Hallmark Observations: Second Chance Christmas

I have to be honest, friends. I’m flagging a bit. But I made a commitment to you: one movie review a week, and I’m going to deliver. This week’s is Second Chance Christmas. Caroline is all set to divorce her husband until she gets amnesia. Somehow this is also about Christmas. Alternate titles: Love Strikes Twice, and Old Acquaintance Be Forgot which is my personal favorite.

Since Caroline is played by actress Katrina Begin, I’m willing to give her a chance. She can’t be terrible, right? The cast lists no one named Nick, but there is a Nick Siebold who handled the visual effects, so for those of you keeping score at home, drink.

Also, note the title. I made sure this one was about Christmas. I’m not going to repeat last week’s mistake.

Caroline just walked into a party and immediately rearranged some nonessential decorations on a cocktail table. Either she’s an interior decorator, or a party planner, or her OCD control freak behavior is about to play a pivotal role in the divorce proceedings. Put your guesses in now, kids.

She’s a party planner! Also a control freak, because of course. Hallmark movies are made for women who are control freaks.

Wow, for their first Christmas she surprised him with a dog, which feels like a really bold decision for one year of dating. Of course, I thought she was going to announce she was pregnant, so there’s that.

Side note: Who facetimes about deeply personal things while walking on a public street??

Side, side note: Why is it all other Katrinas I’ve ever seen are blonde? What went wrong, self? We have the Scandinavian last name, how did we miss the blonde hair??

So far I’m picking up that Caroline is divorcing her husband because he’s a cartoon artist who plays video games, doesn’t clean anything, and refuses to walk the dog.

I think she just conned him into divorcing her. At Christmas.

So she’s in a hit and run and then a crowd gathers to take photos for their insta? Hallmark, you are hitting this a little too close to the mark, slow your roll. I came here for fantasy.

The doctor is about to diagnose her based on her not knowing the answer to just one question: what’s your favorite ice cream. Which by the way, I don’t know my favorite flavor either. Is this explanation enough for why I don’t remember names? Or facts, or why I’m watching Hallmark movies??

The doctor is predicting she gets her memory back anytime between a day and a decade, but who wants to bet it’s going to be Christmas Eve/Christmas Day?

Jack: “She chose to go home with me? That’s gotta mean something, right?”

Dad: “It means she’s got amnesia.”

I am all here for the amnesia put downs. Bring it, Pops.

I can’t lie to you, the disaster that their house is…I’d divorce him too. You guys should see the kitchen. They have rats, I know it. This is almost like Overboard except these two really are married.

We are dangerously close to this turning into a horror movie as Caroline puts together the clues about how, yeah, it looks like she was divorcing her husband, and oh, she might maybe be running her own business, but everyone is lying to her and telling her she’s unemployed. I’m telling you, put a butcher knife in her hand and change the music and we are heading for a gory ending.

“I’m really, really good at decorating.” She says as she throws handfuls of marshmallows at a jello mold.

We’ve reached the stalking phase of their new marriage. I should have mentioned this earlier, this movie is billed as a comedy.

Tree decorating!!  Guys, it’s Hallmark foreplay at its finest.

She remembered everything on Christmas day. I’m a Hallmark savant, that’s what this is. No one else could have seen this coming. Unless they were also watching this movie.

“May a truck strike me down in the street if I’m lying.” Amnesia humor is gold.

OMG Caroline almost hit Jack whilst driving. I am loving these dark jokes.

“Auld Lang Syne” apparently means “old time’s sake” so I learned something today, damn you Hallmark. Your films aren’t supposed to be educational.

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Hallmark Musings: Married by Christmas

My brother in law suggested that for the entire Holiday season I review Hallmark channel films. It’s a family tradition of hate watching sappy romances and mocking them relentlessly that needs to be shared with more people. The catharsis is real. And sometimes the hangover.

All films I’ll be watching can be found streaming on Hallmark’s website. It’s a fairly cheap subscription so if you want to put yourself through this you’re welcome to, I could use the moral support.

I don’t have a real selection process and am open to suggestions for the next films. So let me know what you’re in the mood for.

This week we have: Married By Christmas

Quick Plot Synopsis: It’s always been assumed that Carrie would take over the family company when her father retired, but a provisional requirement in her Grandmother’s will makes the fate of the company uncertain and leaves Carrie scrambling to wed before her sister on Christmas Eve. When it comes to family and business, where does true love fit in? (Yes, I wrote this synopsis. It came easily and I’m very mad at myself because I think it’s really good.)

Below are my play by play notes on the movie.

  • On imdb it’s called “The Engagement Clause” which is an arguably superior title
  • Both the leads are Irish? #diversity
  • The titles scroll over a Christmas tree, because of course they do.

 

  • This is honestly the ugliest house I’ve seen in a movie. This includes that one about the house that kills people.
  • Oh look at that, our heroine is a busy businesswoman and she has a perky not stick thin assistant. She’s going to give our heroine some home truths later in the film.
  • “Love is in the air.” “So is the swine flu, Zelda.” Classic. I need to use this in real life sometime.

 

  • The Dad has entered with a serious Dad paunch on full display. It’s important you know her dad is a real dad. I bet he golfs.
  • Oh man I know this plot. She thinks she wants to be like her dad and be a successful businesswoman and make him proud, but little does she know he’d be proud if she just married a man. This will greatly influence her later in the movie.
  • OMG her dad calls her “Care-bear”. Such a dad.
  • He calls his wife “Sergeant Bitsy”? The nicknames have gone too far.
  • Also just called her “munchkin”, and “my girl”.
  • He does golf! Confirmed.

 

  • Ethan, little sister Katie’s fiance-to-be, is appropriately pretty for a young man in one of these movies.
  • Wow with no sense of personal boundaries. Dude. don’t pick up strangers. Literally. don’t pick them up off the ground.
  • “He also forages.” Is that some kind of innuendo?? I think for Ethan “pine nuts” means something else.
  • Ew he just did creepy foraging fingers. Not charming. Not funny. #neveragainEthan
  • I think they’re making fun of hipsters? But it’s really just white people displaying why a lot of people don’t like white people
  • Care Bear needs more wine in that glass.
  • “Perpetually pesky Carrie” one more nickname from Paunchy Papa.
  • Everyone’s gotta stop saying Turducken. Please.
  • Ethan’s not “divine”, Katie. He forages.
  • Katie and Ethan are engaged. Does this mean he gets a family nickname too? I have suggestions.
  • Oh man. the men went to watch football while the lady folk decorated the tree? Balance is restored. Finally, women being FEMININE and men being SPORTS.
  • Oh this is a delight. Grandma Lucille had “specific ideas about gender roles”, but the next generation is CLEARLY not into that.
  • But all kidding aside, leaving the company to your granddaughter’s husband is the DUMBEST thing ever. Someone should have declared Lucille not fit to make a will.
  • Oh Ethan’s about to be a terrible person. I am so glad he lives up to that godawful sweater he’s wearing. By not wanting to let Carrie have the company. Didn’t he JUST get into this family?

 

  • Introduction to the prime love interest!! Oh and he has “soft” hands and somehow this is VERY good news.
  • HAHA his last name is “Courtney” ahhh what a girl.
  • Excellent they’re adversarial right from the start and for no real reason. My favorite romance trope.
  • Oh she doesn’t shake his soft hand. BURN and a good way to delay their inevitable first brush of the hands and ROMANTIC AWAKENING
  • White girl dramatics are starting. Her life is over. Obviously. How can there be a movie to watch if her life isn’t over?

 

  • Oh she’s approaching this crazy marriage idea like it’s a business contract. Amazing. I love when movies try to pretend like women who are analytical also don’t understand how humans work. At all.
  • MALE MEAT MARKET MONTAGE
  • All these potential stranger husbands pick her up at her door? That seems unsafe for blind dates.
  • Oh classic romance misdirection. Paul from high school, the one who got away. “Paul was just a red herring.” — Me at the end of this movie.
  • Paul is adorable and charming and cute and flirty. This won’t work out.
  • Why are all the men dark haired with the same haircut? or roughly the same haircut? At least we know Ethan wears horrible llama hair sweaters (this is assumed, but he’s totally that type)
  • She took Paul’s hand. There were no obvious sparks. He can’t be the guy.

 

  • “Carrie you’re not still angry with Ethan and me are you?” This from clueless Katie. NOOOOOOOOO Why would Carrie be mad at you for saying you were going to THINK about taking the company away from her? That’s just crazy.
  • OMG Ethan’s best friend is Soft Hands Courtney? He has no first name now, it’s just “Soft Hands”.
  • Ethan and Soft Hands are almost identical. I can’t believe they didn’t just make them twins.
  • Also Ethan is not wearing a llama sweater, so disappointed.
  • Now with all three men in the same room it’s evident that Paul’s not the right guy. He has zero scruff. A five ‘o clock shadow is MANDATORY. That’s how we know Soft Hands is a real man, worthy of love.
  • Oh “wah” “it is going to cost a fortune to ship all of this to Napa!” says the bride to be staring at all her presents that PEOPLE GAVE HER. It’s too bad she didn’t think of charity donations until AFTER she got the gifts. #blessed
  • Christmas decorations montage. It’s too soon. TOO. SOON.

I took a break here before my eyes started bleeding

  • We’re back. Care Bear is dressed like an Elf. I’m sure the “why” will become clear.
  • Is it too much to ask that one of the antlers on her head (she’s wearing an elf hat and antlers because she has no Christmas self control, pull it together Carrie) accidentally stabs Soft Hands in the eye when she puts her head in her hands? IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK.
  • It is too much. Why God WHY. My life is over.
  • Wow she gave him a candy cane. Both a cheap and unappealing treat. Anything bigger would just be leading him on though.

ICE SKATING MONTAGE

  • Not too many people are brave enough to put a clarinet Christmas solo into their movie. #alternativechristmasspirit
  • Oh she thinks Paul might be perfect. That’s actually how you know he’s not the right guy. That, and the fact that he shaves.

 

  • Oh! perky assistant lady tried to give home truths wisdom and got SHUT DOWN. “Do some assistant thing” Ouch.

 

  • Paul is way too into this movie they’re watching. He and Carrie are destined to be BFFs. I  hope he turns out to be gay.
  • If she wanted to seduce him, should have worn a low cut top.
  • Tbh Paul totally reminds me of me watching a movie. It is insufferable. I apologize. No one likes your movie trivia, Paul!
  • Oh good. Wacky bachelorette guests who drink too much schnapps. Oh! And a little slutty. Fantastic. They’re going to be all over Dylan. And Dylan is going to need someone to save him from those cloying bimbo schnapps females.
  • UGH Ethan take up MORE OF THE COUCH. It’s not like it’s made for three and that you’re sharing it with other humans. It’s possible I hate him for no reason. #neverforgetthellamsweater
  • Someone just said “Festooned” and “Christmas foliage” in the same sentence. I think that means we have to sacrifice an elf.
  • They don’t have cellular reception OR a landline at this horrortastic Christmas cottage? WHY? What kind of commune cult house is this??
  • Paul came bearing alcohol. He is going to need it. I also need it.

Gin break

  • Oh Soft Hands came back from a manly hike to help Carrie bake cookies.
  • She just gave him a naked cookie for a snack. Why would someone give someone else a naked cookie unless you’re trying to send a message? #noonelikessofthands
  • Oh she burned herself. And now we have the hand grazing we’ve been waiting for as he TAKES CARE OF HER.
  • She needs a whole towel for this? Dude, do a shot and slather the aloe and away you go.
  • Paul ruined their moment. OMG Paul go be in a different movie.
  • Maybe one where you can get the girl. You deserve a nice woman, Paul. Or man.

 

  • Sisters who don’t communicate. This is actually a good movie plotline. Why didn’t they just do this.
  • Also Mom can’t pick out presents for shit. This is an excellent sub plot. More of this please.

 

  • This is one of the ugliest wedding dresses I’ve ever seen.
  • “Stevie Nicks lace explosion” excellent dress description. Go team Carrie.
  • Carrie’s selfish for wanting the life she’s been working toward not to be snatched away by her disinterested sister? MMMMMMM not seeing it guys.
  • Wow. Katie and Ethan are the WOOOOOOORST. This is how you ruin families right here. Nice job Grandma Lucille.

 

  • Carrie’s going to roofie Paul and make him marry her in Las Vegas. This is not going to hold up in court.
  • Carrie might be selfish for conning a guy into marrying her so she can get her company back. Maybe.
  • Is Paul’s signature clothing item scarves? Because he seems to own a LOT of scarves. Carrie’s in a sleeveless dress so I have no idea what the weather is right now.
  • She is doing a terrible job of explaining this to Paul.
  • PAUL IS GAY. Oh man. They should definitely get married now. This is a way better movie.
  • Wow Carrie is homophobic. How fun.
  • It’s fine guys. She was joking. and drunk!
  • Drunk dialing Soft Hands. Excellent decision. Sidenote, why does she have his number? I think we missed a crucial plot point here.
  • Also, never in the history of ever has saying “Calm down” helped anyone to calm down.
  • I relate to drunk Carrie on a very literal sober level. *ambivalently waves phone at stranger “can you take care of this?”*
  • There’s a lot of straight guy plaid in this movie, side note.
  • She just fell over and said “shh”. This is some excellent acting right here. She’s an exmplar drunk. I’m just going to assume she’s method.
  • Well that was a long and uncomfortable drunk pajama sequence.

 

  • “I need you to return this and I need to die.” I feel you Carrie.
  • Ooh there’s a home truth. “You don’t own the company now. Nothing has to change.” #zoeywisdom
  • Hungover Carrie Munchkin is not having this excellent wisdom.
  • Wow she doesn’t remember drunk dialing Soft Hands. I wish I could totally erase mortifying moments from my own life.
  • Side note, he’s a corporate lawyer who wears a LOT of not suits during working hours.
  • HOME TRUTH CENTRAL, bring it Zoey

 

  • We have reached the part of the movie where I think Carrie needs to apologize to a lot of people.
  • Drunk slutty bridesmaids are cupids helpers. Drunk girls often fulfill this role tbh
  • One apology down, kind of. Like half a dozen more to go.
  • Ew the guys have a “tijuana trip” featuring in the best man speech. Gross.
  • Apology number two happening right now.
  • Calling someone “pathetic” when they’re actively apologizing? Pretty low.
  • “I don’t think we can allow you to talk to anybody you’re not related to.” Truth Katie. You’re being a dick right now, but it’s true.
  • Okay they’re framing this like Katie is the sensible, reasonable one. And honestly, we know Carrie’s not, but Katie got those mad crazy bride eyes. Sooooooo
  • Side note, getting married on a holiday? Kind of a dick move. I think we all know this is Jesus’ birthday, your wedding does not trump that Katie. Especially in that hideous dress.
  • Carrie’s resigning. Right before their wedding. Ultimate passive aggressive move. Love it.
  • Also, let’s just call this ultimate first world problems — fighting over who gets to own a successful company so the other one can follow their dreams.
  • “I’ve been dreading this since THE DAY YOU WERE BORN.” So dramatic papa nickname. Really??
  • If Ethan is not wearing a llama sweater tux I’m going to be super disappointed.
  • Disappointed.
  • BUT IT’S A PLAID SHIRT so…I feel like we’re all losers now.
  • And his best man is wearing a sweater vest. While Carrie has on a full length strapless gown? Did no one discuss the aesthetic of this event??
  • Oooh coy best man and maid of honor romantic looks over the happy couple #clichesthatwork
  • And literally the shortest ceremony I’ve ever seen. Which is good. I don’t want to know anything more about llama plaid Ethan.
  • There’s maybe 20 people at this wedding and no eligible men so the slutty bridesmaids are dancing with each other. #drunkgirlsdontcare
  • Paul is back. His scarf is missing. And he’s pulling a Rupert Everett from My Best Friend’s Wedding. Not as well though. But I appreciate the sentiment.
  • The cake is in the shape of a log? Oh God. Why did anyone allow this.
  • Wait what the what? She’s going to work for that vineyard that Soft Hands is the attorney for? Yeah you’re right, let’s gloss over this and focus more on the dancing.
  • “i’m a nice guy.” RED ALERT CARRIE. RED ALERT. Nice guys don’t feel the need to say this.
  • Aaaand they’re kissing. And it made me feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because it came on the heels of him whispering “I look sexy in plaid.”

 

And that’s a wrap folks. Think fondly of my sacrifice while you watch better movies. #trueheroesanalyzefilms #icantstophashtagging #sendhelp

 

I Think I Wanna Marry You?

“How did he propose?” Is one of the most popular questions you ask an engaged couple.  And it ranks up there with stories guaranteed to get couples smiling and reminiscing. That is unless you ask someone from a generation or farther back.

I once asked two couples who had been married for sixty years – on the same day in a joint ceremony – how the proposals happened and they looked at each other, shrugged and said, “we just decided to get married.”

In my parents generation the conversations are much the same. Practical, efficient, no fuss. My older sister’s engagement happened in a similar fashion, privately, quietly, and without fanfare.

I can still remember the first time I watched an engagement video. It was a guy walking down the street singing a song to his girlfriend as a whole cast of friends and family members entered the scene for cameo breaks in their slow, choreographed parade down the street.

“Cute”, I thought. “That’s certainly different.”

And then it wasn’t different. All of a sudden everywhere you looked couples were inventing new and elaborate ways to get engaged. Now asking about the proposal story was to ask about a key element in a relationship. There were photos, videos, staged settings, choreographed entrances, costumes, for heaven’s sake. A real theatrical.

And then of course posting those small movies online and hoping they’d go viral, and so many of them did. I remember vividly gagging at one that was synced to “Marry You” by Bruno Mars (and if you’re thinking “what a charming song!”, please give it another listen before deciding this is the kind of inspiration you want guiding a major life choice).

Obviously not everyone gets engaged this way, and just as obviously the people you see get engaged publicly seem to enjoy the spectacle. It’s the next better thing to a jumbotron screen popping the question for you in a stadium of eager voyeurs.

I’m probably old, and unsentimental, and hopelessly unromantic, and a complete robot, but the sheer herculean task of a memorable proposal would put me right off the idea of a wedding. I mean the wedding itself is usually a gong show, so I don’t understand why you need to have that kind of madcap chaos happen more than once.

Isn’t one public and expensive declaration of your love and commitment sufficient? Do you really need to do a show opener to get people to come? Because I got news for you, if the opening band is more exciting than the headliner, you’re going to leave people feeling like they didn’t get their dinner’s worth out of the whole experience.

Maybe I just don’t understand love, I mean that’s a real possibility here, but I always kind of figured that just getting up the nerve to propose was the biggest obstacle but can you imagine having to work on a lip sync too? And what if you don’t know her well enough and she hates that song. Or maybe you didn’t time the airplanes to fly over at the right moment. Or you did but your dog holding the ring got startled and swallowed the diamond? How can anyone think of starting a preliminary commitment under that much pressure?

When is it all supposed to get easier? Doesn’t this just feel like you’ve not only hit the ground running, but that you’ve hit it at a breakneck speed and you’ve got whiplash till the wedding? And then the wedding and oh dear God when does the circus ever end?

But of course it does and your love story fades into the tepid background of everyone else’s experience with you and suddenly you’re no longer viral, no longer headliners, no longer stars in a romantic drama.

I guess what I’m saying is how can you be sure your love story is going to last through the tedious quiet everyday nights if you’ve only ever experienced the fireworks with friends and family – and complete strangers online?

Like I said, I don’t really know anything about love. And maybe what we’re all just trying to do is save up memorable and important stories. And maybe engagements are the only chance for the couple to express themselves given how much weddings become odes to the parents of the bride and groom.

All that’s possible. But on the whole, it seems a very American thing to take a nice quiet idea and turn it into a big explosive competition where we measure love by the size of the bill and height of the balloon arch.

But I could be wrong about this.

Wanted: Listless Heroine

I recently accidentally read the plot summary of a book whose title is not worth remembering. It was in the teenage angst genre which is a sub-genre of young adult fiction (this is not a real sub-genre, but it definitely could be)

It chronicled one girl’s journey to her identity via a challenging choice between two attractive, wealthy, callous – but deep, non-human males. Also half her family had died.

Would that this was a rarity in fantasy fiction.I believe fantasy is a great genre for exposing real world issues. But the fantasy of orphanhood setting you free to be independent while two supernatural humans being are attracted to one average girl is something we need to get past. Not only because it’s absurd, but because it creates in women a feeling that “average” is something to settle for, or as it’s showcased, aspire to.

Specially Average

In fad terms average is the new “unique”. Don’t misunderstand me, everyone is unique. Sometimes so unique that it comes full circle back to being common, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important to find out what’s special about you and make it your own.

Don’t let what makes you unique be your ability to emulate a blank slate. Don’t settle for being the woman things happen to. Be the event maker, the doer, the person of interest in the room. And for goodness sake, don’t expect interesting, sensitive, intelligent, sexy men to find your dull, listless, expressionless self, interesting.

Don’t misunderstand. If you’re quiet, shy, an introvert, this does not make you dull. A lot of research on introversion has shown that many introverts are deep wells of interest. Regardless of your introversion, your extroversion, your sense of humor, your intelligence level, your ability to get things done, you can still be a person “of” something. Be a person of thought, of feeling, of passion, of focus, of dreams, of intent, but be a person of SOMETHING. Not everyone may find it interesting, but that’s their loss. You’re looking for the gems that find you interesting because you ARE INTERESTING.

If you’re reading a book or a watching a movie ask yourself this question “Why do they love each other?” If the answer is “he’s hot” and “she’s human” consider whether this is really a relationship you wish to emulate.

Teenage Drama

In addition to a silly heroine with no discernible judgment, this is a story set to revolve around two boys with our heroine’s deceased family functioning as background plot device.

What?

Right there in the synopsis you find that half her family has died. I don’t know how big her family is, but half of anything is a lot. And yet, it only sets the drama for the romantic tale to ensue.

You know how it is. You family dies and a cute guy or two comes around. Let’s focus on that instead. This, in counseling circles, would be thought of as a poor coping mechanism. It’s certainly not reflective of the mourning cycle of most average teen girls.

In reality, your family is one of the largest single factors in what makes you, you. This influence, or the loss of it is in no way shape or form glancing, or easily resolved with eye candy. And to imply to teenage girls that life is more interesting because of romance than because of complex familial relationships is a tragedy that can only pave the way for disappointment in all future relationships.

Competitive Worth

By far the most grievous offense that teen romance lit has thrust upon us is the idea that a love triangle is common in life. It’s not. It’s really, really not. And a woman’s self worth is not to be found in the quantity nor quality of men competing for her person.

You are not a bride to be bought with camels, and you are not a valuable human because two men desire you. You’re valuable because you’re you. In your desires, your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your aspirations, in who you are as a person, the history that has shaped you, the adversity you have faced, the obstacles you have handled, you are valuable.

It’s long time that women put to rest the idea that our interest, our uniqueness, our worth is found in what men may think of us sexually. That couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth, and in this regard, perhaps its perfect home is in the fantasy genre, the best place for unreality.

Terminally Ill Romances Make Me Sick (Part I)

Movies can fetishize a lot of things that in real life are less fun: klutzes, jumbotrons, romantic stalking, etc, but by far one of the most horrific fetishized tropes is sick people.

There’s a huge market for romances where someone dies of cancer, a bad (see “broken”) heart, or perhaps a terribly obscure incurable disease. The common storyline is that our sick person is eccentric, well-loved, and coming to terms with death (in an offbeat, adorable way). Their healthy love interest is at a loss, perhaps listless, uncertain of the future, and timid. Alternatively, they could be wealthy, preoccupied with status and their own self-importance achieved through busyness and technology. Through loving each other they are able to blah, blah, blah, (s)he dies at the end.

Rarely, if ever does this trope really work in a way that brings dignity to those who suffer with chronic illness without making them a strict moralizing influence for the sake of the bored and healthy.

For film story structure, it’s the equivalent of a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks who meets a wealthy snob. The poverty-stricken is the unblemished sacrifice so the wealthy can gain a soul. In a cancer movie, it’s just more mortally revolting.

There’s a good deal of adventure to be had along the way as the healthy person assists in last wishes of the sick and falls in love with their life, their spirit while simultaneously feeling jealous because they just can’t manage to live their own life to the full.

Also at several points along the way our sick hero(ine) will have any number of profound phrases to bestow on our life-novice who’s just now figured out that perhaps it’s time to take living seriously. But how could anyone be expected to figure that out without the assistance of the dying?

Equally disgusting is the way we’ve glamorized visuals of cancer with fashionable baldness that never seems to stunt the eyelashes nor make a dint in the eyebrows. Similarly, they may be wasting away to nothing, but in an enviable way. Is cancer all it takes to get thin? Who said that anorexia isn’t a fetching in the right environment. Cancer pale is the new heroin chic, too. The sick look just sick enough to appear otherworldly and enlightened but never sick enough to dull the romance of their mission to rescue the healthy.

Watching these movies gives the watcher a kind of feeling that they wish they too could suffer in an important way  and through their sacrifice bring some (wo)man to redemption. But suffering isn’t a romantic prop, and it’s not a ministry to the well. The healthy should perhaps expend a little more of their own energy on discovering how to live life to the full and stop leaning the full weight of the importance of life on the already weakened.

#Keep The Filter On

I remember the freeing feeling of cussing for the first time. The taboo, risque notion was enhanced by the sheer delight in saying a thing I was thinking and not censoring myself. It felt great. It took me a few too many years to learn that there is still a time and a place even for my strongest emotive expressions.

So believe me when I say I understand what it’s like to think something and to feel it’s almost a waste not to say it, either because it’s so accurate, or so funny, or so clever that the world will certainly be rewarded with the genius of your own thoughts. Why should I have to censor myself for someone else’s comfort? Why should anyone be forced to cage up their words inside their mind if they’re true and they’re fitting? Or…funny?

But this is where we must admit that in losing the art of conversation for the economy of conversation we’ve discovered the purity virtue of being blunt. I suppose it’s a specifically American quality to admire blunt, tactless conversation. “Cut through the bull”, I think is the most appropriate phrase. Spare my feelings and cut to the chase. We actually admire people who will “say what everyone else is thinking”. We think that’s brave.

To be a fair, there’s a time to cut to the chase and a time to stop beating around the bush. But for the most part, we could all stand to follow another old adage instead, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Oh but it’s so difficult, isn’t it? To know when you’re going to get in trouble for saying something. How could anyone possibly keep track of the right thing to say? And sometimes it’s out before you knew it was mean! I get it. Talking to people will always be a minefield. But there are some useful red flags to help  you navigate verbal battlefields.

If one of the below phrases pops out of your mouth, don’t finish that sentence. What you want to say won’t contribute to the conversation at all. You may think it does, but you are wrong. It only adds to the opinion others have of you, and it’s not a flattering one. If what you’re saying is true, then it’s true. No need to wrap it in something else. If what you’re saying is true, but hurtful, saying you know that but you’re going to finish your thought anyway, is worse.

  • Not to be rude – You’re going to be rude. Everyone sees that coming a mile away.
  • No offense – Like “not to be rude” you know what you’re about to do. Don’t.
  • I don’t mean to one-up you – Yes, you do. Of course you do. If you didn’t you wouldn’t say anything.
  • Not to sound racist – It’s going to sound racist. Fact. Don’t say it.
  • Not to sound like a misogynist — You already do, please stop.
  • Just playing devil’s advocate — Consider, does anyone need you to do this? Is the devil really the one you should be advocating for? Rework your argument.
  • I’m just saying – No you’re not, you’re going in for the kill. You’re ending the argument with a throwaway comment; you’re also being completely inane. You might as well have said “I’m talking here right now.” Yes. Yes, you are. Stop it.

If what you want to say is true and needs to be said, but you’re not sure how, guess what? You can take some time to think about it. Conversations are not a race. You can take your time to say what matters. And what’s more, people will appreciate your consideration and the fact that when you speak you’ve considered your words and their feelings.

Also be aware that if you can’t just own up to the fact that you’re a rude, offensive, racist, braggart who “wins” at conversations, don’t worry, everyone knows already.

Giving and Taking Offense

“Think before you speak” is a handy proverb I grew up with. For the most part it’s a nice way of saying don’t be tactless or inane. But in shorthand it’s probably better known by the aphorism “better to be thought an idiot than open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Culturally speaking we’re in a new day and age though where not only is any thought encouraged to be spoken out loud (“I’m just saying”, “I won’t apologize for being blunt”, #nofilter, “don’t be a snowflake”, and a host of others), but we’re also encountering a phenomenon that believes in almost absolute censorship in the event someone’s feelings are compromised.

Because social media makes any joke accessible to any other human, context markers are lost. And because any tweet is shared instantly with millions, we sometimes forget that perhaps that speaker wasn’t talking about our immediate condition.

In other words, we’ve lost the ability to censor ourselves intelligently, and the ability to not turn everything we read into a personal attack. What’s worse is that this is no longer an online phenomenon, it’s invaded our real lives and our personal conversations.

I read a blog post recently titled, “If Someone With Chronic Illness Says They’re Tired, Please Think Before Responding, ‘Me Too'”, and reading the title filled me with an overwhelming helplessness. Now we can’t even relate to someone about the most common condition of being TIRED?

Of course, this title could be altered to accommodate any overly fatigued group. You could insert “children” in place of “Chronic Illness”. You could insert “three jobs”. You could insert “PTSD”. Truth is, there’s no end of ways to be justifiably and excessively tired.

But what happens when we begin preemptively censoring others is that we’ve largely missed the point of communal living. Which is that “me too” is relational, not selfish. It’s sharing the human condition where we all admit that we get run down during the day.

Now, I’ll admit as a chronic illness participant myself that I absolute adore “winning” at being exhausted, and in my lesser moments over the past decade+ of being an arthritic, I’ve definitely gloried in making someone feel at least a small degree of shame at attempting to relate to my fatigue.

But this is not the person I aspire to be. To borrow one of my absolute favorite quotes by Mark Haddon in A Spot of Bother, “…it occurred to him that there were two parts to being a better person. One part was thinking about other people. The other part was not giving a toss about what other people thought.”

To be brief: Value the fatigue of others, and don’t value their opinion of your fatigue. What’s neat about this phrase is you can change out fatigue with whatever you choose. For example: “Value the feelings of others, and don’t value their opinion of your feelings.”

Communal living boils down to balancing compassion for others with care of self. Sit back and relax. Take yourself out of combative interactions with the reassuring notion that they’re not trying to attack you, they’re just trying to relate to you. And probably they’re doing a bad job; social interactions are hard. Don’t make them harder than they have to be. Follow the excellent advice from James 1:19: “Be swift to hear, slow to speech, slow to wrath.”

What Can One Man Do?

Yesterday Oscar Gröning died. Gröning  was a former SS officer who was in charge of processing possessions and money at Auschwitz. The only reason he became famous, the only reason he was sentenced to prison for his crimes is because after the war he spoke out against holocaust deniers. Here is a man who could have, who did, return to a normal life in Germany after the war. He could have ducked his head and not flinched at the new philosophy of holocaust denial.

Gröning has said that he experienced involuntary guilt due to his indirect participation in the camp. He believes that because he wasn’t personally responsible for killing anyone, he can defend himself citing that he was only a witness to the killings.

What’s fascinating to me about Oscar Gröning is his choice both for action and for inaction.

In many ways his actions here are similar to a holocaust denier. Moral inaction can stem from a variety of complex emotions. Like deniers, the sheer mental gymnastics of reconciling the basest evils of mankind can create the safe illusion that whatever is happening can’t possibly be that bad. Until Gröning heard the screams himself, he seemed willing to assume the best.

Gröning’s ability to distance himself from any culpability is another coping technique, one holocaust deniers often twist to prove their heresies. The notion that surely, if it was truly bad, someone would have stopped it from happening. Someone would have stepped up. Surely an entire people group is not complicit in this evil, because they would have risen up to stop it from happening. Gröning himself seems content to explain his moral relativism in the same terms, though from a more ineffective position. He was not responsible for the actions of the murderers, even if he did help them. It wasn’t as if taking a stand against them would stop the killings.

Both perspectives here, seeing the common man as a hero or seeing the common man as ineffective, are flipsides of the same coin, two sides that don’t seem to hear each other. “What can one man do?” “One man can be a hero.” Both ideas are used to deflect the unpalatable idea that one man can — and did — contribute to the death of 300,000+ people.

The reality is that it happens all the time from the schoolyard on into our old age. Power and fear, coupled with current comfort and complacency, can be wielded capably enough to drive ordinary people, who would like to believe themselves to be “good people”, into utter inaction. “If it was that bad then someone else would stand up”. It’s always someone else. And when that someone does stand often we think they stood too early. We slip into the holocaust denier’s camp. “It couldn’t be that bad, humans wouldn’t have let it get that far.” Inaction is its own form of evil and always will be because it consistently aids the oppressor in oppression.

One of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes puts it thusly, “No man’s really any good till he knows how bad he is, or might be; till he’s realized exactly how much right he has to all this snobbery, and sneering, and talking about ‘criminals,’ as if they were apes in a forest ten thousand miles away; till he’s got rid of all the dirty self-deception of talking about low types and deficient skulls; till he’s squeezed out of his soul the last drop of the oil of the Pharisees; till his only hope is somehow or other to have captured one criminal, and kept him safe and sane under his own hat.”

Which brings us back around to Gröning. Why did he come forward to refute holocaust deniers? After all, the damage was done, what happened couldn’t be taken back and Gröning himself didn’t believe he was culpable. Why dredge up the past? He had nothing to atone for. I’m sure there are a number of reasons for Gröning to respond as he did, but I tend to believe it must be because once you have seen what you are capable of, what your fellow ordinary humans are capable of, what a regular person who thinks himself good can accomplish that is expressly evil, you cannot stay silent about assumed morality and decency. Because if we allow ourselves to think that in our inaction we are good, then we will contribute to and perpetuate true evils against our own kind.

Gröning after the war found himself yet again in a position to ask what can one man do? His actions are a helpful template for activism. He started small, replying to the author of one pamphlet and assuring him, “it happened. I was there. I saw it.” and when that was not enough Gröning did more. What can one man do?

At the very least he can, he ought, to do something.

How Small Is Your God?

I’ve seen the t-shirt or the sign going around the internet again, “God, how can you allow violence in school?” And the reply from God is apparently, “I’m not allowed in schools.”

The concept, so far as I can gather, is that God, in response to calls for public education to not allow elements of religion inside its walls, has decided to take his presence from all public schools. Either signifying that he has washed his hands of the proceedings in schools, or that his presence is not in these places, nor with the Christian students and faculty that spend the bulk of their days there.

The alternative view is that because public schools are now godless environs are we particularly surprised to discover gun wielding teenagers in these places. God allows nature to proceed without him, which is to say that public high schools are dens of iniquity where it should surprise us not in the least to discover violent children therein.

Bottom line: Atheists don’t realize they need God until massacres have already happened, and it’s their fault for taking Christianity out of curriculum.

This slogan is everything I find distasteful about modern Christianity.

  •        It’s smug – Christians who know that atheists are suffering because they don’t have Jesus don’t have to reach out in compassion, they can reach out with barbs instead. Suck it, atheists (and people of any other religion).
  •        It’s self-righteous – Christian kids at Christian schools don’t get shot because of Jesus. See? You see how Jesus is protecting us because we believe in him? You wish you were that special. I guess Jesus doesn’t really love all his children, huh. Wild.
  •        It’s petty – As a response to school shooting, this is not only a low blow but utterly unhelpful. What a time to say “boy, if only you guys went back to teaching Creationist theology.” It does nothing to meet grieving and fearful people where they’re at.
  •        It’s narrow – This is the most disappointing perspective of God I’ve seen in a long time. How petty is your God that because people don’t worship him he glibly abandons them to bullets? Or, to put another way, how horrific that you would assume that God would remove his presence from schools in the same fashion that he took his presence away from his Son on the cross. Sounds blasphemous to me.
  •        It pretends omniscience – School shootings are absolutely terrifying, but if you can pretend you understand why they happen, and in the same breath unequivocally state it won’t happen to your kids at their school, its a double win. And nothing does this double win better than assuming you know why God allows it to happen. You can apply this to natural disasters also with the general sins of the populace (note: it’s never your sin’s fault, you’re just stuck on a planet with these wretches).  Obviously obviously he allows school shootings to happen to people who don’t worship him so that Christians will be shone, by comparison, to be free of malicious violence. Unless you count the KKK, but I guess that’s one of those terror organizations we try to pretend doesn’t also claim to be Christian.
  •        It’s hypocritical – Given the sexual assault scandals that plague Christian institutions, there’s a lot of nerve here in asserting that the t-shirt wearer knows why scholastic institutions deserve to be shot up. Please explain to me why Christian institutions have so many sexual assault issues then. Surely there’s a comparable reason for why God’s allowing so many Christian authority figures to take advantage of their parishioners.

What’s the Christian response to school shooting, you may ask. I always figure it’s obvious, but apparently it’s not. If you can’t offer a constructive solution, keep your glib slogans to yourself.

Pray, love, care.

Pretend that you recognize that when Jesus was on this earth he came to bring salvation to everyone, not put people in their place because of “Christian karma”. Remember that Christian kids are in these school, along with you know, just kids. Kids who should never be part of your moral shorthand for what you perceive as God’s justice. Please also keep in mind that public schools around the world don’t have God in them and they don’t have schools getting shot up.

And please remember how Jesus responded most harshly to Pharisees, the most religious of the religious, who pretended to know the mind of God while completely neglecting His heart.

Gendered Idiocy

Gender’s a weird thing to ascribe to inanimate objects, isn’t it? How did colors become feminine or masculine? Why did I have to hate pink as a small child, just so people would understand I don’t like frilly dresses?

Why did I have to carry Lisa Frank folders? Wear lacy socks? Why did the kids think it weird that my dad was the one who gave me manicures? When we played on the playground, why were the boys always the dogs going to obedience school, and the girls the trainers with treats for good behavior?

That last one is probably a blog post for another time.

Since it’s come out that women need their own chips, and last night when I was on Amazon looking for a charging station and came across “charging stations for men”, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve gone too far. (Let’s note though that the men’s charging station comes with a jewelry box holder, so. Come on.)

I learned something new the other day, did you know that boys can like flowers? I had no idea men could like something so FEMININE. And yet at the same time, when did we decide flowers were feminine?

Why do I think dolphins are feminine but sharks are masculine?

Why are margaritas girly drinks, but beer is manly? Doesn’t beer have less alcohol? And why do I assume that less alcohol makes something more feminine, except when it comes to fruity cocktails??

Why is red wine more butch than white? Aren’t both of them girly? Why is rose the girliest of girly wines?

What are we doing, society??

I’d like to say that these are all just ideas of my own invention, but the reality is that whether we acknowledge it or not, we subconsciously ascribe gender to things that don’t need it.

And I still couldn’t tell you why. I could not explain why male deodorant smells like pine trees and female deodorant smells like clean linen. Or why women’s razors are less effective than men’s razors.

I’m sure you could give me some answer about marketing and etc., but I don’t think there’s anything that really explains this stupidity as well as the absolute laziness of humans based probably initially on easy stereotypical jokes that we then took too seriously, because we can’t agree on what’s funny and then suddenly I’m trying to figure out if I really need gendered pens for my lady hands.