The Rewatcher (aka: Again and Again and Again)

Since Twitter told me that today is #NationalBookLoversDay, I totally thought I would write a post about books. That makes sense, especially since I’ve read about five books per day since I was three years old. I could pretty much write your ears off about books.

But then I started thinking about how much I enjoy it when a book I’ve loved has been turned into a movie or TV series. It is a kind of magic to see the artistic interpretation of a beloved story, to watch it all unfold on the screen. Sometimes, the story becomes unrecognizable (*ahem* Ella Enchanted/A Little Princess/The Stepford Wives *ahem*). But sometimes, the result is just as wonderful — and occasionally better — than the book (The Lord of the Rings / Harry Potter 1-4 / Game of Thrones).

Then my thoughts took yet another twist. As I contemplated favorite titles of books and movies and TV shows, something important occurred to me. Here we are, living in the age of endless movies and TV shows at our fingertips. Just press a few keys, and you can stream one of thousands of titles. You never have to watch the same show twice! It is rather fitting for today’s disposable culture. Watched that series already? Move onto the next one. Tired of your stuff? Replace it all. Tired of your family, your friends? Toss them out, get new ones.

It is quite possibly my least favorite thing about modern American culture.

I am not fond of the disposable lifestyle, preferring, instead, to own few quality possessions, which I try to take care of. I rarely choose to dispose of friends or family, either, unless their presence in my life is harmful. People are too precious to be thrown away or forgotten.

My fondness for permanence spills over into my film and TV show selections, as well. Though I occasionally enjoy finding new series to binge on, or fun new movies to watch, I am, and have always been, a rewatcher. What’s a rewatcher? Someone who watches the same films and movies again and again and again, because she adores them and can’t get enough.

I have watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least twice. Every episode of Friends at least three times. Every episode of Alias, The Office, Smallville at least twice. I latch onto the characters, await familiar scenes with anticipation, laugh yet again at their antics and cringe at their follies. And films? I can recite every line of The Goonies and Back to the Future. I have fallen in love with Noah and Allie’s romance again and again. I have memorized the charades of Will and Viola in Shakespeare in Love. And my favorite film of all time? I have watched Pride and Prejudice once every single year since it was released in 2005.

One might think that rewatching might lead to boredom. But not for me. Each time I watch, I learn something new about my favorite characters. I see a gleam in his eye that wasn’t there before, or hear a tone in her voice that changes the meaning of that scene. I find new things to appreciate — the camera angles, and how they added to the tension. The way the sunlight cast the perfect light and shadows to add to the mood. The timing. The costumes. The way the score consisted of the same song, played over and over, and yet, it works beautifully.

I find new reasons why this film, this character, became my favorite.

Books are the same way. I guess you might also call me an avid re-reader, too. Brave New World. The Harry Potter books. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Hunger Games. There will always be room for more books in my repertoire, and more films or TV shows on my screen. But every so often, the newness gets old. And I must return time and time again to the arms of the stories I treasure most.

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Cheers! (aka: A Beer-y Tasty Project)

Twitter is good at reminding me of things I may have missed out on, like rocket launches, or Trump’s latest blunders, or finales to TV shows I’ve never watched and don’t care about. It is especially good at reminding me about little-known holidays, most of which are probably made up by companies trying to sell their ice cream, or pancakes, or greeting cards.

Well apparently, a couple of days ago, I missed out on a big one. National Beer Day. Right? I mean, you’d have to be from Jupiter, or perhaps living in a cave to miss out on such an important occasion. Yesterday, I made up for it, though, by enjoying a nice cold bottle of Mexican beer from Trader José. Olé!

Brewski

Now here’s a confession. The very first time I tried beer was around 3-4 years ago. It’s true. I spent most of the first two decades of my adult life surrounded by very conservative, teetotalist Christian friends. When we used to get together, the strongest thing we ever drank was double shot espresso. Somehow I managed to start tasting and enjoying wine over the years, but not beer. A glass of pinot noir or chardonnay is a great companion for solitary moments with a good book and indie rock music. But there’s something about beer that screams of social outings, soccer matches, and fun. So I kept putting off that first drink until I was in an appropriate social situation for trying it out.

Toast beer diversity

My first beer was a Budweiser, and I liked it right away. Since then, I’ve begun keeping a spreadsheet of my beer explorations, and rating their flavors (Hey, I’m an INTJ, okay? This is what we do). I’ve learned that I really dislike IPAs and bitter beers. Bleah! But I really enjoy light beers and beers with a fruity twist. My absolute favorite type of beer? Pilsner. Yummm….I am tempted to end the experiment right here and only drink pilsner-style beers from now on. The very best pilsner I’ve had so far turned out to be the original pilsner beer — an import from Czech Republic called Pilsner Urquell.

Pilsner Urquell

Of course, there’s still a lot I don’t know about beers. I could probably do some Beer 101 reading to learn more about the different types, how they’re made, and what the heck is even in beer. I could probably also try visiting some of the many local breweries where I live. But that sounds a little intimidating to do alone, so maybe I’ll just stay home and sip another cold, frosty bottle of pilsner while watching a tennis match on TV. After all, beer doesn’t really require a Twitterized special occasion for us to celebrate it.

One last note — a few days ago, while I was at Trader Joe’s buying my single bottle of Trader José beer, the clerk studied my face, then asked to see my ID. When she saw that I am 42 years old, she laughed. “Seriously? Oh, come on!” So I guess that’s another good excuse to keep going with the beer tasting project. Getting carded by people around my own age makes me feel young. I’ll drink to that.

Cheers!

 

Where’s the Story? (aka: A Flash Flood of Flash Fiction)

First, let me make one thing clear. Not all flashes are bad. Some flashes are even good, in fact. Flash drives, for instance, help us to protect our sensitive data. The Flash, I’ve been told, is a pretty fast superhero. And let’s not forget my favorite flash of all: Flash Beagle.

 

But some kinds of flashes earn a thumbs-down. These are brief, destructive flashes that appear, unwanted, leaving destruction in their wake. Flash floods. Hot flashes. Flashes of lightning. And now, the latest trend to takeover the blogosphere: Flash Fiction.

No, I am not a big fan of flash fiction.

What I am a fan of is fiction. Well-written fiction. Convincing fiction that has all of the requisite elements for a good story. An interesting beginning. Compelling characters. An actual plot, climax, resolution. And, of course, a satisfying ending.

Short stories can often accomplish this, if the writer is clever enough. I have read some wonderful short stories by authors great and small, who manage to weave a web of intrigue with a clear beginning, middle, and end in 5,000 words or less. But my personal preference is novels. Give me the thick, juicy, unabridged version of the story. Let me become absorbed in the story, swimming in the delicious stew of words and action. Let me escape to that other world, lose track of days as I drift through the pages. Let me fall in love with the characters as they grow, and learn, and change.

Just don’t give me flash fiction.

The premise of flash fiction is not new. Take a complete story. Now tell it in 1,000 words or less. Or try writing in Dribbles and Drabbles of less than 500 or less than 100 words. Shortest of all? Micro fiction, told in 6 word sentences. For example: Her expensive lingerie collected dust afterwards.

“Oh, how moving!” One blog reader may comment. “So thought-provoking!” Comments another. But I grit my teeth, frustrated. What is so thought-provoking? Why are we calling “stories” what we once called an opening line? Why have so many non-writers jumped on the flash fiction bandwagon, turning the world of blogging into one enormous slush pile?

Yes, flash fiction can serve as a way to strengthen one’s writing skills. And once in a blue moon, I come across some that features high quality writing. But most of the flash fiction, micro-fiction, and other Twitterature I have come across on the internet are junk. Sure, they sometimes have a stand-out character, or a beginning that makes me want to read a little more. But then…nothing. The story never builds. The characters never grow. There is a shadow of a plot, or a unique idea, but the writer, either due to laziness or lack of skill, doesn’t bother to develop it.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to pull on my Miss Snark high heels and walk all over these so-called stories. “Who is this character?” I would ask. “Why did she buy the expensive lingerie? What happened to make her stop wearing it?” In other words — WHERE’S THE STORY? Is this a kind of journal exercise? Am I supposed to take the idea and write my own damned story?

Forget it. I am so done. I shall go and stick my nose where it belongs — between the pages of a nice, long novel.

I can only hope that flash fiction blogging is nothing more than a flash in the pan.

It’s Okay to Change Your Mind (aka: Finding Your Niche)

what-color-is-your-parachute-bookMy 15-year-old daughter recently complained that she’s not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. As she’s only a sophomore in high school, I would love to tell her to just relax; she’s got a few more years to really decide. But, being a long-range planner myself, I also get the anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re headed in life.

She needs a “thing.”

I firmly believe that everyone has a “thing,” or a niche. Some of those niches may be better than others, though, especially when it comes to career planning.

My oldest son, who is a senior this year, has several niches: playing computer games, creating music for computer games, and listening to music on the expensive wireless headphones he decided he couldn’t live without. I am really, really hoping that he finds some way to merge these niches into some kind of lucrative career. Either that or just do what I tell him and study computer science in college next year. I’m kind of hoping he’ll find a more productive niche in that direction.

My youngest son’s niches also involve computers. His, however, also include developing computer games using simple code, like Scratch, and building complicated, programmable Lego robots. He is dead-set on becoming an engineer one day (woohoo!!). His other niches include writing stories and using his gigantic vocabulary to invent new “clean” swear words, like “Oh sheep!”

future-jobs-signs

My daughter has a lot of niches. She’s a great athlete. She draws anime and comic strip characters. She writes stories, and is constantly learning new skills, like HTML code and jazz dance. She thinks she wants to become a doctor, but is getting nervous that it’s too ambitious, or that she won’t like studying medicine after all.

“No worries,” I tell her. “Just plan to go to med school and become a doctor. You can always change your mind later.”

I should know. I’m kind of the queen of drastic changes in niches.

When I was six years old, I wrote an essay on how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. That, and a tap dancer. The tap-dancing thing never got off the ground, but I have always been a writer. When I went to college, I was clueless about careers, and had no adult guidance. So I did the only thing I knew well, thanks to countless babysitting jobs – I got a BA degree in Child Development and went on to become a teacher of young children. Eventually, I was even a site supervisor and parent educator, too.

kids-careers-jobs-costumes At the time, it was my niche. I was great at belting out Raffi tunes, finding creative ways to teach phonics, and managing a classroom. It was also kind of cool teaching other parents how to parent. But know what? It was a boring, mindless career. And it barely paid enough to buy the gas it took to drive to work each day.

So, I changed my mind.

I returned to college to add a couple more small degrees. Then I landed my true dream job, in the IT industry. I still get to use some of my old talents, like teaching and finding creative ways to problem solve. But I also get to develop and administer software systems and databases. I get to use my brain. Which is nice, because it’s a pretty great brain, so long as I get enough sleep.

Yes, I still write. That will always be my greatest niche. I also still plan to be a tap dancer. Okay, I am totally kidding. The next time I change my mind, I think I’ll go into management. It seems kind of like teaching preschool, only you have to go to a lot of meetings, and you get paid more.

Welcome to the Machine (aka: High on Tennis)

world-famous tennis player SnoopyMy kids and I decided to join a club.

It’s nothing fancy – just a local tennis and swim club, where we can spend time exercising as a family. My 14 year-old daughter is thrilled about the workout equipment and yoga classes. My 11 year-old can’t wait to use the pool. And my 16 year-old finally gets to take tennis lessons, which he’s been requesting for ages.

This weekend, however, the kids went off to visit their dad, and I headed to the club alone, racquet in hand. There was a drop-in tennis group, and tonight would be my first time joining them.

tennis loveFirst of all, I am not a newb to the tennis world. I have been an avid fan of the sport since the Williams sisters first made a splash and opened up my eyes to a sport that quickly became one of my favorite addictions (after soccer, of course). Do I play tennis? Occasionally, is what I always answer. Of course for me, occasionally meant dusting off my racket once a year or so and playing a clumsy match against other unskilled opponents. A couple of years ago, I discovered a local Meetup group and have ventured out a number of times for drop-in matches at local parks. It can be a lot of fun.

However, tonight’s tennis group was all about technique. After a few of my shots went wild, one of the more experienced players explained the difference between approaching the ball with my racket open or closed. Then another player, who turned out to be a tennis instructor, pointed out that I stopped short on every hit.

“Trust your follow-through,” he said. “It should be kind of like a golf swing.” I looked at him blankly. I had never played golf. “Or like a baseball swing.” He demonstrated a two-handed backhand, not stopping short as I had, but swinging the racket all the way through. Aha! A lightbulb flicked on in my head. I had played softball for a few years as a kid. I understood how to swing something all the way through to hit a ball. I just didn’t know I could do that in tennis, too.

Then the instructor introduced me to the Best Thing Ever. AKA, the ball machine. I had never used a ball machine to practice tennis before. For the first few minutes, I swung awkwardly, forgetting all the technique tips. The ball flew wild, to the left and the right.

tennis snoopy angry

But here’s the great thing – no one else was on the court to see me fail. I could try again and again, and try different things, and there was no criticism. I got to be my own coach.

“Okay now,” I told myself, switching into auto-coach mode. “Two handed-grip. Approach with a closed racket. Trust your follow-through.” The Machine spit out another ball. And THWACK! My backhand sent the ball sailing over the net for a perfect shot. The Machine pitched me another, and THWACK! Another incredible shot.

And suddenly, I had found it. The sweet spot. That place inside me where flames ignite, and passion takes over. It was Machine and me versus our grand opponent, the Court. My mission: backhand the heck out of each ball and land them inside the lines. And I did, again and again.

THWACK! Take that, Venus and Serena! THWACK! Take that Sharapova! THWACK! Take that, Azarenka and Clijsters! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!

tennis balls

I was in the zone. I’m pretty sure that someone else was waiting to use the ball machine, but my new-and-improved backhand and I were locked in a relentless battle. I hit the ball over and over. When I failed, my mental coach yelled at me to make the correction and get it right. When I hit a successful shot, I cheered silently. The Machine and I kept going until the club was closing and the staff begged me to quit. Okay, I’m totally kidding. When the mosquitoes came out, and the court lights flickered on, I finally decided it was time to give the Machine a break. I drifted home, high on tennis elation.

The next morning, I woke up and groaned. I could barely move. I felt like I had thwacked myself all over with my racquet. I could have rested until the soreness went away, but I had another, more intense tennis group lesson scheduled that morning. So I did what any sane person would do – popped a couple of Advil, grabbed my pretty pink racquet, and headed back to the club for another hit of one of my favorite drugs.

 

Hoarder (aka: The Pursuit of Everything)

Confession: I am a hoarder.

No, not a hoarder of junk. In fact, I can’t stand too much clutter around me. Not a hoarder of animals, or food, or anything else that could land me on a TV reality show, my secret bad habits displayed for the world to see.

However, I am a hoarder of hobbies. Is there such a thing?

I am an avid reader of all sorts of literature, from poetry to science to fiction stories great and terrible. I could read all day if not for the competition with so many other hobbies. Sports — playing and watching. Cooking, baking, exploring new recipes and cuisines from around the globe. Television shows and movies from every decade, in any language. And speaking of languages — Spanish, German, or programming languages?

And did I mention computer games? Or hiking/camping/outdoorsy stuff?

 

Life is too short

 

That covers about half of my hobbies. I think. Maybe it’s not so bad, have so many interests in so many things. It seems unfair, at times, that we only get to do this life thing one time. That’s it — one shot to get it all done; to go to all the places and do all the things. Many people have bucket lists longer than their life spans. If only there was a mod for this — an age slider like on The Sims, which we could extend until we’ve had a chance to live the full and rich life we dream of.

bucket List literally

I still haven’t learned to make a soufflé. Or surf. There are still thousands of books I would like to read, films I haven’t seen. I still haven’t finished editing my novel. It is a challenge to maintain this blog, let alone my other two.

Just as a hoarder of junk probably doesn’t really get to simply relax and fully enjoy every single thing she has collected, a hoarder of hobbies comes to realize the sad truth — that in one’s desire to pursue her every passion, she can rarely manage to pursue just one. Something will be neglected. So what shall I do? Must I apply spring cleaning to my long list of favorite activities, weeding out the many in order to focus on the few? Or shall I continue to spread my energy around, living a life full enough for two people, though within the time limits of an individual? Would cutting back increase my focus, or kindle a restlessness for more — more activities, more learning, more of life?

list of hobbies

 

A Very Musical Monday (or Whenever)

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…

sound-of-music-tour So physically, I am seated at a desk, but mentally, I am running through meadows of wildflowers somewhere in the Bavarian Alps with the Von Trapp family. Singing, of course. Loudly. Want to join me? Doe, a deer, a female deer…

I know, I know, not everyone is crazy about musicals. In fact, I have met quite a few people who would rather hop on the express train to Hell than be forced to watch a musical. As for me, I think that real life would be so much better as a Rodgers and Hammerstein production. Can you imagine? One dreary Monday morning, everyone is seated in cubicles, typing away at their computers. Then suddenly, everyone is waltzing through the office, tap-dancing on top of desks, voices raised in song about how much they hate Monday mornings. For five blockbuster minutes, there is a perfectly-coordinated whirlwind of song and dance and color. And then – work resumes as though nothing happened at all.

musical production Okay fine. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen, unless you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the midst of an Improv Everywhere flash mob. The rest of us are resigned to watching musicals on TV, or, if we can afford it, seeing them live. A couple of days ago, my daughter and I had the privilege of attending a Sound of Music sing-a-long at a large, gorgeous old theatre filled with other enthusiasts. Although I had already watched the musical countless times before, it was an entirely new experience watching it with a crowd – waving props in the air, booing and hissing at the villains, cheering for Maria and the Von Trapp family, and, of course, singing along to the familiar tunes. It was quite a treat for my daughter, too, as she had never seen the entire show before (and is now a musical-loving convert).

I hope that this musical sing-a-long thing will become a new trend. I would so love to join together with hundreds of people to sing along to other great musicals, like Into the Woods, West Side Story, Beauty and the Beast, Grease, and Mary Poppins. Maybe even Les Miserables, although I must confess that I would prefer to see a live production of Les Mis, which is among my greatest goals in life.

Les MiserablesIn the meantime, I think that I will feed my passion for musicals by going on a musical binge. After all, there are still quite a few great musicals out there that I’ve never seen (shocking, I know). Maybe I will work my way through the list of AFI’s 25 Greatest Movie Musicals of All Time. That looks like a very good place to start.

Doctor_Horrible Singalong blog

Yes, I even enjoyed Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Immensely.