-remembered parts of them at age nine. (Especially one that was never actually said in the original. Kirk never said, "Beam me up, Scotty," so clearly that came from a cultural memory, rather than an actual viewing.) Heck, this is even a great Mary Sue opportunity ("She's such an old soul! She loves movies and TV so much older than she is! She's so deep!") and the fact that it was missed indicates that it wasn't really thought about.

Skye and Morgan walk to the very end of the boat, where apparently they can fall into the water if they're not careful, and then Skye tells Morgan she's going to get on his shoulders at the edge of the boat, because that's super safe, and apparently Captain Broken English is all super cool with this as he's taking the picture for them. Finally the picture is taken. FOUR PAGES LATER.

Morgan reveals he's afraid of water, they go get Tammy, and Morgan plays checkers with Skye. He loses.
“I believe Dr. Leontiou warned you not to play checkers with her,” Tammy teased, trying not to laugh.
He did. He even got weirdly angry about it.

After spending FOUR FREAKING PAGES on the saga of Getting a Titanic Picture, we then zoom through the rest of their afternoon:
The three of them rock climbed, which still didn’t tire the child. 
Mid-afternoon they played shuffleboard with two elderly couples and then a game of miniature golf. 
They must have walked around the outside of the ship at least four times[.]
Those three sentences are all right next to each other. We get no more information than that. I guess that's not nearly as important as duplicating famous scenes from Titanic.

Then they go to the onboard water slide, which I was going to ridicule, but no, they totally have those, which is awesome. Morgan is freaking out about the water slide because of not liking water. Tammy offers to hold Skye's bracelet for her, but Skye says it doesn't come off.
“That’s some bracelet. I guess your father really doesn’t want to lose you,” Tammy stated.
“No. He says he’s going to keep me.”
 "I made him promise me that the last time he dropped me off at some random person's house for a couple days."

Skye tells Morgan he has to go down the water slide and goes down herself. Morgan freaks out at the top of the slide for awhile. Not only has he never gone down a water slide himself, he's apparently never seen anyone else go on any sort of amusement ride, because:
“Why was she screaming?” he asked, taking a step back.
She's screaming because that's what one does when one goes down a giant slide or rides a rollercoaster or anything like that. Or well, enough people do that that it shouldn't be a huge shock to him. Anyway, the girl at the top of the ride finally gets him to go down the slide and he does, screaming all the way. When he gets to the bottom, there's an official ship photographer taking a picture of him, and Skye and Tammy taunt him for screaming like a girl.

Because that is how you get people to embrace their fears, right? Yelling at them until they do it and then humiliate them immediately afterward for doing it wrong?

Morgan and Tammy take Skye back to her room, where she recounts her day to Maya, the housekeeper:
“It was great! Tammy and Morgan took me to the big pool, Splash Mountain, and we even took a king of the world picture at the bow of the ship.”
“Did you? I thought that area was off limits,” she glanced at the girl over her glasses. 
“Evidently, not if you know the captain of the ship,” Morgan murmured.
It's not about knowing the captain of the ship, silly. It's about having AMAZING MARY SUE POWERS. That is how you not only get into forbidden areas, but get the captain himself to cheerfully take a picture of you in a precarious pose in the most dangerous part of those forbidden areas.
Turning back to the child, Maya added, “Oh, that’s right, you know him well.”
What? Why does she know him well? She has been on the ship two days. If she knows anyone well in those two days, it's Morgan, seeing as how they've been attached at the hip the whole time. Does she know him from beforehand? Did the captain also kidnap her to another country to kiss dolphins? Did her parents leave her at his house for awhile?
Maya smiled, and continued folding the clothes. “Skye is only nine, but she seems much older.”
“Is she always that polite?” Tammy asked.
“Always! She never argues about anything. She... Well to put it bluntly, she’s too good to be true. I sometimes wonder if one day she’ll rebel. However, I don’t think she will. She’s the real deal. I’ve never heard or seen her do anything wrong. She lives to help people and make them happy.”



Tammy says Skye's been raised well, and Maya quickly explains that, actually, she believes Skye is "divinely gifted." What makes her think this?
“She hardly ever walks past someone without paying them a compliment, or finding something positive to say to them.”
Because apparently you can't be a frequent compliment giver without being mystically inspired by God. Who knew?

(Incidentally, I don't know that she's actually paid Morgan a compliment this entire time. She's mostly just pushy and bossy with him. And she makes fun of his fear of water.)

Morgan and Tammy go back to their room, talk more about how amazing and special and energetic and sweet and perfect Skye is, and fall asleep.

I am 18% of the way through this book. We have so much Skye left. UGGGGGH.

(Chapter 8.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Depression: When Everything Bad Happens Because You Suck

Sometimes when I'm depressed, everything becomes negatively self-centered.

I'm occasionally not very good at dealing with failure anyway, but when I'm depressed, every single thing I fail to do or do incorrectly becomes a generalized internal statement about how rotten I am.

"I don't know the answer to that question" turns into "I'm so stupid."

"I phrased that wrong" turns into "I never do anything right."

Even things that are entirely outside my control, like my level of arthritis pain, reflect back on me and who I am. "My arthritis is really bad today" ends up turning into "I'm useless and can't do anything."

When I'm depressed, if someone disagrees with me, I may just burst into tears and freak them out, because a part of me hears "Actually, I like this movie better" as "You're a stupid idiot for having that opinion."

That's hard to combat. Either I have to make every single decision and perform every task perfectly every time so I receive nothing but praise (which, HA, is never going to happen, because nobody can do that) or I have to find a way of combating the bad thoughts.

Remembering past praise is one way I try to do this. I don't remember if I've shared this before on this blog, but I have a big ol' Word document on my computer where I have written down pretty much every positive, encouraging thing someone has said about me in the past 5-6 years. I read through that document on a pretty frequent basis. It really helps to see page after page of affirmation, of encouragement, of compliments, because while I may not believe any of them individually at the time, several pages of positivity can help to at least balance out, if not entirely counteract, the negativity in my head.

And sometimes I'll just come right out and ask for people to combat that. Every couple months it's not surprising at all to see a Facebook status from me saying, "Having a weird day. I could really use some positive words of affirmation and encouragement. Thanks."

But sometimes I just have wait it out and continue to tell myself, "That's not true. You're not stupid. You're not worthless. That's just the depression talking. You will feel better eventually. Just get through it."

And, eventually, I do.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Friendliness vs. Privacy

For those of you who follow my blog series where I'm snarkily reading through what may be the worst Christian book of all time, you saw my frustration when in this last chapter, a little girl was raved about for being exceedingly polite to people based solely on these two qualities: 1) she opened doors for people, and 2) she greeted everyone she saw and talked to them and was generally very friendly.

It irked me specifically because it ties into the big introverson/extroversion divide in the U.S., and I thought I'd share a few thoughts on it.

I read an interesting observation about introverts once. (I don't remember now where it was that I read this and my Google-fu has failed me, so if you recognize it, please let me know!) It talked about the way that "friendliness" is viewed by extroverts, and therefore by most of the U.S., as the cardinal virtue, and, more specifically, the kindest thing you can do for somebody. The assumption is that if you are friendly, you are kind, because someone being friendly to you is the ultimate act of compassion and love. The piece I read contrasted it to more reserved societies, where the assumption is flipped: the kindest thing someone can do for you is grant you your privacy and not intrude.

This, I think, is one of the key reasons why introverts and extroverts sometimes stereotype each other. It's why introverts may think of extroverts as obnoxious, and extroverts may think of introverts as stuck-up and unlikable. It's because of these two completely different value sets.

In many cases, friendliness may not be the kindest thing for someone. I remember days in college when I dreaded leaving my dorm room to get food because I worried someone would want to chat, and I just couldn't deal with it that day. So I'd put on headphones, stare down at the ground, and pray nobody ignored the "please don't talk to me right now" signs by tapping me on the shoulder and forcing themselves into my space. While they may have seen it as a kindness, it was all I could do to keep a smile on my face and respond politely to their questions.

They may have meant to help me, but they hurt me. Those people who did this consistently, over and over again, even when I specifically, clearly requested time alone, lost my trust and my affection. Their insistence that friendliness would always pleasant for me was not only misguided, but actually, in some cases, damaged what could have been a good friendship.

On the flip side, privacy is not always the kindest thing for someone either. I know there have been times where I have made friends feel neglected because I thought leaving them alone would be the kindest thing. I know there have been times where somebody sitting alone in the cafeteria probably wanted someone to sit with them, and I instead left them to themselves and sat by myself.

So here's the question: How can you tell the difference?

How can I tell when I need to be friendly and how can extroverts tell when they need to give me privacy?

Well, for one thing, you can just ask. "Do you want some space?" and "Do you want to talk?" are both completely valid, non-imposing questions. The key here is that whatever they answer, you accept that. You leave them alone politely if they say they'd rather be by themselves, and you sit and spend time with them if they say they'd love to talk.

Sometimes you have to read a little body language. I did everything I could to convey the idea that I didn't want to talk to anyone. Not making eye contact, walking quickly past people, headphones, a book (I'm always astonished by how many people think it's totally OK to interrupt someone reading a book with headphones on just to chat with them - they're clearly occupied). When I'm more in the mood to chat, I'll make eye contact with people, smile, watch the people around me, and even if I may check my phone every now and then, I won't be involved in anything really focus-consuming.

Sometimes you'll just guess, and sometimes you'll be wrong. In that case, as soon as you find out you're wrong (they write a Facebook status about being alone, they stiffen up as you hug them, they give you short answers and go back to their book, they text you and say "I feel like I never see you anymore"), you can go back and do what you now know is the right answer. Offer to spend some time together and talk about stuff. Back off, tell them you hope they have a good day, and leave them alone.

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" works as a general principle, but there are so many different character traits and personality types in the world, assuming your favorite thing is everyone's favorite thing is going to lead to some major issues. Instead, just as you want people to take your preferences and your personality into account when determining how to treat you, take other people's preferences into account when determining how to treat them.

As a final thought, please don't make the same mistake that book author made in Friday's blog. Those who are friendly are not better people than those who grant people their space. Gregariousness is not more instantly worthy of a reward than reservedness. Friendliness doesn't make someone a good person any more than blondness, tallness, or geekiness does.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 6

Recap: Doctor Morgan Hamilton met up with a 9-year-old Mary Sue named Skye Leontiou, whose parents, in a brilliant display of good parenting, have decided to hand her off to spend time with Morgan (a stranger to them) all week. Right now, Morgan and Tammy and Skye are on their way to... see a show, I think.
In the brief time they knew her, Morgan and Tammy were amazed at the politeness, to say nothing of the energy, of the young child.

This child is not polite. She is bold and confident, sure, but she's not polite. She commands people all over the place, from demanding they move out of the way to demanding a couple sit apart from each other so she can sit in between them both. I mean, yes, she's not running up and down the aisles of the ship screaming about going to Jamaica like those obnoxious Disney World brats in the second chapter, but she's hardly a polite child. She's a pretty pushy one. I mean, I'll grant you that plenty of kids are pushy, but it's the non-pushy ones that get called "polite." Because they're the ones that might be.

The politeness they refer to here is 1) opening doors for the elderly, and 2) being friendly to everyone. (Which makes me want to launch into a whole other introversion/extroversion rant about how friendliness does not equal politeness and in some cases actually equals rudeness, but that's a story for another day. Maybe I'll tackle that in Monday's blog post.)

Skye knows pretty much everyone on the boat, which astounds Morgan and Tammy. And me too, a bit. This is only the first day of their cruise, and she's spent like half of it with the Hamiltons. She must have met everyone else while Morgan was meeting Gym Kim.

Skye falls asleep as soon as the show's main act begins, and Morgan and Tammy quasi-creepily watch her in her sleep.
When the show was over, everybody exited the theater— except Morgan, Tammy, and the dozing girl. Neither adult said a word, watching the sleeping angel they’d only known for half a day.
I don't know what kind of seating this theater is, but I'm really amused by the idea of them being in an aisle seat but being unwilling to wake Skye up, so everyone in their aisle has to go out the other side and keeps giving them death glares.

Eventually, they pick her up and carry her back to her room.
When he reached Skye’s suite, he knocked quietly on the door. Her father opened the door, a broad smile covering his face.
Challenge for you all: Open every door this week with a broad smile covering your face. This is even more fun if you are in, say, a cruise ship cabin and have no way of seeing who is outside and knowing whether you want to see them or not but you still want to make sure they know right away that you are friendly (and therefore polite).
“Your daughter is an exceptional young lady.”
The doctor drew a loud breath. “You don’t know just how special she is.”
"Drew a loud breath"? So... he inhaled really loudly? Like a gasp? Why is he gasping at this? Why is he choosing to gasp loudly with his sleeping child in his arms?

I complained about this to Jacob, who suggested he sighed super loudly, but that doesn't make any sense either, and generally drawing a breath implies inhaling, not exhaling. Jacob's final comment was, "Well, I don't think he meant what he said," to which I responded, "I KNOW HE DIDN'T MEAN WHAT HE SAID, BECAUSE WHAT HE SAID DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!"

Another friend helpfully asked if maybe they were playing abstract Pictionary. That makes... just about as much sense as what I think actually happened.

Doctor Layland Leontiou thanks Morgan for randomly babysitting Skye for the next several days.
“By the way, kissing a dolphin is something Skye has wanted to do for years. I don’t understand why, but she does. I wish I could take her, but Tuesday’s meeting is too important.” He emphasized the words “too important.”
This chapter is just full of characters saying mediocre things in stupid ways. Once again, I challenge you guys to say it like this without it sounding pretty stupid: "Tuesday's meeting is TOO IMPORTANT."

Morgan raves about Skye's "servant's heart" (another phrase I've never heard outside of churchy people that makes me uncertain how much experience Morgan and Tammy actually have with religion), by which he means, once again, that she opens doors and says hello to everyone she meets. These are literally the only two things Skye has done that makes her a "servant." I think it's a little early to be raving about this.

Doctor Layland Leontiou gets all uncomfortable and asks if Skye has witnessed to Morgan yet.
Morgan wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “Um, no. But she does talk about God quite a bit. And she seems to pray a lot.”
Well, she's prayed once, anyway, but that prayer stunned an entire table into silence, so maybe it counts as two prayers.

We finally find out why Skye is so religious while her parents aren't: They "left her at a missionary's house for a short time" three years ago. Given how lax her parents are about supervising who she's being left with, all I can imagine is that they were out somewhere, wanted to go to a club, dropped their six-year-old off at a random person's house, went partying, then came back and picked her up.

Ever since then, Skye's been trying to save everyone. Morgan asks if it's worked.
The doctor took a step closer. “My wife has no religious affiliation. In fact, you may consider her agnostic. You probably noticed that my wife is much younger than me— fifteen years to be exact. I met her at a medical convention in Sweden where I was a guest speaker.”
Uh, that's nice. Are younger people who go to Swedish medical conventions more likely to be agnostic?
Morgan cast a look in the direction of Skye’s room. There were no sounds. He was glad for a few minutes alone with the physician.

Why does he want to be alone with Doctor Layland Leontiou?

Is he going to kiss him?

Is he going to ask him to tell him all of Skye's and Malinda's secrets?

Doctor Layland Leontiou explains he technically belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church but doesn't practice because "Business and religion aren't a good mix," which I would have thought just meant he shouldn't... well, mix them, but apparently it means the two can't both be in your life in separate areas.

Morgan remembers being a deacon and a Sunday school teacher (finally answering the question of exactly how religious he used to be) and tells Doctor Layland Leontiou vaguely that, "Loving God is the answer." Doctor L. L. tells him he doesn't really have time to figure out God stuff. Morgan starts arguing that he should get saved, and it's all very generic and not really worth quoting, until Doctor L. L. finally politely shepherds him out of his room and says goodbye.
Leontiou touched Morgan’s shoulder. “One more thing, Sir, please make sure Skye keeps her sunscreen on and drinks plenty of water.”
“I’ll take care of her as if she were mine. Trust me, she’s in good hands.”
“I know she is, otherwise, I wouldn’t let her go.”
And, at the very end of the chapter, Doctor L. L. tries desperately to convince the audience that he is not a terrible father, despite the fact that he makes fake plans to his daughter and eagerly passes her off to anyone who's willing to take care of her instead. For days.

(Chapter 7.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Top 5, Bottom 5: Musicals

It's hard to believe I haven't already done one of these for my favorite musical movies, but it appears I haven't. So here's the list, out of 214 movie musicals and 1956 total movies I've ranked on Flickchart.

Top 5:
1. Moulin Rouge! (2001, #3). I absolutely love what this movie does visually during the musical numbers. It takes the primary emotion of the music, gives it visual representation, and amps it up to like 10,000. Highlights: "Your Song" and "El Tango de Roxanne."
2. Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008, #5). The movie that made me fall in love with both Joss Whedon and Neil Patrick Harris. These songs are not only musically interesting, they're very lyrically complex. The musical commentary is nearly as good as the original feature.
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991, #6). My favorite Disney flick and my favorite fairy tale. Great musical numbers in this one as well, from cheerful flashy numbers like "Be Our Guest" to the super dark ominous sound of "The Mob Song."
4. Singin' in the Rain (1952, #7). This is a near-perfect movie. In fact, aside from the lengthy and mostly-uninteresting "Broadway Melody" number at the end, I'd argue this pretty much is a perfect movie. So much happiness in all the songs and dances!
5. This Is Spinal Tap (1984, #10). The first one that probably most people don't think of as a musical. It's a spectacularly funny movie with lots of subtle humor that keeps creeping up on me. It might be a little high on my list these days, but I still really enjoy it.

Bottom 5:
1. The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, #1951). Oh, man, this is a painful one. Let's not even think about this one again.
2. 101 Dalmatians II: Patch's London Adventure (2003, #1919). I don't even remember there being songs in this one, so clearly they weren't terribly interesting or important.
3. Tarzan II (2005, #1915). Or in this one. I don't remember this movie at all, just that I thought it was extremely stupid.
4. Frosty Returns (1992, #1907). Oh, wait, I think this one did have like one song. I really like the original Frosty the Snowman cartoon, but this one is dumb and awful and ridiculous.
5. Oklahoma! (1955, #1890). I figured this one would show up. It's easily my least favorite stage musical of all time. I hate everything about it - the annoying but forever catchy songs, the obnoxious characters, and the dialogue and plot development that makes no sense from beginning to end. Ugh.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Music Videos That Make Me Feel Better

Sometimes I just have a really bad day. Depression starts to rear its ugly head again, or a series of bad circumstances and frustrations leaves me feeling helpless and angry, or I'm worried about something and can't focus on anything else.

Whatever the reason the day is bad, I find music is one of the most helpful tools for me. If I can really engross myself in something musical, I can find release for a little while and come back a little bit more mentally prepared to deal with the emotions.

Depending on how bad a day I'm having, though, sometimes I can't just put on an iTunes playlist and calm myself. I need to, in a way, overwhelm my senses. I need to have something to listen to and look at. I've discovered in the last year that watching video + listening to music can be a lot more powerful than just music when it comes to fighting off horribleness.

With that in mind, I have begun compiling a playlist of "Music to Heal My Soul" on YouTube. I am filling it with music videos and clips and performances that fill me up in one way or another.

Sometimes it fills me up with joy because I can't help but smile as I watch it:

Sometimes it fills me with cathartic sadness by allowing me to cry for somebody else:

Sometimes it's a beautifully performed song that keeps me spellbound from beginning to end:

Sometimes it's a classy, elegant dance number:

And there are a few things in there that I don't exactly know why I love them so much, they just make me feel better:

I only have a couple dozen videos in the list right now, but I'm going through some of my favorite musical performances from musical movies, concerts, actual music videos (though I don't know that many of those will be in there... maybe some OK Go, though)... pretty much anything. The goal is to have a nice big collection of videos I can go to on days when I just need whatever emotions are in me to replaced by... something else. And these clips are guaranteed to do that.

If you want to check out my playlist as I add to it, it is here.

If you were making a playlist like this for yourself, what would you include?

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Quest for Skye: Chapter 5

Recap: Our protagonists, Doctor Morgan Hamilton and Doctor Layland Leontiou, have met. They have met because of Doctor Layland Leontiou's obnoxiously precocious and oh-so-adorable-and-undoubtedly-life-changing daughter Skye. Doctor Morgan Hamilton and Tammy are going to have dinner with Doctor Layland Leontiou, Malinda, and Skye. I just can't wait to have this child around for another chapter.

This chapter opens with:
The lowering sun and the right amount of clouds hinted a spectacular sunset.
But it's just a hint. No actual spectacular sunset for you guys! Just know that the sun is lowering, and there are the right amount of clouds (everybody should comment with what they think that number might be), and those are all the hints you get.

Doctor Morgan Hamilton meets the maitre d', whose name is "Dimitrrri." With three Rs. Because all the boys in his family were named after his father, Dimitri, each kid with an extra R. Doctor Morgan Hamilton talks to Dimitrrri for awhile about absolutely nothing relevant to anything, then Skye shows up, demands the Hamiltons come sit with her family, drags them over to their table and sits in between them while the Leontious smile pleasantly at how cute and bold and confident and witty their daughter is.

This is all reminiscent of those awful children running around the plane screaming in the second chapter. Rothdiener thinks obnoxious children are adorable children. Fun fact: they're not. Also, "Leontious" should probably be pronounced "Leon-shuss."

There's another couple at their table:
Dr. Leontiou continued with the introductions. “You’ve probably heard of Doctor Samuel Roberts, and his wife, Doctor Elizabeth Roberts.”

Albeit a lady doctor who is, of course, married to a man doctor. But, hey, we're taking steps. At least he's willing to give a female doctor a title at all.

There's also a Dr. Laurence Whitman here - one of the few times when Rothdiener says "Dr." instead of "Doctor." Most of the time, it is spelled all the way out.

Tammy is flabbergasted by the presence of all these people.
“I heard there was a medical convention here, but I never realized to what magnitude. I mean, the four of you have rewritten the medical journals on many childhood diseases.”
Which re-asks the question HOW DID THEY NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

Their job requires a fair amount of research. They're working to cure childhood diseases. They should know what's going on in the field. Including major medical conventions full of people they idolize that happen to be on the same ridiculously long cruise they're on.

They are the worst researchers ever. Though I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, since their only accomplishment that we know of is an article persuading people they should care about rare childhood diseases. That probably didn't require all that much research.
Mrs. Whitman shook Tammy’s hand, and then Morgan’s. “I’m the nobody in the group. I’ve never written a book, and I’ve never discovered a cure for anything. I’m just an ordinary housewife.”
Tammy warmly responded, "It's OK, I've done all that my husband has done and more, but I don't get to be called a doctor."

"Yeah," Malinda said, "we're all pretty much in the same boat. Let's go do some dishes or something and let the men discuss things."

Dr. Whitman reassures Mrs. Whitman that she is TOO important because she is a mother, and this gets into a lecture on how important motherhood is. They ask Doctor Morgan Hamilton whether he thinks motherhood is important. He hems and haws and finally says it is important "if and when you have the opportunity to become a mother." Then this happens.
Then without thinking, Dr. Whitman blurted, “I take it you don’t have any children yet. Being in your thirties, I’m sure you know it gets more dangerous to have children the older you get.”
What the heck??

Is Dr. Whitman reprimanding them for not having kids yet?

That came out of nowhere. Way to be sensitive.

Mrs. Whitman apologizes for her husband, and Doctor Morgan Hamilton says, it's OK, he's been asked that question a lot before. Sigh. Come on, Rothdiener. Think. What question? Whether they have kids? Whether they know that it gets dangerous to have children when you're older? Whether motherhood is important? (That last one was the only question they've actually been asked in the last few minutes.) He shares with the group that they can't have kids.

There's awkward silence and then an abrupt transition into the meal. They begin to eat, and Skye immediately reprimands her father for not praying before they eat. Skye prays for the meal, and she prays for a "special blessing" for Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton, which makes Tammy cry.
The others at the table stared at each other in silence— perhaps because of the content of the prayer, perhaps because they prayed at all.
Tammy and Morgan were amazed at the love this little girl showed others. 
They’d rarely seen such compassion in an adult, even less in a child.
OK, let's run through this, shall we?

The content of the prayer was thanking God for food, praying for the hungry, praying for orphans, and praying for Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton.

Yes, it was a loving prayer that mentioned a lot of people beside just herself. That was nice.

However, it's far from The Most Compassionate Thing of All Time. Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton claim to have once been religious, or Christian, or something. Have they seriously never run across somebody who likes to pray for those less fortunate? Or, heck, give something to those less fortunate?

This prayer is pretty generic as far as compassion goes. I mean, yes, it's appreciated, yes, it's sweet, but it's not some superhuman show of compassion.

I think we can only assume that Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton have been socializing entirely with horrible people. It's not unlikely, given that in the midst of a sensitive situation with their current crowd, one colleague reprimanded them for not having children earlier, while another abruptly changed the subject and decided they should eat. Not exactly a group of compassionate supporters.

Poor Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton. And the rest of the crew. Stunned into silence because a little girl did something nice. That says less about the little girl and more about the sad, sad fact that nobody else in their entire existence has apparently ever bothered to do something nice for them.
“Dr. Hamilton.” Layland looked directly at Morgan’s wife.
“Please, call me Tammy.”
"I don't deserve to be called a doctor. The author doesn't think so, anyway."

Doctor Layland Leontiou invites Tammy to speak at the conference on Tuesday. Because I guess they didn't book enough speakers of their own. Skye is devastated that her father wants to go to the conference on Tuesday, because apparently he promised her they were going to "kiss the dolphins" in Jamaica on Tuesday, and they can't do that any other day. (In other news, apparently the Panama Canal cruise is taking 14 days because they're randomly going to Jamaica as well. That wasn't in the brochure...)

Doctor Layland Leontiou responds to these objections:
“I realize that, but Tuesday is the most important day of the conference. I can’t get away and the schedule can’t be changed. You know that.”
THEN WHY THE HECK DID HE MAKE THAT PROMISE? Why did he actively promise his daughter he would spend the day with her on what he knew was the most important day of the conference? And, for that matter, this whole "the schedule can't be changed" thing is a lie. Obviously the schedule can be changed, because Tammy's randomly speaking at this thing now.

I think Doctor Layland Leontiou just doesn't want to play with dolphins with his daughter, so he deliberately scheduled it for a day he couldn't make it.

Tammy, on the other hand, suddenly volunteers Doctor Morgan Hamilton to take Skye to play with dolphins. Malinda warns him that Skye talks way too much and suggests that he spend all day with Skye tomorrow to decide whether or not he actually wants to spend time with her again the day after that. (Um. Sure. That makes sense.)

At the end of the meal, Doctor Layland Leontiou has a book signing, and so he can't take Skye to the cruise theater, and she doesn't want to join the group of kids who are going. Doctor Morgan and Tammy Hamilton offer to take her instead. Because apparently they won't be spending enough time with her over the next two days.

Next chapter: more Skye! And more! And more! Probably! Fortunately, I got the idea from the synopsis that she gets sick and dies, so maybe that will happen sooner rather than later. Maybe she gets a rare dolphin kissing disease.

(Chapter 6.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Top 6 TV Shows of All Time

For not having lived in a house with TV reception since I was nine, I sure have managed to watch a lot of random TV shows. Thanks to Hulu and Netflix and other websites offering TV series viewing, I've found quite a few shows that I've just fallen in love with. This is my list of my favorite 6 TV shows that have ever, ever existed, and why I love them so much.

6. Daria

While Daria isn't always as brilliant a show as the others - sometimes the comedy doesn't work and the animation is awkward - when it works, it works perfectly. Above all, it really fleshed out an amazing female character, with a unique and interesting personality that made me feel, for the first time, that I was being represented on TV.

I've already written at length about why I love Daria the character in my article about TV girls who are most like me, and I mostly love the show because I love the character, so I'm not going to go into further detail about it, but instead move on to #5.

Favorite episode: "Write Where It Hurts."

5. Sherlock

I have yet to show anyone the pilot episode and have them be anything less than psyched to watch the next one. Not all the episodes are great - the second in each season lags a little - but they're essentially full-length movies about, IMHO, the most interesting incarnation of Sherlock Holmes ever. Benedict Cumberbatch brings this modern version of the character to life, and he is fascinating every single second he is on screen. Martin Freeman is fantastic as John Watson - an extremely likable everyman who is quite intelligent in his own right but far overshadowed by Sherlock's genius.

I love watching the way they update the plots for modern audiences, but most of all, I love that this show made such great use of Benedict Cumberbatch, and that it got him noticed. He completely deserves it. He makes this show work.

Favorite episode: "A Study in Pink."

4. The IT Crowd

I do really enjoy my British comedies. I'm actually a little surprised this is the only one on the list. This is one of those shows where every episode gets funnier the more you watch it. The cast is absolutely incredible - I took a poll once asking me who was the funniest character. I couldn't pick between any of them, so I gave up on the poll. While Roy, Moss, and Jen are the backbone of the story as our protagonists, the supporting characters of Richmond, Denholm, and, later, Douglas, round out the truly hilarious cast.

There are only 24 episodes of this show total (4 seasons, 6 episodes each) and nearly every one is really, really, hilariously funny. There are really only one or two that don't make me go, "OH, YAY, THAT ONE" when I realize which episode it is. It's a much, much better nerdy show than Big Bang Theory - smarter, funnier, and kinder to the nerds among us.

Favorite episode: "The Work Outing." Though "Italian for Beginners" is a very, very, very close second.

3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

This is the longest-running show on my list. Generally shows that last beyond 3 or 4 seasons start going really downhill in terms of quality, or at the very least, are inconsistent across the board. While Buffy certainly has its ups and its downs as it gets into the later seasons, what makes it triumph over all the others is Joss Whedon's incredible character development.

All throughout the Buffy series, the characters' core stays the same. Yes, they grow. Yes, they change. But each change makes sense with who they are at that moment. When I go back and rewatch earlier seasons, I don't say, "Whoa, Willow was totally different at the beginning." I think, "Whoa, Willow grew a lot in the later seasons." As the characters encounter new situations, they react to it in a way their characters would, and it changes them in a way it would change their character. It's truly brilliant character consistency, difficult enough to get right in a movie, let alone a seven-season television show.

(And what other show could pull off a villain -> comic relief -> love interest -> volatile stalker -> redeemed hero arc so effortlessly? Seriously, that is my favorite character arc of all time. In any fictional universe.)

Favorite episode: "Once More With Feeling."

2. Arrested Development

It's hard to think of a show with higher rewatch value than Arrested Development. There are so many little foreshadowing jokes and throw-away lines that it's simply impossible to catch them all the first time around. The more you watch it, the funnier it gets. I still occasionally get a joke for the first time, and I've seen the series probably four or five times all the way through.

The cast is wonderful. Every single cast member here is at their best. Though they're all funny in other projects, I have never liked any of the cast members as well as I do here. The string of guest stars and cameos is also hilarious, with frequent subtle digs at their real-life personas. (There are several jokes my mom didn't get when we watched it because she kept forgetting Ron Howard was playing the narrator.)

The cynicism and lack of likable characters may not sit well with some people, but I still say it's one of the funniest shows ever. Hoping as I rewatch season four, it fits in as well with the rest of the series in its cleverness.

Favorite episode: "Mr. F."

1. Community

Oh, gosh. What is not to love about Community?

It was my third rewatching of the show that clinched it for me. This is my all-time favorite show. It is the most beautifully nerdy show out there, thanks to the genius of Dan Harmon, who was not afraid to say, "Hey, let's do a show where the entire premise centers around a mashup of Pulp Fiction and My Dinner With Andre."

Community's cast is amazing. Though my favorite characters are Troy and Abed, each character gets their chance to shine and be hilarious. From Shirley's self-righteous indignation to Pierce's continued attempts to be relevant to Britta's defiance of everything she deems oppressive, there are plenty of episodes that bring each character to the foreground. Some of these episodes even end up being oddly moving, despite the snarkiness and cynicism in the show. (Season four episode "Basic Human Anatomy" actually made me tear up a little bit.)

Beyond just a good cast, Community does something that other shows try and fail to do all the time: It makes perfect parodies. It captures the exact right feel of whatever it's tackling - everything from Ken Burns documentaries to Star Wars to Dungeons and Dragons to westerns to musicals to zombie flicks to video games to Law and Order... you get the idea. Generally I find parodies lazy and uninspired, but every time this show does one, it proves they don't have to be. Sometimes they even manage to squeeze several parodies into one - "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" spoofs several horror genres in a row and does them all exactly as they should be done.

There's so much to love in this show. I'd argue season three is the most perfectly crafted TV season of all time. Out of 22 episodes, I love all but one, and even that one has grown on me significantly as I rewatch it. I have one friend (and you know who you are) who saw a couple episodes, didn't like it, and refuses to watch any further... and while usually I can understand people disliking the things I love, in this case I'm thoroughly baffled, because I honestly can't think of a single reason to dislike this show. (Well, at least not until we get to season four, where Dan Harmon was no longer involved, so it didn't really hit its stride until halfway through.)

If you haven't started watching this yet, DO IT. Catch up so you'll be ready for season five this midseason.

Favorite episode: "Digital Estate Planning." (And I'm pretty sure that's my favorite episode of any TV series, ever. Seriously. Pretty much anything Community has done, I think it's superlative.)

What are your favorite TV shows? Have you seen all of mine? What do you think of them?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Movies I Saw in June/July

I didn't see a lot of movies in either June or July, due to wedding planning, wedding, and wedding recovery. (In the middle I went something like 3 1/2 weeks without seeing one at all.) So I'm combining both months for this blog entry, in order from best to worst. I didn't really see a lot of new ones I liked these last couple months. Hoping to find some better ones in the month ahead.

New Movies (18)

Quartet (2012) - A sweet, charming story of a group of retired musicians. Good directorial debut from Dustin Hoffman.

The Cat Returns (2002) - One of my favorite Studio Ghibli efforts, right below Totoro and Fireflies. Really a delightful movie.

Three Amigos (1986) - Not laugh-out-loud funny most of the time, but it is fun to watch the three main actors during their best years.

Struck By Lightning (2012) - Surprisingly poignant story for being written by someone younger than me. Not perfect, but I enjoyed it.

The Fourth Kind (2009) - I don't think I was supposed to have enjoyed this as much as I did. Ridiculous, but entertaining.

The Call (2013) - A really brilliant, solid thriller for 2/3 of the movie, then it threw all that away for a cliched, ridiculous ending. Frustrating, but I have to give it some props for how awesome it was most of the way through.

Lifeforce (1985) - Cheesy ridiculous sci-fi is awesome, but I certainly wouldn't ever watch this again.

Trading Places (1983) - Some truly funny moments are brought down by a true "WTF?!" ending.

Destry Rides Again (1939) - I felt like this never really went anywhere with the character, and the ending was surprisingly dark for what was apparently a comedy. Weird and disappointing.

Fun Size (2012) - Not nearly as awful as I expected it to be, but not nearly as good as it could have been.

Side Effects (2013) - What started off as a fascinating psychological drama took the path of sensationalism and ended up with a far more complicated and, IMHO, far less interesting plot.

The Good Doctor (2011) - Still not impressed by Orlando Bloom. Or this movie.

Turner & Hooch (1989) - I might have liked this if I liked dogs or movies about them. As it was... meh.

Warm Bodies (2013) - What is with all these 2013 movies that I LOVE at the beginning and hate at the end? This started off brilliantly snarky and self-aware and devolved into complete nonsense. It made so mad I actually started yelling out loud at my laptop.

The Birth of a Nation (1915) - It's so hard for me to care about dramatic movies without dialogue. This didn't cut it.

She's the Man (2006) - While I give it kudos for not making as many gender stereotype jokes as I anticipated, this is still a pretty terrible movie.

March of the Penguins (2005) - Um. I don't remember a thing about this movie. That is how uninterested I was in it. It had penguins in it, I think.

Identity Thief (2013) - This movie was so terrible, I couldn't even find a way to make fun of it. Whoever wrote this sure knows how to make talented and funny people awful.

Rewatches (8)

I may have missed cataloging a few of these, but this is all the ones I remember.

Fight Club (1999) - Still one of my very favorite movies. Probably in my top 20. Everything about it is perfect, from the visuals to the acting to the darkly hilarious writing to the soundtrack. I love watching it unfold.

The Court Jester (1956) - I can't watch this movie without smiling. It's one of my go-to feel-good movies (as I wrote about here). I will purchase it on DVD someday, but in the meantime, there's Amazon Prime Instant.

American Beauty (1999) - There is so much depth in this movie. Every time I watch it, a different character jumps to the foreground and I become engrossed in their story. This time around, it was Chris Cooper's character. This movie hits me on such a deep emotional level - it is incredible and tragic and beautiful.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) - This movie grows on me more every time I watch it. I find more and more to laugh at. Kevin Kline is my favorite part of the entire movie, playing a horrible human being who is also hilarious to watch.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006) - I hadn't seen this since it first came out, and I was pleased to see it held up seven years later. It's still full of extremely beautiful and touching moments, as well as being genuinely funny.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) - Such a really funny movie. Since I'm not a fan of detective movies or mysteries, the plot itself actually gets in the way a bit for me here, but it manages to keep the same entertaining tone most of the way throughout, so it works.

1776 (1972) - I am not a fan of historical fiction movies, but something about this one captures and holds my interest all the way through. The songs are great fun, the dialogue is clever, and watching the battle for American independence is fascinating.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) - I admit it, this is in no way a good movie. But it makes me smile anyway. Woody Allen's dialogue just always works for me, especially when he's writing banter... and this movie is pretty much just a silly excuse for him to write banter.

What have you guys seen recently? How do you feel about the movies I've seen? What are some good ones I should be watching this next month, to counteract all the terrible ones I saw?

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Quest For Skye: Chapter 4

Recap: Doctors Morgan and Tammy Hamilton are on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise (with a super important childhood disease medical convention on board) to recover from the news they can't have children. In the last chapter, Morgan toured the ship, mocked people who ate meals, and met a gym worker named Kim who reminded him not to give up on God. As we left Morgan, he was on his way to the "children's area," where I guess they lock the kids in?

Morgan heads upstairs, freaking out again about the fact that he ate a snack once.
Morgan took the stairs one flight up to the children’s area. Any steps I take will be to my advantage, he thought, with chocolate crème cake on his mind.
In the children's area, all the kids are jumping in a bouncy house room, and then this happens.
His mind drifted to what it would be like to have a child of his own, but his thoughts were disrupted by a voice behind him. “Hey dude, you’re blocking progress. Either go in or step aside, please.” She drew out the word “please” for emphasis.
Morgan looked down at a charming girl. Her blue eyes sparkled and blonde hair bounced as she talked.

Yup, I hate her already.

I was going to comment anyway on the bizarre usage of "progress" meaning "people going in and out of the room," but seeing it being used by a child is really awful. I have a feeling she's going to talk nothing at all like a human being, much less a child. I'd chalk it up to Rothdiener thinking it was cute, which is already a bad writing mistake, but, frankly, the man doesn't exactly have a knack for finding appropriate voices for his characters. (His previous book featured a girl who had spent her childhood in a Middle Eastern orphanage, like a year of her life in a religious U.S. home, and then the rest of her teenagerhood living on the streets selling out her body, lamenting to a friend, "I was still sexually pure in those days.") So he may not have even thought about the fact that children speak differently than adults. And that adults speak differently than whatever he writes.
He was stunned by the girl’s boldness.
This guy's a pediatrician. He works with kids. A lot. And he has never run into a kid so bold to ask an adult to move out of the way? I mean, I understand kids who are sick may be shyer because they're scared, but, still, seriously. A lot of kids are pretty straightforward. If you're in their way, they'll tell you. It's not a "stunning" personality trait.

The girl tells him her friends call her Skye with an E because when she was born her dad said her eyes looked like the sky. (Sigh.)

When he asks what he should call her, she asks if he's her friend.
Her confidence took him by surprise.

She's not being particularly confident in asking him if she's his friend. Frankly, I'm a little surprised she didn't just declare he is or isn't her friend. That seems much more likely. Only somebody who had never ever interacted with a child would say this.

Hey, it's occurred to me that we've found Skye. The quest for Skye is over. That means the book can be over too, right?

...But, sadly, there is more.

Morgan tells Skye that, yes, they're friends because they know each other's names. Skye says she's nine years old (I was wondering when we'd finally get an age mentioned). The book tries once again to make sure we know that THIS IS THE MOST SPESHUL OF ALL THE SPESHUL CHILD FLOWERS IN THE WORLD:
Morgan was astonished by the young girl’s large vocabulary and wittiness.
(That's in response to this apparently super-witty and super-vocabularied sentence: "Isn’t [this bracelet] nice? My father gave it to me. He said it gives me personality.")

Oh, and now we meet Skye's father. Turns out her father is...

Doctor Layland Leontiou!

..."Skye Leontiou"? Poor kid.

Morgan and Doctor L. L. talk for awhile.
“Did you teach her to be so outgoing?”
“Me? Oh, no. She came about it naturally. Everything she does is instinctive, and she’ll even tell you that. Wait till she tells you a story. She leaves nothing out.” 
I... I don't even know what to do with this.

It seems outgoing = instinctive = detail-oriented when telling stories?

Doctor L. L. says he has a superpower where he can "pick out a man's occupation and character after [he] first say[s] hello." So, um, that's fun. He senses Morgan is a caring person, so clearly his superpower is broken. Morgan didn't care about Skye. He was just amazed that a nine-year-old existed who told adults to get the heck out of her way and made witty remarks by repeating her father.

Oh, shoot. It turns out Doctor L. L. was just joking about the superpower and he really just figured out Morgan was the guy who talked to Malinda, since he had all of his books. I was really kind of hoping there'd be a sudden sci-fi twist here.

Skye makes them jump in the bouncy room with her and Doctor L. L. invites Morgan to dinner, although he tells them Tammy probably won't want to come.

Morgan heads back to the room, where Tammy is putting makeup on. Apparently Skye raced over to the Hamiltons' room, invited Tammy, and ran away before Morgan made it back. Tammy has been brainwashed by the Mary Sue, thinks she's the most beautifultalentedspecial child of all time, and has agreed to go to dinner.

The chapter ends with Tammy enthusing about the dinner:
“I can’t wait to meet Skye’s father and mother. Malinda is a medical genius.”

Poor women. They never get to be doctors in this book. Just wives of other doctors.

(Chapter 5.)