That Clown in the Sky

“You know, guys, it always hurts to close it all up, strike the set, wipe off the greasepaint, napkin up the blood and entrails, and move on to another town.” – Joel Robinson, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Pod People”)

Well, it’s about that time, folks, time for me to list the things I wrote this year that appeared elsewhere online. But first, I’ll throw this out there: 2015 had its ups and downs, but in general, it was a pretty happy year for me. The hope, of course, is that I can take the bad parts and the good parts from this year and turn them into something great in 2016. And who knows? Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Regardless, I’m feeling pretty satisfied with life at the moment, and you can’t put a price on that.

Anyway, here, have some links!

How To Tell If You Are In A Goosebumps Book – I ran short on ideas this year, freelance-wise. This listicle, published in July, helped me break my streak. It’s very silly and laser-focused on a series for which I have a great deal of affection.

Why Hawkeye Was the Hero I Needed – This piece is nearer and dearer to my heart than anything else I’ve had published. It put me through the wringer emotionally to write about bipolar and my own experiences with neurodiversity through the lens of my longing to find someone like me. Nicole Chung at The Toast is a fantastic editor, and I was beyond content with how it ended up reading.

How To Tell If You Are In A Stephen King Novel – I was genuinely alarmed at how well-received this was. It’s the gentlest trolling possible, but it’s still trolling, so I’m glad people saw the humor in making fun of the Master of Horror.

Stars, Etc. – This one is new! The Post Calvin is a really neat idea from some recent Calvin grads, just a place for Calvin alumni to share ideas and stories from what they’re doing now that they’re out of college. I was allowed to pick any topic, so obviously, I wrote about the unfortunate reality of never seeing stars in the sky in Manhattan.

Happy.

 

 

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BGSD, BoJack Horseman, and the Strangeness of Motivation

Look, as much as I feel the need to apologize for not blahgging in an egregious amount of time, I’m not going to. No one suffers as a direct consequence of me not writing a frivolous list of the best Billy Joel songs to listen to on a Tuesday afternoon or some such nonsense. And really, if they do, they can check my archive on The Toast. I wrote a snarky love letter to Stephen King in the form of a list for them this month (read it here!), so were anyone to suffer over lack of lists, they shall suffer no more.

Anyway.

For many months now, I’ve been on a text listserv called bgsd moderated by Kelly Sue De Connick, the brilliant, effusive, and extremely kind author of some great comics, including Bitch PlanetPretty Deadly, and a couple runs on Captain Marvel. It stands for Bitches Get Shit Done, and it’s exceedingly simple but extremely effective: brief, punchy, motivational text messages. They’re all written with the intent of getting the recipient moving on whatever project they’re ignoring. For me, that’s usually a freelance piece, and reading any given missive from the bgsd archive now serves as a reminder that I really should be writing more. Anecdotally, it’s effective; since subscribing to bgsd, I’ve had three pieces published on The Toast, and one was actually a longform personal narrative. That’s big for me.

It strikes me that motivation works in mysterious ways. bgsd is pretty straightforward, but something I’ve found just as encouraging lately sounds weird even to me: a cartoon for adults about a depressed horse who used to star in a nineties sitcom. Most people on the Internet seem to have at least some baseline knowledge about BoJack Horseman at this point, and if you don’t, that “cartoon for adults about a depressed horse” bit is an OK summary. It is, for the most part, not a very cheery show. Sure, it’s a comedy, and there are laughs, but it’s balanced out by a very strong sense of pathos. BoJack (voiced by Will Arnett) is not happy, never satisfied with his life, even when he’s in a seemingly healthy relationship with Wanda (Lisa Kudrow) and filming the project he’s always dreamed of, Seabiscuit. (He’s a horse, remember?) There’s a striking scene late in season two in which BoJack realizes that nothing makes him truly happy in the long term. We see him coming to grips with that, to some extent, and by the close of the season finale, he’s striving toward self improvement again.

The most poignant moment of the season for me was the very last scene. BoJack is running and crosses paths with a baboon we see jogging past BoJack’s house every few episodes, and they share this exchange (which I’ll screencap from IMDB because I’m lazy):

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Inspiration comes from the strangest places, and watching BoJack collapse, then get such simple advice from a baboon we’ve never really met before, struck a chord with me. I’ve been letting my health slide lately, skipping out on the gym and ordering three drinks instead of one. I’ve been relatively uninspired as far as new ideas for fic and Legitimate Writing go. I’m content, but I know I’d be happier if I worked harder on both those things.

So I’ve started using the treadmill at the gym again. (It helps that this week, every mile run means another dollar for City Harvest, a local charity. Good call, Blink Fitness.) And I’m slowly but surely cutting back on sweets, and I’m brainstorming whenever I can. It’s thanks in part to bgsd, thanks in part to BoJack, and thanks in part to my ability to look for motivation wherever it may come.

Home on Film

The last movie I saw in the theater was It Follows. It’s a good movie, maybe even a great movie, a sleepy horror story that embraces the idea of building dread throughout its run time rather than wasting its scare factor on jump moments. My favorite thing about it, though, has nothing to do with story or performances or score, all of which are more than satisfactory. The thing I liked most in It Follows — the thing that set it apart from so many movies like it, so many movies in general — was the setting.

(I’m going to get into personal anecdotes with this, so brace yourself or something.)

I was born in on the east side of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and though my family moved to the greater Grand Rapids area on the opposite side of the state when I was six years old, I still spent plenty of time back in Royal Oak and the surrounding suburbs. My grandma and grandpa on my mom’s side lived there, and from 1994 through 2008, my family and I would visit about once a month. As we got older, one sibling or another and their respective significant other would drop out for a month or a few, but we were all, as one, committed to sustaining our relationship with Grandpa, who passed away in 2006, and Grandma, who passed away in 2008.

I haven’t seen much of Royal Oak since then, but considering how much time I’ve spent there, my memories of the landscape are indelible. The Detroit suburbs have an indefinable midwestern beauty about them: trees that seem to drop their leaves through all four seasons, so-clear-you-can-see-forever skies, and crisp, cold air for half the year that’s suddenly interrupted by just the right amount of humidity sometime in the middle of May. The suburban streets are narrow, flanked by narrower sidewalks occupied by couples walking and children being pushed in strollers and dogs being dragged by their leashes. I always felt safe in those suburbs, however naive that may have been. Even as a charmingly jaded twenty-something, though, the thought of meandering through the streets of Royal Oak is a calming one. So naturally, since so much of It Follows was filmed in eastern Michigan was equally calming.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s haunting, and some shots in particular stuck with me for hours after viewing. But mostly, it just made me nostalgic, even homesick. And that feeling lingered much longer than the creeping dread the movie so effectively creates. Yesterday, though, something reminded me that I have two homes now — my home state, and my city.

It happened when Scott and I were watching the Daredevil pilot. We’re not great at keeping up with current shows, but we were having a lazy evening, and neither of us wanted to commit to watching an entire movie after playing Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments as long as we had. So we tried out Daredevil, which, for the uninitiated (me), felt like a combination of the fifth season of Angel and the Toph Bei Fong black and white sequences in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In short, it’s great. And in the first few minutes, there was a single shot that really landed for me, something that never happened on Angel or Avatar or any other show I care about.

In one of the first scenes, we see the stupidly named Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) talking on the phone as he walks down a Manhattan street. He passes beneath a few awnings and soon reaches the 50th Street subway station. There was one awning in particular that Scott and I noticed and immediately recognized. We’d seen it for the first time in 2012. New to the city, we were still getting our bearings, and some friends of ours took us to a restaurant known by a few different names: Japas 27, East 27, or simply East. It’s known for its karaoke bar and its unorthodox method of serving sushi — via conveyor belt, with differently colored plates indicating different price points. More than once, I’ve eaten cheesecake with chopsticks there after having my fill of spicy shrimp rolls. It’s not right around the corner from our place, but we’re repeat customers. And there it was, smack dab in the middle of the Daredevil set.

I realize that living where we do means I’m going to see my home on TV and in movies, hear it mentioned in songs, see it as the setting in books, et cetera, et cetera. But seeing the beacon of a restaurant I’ve been enjoying for years, one of the literally thousands of restaurants in New York? That’s different. That’s special. And, silly or maudlin as it may seem, it reminded me that I belong here, and will for some time.

The Most Outsized Reactions I’ve Ever Had to a Movie I Found Scary

1993: I was six and my family watched Jurassic Park. I didn’t make it past Lex and Tim in the Jeep, screaming as the T. rex snapped her jaws and nosed at that flimsy piece of Plexiglas that served as the Murphy children’s only protection from an actual dinosaur. Instead, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably till my mom whisked me off to bed. I don’t know if she went back downstairs to watch the movie. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. It’s one of my favorites now—not the best movie ever, but certainly the one I enjoy the most.

1999: My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s version of Sleepy Hollow on New Year’s Day. He didn’t tell my mother it was rated R. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. Since I couldn’t sleep that night for fear of nightmares, my mom let me get out of bed to watch the version of Cinderella starring Brandy. It helped more than you’d think.

2008: A friend and I saw The Orphanage, a Spanish horror film, at the local movie theater that played art films and second-runs on the cheap. I was living in an apartment with three other girls that year; all three were out of town when I saw the movie. The Orphanage—essentially a ghost story in which all the ghosts are small children—rattled me so badly that, at age 20, I slept with the lights on for the first time in my life. Not just some lights, either—every light in the apartment, including the lights in the second bedroom and the bathroom. Worse yet, roughly half of the scariest scenes in the movie happen in broad daylight, so I couldn’t even spend long stretches in my apartment during the day without checking behind the door before entering a room. I remember typing the phrase “NO TIME OF DAY IS SAFE” to a friend on AOL Instant Messenger, who simply replied with a drawn out “hahahahahaha.” I understand why it’s funny now, but at the time, it was no laughing matter.

Latest Lists I Felt Like Writing, February 2015 Edition

The First Draft of My Top Ten Billy Joel Songs, Written After Vulture Published a Ranking of Every Song in Billy Joel’s Catalog (Which I’m Not Linking Here Because I Trust You to Find It Yourself if You Really Care)

“Laura”
“Vienna”
“Summer, Highland Falls”
“Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“Goodnight, Saigon”
“And So It Goes”
“Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)”
“Honesty”
“Everybody Loves You Now”

Questions I Might Have Asked Nick Hornby at His Book Signing, Given More Time

“Who inspired the character of Tucker in Juliet, Naked? Cameron Crowe identified the inspiration for Russell in Almost Famous so I want you to do that now, too, although that might ruin my current visual of Tucker—basically Neil Gaiman with glasses—so never mind, don’t tell me. I love that book, by the way. It’s my favorite novel. I mean it.”

“Do you have any idea how funny that bit you wrote about The Road in one of your Believer essays was? So funny! The funniest! I read it out loud to Scott—that’s my husband—and had to read it in fits and starts because I’d start laughing or he’d laugh over my reading. Anyway, good job on that one.”

“Is it weird to you that there are people here wearing Arsenal gear, and that they call their jerseys ‘kits’? [The author realizes that’s what they’re called.] Is it wrong of me to judge them? What is judgment, anyway? Look, to be fair to me, when I got here, one of them was directly behind me, and an employee asked if we were together, and he said, ‘Not yet.’ That was gross. I read About a Boy when I was 12, by the way. That was probably too early. You’re great!”

The Question I Actually Asked Nick Hornby

“Have you read the sequel to Death and the Penguin?” (He hasn’t, and he asked me how it was, and I said that I was hoping he had so I wouldn’t have to. The first book, as I’ve mentioned, is so, so good, and I was ready for that story to be over, kind of like how I haven’t read anything Rowling has released post-Deathly Hallows. So it goes.)

Progress on New Year’s Resolutions

Listen to Judge John Hodgman: nailed it. I haven’t heard that many, but I find them absolutely delightful.

Whine less: could be better, could be worse. I’ll keep working on that one.

Exercise more: I rowed for the first time since October today, and it was so good. I didn’t do it for very long, or for much length, but it’s very reassuring to know that my body (my knee in particular) can handle it without any pain. So, yeah, I’m feeling decent about how frequently I’m exercising, and I have actual goals in mind regarding physical fitness, so this resolution? Pretty good.

Some Things I Keep Meaning to Read, and When I Assume I Will Actually Read Them

The first two books in the Fairyland series; the five days before they’re due back at the library (I did get through a substantial chunk of the first. It’s really good!)

The first two volumes of Preacher; about three days before the Oscars since one of the people I’m watching those with lent them to me

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?”, the latest book in Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series; next time my NOOK is charged all the way and there are no other books in my line of sight

Funny Girl, the book Nick Hornby was signing; as soon as I take it off the shelf, which could be tonight or tomorrow but will probably be Tuesday

Some Things You Should Read

“If Channing Tatum Were Your Boyfriend,” a piece Nicole Cliffe gifted to readers of despite being on maternity leave (The Toast)

Sarah Seltzer’s close-reading of the vocabulary used in EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (Flavorwire)

Nathan Rabin on the Ghostbusters reboot and how much it, and other reboots and re-imaginings, won’t actually ruin your childhood entertainment (The Dissolve)

This take on the anti-vaccination movement from the perspective of an autistic person by Sarah Kurchak (Medium)