In the End, 2021 Was Like a Bridge to Nowhere

31 Dec

This year was supposed to go a bit differently.

After 2020, when so many of us were home-bound, frustrated by the government’s divisive and unhelpful response to the pandemic, in and out of work, and alone, 2021 was supposed to be the year things got back on track. We had a new President, vaccines were becoming available, and change was coming. Better days were ahead. “Normal” was going to make a comeback.

So I always looked at 2021 like a “bridge year,” one that would take us from the doom and gloom of the pandemic to the new new normal. This year was all about crossing that bridge to get to the other side. Accepting things for now because I knew they’d be temporary. That things would be better and more desirable on the other side, by the end of the year.

In 2021, I had so much I wanted to do. I was going to make up for lost time with friends and family. I was going to work with other people face-to-face again on a regular basis, maybe even (hopefully) in an office. I was going to put my feet back in the dating pool. I was going to go on vacation. I was going to be spontaneous. In short: I was going to live a normal life without having to worry all the time about an easily transmissible airborne virus getting into my body.

And yet, here we are on December 31, and it feels in many ways like we’re back to where we were a year ago. In spite of multiple safe and effective vaccines being widely available, Covid case numbers are not only up again, they are higher than they’ve ever been. We’re being asked to scale back our social lives again and keep taking precautions to keep ourselves and each other safe — even if we’re “fully vaccinated.” And, as if we need a reminder, nearly a year after the attack on the Capitol, our political climate is more divided than ever.

If 2021 was a bridge year, it feels like it was a bridge that just kept on going and going, with no end in sight, kind of year. 

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2021 Was a Great Year to Go Back to the Movies

27 Dec
Belfast movie scene

After a year and change of pandemic-related limitations, and fewer theatrical releases to choose from, moviegoing was back in 2021. No more did we have to settle for watching films at home, on our TVs or tablets, all by ourselves. With vaccines in our bodies, we could (mask up and) see them on a much bigger screen, with much better sound … with other people!

In short, it was pretty great. Joni Mitchell once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” and, while I never took movie theaters for granted, I sure came to appreciate them more when I couldn’t go to them.

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“Spider-Man: No Way Home” Is for the Fans. That’s Not a Good Thing

16 Dec

There’s not a whole lot you can say that won’t ruin Spider-Man: No Way Home, but here’s a non-spoiler: It’s a Christmas movie!

That’s right: Like Die HardBatman ReturnsGo, and many other films before it, the latest Spidey flick takes place during December’s holiday time, which — yes — qualifies it as a Christmas movie. 

It’s also a legitimate event. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the incessant drumbeat of promotion and buzz, which has made people feel like they have to see it — in a theater! — as soon as possible, before the film is spoiled. It’s one of those truly communal, shared cinematic experiences that are all too rare these days.

God bless it for that. 

But is the film worthy of all that hype? Well … It’s a Wonderful Multiverse this is not.

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My 2021 Soundtrack Reflects the Times (and Music) I Want to Remember

13 Dec

When directors make movies, they work with a music supervisor and a composer to create a soundscape for the film that will deliberately help drive the narrative, boost the desired emotional impact, and leave a distinct impression in the minds of viewers. When done well, hearing a particular song or musical motif included in the movie may trigger memories of that work.

In real life, the process happens somewhat in reverse: The “narrative” of our lives moves forward organically, and the music that triggers memories of certain times and events is not necessarily planned. And, rather than the music itself telling a story, it’s up to us to look at the collection of songs and pick out the themes from the soundtrack in hindsight. In this way, music serves to remind us of the times we’ve lived through, and the music that was playing while we lived — with this caveat: The soundtrack often reflects the times we want to remember. More importantly, it’s made up of the music we want to remember.

I listened to a lot of music in 2021, and my “Now” playlist was everchanging. But as noted, the soundtrack of my year — a.k.a. my 2021 Time Capsule Playlist — largely reflects what was good about these last 12 months.

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Reflecting on What I’m Most Thankful for This Year

24 Nov
Sunset reflection at Chestnut Hill Reservoir

It happens every year: Labor Day comes, and the pace of the year speeds up.

We get to Halloween, and it speeds up even more.

So one thing I enjoy about Thanksgiving — in addition to the time off from work and the turkey and gravy — is that it’s an occasion to pause and reflect on what we’re grateful for at that moment, before we all get swept up in the frenzy of the December holidays.

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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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