Insomnia in the Pacific Northwest (or, I wrote a thing for The Hairpin and I’m super duper stoked about it)

image: Tri-Star Entertainment

Can we agree that romcoms in all their traditional, predictable glory are sort of becoming a thing of the past? And that maybe it’s actually a good thing?

I’d say the old cookie-cutter boy-meets-girl storyline has undergone a few makeovers in the past decade or so and tried on some different looks — say, indie-esque (Garden State, 500 Days of Summer), irreverent (Knocked Up, Easy A) and genuinely almost great (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but the formula’s mostly stayed the same, and it seems fewer and fewer are being made. At least, the tropes that acted as a common thread among them for so many decades feel like they’re (maybe?) fading and making way (I hope, anyway) for better, more real variations on the theme. I mean, I know zilch about movie making and have zero credibility when it comes to predicting film trends, but as a plain old movie-watching, critically-thinking citizen, I can admit to my former love of the genre as I look some of its greater offenders square in the face today with clarity of vision and ask them loudly, “WHAT THE HELL??”

So I wrote a piece for The Hairpin, a brilliant website beloved by literary-leaning folks primarily of the female variety, about my reaction to Sleepless in Seattle when I watched it again last month, more than 20 years after I fell in love with it at first sight. (And I mean LOVE love. Bridget-Jones-and-Mark-Darcy-after-the-blue-string-soup, Harry-and-Sally-on-New-Year’s, Mila-and-JT-during-the-Closing-Time-Flash-Mob-at-Grand-Central-Station-in-Friends-with-Benefits level love.) With all due respect to the very talented Ephron sisters, let’s just say my affections for the film have dimmed in the time it’s taken me to grow from a myopic 17-year-old into an (only slightly less myopic) adult. Ohhh, hindsight. Why you gotta be so smug?

Honestly, I’ll always love bits and pieces of that old Tom-and-Meg situation… but I confess those sorts of movies might have messed me up a bit in the lurve department, at least when I was younger. I’m more than a little mortified that I lapped up all those messages and internalized them for as long as I did. Give the essay a read, if you’d like, and feel free to tell me how crazy you think I am on a scale of one to Annie Reed.



Cool to be kind

image: Native Vermont Studios

Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

In honor of that sentiment, November 13 has been declared World Kindness Day – an occasion that hopefully inspires us to practice random acts of kindness when and where they’re least expected, and not just for a single day, but rather, as a typical mode of operation. Here, five ideas to spark your imagination. Careful, though: these gestures may be habit-forming.

Buy the world a coke (or a coffee)

Event planner Robyn Bomar had the right idea on her 38th birthday a few years ago: instead of making the day all about her, she thought, why not make it about other people? With help from her family, she consciously committed 38 random acts of kindness, from feeding rows of parking meters and donating clothes to a homeless shelter to delivering homemade Valentines to an assisted living facility and giving gift cards to families in line behind them at the grocery store.

Her blog post about the day created a stir, and then a movement; from it, The Birthday Project was born, encouraging others to use their birthdays for good as well. Those same ideas are applicable any day of the year, and everything from leaving a huge tip on a small meal to putting a few dollars’ worth of change into a vending machine and attaching a note can bring a smile to someone’s face.

Another act of kindness to consider: over-paying your barista on behalf of folks behind you, or using Starbucks’ new feature, @tweetacoffee, where you can sync a credit card and Starbucks account to twitter and buy a cup of joe for someone with a simple tweet.

Create a care package

A recent piece by The Atlantic posited that one in four Americans will have lived under the poverty line at some point before age 35. That sobering statistic serves to put a face on the problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness, and hopefully hits home for those of us in a position to help others. While some may not be comfortable simply giving money to those asking for it on the street, a simple, practical gesture can go a long way: consider creating small personal care packages by loading up freezer bags with a bottle of water, a pair of clean socks and piece or two of fresh fruit and delivering them to folks who could desperately use them. This should go without saying, but a kind word, a handshake and a little direct eye contact wouldn’t hurt, either. We’re all just humans doing the best we know how, after all.

A bonus idea for the fall: maybe go a step further and donate non-perishables to a food bank or soup kitchen, many of which could benefit from extra foodstuffs for the holiday season.

Spend some time

Even if you don’t have a dime to spare, chances are, you have at least an hour. Time is one of our most precious resources, and it can be easily wasted on social networks, in long commutes and on all sorts of mindless diversions. Consider getting outside of your comfort zone and volunteering your time, even if you start with one commitment that lasts, say, an hour or two on a Saturday.

Check out VolunteerMatch to find a local opportunity that suits your interests, whether it’s helping pets at a shelter, kids in a hospital or elders at the local library. (Intimidated? Don’t be. Pair up with a friend and do something worthwhile in lieu of brunch this Sunday.) Rather go big? Start making plans to book a volunteer trip through Cross Cultural Solutions or Me to We. Your memories will last a lifetime, and so will those of the people you help.

Update, April 2015: actually, maybe don’t do this before you’ve done a ton of research. While ‘voluntourism’ sounds lovely on the surface, it can sometimes hurt more than it helps. Here, a few resources to help parse what’s what: an NPR piece from July 2014, an article in The Independent from last fall, a 2013 post on CNN, and a trailer for the documentary film H.O.P.E. Was Here that compelled me to add this cautionary blurb in the first place.

Make your money talk

We live in crazy times. Think about it: any material object we could ever hope to own is likely a few clicks away. While buying stuff just for the sake of buying it won’t help anything (i.e., a spoiler alert: crass consumption isn’t going to save the world), when faced with a choice between buying two similarly priced, equally useful and essential objects, one of which is ethically made and benefits a great cause and one of which isn’t and doesn’t, the decision should be an easy one to make.

Sometimes, though, we don’t have all the information we need. Sites like SHFT, Ethical Ocean, Uncommon Goods, Sevenly and TOMS’ new multi-vendor marketplace make those decisions easier; they only carry products that are ethically produced and environmentally conscious and/or have a proven social mission — often, both. Whether it’s a gift for a friend or daily basics like toothbrushes and tee shirts, you can impact the world in a positive way simply by making a more informed choice and putting your money where your heart is.

Put pen to paper

Pop quiz: When was the last time you sent an old-fashioned thank you note or a handwritten letter to someone you care about? In this era of tweets, texts and divided attention, it’s too easy to forget that a well-placed, self-penned word of encouragement or gratitude can brighten someone’s day or even boost them through a rough patch. It only costs the price of a postage stamp and a few minutes of your time, but it can make someone else feel like a million bucks, even if only for a day. That’s a return on investment that can’t be argued with.

However you choose to celebrate the day, any act of kindness is better than none at all. For more ideas on making a positive impact, check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (Yes, there’s actually a non-profit org called the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. There just might be hope for us after all, people.)

Obviously, we’re not going to solve all the world’s problems simply by being kinder to each other for a day (or even all the time), but for those of us willing to take the first swipe at making things the tiniest bit better, we could stand to heed the words of legendary Grand Slammer Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


ps… In case this post seems a little formal compared to what’s usually found here, it was actually pitched to and written for the website of a print magazine, but they ended up not running it. So, blah, I thought I’d share it with you kind folks instead. 

pps… hey, ‘member this?


For those about to rock

image: The Shabby Creek Shop

Tonight, I’m going to my first metal show, ever.

I’m pretty much a Great American Songbook girl all the way, having grown up on a steady diet of Cole Porter standards, Rodgers & Hammerstein classics, a little bit of rock and a totally unhealthy stream of MTV pop trash for balance.  I have an open-ended appreciation for all forms of music, though, and new experiences have become something of a drug for me in the last few years.  So, when one of my favorite people I’ve ever known asks me to go on a road trip and absorb some mega-angry industrial metal with him at the Toyota Center in Houston, I’m all about hopping in the car, even though it’s going to be like this.

Ah, the things we do for love of learning… and also just for love.

Let’s be clear: my only reference point for this super-upset band we’re seeing, Rammstein, is a snippet from a song of theirs called “Du Hast” to which Beavis and Butthead banged their heads a long, long time ago when Beavis and Butthead was something people actually watched.  That’s all I’ve got.  That’s all I’m working with here, kids — a memory from the mid-90s.  The broader perspective isn’t much better; my entire metal catalogue consists of exactly one — count ’em it, one — Rage Against the Machine song that everybody over the age of five probably also knows by heart, and yes, it’s the one with the F-bomb in the chorus.  Tee hee.

Cindy Brady here, reporting live from the mosh pit!

When my boyfriend first asked me months ago — a hundred months ago — if I wanted to go to this show with him, I saw how excited he was.  He’s a planner by nature, so the advance notice didn’t really surprise me, but apparently this particular (German) band doesn’t tour the US often, and he wasn’t passing up the chance to see them even if it meant going on his own.  This boy was logging onto StubHub and making some magic happen whether I was on board or not, but he was sweet enough to ask me along anyway.  I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Yes, on two conditions.  I’ll go with you if you let me wear a bike helmet and a light pink tee shirt that says ‘Baby’s First Metal Show.'”

Know what?  That fool agreed.

Just kidding… he’s not a fool at all.  But he did agree.  This brilliant and amazing person has totally signed up for my randomness in all its forms.  He’s fully aware he’s joined forces with a pearl-encrusted borderline unicorn enthusiast.  He understands he’s in a relationship with someone virtually incapable of sarcasm or acidity, and he’s completely cognizant of the fact that sometimes, hanging out with me entails Muppet references and a completely made-up language.  Although I try to keep the fairy dust to a minimum, he knows it’s entirely plausible that his date to the Rammstein show will be rocking pigtails and a maxi dress.  I might even scamper up into that joint in some ballet flats.  (I did find a sweet pair of earplugs made to look like 9mm bullets, but I didn’t order them in time.  I mean, look, though… I tried.)

In the end, I think we’re all just people looking for other people whose dreams, fears and weirdnesses fit like jigsaw puzzle pieces up against our own.  Although I doubt I’ll walk away from the Rammstein show a believer, I’ll likely have learned how to curse a jerk out in German… so, there’s that.  Perhaps I’ll have figured out how to throw the sign of the beast without looking like I’m rooting on the Longhorns or saying mahalo. And hopefully, I’ll see and hear in person some of the stuff I’ve learned this week from the metal documentary I’ve been watching a little of each night, which was produced and directed by a diehard metalhead who also happens to be an anthropologist and which includes sound bytes from my literary spirit animal, Chuck Klosterman, who would probably sigh and roll his beady little eyes if he ever read this sentence, because a) I’m such a rock neophyte it’s ridiculous, b) this sentence is nine miles long and horrifically constructed, and c) aside from being practically unreadable, this sentence also includes an a)b)c) section, which is something he does fairly often and which, therefore, looks super-reductive coming from me.  OHAI, Chuck.  Love your work.  <awkward pause>  Kbye.

Anyway, most importantly, there’s the fact that tonight’s show is going to make my boyfriend really, really happy.  If he can sit through The Muppets with me, I can experience Rammstein with him.  He’s a good egg.  I think I’ll leave the bike helmet at home and bang my head with him just this once.