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

Life, Loss, and a Few Laughs on Staten Island

8 Jun

King of Staten Island bannerWell, hasn’t this been an unusual year for the movies.

In mid-March, when the world suddenly shut down, the best movie I’d seen so far was probably The Way Back, starring Ben Affleck as an alcoholic basketball coach. And while I don’t say that to dismiss it (the film is legit good, and Affleck delivers an impressive performance), it’s hardly the kind of film that would be remembered later in the year if things were normal.

With most major releases now delayed till whenever, a few that were intended for the big screen have gone direct-to-digital. Fair to say none have been particularly memorable or must-see, and nearly all have been right at home on the small(er) screen. (Unlike, say, the new Bond or Wonder Woman flicks would have been.)

Which brings us to Judd Apatow’s latest, The King of Staten Island, starring Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live, and Marissa Tomei, moving New York City boroughs from Queens, where she plays Aunt May in the MCU Spider-man movies. Continue reading

This Year for My Birthday, There’s One Thing I Want

7 Jun

light at the end of the tunnel

A light at the end of the tunnel. Photo by Adrien Olichon / Unsplash

Today is my birthday.

If there’s one lesson to be learned from the past three months (and to be sure, there are plenty), it’s that every day is precious, and we should not waste a moment to celebrate and enjoy.

In the past year, I did a lot of traveling, I got a new job, I saw a bunch of concerts and good movies, and generally, up until recently, I had a lot of fun. In spite of everything, I’m still finding reasons to be happy every single day. This birthday should be celebrated.

And yet … Today is not a day for celebration. Not when so many people’s lives have been lost in recent weeks, and when people around the world are taking to the streets during a global pandemic to fight for equality and justice, and when supposed leaders in the highest rungs of government are promoting division rather than bringing people together. Clearly, celebrating can wait.

So I just wanted to quickly acknowledge the day here, and move on to what’s more important — taking action to bring about change. Continue reading

Home Alone During the Coronavirus Pandemic: It’s Really Not That Bad

27 Apr

Home AloneDespite what that depressing Boston Globe article said this weekend, I didn’t choose to live alone.

Not recently, anyway.

When I first moved to Boston in March 1997, nearly a year after I graduated from college, I found myself a one-bedroom apartment. There was no grand plan or strategy involved; the timing was such that I needed to find a place relatively quickly, and I didn’t want to move in with strangers.

While I’ve moved multiple times since then, I’ve always lived by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Sure, I thought I’d have moved in with someone else by now — someone I was in a relationship with, that is — but the stars haven’t aligned yet, so here I am.

My point is this: I’ve lived on my own for a while, and I’m used to it — and all the pros and cons that come with this kind of arrangement. I don’t regret living by myself, and most days, I’m perfectly comfortable still doing it. Continue reading

The 2020 Happiness Project

2 Jan
sunflowers

Not too long ago, I found what I considered to be a “rock star” parking spot on Boylston Street, just a few feet away from the Copley subway station. It was a Sunday afternoon, and since there’s no charge for parking then, I simply got out of my car and walked away, off to go about my business.

More than an hour later, as I was walking back to my car, I saw a pink something or other on my front window, tucked under the windshield wiper. It looked like a parking ticket. What the hell! Wasn’t parking free today?

Turns out, it wasn’t a parking ticket, but a list of 21 behaviors that would apparently help me find “The Way to Happiness.” I laughed. The source of the information — the L. Ron Hubbard Library — was a bit dubious, but I had to admit, the list had merit: Take care of yourself. Honor and help your parents. Do not steal. Be industrious. Try not to do things to others that you would not like them to do to you. Fulfill your obligations. Do not murder. And so on. You get the idea.

I’m surprised one of the items on the list wasn’t “Show gratitude.” After all, according to Harvard Medical School, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

As you might assume, I was grateful the flyer wasn’t a parking ticket, as I originally thought it was. And I was thankful for the folks who put it on my car, because the realization and the flyer itself both made me smile.

Corny as it may sound, I’ve learned in recent years that the secret to living a happy life is to appreciate things like that, and to document them. To that end, I started my annual “Happiness Project” in 2015 with that very simple premise: At the end of every day, you should write down one thing that made you happy, whether it’s something you did, something you ate, something somebody said, a TV show you watched or movie you saw, a tweet, or something else. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just something that made you smile. (And yes, the name is a nod to Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” which started as an experiment and became a best-selling book, and movement.)

Five years later, I can say it works. At the end of every day, in one long, running blog post for the year, I note something happy that happened. It’s not an intentional thing; I’m not trying to be happy. After all, as Niall Williams recently wrote in the New York Times, happiness is “a thing that [can] not be pursued, only realized and chosen.” I’m recognizing that, even on the seemingly bad days, there’s always something worth remembering that made me smile, no matter how small and inconsequential it may have been. In essence, I’m expressing gratitude every single day.

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In Spite of Everything, There Was a Lot to Celebrate in 2019

31 Dec

December sunsetI’ve gotta be honest: 2019 was a very good year.

Sure, in many ways, it was not. There was the toxic state of U.S. politics polluting our mindsets each and every day. The Mueller Report. Impeachment. The tweets. Ugh. There were many mass shootings and hate crimes. Rampant anti-Semitism. Hurricane Dorian and wildfires in the Amazon and California left destruction in their wake. Friends and family members battled cancer and had other health challenges. The Notre Dame fire was a historic tragedy. Multiple people I know lost their jobs and are still looking for work months later. We said goodbye to folks like Luke Perry, Pete Frates, Cokie Roberts, and Bill Buckner. And, much closer to home, I said goodbye to my aunt Leslie just a couple weeks ago.

Indeed, every day seemed to have its share of challenges.

But in spite of all that, and at the risk of being myopic or selfish or narrow-minded, when I look back on the past 12 months, I actually have a lot to be happy about. For example … Continue reading