Today Is My Birthday, and to Celebrate, I Am Reclaiming My Time

7 Jun

Today is my birthday, and I have a confession to make: I’m not 100% sure of how old I am.

No, that’s not some Peter Pan–ish form of denial. And it’s not an indication that I’m so old I’ve started to forget basic things.

It’s just that, over the last year or so, I’ve had to remind myself multiple times of what year it was and how old I was. Really.

We all experienced that to some degree over the last 16 months or so, didn’t we? The pandemic year warped our sense of time, causing days to blend into each other, and leading us to forget just when we were experiencing things, or when we had experienced them. Things we thought we did “this year” were actually done “last year.” Many predictable or scheduled events were either postponed or canceled outright. And a few milestones that should have been a bigger deal took place during the pandemic without as much as a whimper, leading some to think they didn’t even happen.

Birthdays, for example. I know I had one in 2020, but since the celebration was so muted (by necessity, and because of everything else that was happening around that time), did I really turn another year older?

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Remembering When the Lights First Went Up on Lin-Manuel Miranda

3 Jun

It was March of 2008. Barack Obama had not yet been elected President. No Country for Old Men had just won Best Picture at the Oscars. Among the most popular songs were “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain, “Love in This Club” by Usher, and “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles. And around the country, many Americans were unable to identify the Founding Father whose name and face were on the $10 bills they used every day.

That month, after a successful and Drama Desk Award–winning run Off-Broadway, a new show moved uptown to the Great White Way, carrying with it the hopes of producers and investors that it would bring new, younger, and more diverse audiences to Broadway and fill the void left when Rent closed later that year. As successful as this production was, though, no one could have predicted that over the course of the next decade, its creator and star would break boundaries and revolutionize Broadway.

That show, of course, was In the Heights, and its creator and star was a young up-and-comer named Lin-Manuel Miranda — who, as if you need to be reminded, would go on to write the pop-culture phenomenon known as Hamilton.

In March 2008, Miranda was just 28 years old and still largely unknown. He’d traveled the world and performed as part of Freestyle Love Supreme, the hip-hop improv group he co-founded, but Miranda surely wasn’t a household name yet. Nor was he the social media influencer he is today — though, at the time, he did have an amusing YouTube channel where he shared home-video clips of his younger self lip-syncing to songs like “King of Wishful Thinking” and freestyle-rapping about the heat with his friends.

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After More than 14 Months, Go Back to a Movie Theater and Enjoy the Silence of “A Quiet Place Part II”

26 May

There’s a scene in A Quiet Place Part II where the sound cuts out completely.

Regan Abbott, played by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, has woken up alone and discovered her cochlear implant hearing aid is missing. So she scrambles to find it without making any noises that would alert nearby alien creatures that she’s there. The creatures, of course, respond to sound, and they’re quick moving, so any furniture pivot or accidentally dropped item could mean a sudden attack. And because Regan can’t hear, she wouldn’t have any warning.

Writer/director John Krasinski portrays the scene in total silence — which not only puts us right in Regan’s head, it puts the audience on edge. Yikes.

I was watching the movie in a movie theater earlier this week, and while this scene was unfolding, the place was completely silent — the half-full audience was apparently following the action closely.

And of course, it was right around that time that someone sitting near me decided to put his drink back in the cup holder, which made a just-audible-enough sound that probably would have sent the aliens running for us in an instant if we were on screen.

I may have jumped a little. But then I smiled.

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A Year Later … I’m Grateful, Not Fearful

9 Apr

Most people consider Wednesday, March 11, 2020, the start of the longest year ever. That was the day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. It was the night the president* spoke to the country from the Oval Office. The night the NBA stopped its season. The night we learned Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had tested positive.

And yet, that night, after a stressful and frustrating day of work, I walked into a restaurant, saw some empty seats at the bar, and sat down at one to eat dinner, not even realizing why those stools between couples and other folks had been left empty. Even though I distinctly remember the guy on my right giving me a confused look, I stayed and enjoyed what was, apparently, a delicious meal. It was just another night.

The next day, Thursday, March 12, 2020 … that’s the day I consider the actual beginning of the pandemic.

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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’ve only seen 33. 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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