Reel Life

If you’re anything like me, you love to watch movies. You might even shape your world view and expectations around them, knowing that the real world will fall short, leaving you disappointed and disillusioned again and again. And to cope, you’ll just watch more.

It’s a cycle I’m fully aware of and entirely content participating in.

Sometimes I even try to take advice from movies, but life always gets in the way. Take Under the Tuscan Sun for example. Since 2003, Diane Lane has been convincing women that the solution to their problems is to move to Tuscany. She’s not wrong.

Okay, Diane, I’m in. Yes, I would love to move to Italy and solve all my problems by running away from them. I’ve got half of that down already.

Except, how am I supposed to afford it? Is there some sort of waiting list I need to sign up for?

In the movie (which is based on a book but doesn’t really follow the book like so many other movies based on a book), Diane’s character takes a singles trip after her marriage fails. In Italy, she decides she’s not coming home — ever. The whole time it feels like she’s taking some massively brave leap into uncertainty. But she also seems to have an endless supply of cash. With a safety net made of money, her spontaneity feels a little less risky.

I would love to be casually wealthy — you know, to the point where no one talks about how unusual it is to have so much money in the bank for no apparent reason. And I would love to just up and move to Italy and never come back.

Oh, and if I could have Diane Lane’s looks while I’m at it, that would be great. I mean, come on… the woman is gorgeous and doesn’t appear to age at all.

Unfortunately, the only remote similarity between my life and hers in Under the Tuscan Sun is a cheating ex-husband.

If I did have enough money to visit a foreign country and never come back, I would go to Ireland. And if my life were written and produced in Hollywood, I would ask to have a fairy tale ending like Amy Adams’ character in Leap Year.

Do I want to meet my soulmate in Ireland? Yes, please. Am I going to? Probably not. I’ve never even been to Ireland, and I think getting to the country in question is probably a prerequisite to meeting your soulmate there.

Life just isn’t the same in the real world versus the reel world.  Go figure.

Look at Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love. Her character goes through a divorce (do you sense a theme here?) and soul searches across the world — regardless of how much money it costs.

I’ve got the divorce and the soul-searching, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the cash to find myself in Italy, India, and Indonesia. I mean, who does? Well, besides Elizabeth Gilbert, the woman who inspired the movie Eat, Pray, Love.

In the film, our heroine is seen as a brave risk-taker, but the real risk would be to try that trip without a disposable income. I’m not crazy or desperate enough to try that. At least, not yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against our wealthy traveling heroines — hell, if I were in their place, I’d be on a plane tomorrow and never look back.

But it’s just all so unrealistic. I guess that’s the escapism we’re drawn to when we watch movies.

Some movies, like About Time, break the illusion with outrageous elements like time travel. On a basic level, I know we all understand we’ll never be able to travel back in time, but I think it still leaves some of us wishing we could control the event in our lives.

As for most of these other movies, they leave us wishing we had more dough in our pockets. And not the brioche variety. Although now that I think about it, one can never have too much brioche.

Maybe that’s why we watch these movies in the first place. So we can live vicariously through others in a way we never could in real life.

It seems quite depressing, doesn’t it? Acknowledging that life will never be like our favorite movies is no fun. Yet we continually and willingly subject ourselves to these escapist fantasies. What the hell is that all about? Speaking of which, I think it’s time for another good romantic comedy movie binge. I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment. It’s entertainment, after all.

Crazy Rich Asians seems like a good choice, although I’m certain I’m past the age of marrying into money. Oh, well. One can dream. And I do like to dream.

At least the characters always find their perfect happy ending, even if we don’t.

 

Too Many Miniskirts, Not Enough Serial Killers

My favorite time of year is when the cool crispness of fall settles around us. The leaves turn it up a notch with vibrant oranges and brownish reds, dancing towards the ground like feathers in the wind. Cozied up in sweaters and scarves, drinking spiked apple cider is a seasonal bliss we all should have the pleasure of experiencing.

Oh, and Halloween is where it’s at. I love it all, the decorations, the candy, the horror movie marathons, the candy, the cute kids’ costumes, the candy, the scary costumes, the candy.

But I have a major issue with Halloween that I don’t think I’ve discussed here.

Well, it’s not so much a Halloween problem as it is a social problem that utilizes Halloween for its outlet of all things misogynistic and objectifying. Yeah, I know. We’re going there again.

But, seriously… have you ever noticed the intense gender bias between men’s and women’s Halloween costumes? Even with an awareness of the world we live in, it’s surprising.

Women’s costumes are sooo different. Why?

You know what they say: sex sells. And body objectification has become a better selling point than accuracy, apparently. For instance, doctor costumes with the full doctor-y aesthetic are marketed to men and the sexy nurse with the padded bra, fishnet stockings and heels are marketed to young women.

Don’t even get me started on the whole school boy vs school girl theme.

Some of the worst offenders yet are classic horror movie characters: Chucky, Beetlejuice, Jason, Freddy, Pennywise. Nearly every adult women’s horror icon costume features a miniskirt or hotpants. They are distinctly more revealing than their male counterparts, and often barely resemble the character they’re supposed to be.

What do the decision-makers at these costume companies think? Are women too sensitive to wear monster costumes? Are we too weak to dress up as iconic serial killers? Are we simply too delicate to wear clothes? One thing is true, marketing gurus sure do have a knack for revealing ongoing social ideals; in this case, women are apparently only good for one thing.

Really? I mean, just, really? What the hell, people!? Freddy and Jason were never meant to embody sex appeal. No, just no.

I guess we should be glad that they at least put her in something that sort of resembles Chucky’s iconic overalls. I just don’t remember Chucky being this sexy. Oh, that’s right… because he wasn’t.

If you love Beetlejuice enough to dress up as the character for Halloween, wouldn’t you want to oh, I don’t know, look like Beetlejuice? I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not Beetlejuice.

Anyone who has seen and loved IT would be embarrassed by this travesty. Looks that kill? Not.

Now, I’m not saying this is the most tasteful costume for 2020, but still, if you like the whole plague doctor thing, what the hell is this!? She’s not even wearing a proper plague mask. How is she a plague doctor at all? Oh, it’s a cute costume, but there are no plague-y precautions going on and nothing to associate the wearer as a plague doctor.

In one ad for a costume based off of the 2007 horror film Trick ‘r Treat (excellent movie, by the way, I give it a thumbs up!), the men’s costume is, quite frankly, not good, but the women’s costume is a wildly inaccurate and sexualized interpretation of a horror character who in the film is a child. A demon child with a pumpkin head, yes, but a child, nonetheless.

the original Sam in all his glory

The movie is anthology-style, where this kid, Sam, shows up to enforce the rules or traditions of Halloween. Dressed in raggedy orange footy pajamas and a burlap sack over his head, Sam appears across all the stories where macabre chaos ensues. Did I mention that it’s an excellent movie?

This woman, wearing a bright orange dress that cuts just below her butt, actually pulls the skirt up and out for the publicity shot. She has brown burlap-looking accents on the dress and a hood that sort of resembles the villain in the movie but looks more like a sexy scarecrow in someone’s field of dreams.

No one would ever put two and two together for this one.  Again, if you love the movie so much that you want to dress as the character, why would you choose this monstrosity? (ha! see what I did there? it’s a monster movie and the costume is a monstrosity… get it?)

What would be so bad about an adult female wearing the raggedy footy pajamas with a sack mask over her head? Oh, that’s right. It wouldn’t show off her legs, lips, or breasts.

I’m tired of seeing costumes that feature characters like the female vampire slayer who looks more like a seductive vampire just itching to be slain than a fierce hunter herself.

Women who love horror movies want the full-on scary, gore-splattered costumes. Otherwise, what’s the point? I mean, yes, yes, I get the point, but come on!  Can we please just rid ourselves of the miniskirt where it doesn’t belong? Or is that just too much to ask?

 

Just Another Day

Don’t you just love those mornings where you wake up peacefully – and rested – before the alarm starts blaring in your face?

I do, too, except I don’t get them often.

My sleepy eyelids resist opening to the harsh sunlight, and I think “the world seems too bright.” Wait. It is brighter. What time is it!? Am I late?

Suddenly rushing from peace to panic, I check the time. I’m late. Again. I roll my eyes instinctively. What else is new? Now that I’m rushing to get ready for work, I’m sure that everything that can go south will go south. You know, Murphy’s Law and all that.

Even putting on pants feels like a nightmare, and yes, I am wearing pants. But hey, at least there’s coffee.

Apparently, the Keurig is in a mood today, because it seemed to say “yeah, you thought there was coffeeas it malfunctioned. Again. Instead of receiving the large cup I desperately needed, the machine offers me an uber small cup that tastes (and feels) like a gelatinous espresso.

The concentrated dose of caffeine in that elf-sized cup of Joe motivates me to get out the door, finally, where it’s raining? Seriously? After running back inside to fetch my umbrella, I rush to the car – that needs gas. I could’ve done it yesterday on my way home, but I naively thought Oh, I’ll get it in the morning. Procrastination always comes back to bite me, but somehow, I still haven’t learned. At this point, I probably never will. And I’m okay with that.

Except when I’m running late for work in the pouring rain, the car’s gas tank is nearly empty, and I’ve only just realized I left my lunch on the kitchen counter.

I let out my anger on the road… as usual.

The Keurig’s makeshift espresso from this morning gifts my coworkers with a second-hand buzz that may cause some serious suspicion over my substance intake. With a fast-talking attitude and fidgety movements, I barrel through my work with superhuman speed and a not-so-mild caffeine-induced anxiety.

It sure made the morning meeting pass quickly; I’ll say that much. Although that may be due in part to my lack of attention – which I only realized when I was unexpectedly called on. Instead of answering the question with any form of coherence whatsoever, I was instead dealing with a series of traumatic high school flashbacks. George Washington! No? Oh, wait, 42! Mesopotamia! The Battle of 1812! Wait, what were we talking about again?

Well, once that was over with, I remembered my lunch sack, sitting sad and alone on the kitchen counter. I guess I have another lunch date with the vending machine while Holly, the ne’er-do-well, is no doubt snacking on my tuna salad sandwich. The vending machine isn’t the best date, though – it ate my money, again. I think it was even hungrier than me this time.

As the crash from this morning’s coffee begins to seep its way into my psyche, I am less than elated to run into Karen coming out of the ladies’ room. I’ve done my best all morning to avoid the office gossip as best as I can, but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.

I just want to shout NO KAREN. I’m not interested in Kathy’s marital problems. And you shouldn’t be either.

Even though I did my work with the speed (and disregard) of a tornado, I managed to leave work late. As the last one out, I set the alarm behind me.

And as soon as I heard the click of the lock as I shut the door, I realized I left my umbrella on my desk. It is now pouring rain, and my car, having also been one of the last to arrive, is not nearby. Just go back in and grab the stupid umbrella, I hear you say. Ahhh… you see, while my employer trusts us enough to set the alarm, they do not trust us enough to have a key to get back in once we leave. But as someone who loves to see the positive for every negative, I think at least I won’t need a shower.

Once I got home, I was finally able to have a home-cooked meal… even if I did burn it. Last time I summoned a full-on demon, so this is still a step up from that one.

The rain must have been worse than I thought because the internet went down. It wouldn’t be an issue, except for the fact that I began a very serious Friday the 13th marathon yesterday. Without the tools to finish my binge, I suppose I’ll read instead. Not a bad alternative.

Or so I think until I realize halfway through chapter 5 that an entire section of the book is MIA. Don’t ask me why or how, there are no answers here. And no mid-book chapters either, apparently.

Well, I read on, hoping context clues and even some small leaps can help me navigate my way to the ending. After chapter 10, I realize that missing section must’ve been pretty important because I have no clue what’s going on anymore.

I sigh, putting the book down and feeling like that might just be the best metaphor possible for my life.

A Reflection on Mornings

My phone buzzed from across the room. And it buzzed, and buzzed, and BUZZED.

I cursed the alarm for waking me up, myself for putting it too far away to hit the snooze button from my bed, and the universe for creating a concept as off-putting as mornings.

After five minutes of mental grumbling, I began to fear the abrasiveness of the next alarm which would inevitably arrive in five more minutes. Then my eyes closed, again. Drifting back into sleep, I wondered about my hungry cats, the banality of my work week, and a strange desire for candy.

WONK-WONK-WONK. Shit. I fell asleep again.

With groggy eyes, a cloudy brain, and a stiffness in my body that takes too much time to shake off, I shuffled across the room turn off my alarm.

Without this system, I would never get to work. Without the need to get up out of bed to turn off my panic-inducing alarm, I simply wouldn’t.

I hate mornings. With a passion.

I have never been a morning person, and I never will be. And that’s okay. Unless you ask me right after I wake up. Then, nothing is okay.

After feeding my two cats and two dogs, I empty the cat litter, pick up after the dogs, and wonder why I have so many pets. Oh, that’s right, I love them, and they add meaning to my life. It’s a lot easier to remember that after I’m fully awake, which won’t happen for another hour at least. I don’t know why people say that having pets helps with stress. It doesn’t.

I’m late for work. Again. No matter how early I wake up, something always eats my time and gets me off schedule—a sick dog, an escaped cat, an imploding house.

I may have mentioned that I live in a condo, which means I have lots of neighbors. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; I just personally can’t stand having nothing conversations. You know, small talk. You listen to someone talk about nothing, respond with a limited acknowledgement of the nothing, and then you might go back and forth about nothing for a while, before exiting the conversation and never thinking about it again, because there was nothing to think about in the first place.

Did you feel the pain of reading that sentence? That’s how I feel during nothing conversations.

Yet, somehow, I have them every day. And it’s always in the morning.

My elderly next-door neighbor loves nothing conversations. I still haven’t been able to find a way to politely exit the conversation early on (and trust me, I’ve tried), so I usually end up getting caught in a 20-minute long exchange that drains me emotionally and makes me (even more) late for work.

My most effective strategy so far has been to leave my condo like a teenager sneaking out to a late-night party. I used to be good at it, but apparently one grows rusty as one gets older. No matter how quiet and careful I am, I often meet a worse fate than nothing conversations — the creepy old guy down the way.

On some days, I’m unlucky enough to get zinged by both of them.

Once I finally get to the car, my morning still isn’t looking bright. I’m already tired physically and emotionally. From my frenetic morning chores, my neighbors, and my impending doom. It’s in this state that I take to the streets, which is where you can see my true morning colors.

I’m an introvert with road rage.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in kindness, consideration, patience, human decency. I consider myself to be a person with values that enact positive change in the world.  Just not on the road where the assholes apparently live. And what makes it worse is the fact that every time I drive to work, it’s the morning. I think I may have told you how I feel about mornings.

Once the morning passes, socialization is a hell of a lot easier. But I won’t lie to you and say everything is all wine and roses. Oh how I wish there was wine… wouldn’t that make the morning go by much more pleasantly! But, yeah, no. You see, my office consists of characters from The Office except way less funny and more exasperating.

It’s a miracle that I can get through one eight-hour day without needing bail money, let alone an entire week.

It’s not that I don’t like working with others. I do. Sort of. Okay, well, not at all, but, I can work with others just fine, thank you very much. It’s just that my office is filled to the brim with overconfident type-A personalities who are more than happy to tell you the right way to do things even when they have no idea how to do said things. Yeah, thanks for the advice Dwight, but no one asked.

So, after a jam-packed day of Zoom meetings that could very well have been emails requiring no human interaction whatsoever, I inch closer and closer to my sacred wind-down time.

I always notice that my evening drive has a lot less rage than my morning drive. Once I get home, I tend to the pets again; giving everyone dinner, taking out the dogs and the cat litter, emptying and refilling the water bowls, and then I can finally focus on myself (Masked Singer and Great British Bake Off here I come!). And look at that. No bail money needed!  For today at least.

But as Scarlett said, “after all, tomorrow is another day.” And with it comes, you guessed it, a morning. Ugh.

 

Got Inspiration?

Is there a film or a book that has stayed with you? Sure, there are some images from Stephen King and the like that I’ll never get out of my head (no matter how much I love horror), but for me, it’s the novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Yes, it’s dated, it came out in the late 1800’s, and no, I wasn’t around for the first publication, but it’s still a fantastic read today, and relevant. People are still monsters and animal cruelty and apathy still run rampant.  To those of you who are unfamiliar with the piece, I’ll sum it up for you.

The story of Black Beauty is told from the first person (first animal?) as an autobiographical memoir told by the titular horse who is, as the title would indicate, named Black Beauty. Starting off with his early days as a colt growing up on an English farm alongside his mother, all the way to his later days and his eventual happy retirement to the country. Throughout the course of the story he encounters trials and tribulations along with many tales of abject cruelty and suffering as well as true kindness. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you give it a shot.

This book – and the story of Ramses from Lad of Sunnybrook, opened my eyes to the depths some humans were willing to sink, but there were also examples of compassion. In fact, these stories inspired me to become an animal advocate.

Maybe you’ve watched a movie or read a book that impacted what career choice you made, or as in my case, what types of organizations you join. I’d be curious to hear your stories in regard to what books, movies, tv shows or other forms of like media, inspired you to do certain things, or join certain groups, or even work in specific fields.

Have you ever thought what forms of inspiration may have served people throughout the course of history? What prompted Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch to paint the popular painting most commonly referred to as, ‘The Scream’? It was painted in 1893, and depicts a man holding onto his face like Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone.

Obviously, he wasn’t inspired by a movie. In this case it wasn’t a book either, but as my google search tells me, he wrote in his diary,

“One evening I was walking along a path; the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.”

I know. Cool, right!?

It’s just interesting to think about what inspires people. Maybe reading Lord of the Rings inspired you to write your own story, or maybe you became an expert in mythology thanks to Neil Gaiman or a history buff courtesy of Lin Manuel Miranda.

If I asked you to tell me about a movie, book, show, comic, play, or any other form of media that impacted you in some way, what comes to mind first?

 

Shutting the Book on Bookstores

I have to share something devastating with you. You might want to sit down for this as you may be as shocked as I am.

The Barnes and Noble at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore has closed its doors for good. I know, right!? I can hardly imagine it. What used to be a multi-level oasis of pure happiness is now an empty building full of lost hopes and dreams.

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

No more new book smell. No more window shopping for little gifts and trinkets. No more reading in the aisles. No more meandering through row after row of the written word.

In experiencing this heartbreak, I wonder who else might be coping with the closure of their favorite store. Who else has lost a cherished brick and mortar place of business where they could physically purchase joy in the form of art, books, or other cultural goods?

We’re all aware that as our world shrinks down to the size of a laptop, we have become increasingly geared towards technology as online storefronts replace physical ones. Ecommerce is the big buzzword. Our lives, more and more, are lived through social media rather than tangible experiences.

So, are we, as a society, eschewing tangible books for mass-produced TikTok soundbites, YouTube beauty vlogs, and online shopping? Has Amazon finally killed the bookstore? And are we going to hold Jeff Bezos accountable?

Or can the death of the bookstore be attributed to the increasing availability and convenience of ebooks and audiobooks? Did technology like the Kindle usher in the slow demise of books as we know them?

Over the last twenty years or so, I have seen bookstore after bookstore close down. At first, it was the small, independent shops… between the big box stores and Amazon, they just didn’t stand a chance. Now, apparently, even the big chains are feeling the heat of our melting society. It’s disheartening, truly. I think of the 1998 film, You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan plays a boutique bookstore owner. Her little shop struggles against the competition of the corporate Fox Books company and ultimately, her bookstore fails. Barnes and Noble is like the Fox Books of the real world. The irony that we’ve come full circle in this scenario is not lost on me.

Speaking of You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character falls in love with the owner of the company that ruined her beloved business. What’s that about anyway?? Even if he is Tom Hanks, I just don’t get it. It’s a good movie, but that resentment should feel more realistic. And it would read more like a tragedy than a romance.

Online shopping was already a huge business.  As we continue our lives through the pandemic, more and more people turn to Amazon and other ecommerce stores for their shopping. While some small bookstores remain afloat, will they be able to survive?

Bookstores, as you might have guessed, are one of my favorite places. They live and breathe creativity. The paper, the stories, the shelves, are all embedded into the very fabric of that magical place. It would be such a shame to know them only as a memory.

 

Do Not Disturb

Have you ever noticed that people are usually content to sit quietly and leave you in peace – until you have headphones in. Suddenly, your earbuds are like a beacon to those around you, begging for them to interrupt your music or podcast session for pointless conversation.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a similar scenario: you’re on the bus or waiting for public transport and decide to relax, unwind, let the sweet sounds of music carry you away while you wait. You close your eyes as you listen. You’ve just settled into the rhythm; your stress levels have started to decline when you feel that dreaded sensation – the annoying tap-tap-tap of a stranger’s finger on your shoulder. You open your eyes and see the stranger peering at you, uncomfortably close to your face, and gesturing for you to remove the blessed buds from your ears. You try to mask the annoyance on your face, maybe even swallow a bit of rage as you oblige, and force a polite, “Yes?”

“What stop is this?” They ask. Your eyes slide up to the sign directly above their heads, and you inwardly sigh as you reiterate the same information that is clearly stated mere feet away from their line of vision. As they nod at you, you gingerly place your earbuds back in place and desperately try to find the feeling of peace you just had.

Maybe the scenario has been slightly different, but we’ve all been there, right? At one time or another, we’ve all been enjoying our fleeting moments of solitude only to be interrupted by some well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) stranger who simply must speak to you. My favorite is when they make a big deal about interrupting you just to ask “whatcha listening to?”

And ladies, I’m sure we can all appreciate those times when a not-so-gentleman beside us has relentlessly tapped our shoulder in what can only be described as a concerted effort to annoy us into removing our headphones, only to try out his best one-liner, usually of the negging variety.  I have yet to meet a woman who fell in love on the 7:05 train to Newark. Especially when the unwanted suitor just interrupted Agatha Christie.

Or, you’re at work, just trying your best to get through a hectic day without becoming a headline or needing bail money. You’re there in the break room, you’re obviously at lunch, and you’re trying to get in a few chapters of that audiobook you just started and lo and behold… in comes the coworker with boundary issues.

Why is it that as soon as you put on headphones, you’re suddenly much more popular than you were five minutes ago sans headphones?  I mean, it’s like you’re wearing a sign that says, hey, interrupt me, no, please go ahead, I’m not doing anything at all here like listening to a book or letting the music calm my frayed nerves or really, anything at all important… I mean, honestly, I’ve been waiting here impatiently for someone to notice that I have my headphones in, so really, go ahead. Interrupt me.   

Sometimes I have to wonder, are these people actually that eager for human interaction that they would force themselves into your world of earbud bliss? Or do they find some enjoyment in seeing your stunned face as they yank you out of your reverie?

Let the masses hear my plea: if you see someone with headphones in, whether they’re on the bus, in the break room at work, or walking through the park, for the love of all things good and holy…

DO NOT DISTURB.

The People of Zoom

Ah, the world of Zoom. It is as mysterious as it is straightforward. An app I had never before used in my life has now become a word I use on a daily basis. And, as it goes in all aspects of life, Zoom features the good, the bad, and the… interesting.

I have to say, Zoom is a great platform for remote meetings, webinars, and training. It’s also become a useful and unexpected tool for keeping in touch with family and friends. We see people on the screen who we’ve just chatted with over the phone, who we used to see every day in the office, and who we wish we could catch up with over face-to-face coffee.

And for some reason, the remote platform of video-calls seems to accentuate all the quirks in our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. In the closed environment of the office, where we used to spend seemingly countless hours, we got to know our co-workers as the ones who were loud-chewers, frequent break-takers, or early birds.

With Zoom, we get to know our co-workers in a more personal way from the comfort of our — and their — homes. Just as typing from behind a screen provides some level of anonymity, a meeting via Zoom seems to give the participants a certain level of comfort that allows eccentricities to shine.

There’s always the one who uses the quintessential Zoom feature of an artificial background. And companies (like Disney, Fox, and Nintendo to name a few) cater to these green screen loving individuals with custom Zoom backgrounds from iconic movies, video games, and TV shows. Now you know who in the office is a die-hard Game of Thrones, Bob’s Burgers, or Frozen fan.

There are the ones who fall asleep. The one who left their mic on and is snoring audibly to an unappreciative audience. The one who wakes up *gracefully*.

There are the foodies. The one who eats chips (again, with the mic on). The messy one. If you thought loud chewers in the office were annoying, try listening to it on surround-sound. Oh, and there’s no looking away from the view either when their camera is set six inches from their face. Lovely.

There’s the one who takes the floor and talks the whole meeting even though they’re not the scheduled presenter. The one who arrives with a 500-page PowerPoint, ready to share every last excruciating detail.

And then, there are the yellers. Just today, I had a Zoom meeting. Suddenly, one attendee turned away from their camera to yell at someone the rest of us couldn’t see. They yelled “I’M ON THE PHONE!” to the person who was apparently trying to talk to them, as well as our entire meeting. We’re all still sporting headaches from the ungodly volume of their voice.

Yelling on Zoom calls should be outlawed. And for that matter, being the loud talker on the remote session is not a desirable trait. One loud member, and everyone has to turn down the volume on the whole meeting.

But is it better to be silent than loud? There’s always that one person who keeps their mic and camera off, leaving the rest of us wondering if they’re even attending the meeting at all. Are they paying attention… or off playing golf? We may never know.

Maybe they’re too embarrassed to reveal that they — like many other people — didn’t bother to get dressed for work again. In the beginning, as we navigated the world of remote work, we kept up with our professional, business-casual digs. Now, we’re lucky to see brushed hair and shaved faces.

As time goes on, more and more People of Zoom decide that it’s adequate to show up in pajamas or gym clothes with bed head, sweaty clothes, and unruly facial hair. I mean, hey, they showed up, right? And at least we can’t smell them through our computers.

While the People of Zoom show their peculiarities in full swing, providing cringe-worthy views and disagreeable noises, the Pets of Zoom are something I always look forward to.

The true VIP of any meeting is the cat or dog that wanders into view. Feline friends who feel the need to sit directly on the keyboard or dangerously close to the camera are a wonderful distraction for observers, and in my book, furry friends are always welcome — in the office or the Zoom call. No matter what the call is about, a good doggo or floofy cat makes everything better. If Zoom were exclusively for watching pets, I might feel a bit differently about the whole thing.

During this pandemic, so many of us have turned to Zoom as a safe way to socialize and continue our lives and our work. It’s a great tool, and I am thankful for it. But I still have an aversion to office meetings.

Whether we hold them in the office or remotely over Zoom, meetings can — and should — be done via email. It saves time, energy, and patience.

 

Life With No Regrets

I know I’ve mentioned my book club a few times, but much like my family, they offer so much material! The other day, a member asked a question that I personally had a very hard time answering. Other members were ready with a quick retort – most in the affirmative, which, once again, left me shaking my head… since you know, it’s a book group.  I know you’re frothing at the bit to hear the question, so here you go. They asked, “What books do you regret reading?” I know, right!?

I felt as though they might as well ask, “What air do you regret breathing?” I was, however, in the minority. Apparently, people regret reading quite a bit.

Now, you might be thinking of those heavy books, the ones that stick with you for life. And I mean emotionally weighty—not those insanely thick, must-have-on-you-at-all-times textbooks we got in school. I mean the ones that you carry in your heart. The ones that put you in a bad way if you think too much about them. The ones where you learn about the harsh realities of the real world.

The ones where the dog dies.

Even though these books don’t make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, they have value. They teach us something. Maybe we learned about the atrocities of WWII; the holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese concentration camps in America. As horrific as it is to accept, we learned something about humanity in all this history.

Or maybe the heavy book taking up space in your heart is fiction. Maybe the main character, the little girl you were rooting for, the girl burdened with unimaginable pain and sadness, the girl who shows compassion and strength, the girl who feels so real, dies at the end of the book. And you are heartbroken. And you are so moved by this, you are sobbing and letting tears run down your face and onto the pages. Reading can transport us into worlds where we are free to feel and express our emotions — good and bad.

How can you regret anything that makes you feel? Makes you learn. Makes you open your mind. Makes you grow.

Now you might think, “Well, what about a book you hated? One that was just bad.” Ahhh, but that wasn’t the question. This was a question of regrets. Bad writing is bad writing, but even then, regret reading? I don’t think so.

Reading, no matter what it might be, helps us to engage critically with ideas. Reading informs us in so many ways—not just by presenting facts like those heavy textbooks from a soon-to-be bygone era. It helps us to practice forming our own opinions. It gives us the gift of expanding our language, our imaginations, and even our aspirations.

No matter what the book is about, who it is written by, or what genre it falls in, reading a book is like taking a walk. By the end, you’re somewhere else. And even if we didn’t enjoy the journey, we saw something new.

So, instead of having an answer in my book club discussion, I only had another question: Can you really regret reading a book?

Living Under False Pretenses

Yeah, I know I’ve been remiss in writing this week. No, I didn’t drop off the face of the earth. It’s just been a very chaotic week at work which unfortunately sapped my will to live motivation and energy. I was very much looking forward to the weekend. My plans included participating in a complicated pretense wherein I would convince myself that I lived somewhere with a cool ocean breeze flowing through the window and no-one in their right mind starts the day before noon.

As it turns out, the neighbors upstairs… you remember them? Well, apparently, they had contracted with a couple of sketchy guys in a dilapidated non-branded work van to lay carpet in every room of their condo and, as you might expect, their day – and mine, as it turns out – started at 7:30 a.m.  To be honest, I was surprised, because from the daily noise level upstairs, I would have thought they had hardwood floors throughout. Who knew someone could be as loud as they are on carpet!?

The inconsideration conveyed by their early start time on a Saturday morning was exceeded only by the sheer volume of their carpet-laying enterprise.  I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have the expertise it takes to put in carpet… but, I’ve had carpet replaced in a home and I’ve been present when others have done so as well – including in an industrial situation, and while I realize it’s not the quietest task around, it shouldn’t sound like … well, whatever the hell they were doing upstairs all day today. Did I mention they started at 7:30 a.m.?

At first, it sounded like they were felling trees and processing the lumber. No, really. Halfway through the day I got on laughing fit, you know, as you do when you’re slowly going insane, and my daughter grew concerned, figuring today was finally the day her mother snapped. The staple gun was fun though, as was whatever the hell they were using to stamp down the carpet. It sounded, and felt, like they were dropping a 200-pound weight over and over and over and over, but that doesn’t make sense does it? Seriously though, if a small earthquake had hit today, we would’ve been none the wiser in my humble abode. At one point, I started making coffee because I honestly thought they were going to come through the floor for an impromptu visit and I wanted to be prepared to entertain guests. And then, annoyed by their own racket, they opted for music… which had to be played at concert-right-up-by-the-stage levels because, you know, all the other noise they had going on. They finished up and hauled out of here around 3:30 p.m.

At no point in time today did a cool ocean breeze flow through my window, and the day did not start at noon as apparently no-one in their right mind could be found.  But we have rum. Oh yes, we have rum. Not nearly as much as we had when the day started though.

Oh well. As Scarlet said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”