The 2021 Happiness Project

4 Jan
2021 ice sculpture

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. 

Eating a slice of good chocolate cake or a warm chocolate chip cookie. Hearing a catchy pop tune. Receiving a phone call from a friend. Enjoying warm weather in the middle of the winter. Experiencing good customer service. All of these are simple pleasures that make me a smile.

Some people think happiness is something you have to seek out, or that it results from big events. Those people need to stop and appreciate the little things more often.

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What I Want to Do in 2021

1 Jan

Today may be the first day of a new year, but I’m happy to say that the end is already in sight.

Yes, with COVID vaccines starting to be injected into people’s arms around the world (slower than expected, but still), it’s clear we’re at the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic. Sure, it won’t be an easy next few months as we get through the winter and spring, and before the vaccine reaches general availability, but I’m hopeful that with the November and December 2020 holidays now in the rear-view, people will actually hunker down, and we won’t have to worry (as much) about people crowding together or congregating for special occasions. (Fingers crossed!)

With that hope comes reason to be optimistic that 2021 won’t be like 2020, and that, by some time this coming summer, we’ll be back to some degree of normal. Even Dr. Fauci says that if all goes well with the vaccination campaign, we could approach herd immunity by the end of the summer, and be back to a normal “that is close to where we were before” by the end of 2021. Continue reading

In Spite of Everything, I’m Ending 2020 Feeling Very Lucky

30 Dec
Sunset over Chestnut Hill Reservoir

By nearly every measure, 2020 was not a good year. The reasons — many of them stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the contentious election (and politics just in general), and the multiple cases of racial injustice — have been well documented, so I don’t need to spend a lot of time rehashing them here. We’ve all lived through this year, and we know how bad it was.

But, while the pandemic may have taken a lot from us, including plans, people, and the passage of time, it did not take away perspective. In fact, the darkness of this year only made the light shine brighter.

To that end, there were also plenty of good or fun things that happened, and things that were worth smiling about. These things should be remembered, too. We should be grateful for all the doctors and healthcare workers, the public health officials, the teachers, the supermarket employees, and many other “essential workers” who went above and beyond to keep us safe, healthy, well fed, educated, stocked, and supplied this year. And of course, we should applaud the millions of people around the world who rightfully took to the streets to affirm that Black lives do, in fact, matter, and to demand that others said the same and acted accordingly.

To be clear, I’d never say I had a good year in 2020. I spent much of it alone in my small apartment, I was often confused or angry or frustrated (or all three), I lost my job over the summer, I couldn’t travel or go to the movies or experience concerts or do other in-person things I enjoy, and there’s been a nagging sense that life is passing me by while I social distance. As the Lone Bellow sang in their song “Dust Settles,” “I’ve been missing from the land of the living.” 

And yet, amazingly, in spite of everything, I actually found something to be happy about every single day this year. That’s just one reason why I’m ending 2020 feeling incredibly lucky.

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Movie Watching Just Wasn’t the Same This Year

29 Dec

Usually, around this time, I remark with amazement about how many of the year’s movies I’ve seen over the previous 12 months. Last year, for example, I saw 83 of them. In 2018, I saw 84. In 2017, I saw 85. You get the idea. I typically see a lot of movies every year. In the theater.

In 2020, as of this writing, I haven’t even seen 30. (My current total is 29.) And, because of the stupid pandemic, a good number of them had to be seen on my TV or my iPad, alone, at home, at lower volume so as not to disturb my neighbors, and with plenty of distractions from my upstairs neighbors, my phone, and the world outside my windows.

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When the Dust Settled, These Are the Songs That Got Me Through 2020

21 Dec
Lone Bellow on Zoom

In times of stress, as 2020 most certainly was, music always seems to serve as a comfort. And over the last nine and a half months, while some other forms of entertainment and culture had to be put on hold for safety reasons, there was never a shortage of music to listen to and seek comfort from.

Sure, we couldn’t crowd together for concerts, or see other kinds of live performances in person — such as Broadway shows and other theatrical productions. And that definitely sucked. As Dave Grohl wrote all the way back in May, “I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.” Yeah, me too.

But on the other hand, this year, the artists came to us, hosting intimate live streams on Instagram, Facebook Live, Zoom, or other platforms; performing from their homes on various TV or online specials; sharing archival performances on YouTube; and more. It wasn’t what we hoped for back in January, and there were some kinks to work out at first. But in the end, it was actually kind of cool.

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Giving Thanks for What’s Worth Remembering About a Terrible Year

25 Nov
Boys at the beach

Last week, during the season finale of Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill did a bit that he set up as a letter to his 100-year-old self, looking back on what was certainly a memorable year. 

It started in predictable fashion, with the comedian poking fun at what he might be like at that age. There was a line about smoking pot and one about being old enough to watch Fox News. But then the segment took a surprising turn.

Rather than continuing the thread with a series of jokes about politics, or ones at the expense of the president* and his family, Bill took the opportunity to celebrate how, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with most people stuck at home, his team rallied together to keep the show going, collaborating in new ways and coming up with creative solutions to unusual problems — like having no live audience. Bill also paid tribute to his fans, who stuck with the show all year long, and said how thankful he was for their/our support.

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The Times May Have Changed, But Borat Sure Hasn’t

21 Oct

Sup.

Think back to the time in the earlier part of this century when Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat Sagdiyev character wasn’t a household name. Sure, he’d appeared on Cohen’s Da Ali G Show. But with the release of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in 2006, the world saw a whole lot more of Borat’s bumbling, racist, Anti-Semitic journalist, and those not already in the know became much more familiar with Cohen’s immersive style of guerrilla comedy.

At the time, that movie held up a mirror, and its revelations were still a bit of a shock — that ordinary Americans, particularly those in Red States and those with conservative beliefs, can be a clueless, bigoted, misogynistic lot. Back then, it was actually funny. Very funny.

Fast-forward 14 years. Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic, our culture is politically charged, and our President* creates chaos on the daily, using his bully pulpit to enable hate groups and amplify conspiracy theories. Now we see misogyny, Anti-Semitism, and racism on full display, and ignorance is often encouraged or given a free pass. The things Borat discovered all those years ago have gone mainstream. In short: Reality just isn’t funny anymore. 

So here comes our favorite Kazakh journalist, back with another cinematic adventure, the full title of which is Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan — but let’s just call it Borat 2, okay? Can he make things any better? Ha!

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From Fly on the Wall to Instagram Activist

14 Sep

The Way I See It posterAfter the last week and a half of news — heck, the last four years of news — the arrival of the new film The Way I See It serves as a welcome reminder of how things used to be.

Not that we needed it, of course. But Dawn Porter’s documentary provides a bright and enjoyable look back at the Barack Obama presidency through the eyes of former Official White House Photographer Pete Souza. Like Souza’s active Instagram account, in which he trolls the current president* by sharing photos from his predecessor’s term, the film celebrates what we had and makes viewers long for a simpler time when our leader was a more noble sort of person. Continue reading

One of Those Infinite Time-Loop Situations You Might Have Heard About

13 Jul

Palm Springs movieFor more than four months now, it’s felt like we’re always waking up on the same day. We repeat the same routine, hear the same news, participate in the same Zoom hangouts, walk the same deserted routes, wait on the same lines to get into the same stores, and not much about our lives changes. Every day, it’s the same thing. Over and over again.

All of which makes Palm Springs the perfect movie for these unusual times we’re living in. Continue reading

I Really Wish I Could Social Distance from All These Thoughts

21 Jun

White Farms

The scene at White Farms in Ipswich, Mass., on Saturday, June 20, 2020.

Yesterday, I went up to the North Shore, to explore the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, which I heard was a nice and picturesque drive. Turns out, either I didn’t know the area well enough, or I should have parked my car at various points and walked to the water, or something else, but with very few exceptions, from Lynn to Gloucester, the drive was neither coastal nor scenic, and I was disappointed.

So, after what felt like a couple hours of aimless driving and wasted gas, I turned around and headed back to the city. (At least, I think I turned around. I really didn’t know where I was or in which direction I was heading for much of the time, but I do know the full route goes all the way to Salisbury and I’m pretty sure I only made it to Gloucester.)

I didn’t want the day to be a total loss, so before I left the area, I decided to stop and get some ice cream at White Farms, a small local stand in Ipswich that had been recommended to me. It was quiet when I got there, thankfully, which meant I could go right up to the counter and order a two-scoop waffle cone — Mint Oreo and Vanilla Fudge Brownie, yum — then go back to my car to enjoy it. Continue reading