Communication Kills

I was in high school when I first heard the term “prairie dogging” in a movie. A girl shouted it while sticking her head out the car window. I assumed it meant the act of sticking your head out a car window. I used to think oral sex was talking about sex. Given that oral reports are spoken reports, I still don’t think I’m wrong.

I used “ad nauseum” in conversation the other day — correctly, but when confronted about what it meant all I could think was “it’s the right word for the context”. On the other hand, I’ve been using “non sequitur” wrong for years. Once in high school I ruined an entire ski weekend by holding onto a joke for too long. One friend wouldn’t speak to me for the entire next year.

I’ve chronicled my misadventures with “Netflix and chill” before, so now I’m beginning to wonder: how many things out there are things I don’t properly understand?

This past week I did laundry at a friend’s house and accidentally left my bra there. I texted asking, “did I leave my bra there?” and got a response back of, “yes, I’m wearing it.” I told this story to four different women who all enjoyed the implied punchline. When I told this story to two men their response was “ew gross” and when I explained she was kidding they responded with “well women wear each other’s clothes all the time”.

Speaking is hazardous because speaking implies understanding of your audience, their situation, and your relationship to them. Speaking, at the least, implies you have a good valid reason to be opening your food hole. I’ve heard we get better at this with age. As yet, I’m no walking advertisement for it.

At least twice a week I urge myself to shut up and let other people talk. I realize that my overabundance of words creates an atmosphere of expectation. Now I am EXPECTED to always talk. It is ASSUMED. If there’s something to be said, I will say it, don’t worry. If I DON’T say anything, there’s probably something wrong with me. A glitch in the constant stream of words finding an outlet from brain to lips — hopefully from brain to lips.

If I had to lose a native ability, I wouldn’t mind losing speech. i’d mind losing my ability to hear and my ability to see, my ability to touch, but I wouldn’t mind a tremendous amount about a loss of speech. I think it’d be good from me. I’m definitely someone that should get a severe case of laryngitis at least once a year just to let the people around me have a chance.

And yet. talking is how I relate. It’s even sometimes how I pay attention. If I finish your sentence for you it’s not because I want you to stop talking, I just want to make sure I’m paying attention and keeping up with you. If I crack jokes before meetings it’s to help make the meeting go more smoothly. If you share a sad story, I’ll share one in return — not to make comparisons, but to encourage, to plumb deeper into what’s happening in your life.

Those moments when I say something rude, tactless, inappropriate, awkward, offensive, sarcastic, stupid… I don’t know what to tell you about those. I could blame genetics for some of it. I could blame a sheltered upbringing, if I was really reaching for a reason, or I could blame a dirty mind. But there’s something in me that’s intrigued by the idea of abruptly ending a conversation and ruining the atmosphere for everyone. Well, something must enjoy it. I ruin too many conversations for it to be anything other than deliberate intent.

How to Throw a Party and not be Bitter

I hesitate to give a tutorial on parties, especially in the interest of not being bitter. This is not because I don’t enjoy telling people what to do, but because generally speaking, there’s no wrong way to throw a party. Even bitter parties. My brother-in-law and sister had a delightfully themed “Old Sad Bastards New Years Eve” party. It ended around 8 pm, I think.

No, any party is a good party, except when you HAVE TO throw a party. There’s almost nothing messier or more awkward than an obligatory party.

Several years ago a close friend of mine was expecting her second child. Her first was an adorable little girl and this new child was a boy. I exchanged frantic glances with my friend’s sister-in-law. Were we supposed to throw her a shower???

If so, we were already late to that one. She was only weeks away. Truly though, the horror was more for ourselves. We didn’t know ANYTHING about babies. Neither of us wanted one and neither of us expected to have one. It’s hard to throw a party for something you’ve got zero interest in.

It’s the exact reason I don’t throw Super Bowl parties.

The REAL fear, however, the one layered beneath having to get diapers and  non-alcoholic drink options and pastel decorations, was that somehow I would lose my friend status by being negligent in the friendship duties of throwing a party for anything remotely resembling an occasion.

My friend reassured us that she expected no such thing. Graciousness incarnate, that one.

Now this is not a knock against sprinkle showers (showers for second babies), I’ve been to a couple of those and find them to be as innocuous and normal as a first baby shower.

No, this is about situations where somehow your friendship hinges on a party. I’m about 70% certain this isn’t a problem in male culture. It’s a strict female culture horror.

I’ve been a maid of honor in two different weddings. The first time I had to throw a shower practically on my own. Fortunately it was for my sister and even though I spaced on what decoration I wanted on the cake (I settled for it just saying her name, you know like claiming a food item in the company fridge. “Yvana”) she wasn’t able to unfriend me because she’s my sister. She’s stuck with me.

The second time I had to throw a wedding shower it went better. Because I didn’t throw it by myself and adults were present to supervise. So much better, friends. So much.

But I’ve capped out at two. I have a limit. Fortunately, my sub-par services aren’t in high demand. If you’re mediocre enough at something you never get asked to do it again. Win!

But, friends, I have met some really bitter, angry party throwers. They’re angry because they’re doing the socially correct thing and they resent it. They know that hosting the party makes them the “good” friend and so they’re being the good friend and gritting their teeth trying not to curse the bride and marriage in general.

You want to know how you get bitter single women? Force them into merriment for an institution they don’t partake in, and then ask them to fork over a present and several hundred in planning supplies with the guarantee that “someday someone will do this for you”…if you ever get married.

So I have two pieces of advice for singles here.

Don’t throw a party you don’t want to go to. It’s pretty simple, this. If you didn’t want to do it, don’t do it. All it builds in you is resentment for the friend you’re supposed to love. Don’t hate someone because of a social construct they didn’t ask to be part of. They just wanted to be married, or a parent. It’s not their fault society insists on parties for relational success.

This next piece of advice is harder and messier and not perfect, so bear with me. Learn how to enjoy parties for things you may never have. Learn how to celebrate the milestones of those you love — because you DO love them, right? If you don’t, I wouldn’t even bother going to that party at all. It’s not worth whatever social currency you think you’ll get out of it.

And as a note to those with the relational success so many singles crave: don’t forget to celebrate you single friends.  Celebrate the random moments. The friendship milestones. Lavish on them the love they lavish on you, but do it just because, because sharing love begets more love.

And that’s worth having a party for!

Bubble Popping

“Bubble” is a great word, for several reasons.

  1. It’s ridiculously fun to say.
  2. You can’t say it in an angry voice without laughing.
  3. Actual bubbles are super cool in all their sizes and shapes.
  4. Using “bubbles” metaphorically gets accurately at what you’re implying.

A bubble is by nature an ephemeral creation in a specific situation of air, water, and soap. Or gum, air, and saliva. It’s not long lasting and it’s easy to destroy. You can savor a bubble for a time, but it’s always going to pop. Not only that, but when it does pop? You’ve got something of a mess on your hands.

I grew up in bubbles, moving from one Dutch Christian ghetto to another. From one Christian school to another. From one suburban neighborhood to another. I loved my bubbles.

Bubbles feel safe. Bubbles reinforce information and knowledge. My bubble had Dutch bingo, olli bollen, banket, Catechisms, Sunday school, Bible classes, memorizing verses, reciting the Apostle’s Creed from memory and saying the Lord’s prayer out loud.

Bubbles in our youth can build stability, a baseline philosophy, and a frame of reference. In short, bubbles are something meant to be enjoyed for their duration, but every good bubble needs to be popped. Every good bubble dweller needs to learn to rebel.

Air gets stale in a bubble, ideas begin to bounce off the walls and get absorbed back in and reinforced as absolute truths, we start thinking the people we see are the only people there are, we begin to believe our experiences are the only experiences there are.

And if you think bubbles are for small towns and backwater burbs, think again. Most of us have to fight the compulsion to inhabit bubbles the rest of our lives. Bubbles in our neighborhoods, our churches, our groups of friends, the places we’re willing to visit, the books we read, the media we consume.

Fighting against bubbling is exhausting and humbling. Routinely. Because you’re always learning and growing and adapting and discovering.

When I was a teenager I distinctly remember rolling my eyes when my sister talked about feminism. How absurd a concept that was. As if we needed feminism anymore! Like either of us had been stifled at home. Like we’d put up with that from the men around us. Didn’t our Dad think we were strong and capable? Didn’t we get raised to think for ourselves?

It took me a long time to realize that protective bubbles only shield you, they don’t help anyone else.

Thoughtful listening is the best way to puncture your bubble. Compassionate listening is the best way to live outside your bubble. Learn to practice selflessness, humility, kindness. I know it’s not as shiny as the bubble, but it’ll be easier to breathe. Easier to grow. Easier to thrive.

Special Just Like Everyone

I’ve been in the middle of an ongoing argument for about ten years now on the caliber of Keanu Reeves acting ability. I’m not arguing with anyone specifically, just anyone who comes along and disparages one of my favorite actors.

I’ve been in an ongoing argument for several decades now on the correct pronunciation of “almond” (I was raised to treat the “L” as silent).

And with the dawning of the year 2016 I began arguing for a lot more things that struck me as “obvious”. As obvious as Keanu’s blockbuster successes and “amond” the correct way to pronounce that delicious nut’s name.

I’m assuming you think I’m wrong about at least one of these. Maybe you even disagree with me violently and aggressively. What we’re arguing about in these situations is specifically taste and experience, yours conflicting with mine. And the reason we argue about these intangibles is because we’re always convinced by our own judgments. There are actually things in life you feel you CAN’T be wrong about, just misunderstood.

Here’s a short list of the most flagrant offenders:

  • Sense of Humor: You have a good sense of humor, don’t you? Sure, maybe it’s a little weird, or dry, maybe it’s even macabre, but you think you’re funny. You know what you find funny, and it’s funny.
  • Visual Aesthetic: You know how you want to look and how you think other people should look. Even if you don’t value appearance, you know what you like when it comes to fashion because it’s comfortable and that’s what you want to be.
  • Taste in Media: Maybe your vice is Keanu Reeves or Kenny G or Thomas Kincaide or Stephanie Meyer, doesn’t matter. You like what you like and you’ll defend it too.
  • Palate: People think it’s weird that you like white vinegar on your vanilla ice cream but it’s only because they haven’t tried it yet. And if they try it and hate it? Well it’s because their palate isn’t as refined as yours. They don’t know what they’re missing.
  • Reason: I’ve never met someone who thinks they’re unreasonable. They may even SAY “May I’m being unreasonable but…” but what they mean is “even if I’m wrong, I’m still sure I’m right.”
  • Rationality: Whatever you’re doing today it’s because it’s rational. Someone may look at you and think you’re insane, but you know what you’re about. It makes perfect sense — if only they were you.
  • Well-Informed: If there’s anything I’ve learned from the election it’s that we all think we’re perfectly qualified to argue important points in economics, and policy, and government. We’re all confident we’ve read the right articles, listened to the right news anchors and hold the most correct, most accurate opinion ever.
  • Politics: We can believe we’re well-informed on a lot of things, but we usually use our dogmatic approach to it for political points. We’re all speaking from personal experiences and perspectives and distinct worldviews, but that doesn’t mean we’re not completely qualified to explain to other people how they’re getting it wrong and we’re totally right.
  • Religion: Almost nothing is more divisive than religion. Even Christians can’t agree on who qualifies as “Christian” and there have been splits upon splits about the finer points of doctrine for hundreds of years. Everyone is convinced they have the most correct most accurate view of God.
  • Driving Ability: This one could just be me. But I haven’t heard someone yet persist in saying they’re a “bad” driver. Maybe cautious, maybe inexperienced. Never bad. Listen, I’ve been in six or more accidents and I STILL think I’m a good driver. That right there says something about our ability to maintain innocence in the face of overwhelming amounts of condemning evidence.

So when you’re sitting there at your computer getting incensed by the plethora of morons and idiots out there, wondering how its possible that so many people have it so very, very wrong, remember that self-awareness is always the thing we could do with a little more of.

Use that self awareness you claim to have for treating others kindly and with respect. Remember, experiences differ. So when someone disagrees with your opinion? That’s kind of okay. Take a moment to listen to their experiences and maybe you’ll understand.

And most importantly of all, don’t confuse opinion with fact. That might just be my opinion but…I’m totally right about this one.

Myth-Busting, Girl Edition: Pillow Fights

I haven’t been in a pillow fight in at least … a few years, let’s say since college, but I’m sure the elements are pretty much the same. They’re probably not the elements YOU are thinking of if you’re a “red-blooded male”, but that’s what I’m here for. To shatter illusions and make fantasies less fun. Yay women.

  • Girls don’t pillow fight in their underwear. Sorry/not sorry. Women don’t start any game with the intent of being sexy. Never underestimate a female’s wish to dominate everyone else at the sleepover, and the perfect fighting clothes she needs to wear to win. If there’s a pillow fight happening we’re all in pajamas, but more like onesie pajamas with funny characters on them and retainers in and scrubbed clean faces displaying acne and dry patches and hair in messy but unattractive ponytails.
  • Feathers don’t fly in a pillow fight. This is such a waste of a pillow I can’t believe I have to spell it out. Also, feather pillows don’t pack the punch that other pillows do. In a pillow fight you want the un-floppy pillow so you can really knock the crap out of everyone. Oops, myth three. Did you really think girls did this in fun?
  • Women may fight with pillows, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t vicious. If you’re in a pillow fight, you’re in it to win it. And win it by a lot. I don’t know how to actually win a pillow fight, but I think, from past experiences, that winning includes knocking the other person to the floor and senseless.
  • You’re going to get hit with an actual pillow about 60% of the time. To get maximum smack from your pillow you have to be close to your opponent. Guess what else is close at that point? Your knuckles wrapped tightly around the edge of the pillow. I think I’ve been more accidentally punched in pillow fights than I have been in earnest in my whole life.
  • Pillow fights do not end with everyone giggling on the floor, out of breath. Sure, it starts out fun, but there’s a reason why women don’t resort to physical violence very often. It unleashes a real blood lust in us when we do finally get physical. All those petty slights and minor issues you thought were in the past? She hit me so hard. It’s probably because she thinks I’m a slut. Well guess who got busted for dress code last week? NOT ME. WHAP. Mostly the pillow fight ends with quiet seething rage as everyone settles in for murderous dreams.

That’s right, the aggression and the quiet building rage may be one of the most compelling reasons available why women SHOULD engage in pillow fights more often. Of course, there’s also the possibility that you’re risking numerous tenuous friendships, and permanent disfigurement, but violence has worked well for men for centuries in getting past their issues. Right?

Maybe it’s men who should use the pillows.

Fix You

Note: I dislike Coldplay so I’m not actually making a reference to their song “Fix You”, but it’s too popular to ignore the connection.

As we plow ahead into the new year, full of vibrant ideas of resolve and willpower and self-improvement, I offer these words of caution…as I sit here eating chocolate covered pretzels for a morning snack.

Do you ever let someone else’s opinions sort of run you? I don’t mean you go from athlete to couch potato, or movie savant to historical-trivia savant, but if someone tells you that you’re funny, do you lean into it a bit more? Or when you join a fantasy football league because someone suggested it — even though you didn’t care at all before.

Or if you’re like me, you make small changes to your diet to please your friends, wholly resent that you modified yourself for them, and then binge in the opposite direction. Do you ever let someone try to fix you?

Mostly suggestions and nudges from people we like and respect aren’t going to be harmful for us, and may even be really good for us (think of all the new friends you made in your fantasy football league), but there will always be people out there intent on fixing you.

We all tend to think that our opinions and beliefs about others don’t really impact them as much as we think. We believe we had a glancing influence — and always for the best. But what happens when people take what we say to heart? And begin to act not according to who they are, but how we would prefer them to be? How do we keep from transforming our friends into our reluctant image?

On the other side, there’s a permanent tug of war we’re all engaged in between “I’m happy with who I am” and “I could be better”. Where’s that fine line for a friend or family member to walk that doesn’t push and doesn’t pull, but doesn’t stagnate? To be honest with you, I’ve discovered it’s partly my job to help people find that line.

If you’re a pushy, opinionated friend like I am — one who speaks confidently their opinions and asserts pseudo-facts as genuine wisdom, check yourself. Take some of that wisdom and reason and look around you to the people you’re “helping” and discover if you’re helping them or yourself.

If you’re the impressionable, easily swayed, “I’d do anything for my loved ones” type, recognize that inherent danger and make friends with prudence first. Give yourself time to evaluate the advice and its source and act accordingly. Don’t let their personality overwhelm yours, and hold your ground firmly. If they’re the right kind of friends, and the supportive kind of family, they’ll honor that.

It took me years to discover it’s okay that I like to be on my own. And it’s also okay that almost no one I’m related to understands this. I think my Mom’s reaction to my decision to live on my own without a roommate was, “won’t you get lonely?”

This is the right way to handle your doubts about a loved one. Ask a question. In this case, my Mom’s questions said more about her own concerns in living alone than mine. It meant I could address her fear without her giving that fear directly to me. After all, she could have simply said, “I think it’s a bad idea. You’re sure to get lonely.” It’s that kind of confidence which makes you question your own thought-out decisions.

Make your resolutions, make your changes, but make wise decisions not for others but for a better you.

Boozy Baking Day Spectacular Spectacle


In terms of accidental holiday traditions, this is by far my favorite. Sugar, drinks, sugared drinks…those are at least three of the important major food groups. Or so I recall from Elf.

The original baking day was much more focused on baking and decoration. Effort was put into it. Thought. Detail. Care.

In recent years, I don’t know if it’s due to advancing age or decreased attention span, but cookies have gotten more…eclectic.

There was the year when we had a star cookie that was completely covered in candy eyes. Or the time someone dumped all of the blue sprinkles onto a cookie, ate it, and looked like a Smurf murderer. Or any time someone decided to forgo icing with a knife and grabbed a spoon or used the opportunity of being sans-utensils to reflect on the simple joy of Dunkaroos.

Inevitably a batch of cookies gets burned in the oven, or we create a horrific color for the icing. And in a cramped kitchen there’s dish upon a dish of stuffed mushrooms, cheese and cracker plates layered over sprinkles and teas and bottles of rum. It’s a glorious mess.

Cleaning up after baking day now is usually about finding weird fruit juice stains in the freezer, and candy pearls in the corners of the kitchen when I sweep again in May, scrubbing spots of purple icing out of the couch in the living room or off the back of the kitchen chairs.

I love all of it.

There is something inherently magical about gathering with friends or family around a table, around food, around drink. My best memories generally include food (though I’ve not reached my sister’s level where she can remember the type of sandwich she ate on any given memorable day).

Christmas gets a bad rap because people gain weight over December. All that socializing that involves food and suddenly you’re backtracking on your goal weight for the year. But we tend to forget that one of the reasons why we all love Christmas so much is because we spend more time with the people that we love. Eating is just a delicious byproduct.

Boozy Baking and time with friends may just work because it’s a mesh of two identical things. After all, baking while drinking results in a delicious mess, and socializing works the same way. Put in the effort, put in the time, and reap the rewards of your own beautiful disaster that we usually refer to as life.

Merry Christmas, friends!

The Christmas Card

I don’t send out a Christmas card. Few single people do, and if they do it’s usually played for laughs because the traditional seasonal card is heavily geared toward family. And if you’re single? Well you’re sans family, thrown into the wilderness of wild singles parties and poor decisions and hangovers, all to cope with the horror of being alone. Right? I’m sure that’s right. I think I’ve seen it in a Hallmark movie.

At any rate, I hate all the prep work of doing a holiday card, but I rather enjoy writing them. So here’s mine.

Dear Friends and Family,

I turned 30 this year. Maybe it’s my lingering OCD from childhood, but I was looking forward to being exactly three decades old. Every year ending with a “6” is one that I find personally exciting. It’s a fresh start every time. 30.

This is the year I effectively leave behind all the things I did wrong in my 20s and move forward with new motivation, more awareness, better life skills (I say this after stealing three slices of “Maui Zaui” pizza from the company fridge for the second day in a row). In my 30s I thought I finally get let in on the secret of being an adult that is so elusive when you’re in your 20s.

Bit disappointed to discover the day after my birthday that I’d gained no new magical insight over night. The rest of the year seemed to slide steadily downhill, too on a social, political, and, hell, everything level.

How is it possible I’ve not improved in the kitchen? Unless you count cocktail aptitude, in which case my tasting palate has even been utilized by a local bar. Is that regressing? I can’t tell.

I thought at 30 I’d finally start going to sleep at a reasonable time and waking up when adults do. I thought I’d be one of those people who wakes up at 6 and has time in the mornings for devotions and coordinating an outfit. Maybe making a balanced breakfast. Instead, I’m still horking down partially toasted bread/toast as I run out to my car with my coat unbuttoned.

Honestly, I thought I’d be like one of those 90s romantic comedy women. Just like a default setting, you know? It’s just the maturity that comes with turning 30.

Despite not accomplishing the 90s ideal of womanhood, nor accomplishing any other pipe dream goals for the year (saving money for a killer vacation, saving money, ending procrastination, losing weight, gaining muscle…), I’ve discovered something really important.

  • Fines at the library for late returns on DVDs are usually cheaper than what you’d pay to rent them from Amazon.
  • Barbra Streisand’s song “People Who Need People” (are the luckiest people in the world) is so true.
  • Life doesn’t imitate art, but that’s why art is so special.
  • Reading is magical.
  • Church people are just people. And that we all need Jesus more than those un-churched unfortunates.
  • I learned how to make my own amaretto and sour mix.

No, I don’t have anything earth shattering to share with you. This year went smoothly by like so many others before it (thank you, God). That being said, even if the year went by almost unnoticed, it happened all the same.

I’m different this year than I was last year. Just a smidge, just a touch. Maybe not enough to notice outwardly, no kids, no spouse, no house, no career shift….

Where was I going with this?

Oh right, to sum up: Christmas isn’t about relational success or life success or …success. It’s about those small moments that seem insignificant that prove to be earth shattering later. Small moments like a baby being born in a backwater town, born Savior of the world.

Anyway, I suppose I’m saying Christmas isn’t about me at all. And that’s kind of fantastic.

Hallmark Movie Season Drinking Game

This is the magical time of year that Hallmark starts churning out seasonally inspired romantic schmaltz for nominally evangelical, Christian-cultured, true-blue American white women.

Hallmark movies are coming out at a speed that’s only rivaled by cheap romance literature. Which is probably no coincidence since these movies are the exact same thing, just on your TV and with actors you may or may not recognize from something or other or a previous Hallmark movie.

If you think I’m being over the top dramatic, I checked (authoritative) wikipedia for how many Hallmark movies are coming out this year. It’s 47 in total. Which is just less than one movie a week. EXCEPT you must realize, this does NOT count Hallmark MYSTERY specific movies. There are 27 “mystery” movies. These can be holiday movies as well, but are more about the mystery. Most of the grand total 74 films (seriously??) are catering to our unique obsession with holiday inspired love stories (how is that a real thing??).

Since I am 100% in their target demographic range, I don’t mind admitting that I watch these little sugared droplets of mediocre-poor storytelling with rabid enthusiasm. What I love about them:

  • I can feel crappy about how poorly I’ve decorated my house by comparison/pick up new better than pinterest ideas for decorating my obvious dirt hovel.
  • I can pine away hoping for two attractive men in my own small town who are devastatingly in love with me. Despite my off-putting temper, cold manner, and general shrewish demeanor. I’m sure if I had a chance I could lure them in with an earlier, younger, “better” version of myself, or homemade snacks and Christmas made crap.
  • Sure, one of those guys would be a total douchebag, more interested in business and work than a whole full life with a family and kids, but I’d figure out that when I start banter arguing with guy number 2, aka my TRUE Christmas present.
  • I can pretend holiday parties are occasions for formal wear instead of the “I was cold and stayed in my sweats but put on real shoes you should be happy, here’s your damn appetizer of chips and salsa” that they actually are.
  • I can be grateful I decorated my tree alone and not with someone who took that time to remind me “this is the spirit of Christmas”.
  • I can imagine that finding the perfect gifts for all my loved ones is possible. Maybe by divine intervention, or magical intervention, or just some well-placed clues in strategic conversations with the necessary parties. Why don’t more people telegraph the perfect gift for them in my budget range??
  • I can briefly live in a world where Christmas season is not “get the stomach virus and vomit everywhere” season but instead the “those kids’ have red cheeks from outdoor excitement and not a fever” season.
  • Also, the writing is horrific. And it makes me feel better about myself.
  • Also, I make excellent jokes to myself. So hilarious.

Romance and Christmas are tied right together in the Hallmark world. It’s kind of the hallmark of their movies (see what I did?) No one ever wants to talk about how maybe nostalgia and Christmas schmaltz shouldn’t be what you build your new together life around. But it’s what we all want, obviously. We want Christmas to unite unlikely couples. We want Christmas to be so magical that it transforms the whole year into a total love-fest between former childhood chums. We want to be able to say the worst possible lines ever written and have it be the right thing to say to our loved ones.

Hallmark delivers all that and so much more. So in that spirit, here’s a way to utilize some spirits for your Hallmark viewing:

  • If our hero has a dog, take a shot
  • If our heroine has a kid, take a shot (one shot per child)
    • If our heroine has custody of someone else’s kid(s) take more shots.
  • If there’s an angsty conversation at a coffee shop, take a shot
  • If there’s a montage of holiday scenery, shot
  • If our hero chases our heroine, two shots (you’ll need them)
  • If there’s a totally arbitrary reason to have a gala in which everyone gets dressed up fancy, drink.
    • If our lovers share an angsty dance, drink.
  • If our heroine’s best friend is quirky, drink
  • If our hero’s best friend is his dog, drink
  • If the parents are way too involved in the relationship, tip that bottle back.
  • If our hero or heroine gets advice from an enlightened older person, keep drinking.
  • Bonus drink if they’re someone random, but frequently spotted throughout the movie.
  • Drink if someone explains the meaning of Christmas and gets it totally wrong.
  • Drink if our hero is a busy businessman
  • Drink if our heroine is in some kind of “decorator” or “interior designer” occupation
  • If you’re lucky enough to be watching the Mark Ruffalo one from many many many years ago, stop drinking immediately and savor that unique opportunity.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, friends!

We Need to Talk About Anne-with-an-E

I wouldn’t call it “hate-watching.” Not exactly. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “hope-watching.” One hopes that someone else will really get your favorite characters, and that the translation from book to script to production to actor will be like the most perfect game of telephone you’ve ever played.

While really, you’re probably expecting us to be talking about the really big news of the Gilmore Girls and their infamous Last Four Words, PBS made a move to compete by kicking off the holiday season with a film-length remake of Anne of Green Gables.

I’m not going to dwell on the surface mistakes like the carefully placed freckles and spectacularly frenetic shade of red hair forced on Ella Ballentine’s Anne, Marilla’s drastic eyeliner, the face-full-of-manure farm joke that occurs in the first scene, and how Diana Barry’s hair is FAR from raven black. And don’t even get me started on the instances of “oh my gosh!” and “yeah, ok.”

Of course, the definitive Anne, produced during the 1980’s and starring the most perfect Anne ever seen on film, Megan Follows, is hard to beat (side note–who must she have wronged to deserve that imdb profile photo??). Follows’ portrayal is hard act to compete with, as is Richard Farnsworth’s portrayal of sweet, shy Uncle Matthew, and Colleen Dewhurst’s stoic Marilla, although actors Sara Botsford as Marilla and Martin Sheen as Matthew turn in respectable performances. I found Sheen’s character hilarious to watch, though. He’s so irrepressibly charismatic, at odds with the painfully-shy character of the book’s Matthew.

Two mistakes are common when the movies adapt from novels; one is diverging so strongly from the original story that it becomes unrecognizable, and the other extreme is simply stringing together dialogue out of the book so faithfully that the film is composed mainly of words–it tells you the story instead of showing it. While the first is annoying, and the second is presumably more faithful to the book, it still fails to reveal the heart of a character, focusing instead on surface appeals to drive the plot.

The character of Anne Shirley in the books written by L.M. Montgomery is an unstoppable force, driven by an unending thirst for beauty and love. While the new production focuses on her dramatic tendencies, passionate emotional outbursts, and fanciful imaginings, and no one could accuse it of glossing over her abused first years by way of a few on-the-nose flashback memories filmed in black and white, what it misses is her authenticity. It’s a horribly difficult nuance for a young actress to portray, and that’s what made the older Megan Follows so wonderful at it. In the new film Anne seems as overly precocious as her perfectly-glossed lipstick and perfectly-spaced eyeliner dots…I mean freckles.

Plenty of small details are included that show the filmmakers are fond of the characters. Marilla uses a magnifying glass to inspect a small seam while she is sewing, referencing her weak eyes, and scenes from Prince Edward Island are nicely fitted in; sunrise over the tide flats, oysters being shucked on a wooden stump, the pastoral scenes of farm life, the change of seasons along the avenue of trees.

But Anne as written by L. M. Montgomery  was far from a pastoral, old-timey cliché. Anne Shirley was a spark, something of a revolutionary, a change-maker, a poet, a believer and a dreamer. She defied the odds dealt to her by life and persevered.  She was not spun-sugar daydreaming. The enduring character of her indomitable optimism, her fits of rage, her deep sense of sorrow and grief, her ability to feel everything so keenly and yet survive lends depth and direction to her dramatic episodes. Montgomery’s life was difficult, and she reflected in Anne her ideal response to the darkness of life, the ability to rise above circumstances through education, idealism, and a wild pursuit of beauty and truth. We need to talk about Anne, and Emily of New Moon, and Pat of Silver Bush. We need to not forget them and their ways of wrestling with bitterness and sorrow, and somehow finding the sweetness and joy in it all anyway. Perhaps the 2017 miniseries in the works from Netflix will get it right. We can always hope.

What about you? Did you watch Gilmore Girls or Anne of Green Gables?