Thursday, December 17, 2015

Why Church Scares Me

(As is often the case, talking about church is a tough subject for me. This was an especially vulnerable blog for me to write but I don't get to blog often these days so if I felt strongly enough about something to write it, I figured I should post it too. Graciousness would be appreciated more than ever on this post. Thanks!)

A few weeks ago, I was part of a discussion online about church anxiety. In the course of the discussion, they genuinely asked those of us who had fear about going to church to share why that was. I responded that I didn't have fear of going to church anymore but shared what I remembered fearing in the past.

Well, turns out I was being overly optimistic and the reason I hadn't been fearing church was simply that I hadn't been going to church. Despite the fact that I felt like I was kind of supposed to attend church out here in California, all the fear and anxiety has come rushing back whenever it comes time to actually do it.

But at least if I'm going to be besieged by fear while attempting to attend church in my new home state, it'll give me an opportunity to continue to work through the question that had been asked of me: Why do I face so much fear at the thought of going to church?

The answer I gave at the time was certainly a piece of it, but I now realize it was just a small portion of it. I talked about being afraid to be myself in front of other Christians, particularly in connection to my struggles with depression and anxiety. While that's definitely part of it, I am now discovering a bigger piece of the puzzle:

I don't trust Christians to accept me as one of their own.

I consider myself a very strong Christian. I believe firmly in the teachings of Christ. I take the Bible very seriously. I affirm the essential tenets of the faith about salvation through Jesus alone. I attempt to surrender my everyday life to walking with God and not just pray or talk about him occasionally. I seek out God on my own outside of church and trust him to take care of me. I know my faith is strong, I know my desire to live in faith is sincere, and I know that the core of my identity is found in following God.

I doubt the evangelical Christians I know would claim I wasn't a Christian at all. But in the evangelical church, there are "strong Christians" and "not-strong Christians," and I seem to nearly always fall in the "not-strong" category.

I've been told my faith and walk were weak for all kinds of reasons, both by folks at my own church and folks at other churches. These reasons have included not wanting children, liking Rob Bell's writing, not voting Republican, listening to Eminem songs, not interpreting specific Bible passages literally, not going to church every week. And even when it's not spoken out loud, I know that sometimes it's being thought -- and I'm not just being paranoid, I know it's being thought because I was, in a sense, taught to think and feel that way when I was part of the "in" crowd, growing up in the church. I'm pretty sure if you had asked me in middle school or high school what I thought about people who did all those things I mentioned at the start of this paragraph, I'd say something like, "Well, maybe they're not walking with God at the moment. I'll pray for them." I'd never have meant it maliciously or judgmentally, but in my mind, the lines were clearly drawn, and those outside the line couldn't be let into the "solid Christian" inner circle until they gave in.

The moment when I realized how heavily this was weighing on me happened a few weeks ago, when after attending the same church two weeks in a row and going to one of their midweek home groups, I was contemplating skipping church one Sunday because I felt miserable and overpeopled and under no circumstances wanted to speak to anyone. I asked Jacob if he thought that would be OK, and he told me I could do whatever I wanted to do.

"But now that I've gone there twice and expressed interest, I feel like I'm obligated to go, and that not going will reflect badly on me," I said.

"It won't," he said.

"But that's how you can tell the good Christians from the backsliders," I said. I'd said it as a joke about church culture and didn't know it wasn't until I realized I was crying.

My Christian peers talked a lot as teenagers about making our faith our own, but as I grew up, I learned that meant doubting things that I'd been taught and studying through them and then sometimes coming to a different conclusion than I'd been taught. Never a conclusion that I thought was very far away from where I started, but apparently it was far enough away that I started feeling more and more distant from the evangelical church I grew up in. It's important to note that I never felt distant from the God I grew up with -- I always felt like he was walking with me on the journey and listening to me and guiding me and when I landed on something new, I never felt like he was looking down on me for not having the exact same doctrinal stance as my home church. I felt like even if I was wrong, he was like, "OK, well, you and I are still good, so keep walking with me and we'll get this figured out eventually and you'll be stronger for it in the end."

I trust God to have enough grace for me. Just not Christians, apparently.

At the home group I went to a few weeks ago, they asked me to share a little bit about myself and my faith, and I found myself uncertain which parts of my faith story I was supposed to share and which I wasn't. Would my time in NLDC count against me, where probably 75% of my ministry teammates spoke in tongues? What about my time in the Lutheran church we'd just come from in Indiana? Could I mention my fondness for the progressive church folks that don't like to be labeled much but would include writers like Rachel Held Evans and Samantha Field and Zack Hunt and (still) Rob Bell? Could I talk about the lessons I learned in each of these groups and how they stretched and challenged my faith to make it stronger in the end, or would I immediately be suspect because of my association with them? I found myself couching my phrases in careful language like "I learned a lot" which could, in a sense, protect me in case I had uttered one of those red flag words I found so easy to spot in my more active churchgoing days.

And this is why I am afraid of going to church. Because I know in so many churches, even ones that try not to do this, there is an unspoken mental checklist that I may not meet, and if I don't check off the boxes, I'm immediately in the "outer circle." And frankly, that's where I feel I kind of ended up at my home church growing up -- or I feel I would if I was honest about what my faith looks like these days. When so much emphasis is placed on having the right doctrine (as is the case with a lot of the more evangelical churches), it just takes one wrong move to end up on the "and, God, please help show her the truth" prayer list. And I don't want church to just be a place where people pray for me that I'll "get back on track with God" -- I want it to be a place where I can share the lessons I've learned and the thoughts I'm having and not be immediately corrected.

I'm sure some of this is unfair. I suspect the Christians who have read this far in the blog would jump in and say, "We would never think like this!" and they probably wouldn't. But I also know that when I was a regular churchgoer, I would have been the first to insist I didn't either -- and I did, it was just subtle enough that I didn't realize it until 10 years later after I'd moved away from where I was. I'm sure not everyone is as prone to judgment as I am (that tendency is still there, I'm just better at recognizing it and keep it in check). But the amount of times I have had my faith or my love for God criticized for something that I viewed as nonessential leads me to believe that I'm certainly not the only one.

I would like to find a way to get past this fear. Maybe reimmersion is the only way I'll get past it and I need to suck it up and keep trying to go to church even when it makes me nauseous with anxiety. Maybe I need to spend more dedicated non-church time with the Christian friends of mine who I do trust to be wonderfully gracious, and remember that if these people exist, others do as well. Maybe it's almost entirely depression/anxiety-related and will be something I deal with my whole life.

I genuinely don't have an answer for this. I don't mean to simply shift the blame onto others and say "It's your fault, you're all so vaguely generally judgmental and you should all change everything for me." Because I know that's a little bit what this blog sounds like but it shouldn't because I know that's a terrible answer. I'm still just very, very slowly sorting through this, and I've just unlocked a tiny piece of the puzzle, and I haven't really gotten to the part where I figure out how to respond. But for anyone who was wondering, anyone who was thinking, "Why in the world would someone be afraid of church?" ... well, here is one reason.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

My Two Normals

It occurred to me the other day that I have two "normal" modes in my life: pain and pain-free. Sometimes I switch between them so easily that I almost forget how different it was in the other.

Due to complicated health issues, I've been left without my regular arthritis meds for several weeks now, and it's begun to take its toll on me. I'm waiting for my doctor to get back to me authorizing a transition medication while I wait for financial assistance on my regular stuff to be finalized, but the past couple days I've become increasingly aware that I have subtly shifted gears in my life into "pain normal."

When I'm in pain-free normal, I can, for the most part, pretty much do what I want, go where I want, eat what I want, wear what I want. My daily activities are full of choices where I make my decisions based on what I want.

Pain normal, however, is different. Pain normal is all about survival, and that gets complicated.

This means I suddenly start thinking about the activities I may not be able to do on my own to get ready in the morning, and I worry about what I will do if I have to leave before Jacob gets home on a day when I cannot brush my own hair.

It means I find myself almost automatically adjusting to "arthritis driving," where I hold the wheel lightly with one hand and stick the other through the hole in the steering wheel to help drive with my forearm. And then I switch hands so that neither hand has to grip onto anything for long.

It means I am consciously, constantly aware of all the time I spend on my feet, and much of that time is spent eyeing the nearest chair and calculating when I can sit again, because the more I sit now, the more likely it is that I'll be able to walk tomorrow. At the same time, I'm keeping an eye on the people around me who may start seeing me as lazy if I sit too often.

It means I start planning ahead what food I buy to eat for solo meals. I can't choose anything that goes in the oven, because baking sheets are tough to hold. I can't choose anything I have to cut with a fork and knife. I can't choose anything that I have to exert force to open.

It means I have to get very tough with Puppy again and start enforcing commands like, "Move" and "Get off," because if she climbs on me or sits on an arthritic limb, I may not even be able to remove someone as tiny as her.

It means I don't reach out for my husband's hand while we're walking together unless I've calculated we're at the just-right angle to each other, otherwise it inadvertently gets pulled it in a painful direction.

It means I put away the pants with two sets of buttons and allow myself extra time to get dressed into the ones with even one button.

It means every time I'm in conversation with anyone, at least a quarter of my mind is preoccupied with the pain itself and trying to find little ways I could shift or move that might lessen the pain in that moment. Maybe if I took my weight off my right foot. Maybe if I leaned on my other arm. Maybe if I sat up straighter or adjusted my shirt or lightly massaged my wrist.

There are so many extra steps here that have simply become part of my new normal. It's exhausting, but it wasn't until almost three days into it that I realized why I was exhausted. It was because all my mental energy was going into making these extra decisions, even before the pain has gotten quite that bad yet. But my mind has prepared for pain, and so it is bracing itself and changing its patterns and changing its routine.

Hopefully I'll get back on the necessary medication and return to pain-free normal soon, and all this will fade into the background again. But in the meantime this is the normal I'm living in. Living with chronic pain is far from fun, and I'm one of the lucky ones in that I was accurately diagnosed and have found effective treatment that I will soon be able to afford. Not everyone gets to be in my boat. Even when I've returned to pain-free normal, I want to make sure I remember what life was like in pain normal, so that any time I see someone in a similar situation, I can have a deeper empathy and compassion than before.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Answering More Extrovert Questions!

Back in May, I wrote a blog with my own answers to some questions I'd seen extroverts asking about of introverts. Recently I came across another whole post full of questions from an extrovert trying to figure out how we goofy introverts worked. So I figured I'd answer a few of their questions here, just like I've done before. As always, this is just from my own personal standpoint and generalizing a bit about some of the introverts I've spoken with, but here's my take on it. I'd always welcome other introverts' experiences and stories!

Q: Generally, do you want to be encouraged to come out / stay out / etc? I have some introverted friends and they're always going home super early, and I can never tell if I should be trying to get them to stay out. Or trying to get them to come dance with us, etc.

A: Awesome question. Remember that "encouraged" is not the same as "pushed." I like to be invited to spend time with our friends -- it's always good to know that you'll be missed if you're not somewhere -- but if I say no, I don't want any more pushing than, "Are you sure? We'd love to have you" or, "Aw, I'll miss you!" If I say no again, respect that "No," because then it's not encouraging, it's implying that I don't know what I want, which is often just not true.

Q: What could I do to make a party more fun for you? Let's say I'm the host. Have video games and a pet? A 'quiet room'? Should I start a conversation with someone who's by themselves, or is that putting them on the spot?

A: Having activities around for me to participate in is always great. I'm terrible with small talk and mingling and don't enjoy it at all, so having a game or a movie that I can plop myself in front of and interact with people during makes it much more likely that I'll enjoy myself.

But, yes, absolutely start a conversation with someone who's by themselves! As long as it's just you talking to them, it shouldn't be putting them on the spot, although if they freeze up for some reason you might want to make it a quick one. Once I get going in a conversation I'm good, but getting started can be a real pain.

Obviously if you're a host you can't just spend the whole night just talking to me, but extroverts sometimes excel at being "transitioners." Those are the people who can start up a conversation with someone, say, "Oh, man, you should talk to so-and-so over there, they love this kind of stuff," and then call so-and-so over, make introductions, and get the conversation rolling before taking off to do something else. That's the kind of thing I find especially unpleasant, forcing myself into other people's conversations and finding something to discuss, so if you have an opportunity to facilitate it for us as an extrovert, that takes a lot of pressure off us and can make for a much easier time.

Q: How can you tell if an introvert doesn't like you? If they do?

A: Well, some introverts will be pretty straightforward about it. Shyness is not intrinsic to introversion. But for people like me who are nonconfrontational, the #1 sign that an introvert likes you and is comfort around you is that they make space for you in their life. I go out of my way to spend time with those who do not drain me (typically those I like). I am polite to those I don't like but don't spend any more energy on them than is necessary, because I want to conserve my energy for those who are important to me.

Q: Is something like dancing / clubbing or going to see a show more appealing to you, since there's no talking?

A: That will for sure vary based on an individual's hobbies and interests. I'd be all over going to see a show but I'd give clubbing a hard pass. But, yeah, finding an activity to do together may be more fun for introverts since they can focus their attention on that activity and socialize along the way in a more natural manner.

Q: What part of interaction is tiring, exactly? Thinking of stuff to say? Wondering whether it's the right thing to say? Or what?

A: That can be a thing, but that's more social anxiety specific than anything else, and that's its own thing, though obviously introverts can have social anxiety. For me, it's having to keep up the energy of fake-enjoying the socializing. I frequently don't enjoy socializing until I get into a conversation that's interesting to me, but it's not really acceptable for me to be openly bored with it, so I have to put an unusual amount of energy into faking enthusiasm. And faking enthusiasm is VERY exhausting.

Less tiring social groups for me are ones where I feel comfortable with halfhearted interactions or tuning out entirely when I'm bored, knowing that the people I'm with aren't going to judge me if I check my phone while they talk sports with someone who cares.

Q: When there's something going on that you don't want to go to, what is unappealing about it? Just that you're tired and don't want to be even more tired, or something else?

A: Well, some of it is what I said up above, the effort of faking enthusiasm takes a lot out of me. But frankly, it's usually just that I'd rather do something else. I mean, if you go to a restaurant and you order the food you want, nobody asks you to explain what was unappealing about the other options. You simply chose the one you wanted. And that's what it's like for me most of the time. I love being alone. It's peaceful, I don't have to explain myself, I can do whatever I want without running it by the group. Sometimes it's not that going out is unappealing, it's just... not staying in, which is more fun.

Q: Is hanging out with a few good friends still draining, just less so, or is it a completely different dynamic?

A: Still draining but less so. Mostly because there's less feigned enthusiasm, both because they're comfortable with me zoning out AND because we already have things in common and are more likely to cycle around to things I can be genuinely enthusiastic about. I still need to refresh myself, but hanging out with a small group of close friends is MUCH less draining than a large gathering of mingling with acquaintances.

Q: "You're so quiet" / "How can I get you out of your shell" - these are annoying, right? Why?

A: Yes. Yes, they are. For a couple reasons. For one thing, it's not like we're not aware that we're quiet. Calling attention to it does nothing but make us needlessly self-conscious. I tend to get grumpy when called out on my quietness, because the alternative would be for me to be saying things I thought were boring or useless. If I have something to say, I'll say it.

It also carries a connotation of, "You're not contributing to the group," which is frustrating because, like I said, if I have something to say I'll say it. Contributing meaningless conversation is way worse to me than silence.

Oh, and gosh, "get you out of your shell." Generally the offered solution to that is making me do something that would make me incredibly uncomfortable, because I guess after I do that I'm supposed to be more comfortable with someone who I know at any moment might push me into a situation I don't want to be in? There's really only one good way to "get me out of my shell." Be patient, be consistent, and be friendly, but accept that I make friends slowly and I acclimate to groups slowly, and that's OK. Telling me to get out of my shell is the equivalent of saying, "YOU'RE NOT BEING MY FRIEND FAST ENOUGH," and almost nothing will shut me down faster.

All right, I'm done with my mini rant. On to the next question!

Q: You suggest that introverts generally would prefer silence and their own thoughts to having to discuss something they're not interested in. Do you mean that thing where somebody really really likes video games and won't shut up about video games and you're just sitting there nodding (everybody hates that) or something else? Because I think that very few people will hit upon something they both are passionate about on the first try, and if you give up trying, you'll never find it, right?

A: This is a good point. It's not that I'm opposed to trying. It's that I'm opposed to sticking around with a topic we're not interested in for a socially acceptable length of time. If it was my choice, I'd totally vote for rapidly tossing questions back and forth: "Do you like sports?" "No. Do you like music?" "Yes. I love classical." "Oh. I don't care about classical. But I like showtunes." "I hate showtunes. Where are you from?" "Miami." "Oh, hey, I love the beach!" "Me too!" Cue beach stories, I guess. I don't know, I don't love the beach.

For most people that sounds super bizarre, but for me, dancing around the unacceptable statement of, "Hey, one of us isn't really interested in this, can we move on?" is a frustrating and strange experience. As soon as I find that topic we're both passionate about -- or that topic one person is passionate about and the other is interested in enough to ask questions -- then I'm good, but, gosh, can it be a trial getting there. Not that it isn't necessary sometimes, but this is why I sometimes like to be a silent lurker in a group of three or four, because that lets me listen for topics others bring up voluntarily that I can hitch onto and get a conversation going without having to pretend that I'm super interested in how they fixed up their old car.

Q: Also, just to make sure: if I've invited the introvert out and they've decided to stay home, they're not sad, right? They're okay?

A: Well, probably. Sometimes introverts get sad and, yeah, they'll probably want to be alone then. But, as a rule, assume we're fine. We usually are.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: Have We Finally Reached the End of the Book?

So I dropped off the face of the earth for a couple weeks, but here's a Friday blog and MAYYYYBE someday more blogs will be headed your way! I hope! Anyway...

Last time, Brianna discovered this mysterious soldier was her long-lost adopted brother, which was ridiculous, and everyone was happy.

Brianna's upcoming wedding to the adult man who fell in love with her when she was a high school sophomore is being planned, and she even repurchases her grandparents' ocean home she loved so much. It had been sold to pay off debt, but she buys it back so she can have her wedding there.

Her wedding is apparently beautiful, though she really only has her family and her bodyguards there because these are the only friends she has. We spend about 3 pages talking about how beautiful her wedding is, and it's all very generic and cliched, and that's the end of the chapter.

In fact... that's nearly the end of the book.

What we have left is epilogues. But if I recall correctly, the epilogues still have some delightfully terrible stuff in them, so on we go.

We begin with Sonya. Sonya gets engaged to Sexual-Harassment-Harry almost immediately after Brianna gets back from her one-week honeymoon, so it seems every woman in this book is part of the "Let's get engaged to people we haven't been dating because this is always a great idea" club. Brianna donates money so Sonya can be a lawyer again (finally!) but only do pro bono adoption cases. Eventually Sonya and Harry adopt children themselves and everyone's happy.

We're told about the fates of Brianna's not-Conrad bodyguards, which I could not care less about because I couldn't even remember their names. Bruno apparently becomes the chancellor of Germany's head of security. Jonathan and Cathy become Brianna and Conrad's bodyguards and... chefs? Nothing like hiring the only friends you have to cook for you in your luxurious Caribbean retreat.

Eric and Gabriella (Brianna's adopted brother and his wife) move to Texas, where he starts a Christian band, and then his epilogue segues into a personal ad:
His favorite things to do were moonlight walks on the beach with Gabi, and hunting shells with his children.
Ethan moves into his beach home in Corpus Christi and starts a music publishing company which is like 75% Brianna's music. Then he gets married and lives happily ever after.

And now, finally, to Brianna.

Well, first of all:
One year after her wedding, Brianna Bays faced the press again to make an announcement. She and her husband, Conrad, would be permanently moving to their home in the Caribbean.
Which is a bit confusing because two pages earlier we had this:
A couple times a year Sonya and her family would fly to the Caribbean, or the Texas retreat to visit their close friends, Brianna and Conrad Thompson.
Which led me at first to believe that Sonya's visits to the Caribbean were completely unrelated to any visits to Brianna, thanks to that awkward comma and to not telling us about the Caribbean move until two pages after this. But then as I continued reading I began to think Brianna was living in both homes. But apparently no. Sonya just visits the Texas retreat to see them, which must be disappointing since they're not there. You'd think she'd have learned after going there like twice.

Bruno's section mentions a yearly reunion of the group, and I wondered at first if maybe *that* was what it was referring to, but, nope, that happens in the Caribbean. Maybe Sonya just wants to visit Ethan.

All right. So, terrible continuity aside, there is a section of the epilogues I have major problems with:
Later that year, she bore twins, a boy, and a girl. They named their daughter after Brianna’s mother, “Mira Grace.” Their son they called, “Ethan Jeremiah.” 
Brianna Bays was gone forever. She was Mandy Dawn Thompson now. 
She would never act or perform again, but she would continue doing what she loved best— singing. While she no longer sang for thousands of fans in concert halls around the world, she would perform a limited number of concerts for charities and churches.
Brianna Bays, who has been so obsessed with music her whole life, abandons her career to take care of her kids.

Now let me make this clear. I have NO PROBLEM with moms choosing their kids over their career. People can do what they want. I don't think that makes her less of a person or a weak woman or anything like that, that's ridiculous.

I just think it's wildly out of character.

Shall we review some of the things Brianna has said about music in the past?
“I have my music— that’s all I need.” 
“I find music eases my soul. Ethan... my father, said I have the talent to make music by the way I feel.” 
“I’ve always found comfort in my music. I guess you could call my music my drug of choice.” 
“My music drives me every day— the next song, the next tune, the next lyrics. . . . I don’t think haunt is the right word. However, they do seem to control me. I hear them repeatedly. When I put one down on paper, the next one begins. They just never seem to end.”
Over and over again, the book paints Brianna's relationship to music as something incredibly special and important and comforting to her. Music is her LIFE. Even after she becomes a Christian and finds Ethan, music is still one of the most important things in her life. And as someone who has a very close connection to art -- and not even as close a connection as Brianna seems to have -- I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to almost entirely give up a career doing something I loved that much.

Not that it couldn't have been the right choice for her. Not saying that at all. But the book paints it as the *obvious* right choice. She has no doubts, no concerns, she doesn't miss it once it's gone. The book doesn't even bring up that it *is* her choice. It's almost as if by having the babies, she automatically contracted herself to stay home and take care of them because that's what women do. And with all the work this book has done emphasizing that Brianna's music is her whole world, to dismiss this without even a question makes it seem like her music was never even really that important to her in the first place.

(I'm also not sure what they mean by saying she does concerts but never performs again. What counts as "performing" and what counts as "singing"? Is this new stuff acoustic? No dancing? Tiny venues only?)

Incidentally, no news on what Conrad's doing. Has Brianna made enough money that they're both just going to retire on that (after she's finished buying Caribbean islands and funding an entire law firm out of pocket for Sonya), or is he now living pretty much 24/7 as a retirement bodyguard for some other famous pop star as he did with Brianna?

It's just frustrating, because if there was anything I connected with Brianna with, it was her love for music, and immediately giving up the thing that the ENTIRE BOOK was about her loving so much... is really anticlimactic. It'd be like Natalie Portman in Black Swan giving up ballet via a 5-second clip at the end or Salieri from Amadeus ending the play with the line, "You know, I think actually I've decided to become a plumber." It. Doesn't. Fit.

But all that ranting leads us to our very, very last line:
As for Brianna Bays, her Quest for Forgiveness was fulfilled.
As is ours. And I am finally free from the obnoxious Mary Sues, the ignorant rants disguised as passionate speeches, the glaringly obvious lack of research, and the hilarious dialogue that is nearly impossible to say without laughing.

...Until I grit my teeth and plunge into The Quest for Freedom, of course.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: The Mysterious Soldier Who Must Be Lying

Last time, Conrad proposed to Brianna when neither one of them had openly said they were romantically interested in the other. He also made a big deal of reminding her that he fell in love with her when she was 16, so that was all the creepy.

Today's chapter is called "A Shocking Discovery," and I honestly can't remember what that shocking discovery is, so this'll be all kinds of fun. I'll be as shocked as all of you!

The chapter opens with Brianna visiting a hospital for American soldiers in Germany and visits them all and is sad because they are hurt. She is introduced to one specific 19-year-old soldier whose prognosis is extremely bleak. He wakes up just long enough to ask her to take a message to his wife and kids back home. (The message is that he loves them.)

She talks to the guy for awhile and he talks mostly about how much he regrets having gotten his now-wife pregnant at fifteen. He gets super bitter when Brianna says she's an actress and tells her she should try being a soldier, but she eventually Mary Sues him into liking her anyway.
“[W]ho doesn’t know of the great Brianna Bays? Please forgive me, but I have a bullet lodged inside my brain that’s playing havoc on my memory.”
"Only a bullet in my brain could possibly have kept someone from recognizing BRIANNA BAYS."
“You sure can play a mean guitar... for a girl.”  
She smiled.
Ah, sexism. How charming.

Anyway, the soldier goes on telling about how he and his wife eloped when she went off to college, and then his band got busted for drug use, so he got the option of joining the military instead of going to jail. He then gets even MORE bitter when she says she'll pray for him:
“I finally left home and lived on the streets. How could you possibly understand?” He shifted his gaze back to her. “I bet you own five houses around the world.”  
Brianna took a deep, steadying breath. “As a matter of fact, I own seven houses, but five of them are for sale.”
This exchange completely cracks me up. If Rothdiener's trying to make Brianna come across as humble and compassionate, it's totally not working. She just sounds snarky as can possibly be.

The soldier then goes on to talk about how he "lied, stole, and even almost killed a man" while living on the streets. But I can't figure out WHEN exactly he lived on the streets and had time to do all this. He was in his stable home getting his girlfriend pregnant at 15 (his son is three and he's 19, so they were probably both 15, not just her) then he was in a band when he was 16 and hit the road after his girlfriend's parents broke the two of them up. His band got super successful, he got married, they got busted for drugs, he joined the military, he ended up here.

When exactly did he live on the streets? Before he was 15, so his girlfriend was dating a homeless teenage runaway and her parents only objected when he got her pregnant? After they were together but before he joined the band? Somehow while he was in the band? After the band broke up but before the military when he had a wife and kid? NONE OF THESE MAKE SENSE.

I think Rothdiener wrote two separate "Brianna magically cures soldiers with her amazingness" scenes and then mushed them together so one soldier has these mysterious extra years in his life during which he was living on the streets almost killing people. Just like Brianna had those mysterious extra years where she got a black belt in karate.

Brianna tells him about Jesus and tells him she'll only deliver his message to his family if he reads the Bible and forgives his abusive parents. Lovely. He agrees, though. They banter for a bit about why there is evil in the world if God is good, and then she goes, and then...

The young man was startled when he spotted the heart-shaped mark on her forehead.  
Brianna smiled and turned to leave.  
He stared at the celebrity as she walked away.  
After only a couple steps, the soldier desperately cried out, “Janna?” . . . “It is you, isn’t it? Janna, it’s really you.” He began to thrash around, emotionally out of control, trying to reach her. He shouted, “It’s me, Eric... your brother!”
In case you don't remember, the last we knew of Eric was this:
"Eric ended up getting a fifteen-year-old girl pregnant, shirked his responsibilities, dropped out of school, and ran away. He joined a street gang in L.A. where he killed a rival gang member. Then he just disappeared. Rumor has it... he was killed in a street fight over drugs."
Let's compare that to what he himself just said he was doing after the pregnancy:
“I played guitar in a rock band when I was sixteen, but when I wasn’t permitted to see Gabi, I hit the road. . . . The band spent a year in California, and then went to New York. Had a successful gig there. I managed to save enough money to fly back to get Gabi and Weston.”
So... that year in California with the band was when he joined a street gang and killed a rival gang member? Or "almost killed," as Eric put it? He was out in California with his band, lived on the streets, joined a gang, killed a gang member, and then went with his band to New York, where somehow people just magically couldn't find him despite the fact that he was trying to publicly make a name for himself and should not have been that hard to find? Was the rest of his band in a gang too? Was his whole band a gang all to themselves? Was the rest of his band homeless? What is going on here?

There are two different versions of this story here (three if we count Ethan's story, Eric's band story, and Eric's on-the-streets story which doesn't fit with the band story in the first place). I am pretty sure Eric just made up his band story, because it's the one of the three that doesn't belong. He probably never even had a band.

I peeked ahead in this chapter to see if Eric offers any, "Oh, so you thought XYZ happened to me, but ZYX did instead!" comments, but nope. They all just celebrate and cry and yell miracle. Eric recovers completely from his injury. Brianna flies to Germany twice a week while still touring the rest of the world just to check up on Eric.

And that's where that chapter ends. We only have two more chapters and five more pages left. We are SO CLOSE to being done with this horrible excuse for a book.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Top 100: Amelie

The Top 100 is a blog series where I rewatch and rerank the movies that were in my Flickchart top 100 at the beginning of the challenge. I'm watching them in a random order to be as unbiased as possible in terms of reranking.

This week I rewatched Amelie, originally at #49 on my chart. That's awfully high for a movie I only saw once ten years ago. So it was about time I rewatched this and determined whether it deserve to be in my top 50 of all time.

Amelie is the story of a young woman who grows up very isolated and decides, as an adult, to try to make other people's lives better, even though she feels in many ways she can't relate to them. That's definitely a very relatable premise to me as someone who has often felt "outside" of the rest of the world, socially. As always, we'll begin my review with my live-blogging... which, admittedly, I didn't do much of. I didn't have that many thoughts on this movie as compared to past rewatches.

  • The opening credits make it seem like it's going to be a much darker movie than it actually is. Huh.
  • First time I saw this I knew nothing about Jeunet.  Now I can see his touches in all of this movie.
  • The first significant dialogue from characters happens 12 minutes in.
  • The use of sound in this is interesting. The silence after so much chatter felt very profound.
  • This is very meandering. But what a fascinating cast of characters to meander with.
  • This isn't a great sign. I'm only 45 minutes in and feel done with the movie.
  • I'm not tweeting much because I don't have that much to say. The movie is interesting but definitely not wowing me like when I was 18.
  • At the time I would have identified much more strongly than I do now with Amelie's friendlessness and lack of social understanding.
  • I really enjoy this "only two possibilities for him being late" sequence. It is delightful.
  • I'd forgotten the answer of the mysterious photo booth man.

And that's the extent of my recorded thoughts as I watched the movie. So let's delve into my official rewatch review.

Like other Jeunet films I've seen, this movie uses over-the-top dramatic acting and camera shots and effects to convey a bit more fantastical look at the world. In City of Lost Children, this was more ominous, as the entire world felt a bit unsafe. In Amelie, it's more whimsical -- the characters here are not threatening, but amusing, and we, along with Amelie, see them from the outside looking in without getting a very strong understanding of who they are. Just snapshots. But I'm not sure a lot of these characters would hold up to deeper scrutiny, so it's just as well we only see glimpses of them.

Where this film does capture me is in the latter half, where Amelie's extreme shyness continually keeps her from meeting the man who she is so drawn to. She contrives puzzle after puzzle leading him to her, only to back out at the last minute and slip a note into his pocket or his book into his bag instead without ever making actual contact. And the final scenes with Amelie and Nino racing around on his motorcycle are truly beautiful, giving a sense that these two odd ducks have finally found their perfect partner, someone who accepts who they are and, for Amelie, will maybe be the first person to actually know who they are.

That is a lovely and, to me, compelling concept, but the rest of the movie isn't quite as delightful to watch. Like an ensemble film, some of the stories are more interesting than others. I loved Lucien, the slow-minded fruitseller who took a constant stream of verbal abuse from his boss. I liked the garden gnome who traveled the world. I liked the mystery of the man in the photo booths and the reveal of the answer. But I was uninterested (and occasionally disturbed) by the stalker ex-boyfriend. I didn't care about the failed writer or the woman whose husband left her. And Amelie herself didn't click for me until about the halfway point.

I remember being wowed by the visuals the first time I saw it, and that didn't happen this time either. The muted colors and unusual camera angles made the movie feel darker than I wanted it to feel. It fit perfectly with the melancholy opening, but once Amelie had grown up and moved on, the darker visual tone stayed. Maybe it was showing us how her upbringing still lived her life for her, but to me the visuals seemed mismatched to the story.

This definitely isn't a bad movie. It's very enjoyable. Amelie is a uniquely conveyed character, and most of the stories are fun to watch, and the ending is gorgeous. But it's the first one in this challenge where I didn't have any "wow" moments. Not a single line or scene that really blew me away. Maybe it was a movie that spoke to me back in my late teens, but it appears it doesn't now.

With all that said, I'm sure it's not going to stay at #49 on my chart (that would be incorrect), but let's see where it does end up landing.

vs. The Circus (1928) - A Charlie Chaplin flick I don't remember much about, except I think I liked it. However, I *know* I liked Amelie, so it wins this one.

vs. Rurouni Kenshin (2012) - I think Amelie will still take this one because its story is told in a more unique way. I liked Rurouni Kenshin thematically and visually, but Amelie's quirkiness is just a tad bit more enticing to me.

vs. Whiplash (2014) - I loved Whiplash, especially its electrifying final scene. Nothing in Amelie held my attention the way those last 20 minutes did. Whiplash wins, dropping Amelie to #299.

vs. Schindler's List (1993) - I'm really glad this matchup happened, because I was mentally comparing Amelie to Schindler, as the other movie thus far in this challenge to drop drastically. (As well as the only other one so far I'd only seen one time.) But Schindler did have some wow moments. It was flawed, but there were some breathtaking scenes, and I didn't find scenes of that caliber in Amelie. Schindler wins this round, dropping Amelie to #447.

vs. Roxanne (1987) - I probably SHOULD choose Amelie here. It's clearly a more artistic movie. But I am so attached to the story of Cyrano, and Roxanne is a good modernized version that captures what I love about the original. It makes me feel more than Amelie did. Roxanne wins, dropping Amelie to #521.

vs. Quartet (2012) - I'll let Amelie win this one. Quartet is good but not great, and Amelie's creative storytelling pushes it a notch above.

vs. Shall We Dance? (1996) - I very much want to rewatch this one. I remember liking it a lot, but do I like Amelie better? I think we'll give Amelie the benefit of the doubt here and wait for a someday rewatch of Shall We Dance? to change its location.

vs. Waking Ned Devine (1998) - This movie is delightful. Is it as delightful as Amelie? It definitely made me laugh more. And it probably made me care more about the characters. Yeah, I think Waking Ned Devine is going to trump Amelie here, which pushes Amelie down to #530.

vs. Leap of Faith (1992) - Leap of Faith is probably too low here. I was fascinated by this story, which was much more profound than I expected it to be. Steve Martin wins over Audrey Tautou for the second time, pushing Amelie to #534.

vs. Notting Hill (1999) - Richard Curtis' writing is always funny, and the two stars are charismatic, but this movie never did all that much for me, so I'm going to give it to Amelie, which also didn't wow me but it attempted a bit more.

vs. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Hmmmm. I liked Mad Max, but I'm not sure I would have felt the same about it if I hadn't seen it in the theater. This is a really tough call. I think Mad Max is going to win for now because I don't remember being antsy while watching it the way I occasionally was with Amelie.

This gives Amelie a final ranking of #535, which is the lowest any movie in my original top 100 has fallen thus far. Sorry, Amelie!

My next movie from the top 100 that I'll be rewatching is my original #44: Rent (2005). I'll be writing about it no earlier than October 19th, so if you want to watch or rewatch a long with me and leave your own comments when I post that blog, go for it!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: This Romance Chapter Is Not Romantic

Last time, they transported Brianna's mom back to the U.S. and then Brianna went on tour, and now she's in Paris and she and Conrad are about to go for a walk. I think romancey things happen here. The romance writing in this book is the worst, so I don't anticipate that this will be a fun ride.

So Brianna and Conrad start off this chapter by going to the Eiffel Tower and racing each other up the stairs, because apparently there's nobody else here to see it that day. Conrad marvels at Mary Sue-ness:
He was always amazed at her physical fitness.
He catches her on the second floor (a little less than halfway up the Tower, according to my research) and they stare into each other's eyes for awhile before just looking at the view. Conrad is nervous from staring into Brianna's eyes so he tries to talk about French history, and it is Brianna's turn to be impressed.

Conrad asks Brianna if she has any opinions on anything, and she says not unless she can write about it. She talks for a little while about how her music drives her every day and is pretty much her whole life. (This will be important for you to remember later, readers. IIRC, there is a distressing retcon around the corner.)

Conrad then asks her if she'd put as much effort into a relationship as she does into her music, and she refuses to answer at first and just touches his face instead. Then she says, yes, she'd put her all into a relationship and slow her entertaining schedule, which, I mean, is probably a good idea just for her health, given that I'm pretty sure she's been touring full-time for almost a solid two, two and a half years at this point. She has to be exhausted.

Uh, then this happens:
Conrad released her hand, and slipped out of sight.  
Brianna turned to see where he had gone.  
Conrad, the man who had protected her since the beginning of her career, was on one knee in front of her, holding a spectacular diamond ring.

Granted, she has been flirting with him for several years (though she's REALLY bad at it), but, people, you do not just run off and propose to people when you haven't even openly admitted you have a romantic interest in them. That is such a terrible idea.

When Jacob and I first started dating, we were in a pretty marriage-obsessed environment of Christian college kids and, no joke, I started getting asked about our marriage plans like two months in. We ended up with this running joke that he was going to propose to me any day now, but every time after we made that joke, I reminded him that if he did that I would say no. It took about a year of dating him to decide I wanted to marry him. If he had just straight-up proposed to me that first day he told me he liked me, I would have laughed out loud because I'd have thought it was some weird joke because proposing to people you've NEVER BEEN INVOLVED WITH ROMANTICALLY is a thing that only works out well in rom coms, and I make fun of it then too.
“Brianna, as your bodyguard, I have been near you day and night, hardly ever leaving your side the past seven years. The moment I saw you, I fell madly in love with you.[”]
Um, 'scuse me, can we all take a second to remember that when Conrad first met Brianna, she had JUST turned 16? The book claimed he himself was "in his early twenties," but given that he had had time to not only have a significant military career but also firmly established himself as a bodyguard to the stars, I'm pretty sure he has to be older than that, so maybe he just looked like he was in his early twenties and was really like 30. Either way, for him to cheerfully confess that as an adult he fell in love with a barely-16-year-old... it's far less romantic than this moment is apparently supposed to be.
“This morning I asked your father for your hand in marriage, and he kindly gave me his blessing. It meant a lot to me when he said he would be proud to have me as his son.”

So this has to be an offshoot of the more extreme versions of the idea of Christian courtship. For most people I know who talk about courtship, they mean 1) their dating is focused on finding a marriage partner, not just for fun, and 2) they make a lot of use of parents or other authority figures to guide and advise them during this time. Occasionally it means the couple only interacts in the presence of other people. I don't have a particular problem with any of this if this is how people want to do things, even though I think it wouldn't have worked particularly well for me.

However, there is an offshoot of this in which relationships are formed in a way that is uncomfortably close to an arranged marriage. The kind in which the woman's preferences aren't of particular interest to anyone, and benchmarks in the marriage are arranged between the man and the woman's parents.

This doesn't feel like that because he talked to her father about proposing. My husband did that too. This feels like that because he talked to her father about proposing before he had even talked to her about romance at all. It's like he saw her in a shop, decided he wanted to buy her, and negotiated with the shopkeeper without ever talking to her about it. It just icks me out.

But clearly the book advocates this kind of unsettling arrangement, because Brianna happily agrees.
“I fell in love with you the first time I saw you, too. . . . I knew you were the right one, but I had to get my life in order first. I’m sorry it took this long.”
"...I'm also sorry we didn't get married when I was 16"? She didn't have to get her life in order as much as she had to become a legal adult. Frankly, I'm not even sure she could have gotten married when they first met. In Tennessee, where she was living, she'd need approval affidavits from her parents, who weren't around and she wouldn't have tried to locate them anyway, so I'm not even sure who could have signed for that. These are the kind of questions that come up when you gloss over the fact that an adult man fell in love with a girl who would've been a high school sophomore.

That's the end of this chapter, and thank goodness, though the next one is called "A Shocking Discovery," so that's gotta be good.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Quick Reminder of How Depression Works

It's easy for those with depression to look at their lives and be certain that they're only depressed because something in their life is going wrong. That soon that circumstance will be removed and everything will automatically be OK again.

For me, it used to be, "Well, it'll be different when I'm in a relationship."

Then, "Well, it'll be different when I get my arthritis under control."

Then, "Well, it'll be different when I have a teaching job and can use my degree."

And now all those things have happened, and the depression still lurks.

In the back of my mind, I know that circumstances lining up won't automatically "fix" depression. I know that that's not how it works for me. Because depression isn't just being sad that something's wrong, it's a whole different ball game. It can be even easier for people on the outside of depression looking in to think that kind of thing, like I just need to get over bad circumstances or find a way to fix things.

That kind of thinking can be gross when you're dealing with depression and there actually are major things going wrong in your life, but it can also be gross when you're depressed and there is seemingly no reason for it.

That's where I've been the last couple weeks. There's nothing wrong with my life right now. I love where I am and who I'm with and what I get to do. I am extremely fortunate. And yet I've spent chunks of each weekend this month sitting on my bed just crying because everything in my mind was terrible and there was no reason for it.

And then the part of my brain that tries to be rational tried to sternly lecture myself out of my depression: "Why are you depressed? Stop it. Everything's fine."

But as we all know (or should know if we don't), you cannot out-rationalize depression. Fortunately, once you remember depression is not rational, that can take some of the pressure off. You don't have to start blaming yourself for feeling bad for no reason. That's what depression does. That's one thing that separates depression from regular sadness. So you may not be able to stop feeling depressed or stop feeling sad, but maybe it'll be easier to remind yourself, "Depression is being stupid and lying to you right now, you have a lot to be thankful for whether you realize it or not right now."

That was one of the reasons I started my Reasons to Dance Twitter account (which I wrote about on Monday). Because it may not fix anything, but the depression has to fight just a little harder to tell me that my life is pointless when I have all these reasons to celebrate on the screen in front of me, and anything that makes life tougher for my depression is OK with me.

So... there's no real end to this blog. Just a reminder that depression isn't rational, and that you don't have to justify your feelings to yourself if you're feeling depressed.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Reasons to Dance: #201-300

It's been close to a year since I posted a new entry in this series, and that's unfortunate. There HAVE been good things happening for me this year, I just haven't been doing a great job of cataloging them. Here are the things I have gone out of my way to celebrate on Twitter, though.

That production of Frankenstein we watched tonight. Gorgeous and moving.

I got accepted to a blogging position I applied for. WIN!

Making progress toward paying off student loans, slowly but surely.

Long weekends!

The giant mole/jet pack fight in Arrested Development.

A car next to us in the parking lot had Carcassonne and Nyarlathotep bumper stickers. Nerds are cool.

That sausage breakfast burrito was definitely the right food choice. Yum.

My mom sent me an unexpected care package with my favorite cookies!

Gosh, that huge emotional music build in "Gethsemane" from JCS... gets me EVERY time.

The Tony performance of I Believe. Love me some Andrew Rannells.

Catching up on my NaNo.
Man in a robe. from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 tripleigrek, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

My bathrobe is deliciously warm after a very cold shower.

Sometimes the Internet gets used for kind and wonderful things.

Watching a video of Andrew Rannells singing "The Origin of Love." There's just something about this song that gets me every time.

There are some people I just really want to be happy. And when they are, I get happy.

I'm so thankful for in-laws who never pressure me to be what I'm not or measure up to a standard I'm not capable of.

Some days I wake up and just feel everything is overwhelmingly good. This is rare, but when it happens it is SO BEAUTIFUL.

Finding Christmas gifts I think the other person will like.

I finally FINALLY have a driver's license with my married name on it.

I might get to see some good friends over Christmas break that I haven't spent time with in several years. :-)

When my Enbrel injection barely hurts at all. Like today. That was a fun surprise.

Christmas is soon :-)

That cheese pasta bake Jacob makes sometimes is super delicious.

Texting Bethany back and forth as the family Christmas shops. Makes me feel a little bit like I'm back home.

Getting tricky medication refill stuff figured out SO much faster than I anticipated. I'll be back on meds by Monday!

Gas is $1.99 today! I can't even remember the last time I saw it that cheap.

Jacob made me French toast just because I casually mentioned I loved it. I love the man I married.

Little kids getting Christmas gifts. I may not want kids of my own, but there's something magical about their surprise and delight.

Finding the exact words for what I want to say and feeling I said it well.

Long substantial discussions with Jacob.

Our new tires cost so much less than I anticipated. Whee!

Unexpectedly got to see Breana! Yay for spontaneous friend visits :-)
Visiting so many people this week! On our way to see Tim and Jessie now and I'm SO excited about it.

Some days I wake up and just feel happy and energized. Holding onto that feeling today because it's rare and wonderful.

When I feel like I have something to offer in a conversation.

"My name is Robert." #KidSnippets

Having enough money that we can add a little to our savings again.

Getting back on a regular (workable) sleep schedule.

Gouda. Yummmm.

Having a particularly bad day. Jacob sent me a very long, very sweet text from work that helped a little.

Dad jokingly requested a Picasso-style picture of Puppy. Jacob's actually drawing one.

It's been a couple days and I haven't killed my new Sims baby yet! Whoo!

Fitness First Gym from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Health Gauge, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
First day at the gym was a success. I can do this the rest of the year!

"Bears bears bears bears bears..." #AdventureTime

When teaching goes right.

My legs feel awesome after that massage chair at the gym.

We get enchiladas for dinner!

Long weekend with Jacob.

I had a really nice chat with my mom tonight while watching a concert of Christian musicians she used to love.

My incredible friend Dani, who is so gracious and loving to me even when we disagree.

Perfect casting for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Every character is spot on.

I had a really good time with God tonight. I feel better.

A new weekend schedule that lets me spend time with Jacob!

Today, for the first time, I left the gym feeling invigorated from my workout rather than exhausted.

Missy Elliot. She's just so cool.

I feel...emotionally strong today. That hasn't happened in a while. It's nice.

Last night, a horrible nightmare woke me up. But it turns out Jacob was awake too, and he cuddled with me until I felt better.

The unfollow feature on Facebook, which lets me stay on good terms with people who I could not be otherwise.

My delightful friend Jojo is getting married this year, and it just brings me so much joy to see her joy.

Coming up with fun assignments for my English/writing course I'm doing with the siblings. Super satisfying.

The music video for "I Luv Rap Music" by DC Talk. It's so cheerfully dorky and silly.

When somebody else loves The Last Five Years. I'm so excited when it happens that any response is basically just fangirl squealing.

Payday! Especially when we were especially low on funds.
I don't care how overdone it is, "I Dreamed a Dream" is still GORGEOUS.

There may be nothing more delightful to me than spending a day with my best friend. And since we're married, I get to do that often!

Finding musical theater people in TV shows and movies.

Audra McDonald. Gosh, what a talented, classy lady she is.

The final scene of The Full Monty. That is just a delightful ending to that movie.

I get a long weekend with Jacob over Easter. :-)

It's been a long time since my last eye appointment, but the doctor says my eyes are really healthy! Phew!

My amazing husband who stays up way too late with me talking stuff through when I can't stop crying.

The geeky chocolate store we found today. I'm so glad that exists.

When friends I've been worried about are doing a little better.

I was awake when Jacob got home this morning and got to chat with him before he went to sleep. That was nice.

The nice shoes we had to get for Jacob's feet were not as expensive as we worried they'd be.
Writing just for me can be so cathartic. I should do it more.

I'm so thankful for people who stand up for the underdogs. That's what I want to be like.

The wonderful, kind generosity of my friend Sarah.

We got our truck working again as an emergency backup vehicle! Now we can get our car fixed!

The repairs for our car didn't cost nearly as much as I worried they would!

My favorite Christian blogger gave me a really nice response tweet & is following me now. I feel so cool!

When I say "Bedtime," Puppy immediately trots off to her bed. I like that I've accidentally taught her this command.

When Jacob accidentally set his wake up alarm as a Facebook event & then did it on purpose later that afternoon. 10 people attended.

The hilarious and weird sheet music instructions for the Heathers score.

"Be Prepared" is in some ways so campy, but that doesn't keep it from being deliciously chilling.

I just like that Commentary! The Musical exists.

Vincent from Bojack Horseman. Easily the best part of the whole show.

Playing Scattergories with my family over Skype last night.

Woke up to a mushy text Jacob sent me this morning as I was sleeping. :-)

Songwriting can be very cathartic.

I feel humbled every time my amazing husband prioritizes my needs over his just to make me feel better. I don't deserve him.

San Francisco from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Jeff Gunn, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
I feel like I finally have some options open to me in my job hunt. This was a good day of moving forward.

I'm moving to San Francisco :-)

My dad played Forbidden Desert. Then he played every possible 2- and 3-player variation by himself to figure out how to win.

My NLDC generation is the most welcoming, hilarious, talented, delightful group of people ever. Being with them is water for my soul.

I love getting to sleep in a bed with my husband again.

Huh. I really like my eyes today for no particular reason.

Pretty sure I married the kindest, most compassionate man in the world.

I love getting to work someplace where seeing amazing plays is part of my job.

Today one of my co-workers asked me if I was OK after seeing me post yesterday about anxiety. I work with such supportive people.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Quest for Forgiveness: A Funeral and a Tour

Last time... well, last time Ethan uncovered a nonsensical conspiracy theory and Rothdiener gleefully reported Susan and Alana's well-deserved horrific deaths, because miraculous forgiveness doesn't save you once you've hit the point of no return for not attending church anymore.

So, I forgot, this is where we remember that Brianna is a rich pop star who can do anything:
After using their political pull, and at the request of the President of the United States, Iraq agreed to release the body of Brianna’s mother.
Because of course the President is going to spend his time demanding that an Iraqi family ship their daughter's body off to the U.S. on a pop star's whim. That seems like an excellent move for relations between the Middle East and the United States.
Ethan, Brianna, and her bodyguards flew to Iraq on the star’s private jet.
...Better yet, Ethan, Brianna, and her bodyguard are apparently going to bring her mother's remains back themselves. In a private jet. That seems awesome.

After visiting her mother's grave, they visit the hospital where Brianna was born. They find a nurse who smuggled Brianna out of the hospital and they all reminisce together and it's all quite boring, or maybe I'm just not in a snarky enough mood.

We abruptly switch to them leaving Iraq. We learn that Brianna's grandmother has left her husband, who was then killed along with her two sons, and she inherited all his money. I don't have the energy tonight to look up whether that would be an actual thing allowed in their area of the world, but it is a nice tidy solution. Rothdiener opted to kill off everyone who wasn't a Christian by the end of the book.

Brianna's grandmother reveals that the charm Brianna found in her box of her mother's things is a 2500-year-old charm where every gem in the charm is one of the rarest gems in the entire world. Because Brianna definitely couldn't have a charm that WASN'T outrageously valuable. That would imply that her goodness wouldn't always lead to wealth, and that would be ridiculous.

So then they fly back to Colorado and they have a little funeral for Brianna's mother. They fly in that pastor of that church Brianna got saved in to do the service. Brianna and Ethan sing.

That's the end of the chapter. I'm not stopping there for this blog because, uh, nothing happened. All of this is so BORING. But at least it's not infuriating like the last chapter was, so I guess that's a step up. Either way, let's keep going.

(This chapter begins with this verse, quoted exactly here: "Now then, stand still and see this greet thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes!" This... what thing? I hope the Lord is about to teach us a new handshake. That would be a good greet thing.)

Brianna releases her new CD, which, of course, "quickly raced to the top of the charts," and then she goes off on a year-long tour while Sonya steps down as her manager for... no reason. Just that "it was time for the attorney to begin a new life of her own." Good luck going back to work as a lawyer after leaving your successful law office to work as a tour manager and personal assistant for seven years. Those fields are not terribly connected.

Everybody is sad and says bye to Sonya, although Rothdiener reminds us that "with modern technology she would only be a phone call away." Yes, so different than when we started this story in the 19th century.

Ethan takes over managing Brianna, because "[h]is people skills and knowledge of the world made him a perfect fit for the job." Yup. People skills and knowledge of the world are pretty much all you need. We don't want anyone with actual managing experience involved apparently, Brianna's career pretty much drives itself.

Brianna shares her conversion with everyone on tour, and everyone's happy because she's SO open with them that it makes them think of her as a family member. (I don't quite get that reasoning, but that's what our author is claiming.)

Ethan and Brianna also go to Paris together as part of her mega tour. But then...
After the final concert in Paris, Ethan said he was tired and going to bed early. Brianna thought it strange, and was afraid her father was ill. He had looked slightly pale. “I’m fine. I’m just very tired.”
What? Ethan's a Christian. He can't die. Only the non-Christians die in this book, and they die horribly and with no possible hope. I can't actually remember if he dies, and he might just be faking it, because he suggests she and Conrad go see the sights, and I KNOW she and Conrad have gotta get together at some point, so it's probably here.

However, I'm pretty sure I can't stomach reading more awkward flirting between Brianna and her bodyguard who was flirting with her back when she was barely-16 and hasn't gotten any better at it since then, so I'm going to call it a day and try to tackle the rest of this next week. Sorry nothing happened in these chapters.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Top 100: Beauty and the Beast

The Top 100 is a blog series where I rewatch and rerank the movies that were in my Flickchart top 100 at the beginning of the challenge. I'm watching them in a random order to be as unbiased as possible in terms of reranking.

Well, hi. Remember when I said I was initially going to be blogging about this? Yeah, that was June 15, which was the day I took the job at Marin Theatre Company and moved my entire life across the country and never had time to do anything. But now things have settled down a bit, I have some weekends free, and it's time to get back to work on this challenge.

Beauty and the Beast was #6 on my Flickchart when I began this challenge. Since Casablanca moved down the list, Beauty and the Beast moved up and is at #5 as of this viewing. For a long time, this has been my favorite Disney movie. Belle is my favorite Disney princess. These are most of my favorite Disney songs. It's one of my favorite Disney movie messages.

So it has a lot going for it, but I haven't seen it in a very long time. We're talking years, possibly a decade. Let's find out if it holds up after all this time.

Here are my live-blogged thoughts as I watch.

  • Oh. Looks like I got my hands on the extended version. I've never seen this before.
  • Oh, man. That opening castle shot is gorgeous.
  • Ending of the prologue gave me chills.
  • One reason I like Belle so much is that I always identified with her as a bookworm who doesn't fit in.
  • And the townspeople don't even bother getting to know her. They just don't get her, so they give up.
  • I also like that Belle stands up for the people she loves. Who the people around her also don't understand.
  • I never noticed that the background music here was later used as the verse for "No Matter What" in the stage musical.
  • Maurice seems so vulnerable in this scene in the forest. He started running & I immediately thought, "He can't possibly outrun the wolves."
  • This opening intro to the servants is charming, and the intro to the Beast wonderfully ominous.
  • LOL, I forgot Gaston has the entire wedding in place before proposing.
  • Belle and Maurice have a puddle full of pigs directly outside their door?
  • I remember even as a kid bring blown away by the visuals in the "Belle" reprise. They're so pretty.
  • These far away shots of Belle exploring the castle are so atmospheric.
  • As a child, I was terrified of that spider coach.
  • I love that moment where you first sense Beast isn't entirely terrible, where he clearly has sympathy for Belle's loss of her father.
  • "Gaston" was my favorite song to perform. Let's see if it's as fun here.
  • This is a very minor detail, but I like that Gaston and the Beast both have blue eyes. Drawing that similarity is interesting to me.
  • "I could be wrong, but that may not be the best way to win the girl's affection."
  • I really like that the Beast's behavior is not excused as, "Oh, he's a tortured soul." Belle doesn't tolerate him being an entitled jerk.
  • Interestingly, he then takes her rejection as a rejection of him PHYSICALLY, rather than his personality.
  • Belle is the one person who might NOT judge him on his appearance and he's immediately alienating her with his behavior.
  • Yay, big ensemble number!
  • I really like that weird abstract shot of dancing plates and cups.
  • The Beast's instant regret of his outburst in the west wing is really nice.
  • Huh. I guess Philippe HAS been chilling at the castle, since the spider coach took Maurice home.
  • Gosh, the animation on the Beast's wolf attack is stunning. That shadowy reaction shot of Belle... Wow.
  • "Thank you for saving my life." "You're welcome." This is a lovely exchange.
  • This scene with the asylum owner is the first step toward Gaston being a truly evil villain instead of just a narcissistic buffoon.
  • Oh, how I used to dream of this castle library.
  • The oatmeal scene is gorgeous. He tries to do what she wants, does it poorly, and she extends a compromise to help him save face.
  • Ah, here's the extended scene that I've never seen before. 
  • Oh right, "Human Again" was added to this version. Not my favorite song and since I'm not used to it in here it feels like an interruption.
  • That above shot of dancing mops is lovely, though.
  • I admit I can't take the "Learn how to read" subplot seriously since the Community horror story episode.
  • Pretty sure the title song is one of the most romantic moments in all Disney movies. It looks and sounds so gorgeous.
  • "He's no monster, Gaston. You are."
  • The Mob Song is one of the scariest Disney villain songs to me. So much fear mongering.
  • "Praise the Lord and here we go" is my favorite line in that song.
  • "Fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong" is another good one.
  • And here at the end, Gaston still makes it all about ownership of Belle. He hates the Beast for being the one she cares about.
  • I like that the Beast doesn't deliberately kill Gaston. I think that's necessary.
  • "At least I got to see you one last time."
  • What I like about this is that while there is romance in it, their story is also heavily about friendship.
  • The servants all turned into objects resembling themselves... Now I can't stop wondering what I would be.

Immediate thoughts: This absolutely, absolutely holds up. The animation is gorgeous, the songs are great, and the love story is every bit as good as I thought it was as a child. Seeing it now as an adult, I'm struck (as I mentioned in my tweets) by how strongly this is about friendship. It's not just about Belle finding someone to love, it's about finding someone she connects with at all. When she laments to her father about being alone at the beginning, it's not that she is searching for a husband. She instead says, "There's no one I can really talk to." She wants a companion first and foremost, and so it makes sense that her relationship with the Beast flows naturally out of that companionship.

This movie is sometimes torn down for being essentially a romantic story of Stockholm Syndrome, compared to other women-and-their-monster-men stories like Twilight. But there's a huge difference between this and Twilight, or this and The Phantom of the Opera (which I love but think is a terrible love story). It's that the Beast's awful kidnapper behavior in the first half of the movie is not condoned or romanticized. His servants try to make excuses for him, but Belle will have none of it (and I think some of that is more for their own well-being than for his anyway; after all, if she gives him a chance, they may get back their human bodies). It's not until she calls him out on his bad behavior and he starts making an attempt to change that she starts falling for him.

At the beginning of the story, nearly everyone, including the Beast himself, puts all their emphasis on the outward appearance. When Belle rejects him, it's because why wouldn't she reject him, with the way he looks? And when Belle rejects Gaston, she clearly must be crazy. Belle and Belle alone is the person who looks beneath the surface. In the Beast, she sees potential for good. In Gaston, she sees self-centeredness and manipulation. In her father, she sees hidden genius. That makes her suspect and works against her in her own village, but it's what lets her find happiness with the Beast.

This movie still deeply resonates with me. I'm not as angsty now as I was as a child or a teenager, but I still am very aware that I get misinterpreted a lot by people (I don't think I'm that complicated, but apparently so). I understand Belle's frustration of having no one to talk to because no one gets her. And I understand how awesome it is when you find somebody who is willing to do the little extra digging necessary to understand you.

Easily still my favorite Disney movie. Let's see if it stays at #5.

vs. The Sunshine Boys (1996) - We could at least pretend this was a contest if it was the original 1975 version, but this one is pretty lackluster and Beauty and the Beast easily snatches away the win.

vs. Rurouni Kenshin (2012) - I watched this for my movie challenge last year, and while I remember it having some very lovely cinematography, it's definitely not going to win.

vs. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) - This was the first film to beat Schindler's List on my last Top 100 challenge. But it isn't going to beat Beauty and the Beast. I like ELAIC more than a lot of people do, but I'm not blind to its flaws. Beauty and the Beast has no such flaws. Or, well, if it does, I am blind to them.

vs. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) - I really like Anchorman, though I think Anchorman 2 is more solidly funny. Beauty and the Beast would also beat Anchorman 2, so it's definitely beating Anchorman 1.

vs. The Remains of the Day (1993) - This is one I'd have to rewatch to be sure of how I feel about it. I remember liking it very much overall, but individual moments didn't speak to me as much as with Beauty and the Beast.

vs. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Certainly my favorite of the Python movies, but, yeah, I'm disappointed by that ending. At least enough to give Beauty and the Beast the win.

vs. Back to the Future (1985) - This is the first one that might be a tough call, but, really, I didn't debate it for long. While Back to the Future is delightful and fun, it doesn't connect with me emotionally the way Beauty and the Beast does. I did not cry when Doc died and came back to life. I did for the Beast.

vs. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - Now that we're pitting it against other top 20 movies, I have to seriously think about my matches. But though it may bounce back out when I rewatch it, for now, The Purple Rose is going to lose to Beauty and the Beast.

vs. Singin' in the Rain (1952) - Ouch. This is definitely a tough call. OK. I think if Singin' in the Rain didn't have the Broadway Melody sequence, or if it was only 2 1/2 minutes instead of like 15, I think Singin' in the Rain would win. But because that section drags down the film for me and there's nothing in Beauty and the Beast that drags, it's going to win.

vs. Moulin Rouge! (2001) - Ohhhhhhhhhhhh this is so difficult to choose. OK. OK. OK. I think for now I'm choosing Beauty and the Beast, which is the first chart shift of this reranking. But while I love Moulin Rouge! so so so much for its music and its visuals, it does fall down in the area of story. I don't care even a little bit about Christian and Satine. Beauty and the Beast, however, looks amazing, makes me care about the characters, and sounds fantastic. So... it's going to take the win here.

vs. Love Actually (2003) - OK. I think this is the only one I'm going to let Beauty and the Beast lose to right now. Because there is something transcendentally amazing about Love Actually that makes me happy every single time I watch it, and while I love Beauty and the Beast so, so, so much, it doesn't quite reach those levels. So Love Actually wins here. For now.

Beauty and the Beast has moved from #6 on the original chart to #2 on my new chart. Wow. But, gosh, the movie's so good. The switching up of my top 20 continues.

Time to randomly choose my next movie to rewatch and rerank! Looks like I'll be checking out my original #49, a movie I've only seen once: Amelie (2001). I'll be writing about that no earlier than October 5th (and possibly a lot later, as was the case here), so feel free to rewatch it and discuss it along with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Movie Plots... Backwards

About a week ago, I had a lot of fun playing around with a question posed on AskReddit: What's one of your favorite movie plots that sound awesome backward?

I immediately started reversing movie plots in my head, and these were the results. Can you identify all of them? And leave your own suggestions below!

After a man tries to kill his next door neighbor, the neighbor begins spying on him, becoming more and more convinced that he's a pretty good guy after all.

A magical nanny arrives to take care of two children whose doting father loves them and plays with them. She spends time with the children until their father becomes cold and distant, then she leaves.

12 jurors convince each other that a boy on trial for murder is guilty before the trial even happens.

An ogre and a princess fall in love, so he imprisons her in a tower and goes to live in a swamp, where he invites fairy tale creatures to live with him.

A father fish encourages his son to go be free but immediately panics about him being gone. He starts looking for him, and when he finds him, he refuses to let him go anywhere again.

A mentally unstable ballerina comes back to life just in time to do a spectacular performance of Swan Lake and ultimately regains her health and her sanity as she becomes less obsessed with her work.

A man is freed from prison and tries to manipulate his wife into thinking that she's not crazy.

Several young adults escape from the Blair Witch and bond as they happily find their way out of the forest.

A woman forces an alien to get into her spaceship then chases it around until it revives everyone on the ship.

A computer is challenged to playing tic-tac-toe, which convinces it to start a global thermonuclear war. A teenager accidentally hacks into the computer and stops the impending doom.

A group of men feel confident when they put on a strip show for their whole town, but as soon as it's over they feel ashamed, everyone makes fun of them, and they completely lose their senses of self-worth.

A man feels very fortunate with his life, but then an angel shows him vignettes from an alternate version of his life that make him more and more depressed. His uncle finds some money, and this returns him to his regular cheerful self.

A group of dinosaur children leave their parents and grandparents to venture out into the wilderness and live where there is no food.

Two Broadway producers are let out of jail. They panic, fire everyone working on their new successful play, and return to unfulfilling jobs.

Two dogs and a cat leave their owners and trek for miles across the country to get away from them, but eventually the owners find them and take them back.

A boy leaves his village home to live with the animals in the jungle until he is abandoned by wolves.

A man's wife and child come to meet him at his hotel workplace. He yells at them for awhile and they are alarmed but everyone calms down eventually. The weather gets nicer and eventually they leave.

A choir of nuns get worse and worse under their director's supervision, until she stops being a nun and decides to be a night club singer instead.

A writer locks himself up in a fan's house with a broken leg. Once it heals, she kicks him out.