15 a Day

I don’t remember if it was my idea or Mr. Zielinski’s. Maybe I borrowed his idea and shaped it to fit what I felt was achievable at the time. It doesn’t really matter where the idea came from, though. What matters is for a long time, I was doing it, and it was good for me, and I think it could be good for me again. When I was younger–and this is over a decade ago now–I challenged myself to write at least 15 lines of prose a day.

It’s likely that the bulk of that prose would be, in hindsight, pretty embarrassing. Here are just a few reasons for that.

  • I was a teenager then.
  • I wrote an excessive number of love stories. They were set in kitchens and on road trips and at playgrounds. They had a sameness about them, a theme of a boy and a girl who fall in love in rather ordinary circumstances. They usually ended with kissing. They were flowery, but they were not pretty.
  • I was enormously self absorbed. And I realize this is true for approximately 99.9% of American teenagers, but still, I don’t think I wrote about anything from an outsider’s perspective without it becoming “This is how this impacts me directly.”
  • It doesn’t do much good to look back at a time when you didn’t particularly like who you were.

And yet, the concept of writing that much daily is really appealing right now. Aside from reading and maybe riding roller coasters (maybe), I’ve never liked any other activity as much as I enjoy writing. Even if no one ever sees the words I wrote (and thankfully, the worst of the stuff was for my eyes only), it’s a healthy thing for me, jotting down thoughts on the new pharmacy tech at Walgreens or Scott’s iTunes playlist or how horrible my hands smell after cleaning the refrigerator. (And it’s bad, guys. It’s really bad.)

So I’m going to start doing that again. Sometimes, the results will show up here. It’s going to be nice to write without scrutiny, without obligation, and without rules. Teenage Christy didn’t know nearly as much as she thought she did, but she knew this was a good idea.

2014: The Good Parts

Man, 2014 was kind of a disaster, huh? That back half was especially rough!

A few good things did happen, though. I went to three podcast tapings, a Hold Steady show, and a Billy Joel concert. I was surprised to learn that Cabaret was my favorite live musical. I read a bunch of great books. I saw Michigan in the fall. I played some video games. I went to some meetups. I got to go on a cruise with Scott. I took some great weekend trips. And I learned a thing or two, though I’m not sure what those things were!

Along the way, I had some pieces published on The Toast.

This one is about dental implants, and it’s a personal essay.

This is a Femslash Friday about Skye and Simmons on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. I can now safely say that I no longer ship these two, but they seemed like a pretty solid match after season one.

Another Femslash Friday. I wrote a fic about these two Young Avengers. Their love will never die.

I co-wrote this with Bethany Keeley-Jonker. It’s about the Baby-Sitters Club, and it’s pretty funny.

I didn’t update this blahg very often, and I don’t know if that’ll change in 2015. Now that listicles are everywhere, mine seem both a) too wordy and b) too redundant. But I genuinely enjoy writing one every now and again, so that’ll probably happen at least a few times in the coming year.

In 2015, I resolve to whine less and appreciate what life has to offer more.

Also, to drink precisely as much Diet Coke as my body requires.

Cheers.

This Reading Wasn’t Required But I Did It Anyway

According to my Goodreads profile, which I do my best to keep current, I’ve read 30 books this year. As of next week, the number should rise to 32, which was my goal for the year. (Well, my goal as of October. Before that, it was lower. Sometimes, my reading habits get a little out of control.) Here are some selections from that list, annotated.

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell. If you’re even a little bit interested in how Tommy Wiseau crafted his fascinating fiasco of a movie, then you should—nay, need to read this book. Sestero (who starred in The Room and was heavily involved in the production process) and Bissell explore Wiseau’s inner psyche as they take readers through the movie’s short but tumultuous history, and they do it in a fairly evenhanded but entertaining manner.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. I briefly quit reading books after finishing NOS4A2. The content was that disturbing to me. I don’t recommend it. Read Horns instead. The editing is better, and it’ll stick with you, but not like this guy.

Divergent by Veronica Roth. I couldn’t stop reading this book and assigned myself to the Nice Faction (I literally don’t remember what the Nice Faction is actually called, sorry). Apparently, its appeal didn’t stick, because I haven’t read the sequels. But I’m glad you probably have!

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. Remember how magical the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series was? No? Well, I assure you, it was very magical. This—a novel featuring the same characters several years down the road—is the opposite of magical. It’s like the worst kind of Muggle in book form. This book is Marge Dursley. There. I said it. You’re welcome.

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. This Ukrainian novel was mentioned in one of Nick Hornby’s essay collections (essay collections I’ve read and reread and would probably reread again). It’s about a man who writes obituaries for a living and has a pet penguin that’s probably depressed. I don’t want to say more for fear of ruining it or making it sound any weirder than it already does, because yes, the premise is unusual, but the storytelling is oddly sweet and the dystopian elements (yes, they’re there) fit in nicely with the surface narrative of a man and the family he accidentally builds.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl is endlessly relatable if you, like me, dabble in the world of fanfiction and have some difficulty articulating your feelings despite writing all the ever-loving time. Rowell’s one of my favorite writers these days.

Going Clear by Lawrence Wright. If you’re in any way interested in the history of scientology, this is a must-read. It’s pretty exhaustive but it’s relentlessly fascinating at the same time.

The Witches by Roald Dahl. I used to read Matilda every year. It’s one of my favorite books and features one of my favorite protagonists. I tried to read The Witches as a kid but got distracted. At 27, I can’t understand how that could possibly happen. It’s so delightfully strange and eerie and involving, and it’s every bit as good as Matilda.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion. I described this book—a book club pick—as a real bummer in the best possible way. That’s still the most succinct, accurate description I can give.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I put off reading the last chapter of this book for a little while because I was enjoying it so much. The narrative structure is brilliant, with characters in each chapter connected—however closely or loosely—to previously mentioned characters. It’s essentially a concept album with words instead of music. Just wonderful.

The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. I have A Lot to Say about these books. I’m saving that for a blahg entry that will probably never happen.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’ve never met a graphic memoir I didn’t love, from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis to Craig Thompson’s Blankets to this. On Goodreads last month, I said Fun Home is poignant without being overly emotional. That’s a delicate balance when you’re writing about your father’s death. But Bechdel handles it beautifully.

Hawkeye: LA Woman by Matt Fraction. I’m still savoring the third volume of Hawkeye, which focuses on Kate Bishop’s misadventures in LA. I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: everyone should read this series. Really. Everyone.

Quick Takes on What Autumn Has Been So Far

Life’s been full lately, so today, I’m sitting with my feet up on one of our nesting tables (IKEA Klubbo, naturally), resting my strained knee, doing my best to do nothing. It’s going pretty well so far. But I’ll deviate from poking around on the Internet to write something here, since it’s been a while and a lot has happened.

For one thing, Scott and I went on our first solo vacation in literally years. We’re not counting weekend trips to Chicago or our annual trek to Michigan for Christmas; this was a proper vacation, a seven-day cruise to Bermuda the departed from the Hudson. Scott’s always been great at planning vacations, and this was no exception. We chose Norwegian as our cruise line and splurged on a room with a balcony and a meal plan that ended up involving two trips to the same steakhouse. (We both got filet mignon on both occasions. Shut up.) At the risk of sounding like I’m being paid to say so, the trip was exactly what we were looking for, if not more. (The boat has waterslides on it! Waterslides!) There was snorkeling and shows and delicious food and high-quality drinks and sightseeing and sitting on the balcony, reading or simply looking out at the ocean. Typically, at the end of a trip, I’m ready to get back to New York. This was one time I gladly would’ve stayed gone for a few more days.

That was the first week of September, and the rest of that month’s a bit of a blur. We’re in the busiest of busy seasons at work, and Scott and I hadn’t planned anything extravagant or even close for the weeks that followed our vacation, for obvious reasons. But once October kicked off, that did change to some extent, as I finally got to cash in my Valentine’s/birthday present from Scott: tickets to one of Billy Joel’s monthly Madison Square Garden gigs.

I don’t write about music very often, but I’ll write about this concert, because it was all kinds of fantastic. He sounds the same as he always has, he plays just as bafflingly well as ever, his band is top notch, his setlists are carefully curated, and his audience engagement is way better than what you might anticipate from a famously curmudgeonly guy. Favorite moments include, but are not limited to, the lighting during “Pressure,” the oddball pick of playing “Laura,” the entire crowd losing their minds during “My Life” (of all songs), “New York State of MInd” (just all of it, OK?), his complimenting the audience on how well we sang along with “She’s Always a Woman,” and, naturally, the reaction when he started playing the harmonica for “Piano Man.”

(Oh, and he closed with “Only the Good Die Young,” which is my karaoke jam. So there’s that.)

Within days of Billy Joel Day, I turned 27, which seems like a pretty good age and sounds substantially older than 26. To celebrate, Scott and I went to the Stag’s Head then tried to see Gone Girl. It was sold out, and I dragged him to Midtown Comics instead so I could pick up Sex Criminals in preparation for the meetup with its writer and artist, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky (plus Fraction’s amazing wife, Kelly Sue DeConnick, who writes Captain Marvel). Sex Criminals is far and away the most original comic I’ve ever read. It’s funny and sincere and imaginative, and so are Matt and Chip and Kelly, who were lovely to meet in a semi-crappy bar near Penn Station.

The day after the meetup, some friends and I went to Thrilling Adventure Hour live at the Bell House, a venue I love but hate getting to. This time it was more than worth it. In the past few months, TAH has become one of my favorite pieces of media, as I’ve said here. And this performance was pitch perfect. The special guests were top notch, the WorkJuice players were at peak awesome, and the segments were as entertaining as ever (more so, considering the live aspect).

So, that was last Saturday. In the week since, Scott and I did see Gone Girl. There were some things I loved about it (chiefly the acting and the sound editing), but as far as Fincher goes, I don’t think it’s his strongest, not with both Se7en and The Social Network in contention. Still, I’m glad to have seen it, if only for the performances. Other recent diversions, entertainment wise, include How to Get Away with Murder (Scott’s and my first Shonda Rhimes show, and we’re enjoying the hell out of it) and the Magicians trilogy. I have a lot to say about the latter, but I think that’s probably a story for another time. I’ve also been really into Jordan Jesse Go! It’s a MaxFun podcast that used to be an occasional listen; now, I look forward to it every week. As a consequence, I watched An Affair of the Heart, a documentary about Rick Springfield fans, after cohost Jordan Morris recommended it. If you think the idea of obsessive fandom is at all interesting, I recommend watching it. (It’s on Netflix streaming.) It drags a bit here and there, and it’s not stunningly directed or anything like that, but the content is bizarre enough to keep you interested for a while. (In sum, a certain subset of middle-aged women would follow Rick Springfield to the ends of the earth.)

Alright, I think that’s everything I had to say and then some. As you were. Halloween post to come.

The Trouble with and Triumphs of Expectations

Remember when X-Men: The Last Stand came out? The moviegoing public was generally pretty psyched, since X2: X-Men United was a remarkably solid superhero flick, with some real heft in its storytelling, a varied cast of characters, and a plot that I still get ridiculously invested in whenever I stumble across the movie on cable.

But there was reason to worry before the film was released. Brett Ratner, still best known to me for his above-average work on Red Dragon and par-for-the-course work on the Rush Hour series, took the directorial reigns from Bryan Singer. David Hayter didn’t have a screenwriting credit, and Singer had nothing to do with the story. But hey, Patrick Stewart! Ian McKellen! That guy who would later appear in Hairspray and Enchanted! (Look, I know his name, OK? I’m doing this for effect. It’s not fault they wrote Scott Summers to be a whiny jerkface. OR IS IT?) And Ratner does fine with action sequences, right? … Right?

Turns out, critics were iffy on X3 and fans hated it. X2 hints at an allegory, only getting heavy-handed in its final moments; X3 begins heavy-handed and stays that way. A handful of major players are killed off long before the film’s climax, making for fewer compelling performances. The new characters, who could be great, given their comic backstories, are just kind of there, and in general, the movie just tends to fall a bit flat.

At least, that’s what you’d think if you had high expectations. I did not, and I liked–nay, loved X3.

In retrospect, I see its flaws very clearly, but I still believe that for what it is–a superhero movie made before the Dark Knight trilogy (which essentially rewrote the DNA of any superhero movie that would follow) that’s kind of goofy and very pulpy—it’s a lot of fun to watch. The truth is that I don’t always watch movies with a critical eye. If it’s something that’s been relentlessly praised, I actively try to lower my expectations. What’s popular or historically lauded isn’t always going to click with me, which is how I justify my hatred for Crime & Punishment. On the other hand, if there’s something I want to see or read or watch at home that those whose taste I respect hate, I’ll often still give it a try, because it can’t possibly be bad as they’re saying, and even if it is, it has the potential to be a fascinating disaster. X3 is neither a critical triumph nor a fascinating disaster. It’s somewhere in between, and it serves its purpose, and that’s fine by me.

This system of lowering my expectations or forcibly opening my mind has been met with mixed results. Even with tempered expectations, I strongly disliked American Hustle, which was, from what I understand, a “good movie.” But for every American Hustle, there’s a time that I’m so, so glad I kept my expectations in check. And the last time I went to the movies was one of those times.

I didn’t expect to love Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not a movie about Hawkeye or Black Widow, so it wasn’t a Marvel property I was salivating for, and Chris Pratt, charming as he is in interviews, still didn’t strike me as the action hero sort. I decided ahead of time that if nothing else, I would enjoy it for its visuals and its soundtrack, both objectively good things. It’d be worth my time for those reasons. But it ended up being so much more than that.

There’s nothing I can say about Guardians of the Galaxy that hasn’t already been said. It does a bang-up job of getting its team together and throwing them into the kind of action sequences that strike a viewer as unforgettable, prison breaks and casino brawls and spaceships melding together to surround a giant spaceship in a freaking force field. It’s genuinely funny, with dialogue that’s snappy but not too clever by half. It’s terrifically performed, with Pratt turning out to be a legitimate action hero for the ages, Zoe Saldana proving again that she deserves a role in every sci-fi/fantasy/superhero movie ever, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper providing vocal performances no one else could have, and Dave Bautista surprising everyone who’s ever seen Mr. Nanny but not The Princess Bride with the fact that sometimes, professional wrestlers can act. (And there’s some great supporting work here, too—John C. Reilly and Michael Rooker are standouts.)

Lastly—and if you’ve been with me for a while, you know how much I care about this—it has heart. It’s not maudlin, but it’s sincere in its occasional melancholy (the talking raccoon made me cry more than once) and its moments of triumph. I would say I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a night at the movie theater so much, but I do, because The Lego Movie wasn’t really that long ago. But I genuinely can’t recall watching something in the theater and feeling like I’d gotten a gift quite like I did watching Guardians of the Galaxy.

This is why I keep my expectations reasonable: for the pleasant surprises, the times when I walk out of the theater saying, “I liked that so much more than I thought I would.” Because sometimes, you end up loving something, and when is that not worth it? Never. That’s when.