I’m currently in the process of trying to convince someone that she wants to go to Halloween Horror Nights with me. I started the pitch with perhaps the dumbest question I could have asked: “So, do you like being scared?”
Pretty much everyone who refuses haunted houses, roller coasters and horror movies does so by saying the same thing: “I don’t like being scared.” To be honest, I’m not sure anyone likes being scared. We enjoy fake simulations of scares. I don’t think anyone who gets mugged thinks that was such a rush! Tomorrow night I’m walking down a dark alley to see if that can happen again!
It’s not fun because the scare is real; you can get hurt or even die. Roller coasters are fun because the simulation of the scare of falling triggers an endorphin rush, but we’re not really scared any more than we fall in love from eating chocolate, even though biochemically speaking the results are the same.
I know this because I love roller coasters while I hate being scared of heights. Every single time I get on a roller coaster it’s exactly the same. The coaster slowly starts traveling up the track, the chain clicking ominously. Full freak-out mode then commences. Okay, I change my mind. I want off. Is it too late to get off? Click. Click. The coaster continues to ascend. Why did I do this? I hate roller coasters! Click. Click. If I can loosen this lap bar a little I can crawl out, grab hold of the track and then climb down. Click. Click. My god, this is high. Humans aren’t supposed to be this high. That’s why we don’t have wings. Then one final click and I’m at the track’s peak, seconds away from its first plunge. Nooooo! I’m going to die! I’m going to die! Then the roller coaster abruptly drops. Woo hoo! This is so much fun!
I love haunted houses because the thrill of zombies and other crazies pretending to attack simulates fear and provides that endorphin rush. But what if things that truly scared us were featured at the haunted house? I imagine Halloween Horror Nights would be considerably less enjoyable.
If the haunted houses played off my actual fears, they wouldn’t have zombies, monsters, or guys with chainsaws. They would have creditors and loan officers reminding me of the money I owe. They would have my writing professors sarcastically asking me where on the bookshelf they can find my novels and then muttering something about “wasted potential.” Instead of screams and spooky music, the park’s speakers would play secret recordings of me in my bedroom, strumming my guitar and singing when I thought no one was listening.
I walk into a haunted house and see a familiar face, a girl I hadn’t seen in year.
“Wow, hi. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. How have you been?”
“Good. Oh, and this is my son. He’s yours, by the way.”
If haunted houses played off my actual fears, there would be one house giving a glimpse of the future. In this bleak future, President Obama has just been inaugurated into his 14th term, Maroon 5 have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and my tombstone shows that I died without ever marrying or having children. Worse yet, the number-one-rated show is a new program called Buzzfeed Television.
None of that would be fun, because facing our actual fears is never fun. Roller coasters and haunted houses, on the other hand, are tons of fun, so you should go with me, okay?
* * *
Your Song of the Day: “Shankill Butchers” by The Decemberists
You should also read: “Haunted Houses Get a Bad Rap” and “Halloween is for Candy, Nip Slips, and Douchebags.”
Those of you who know me know that the last year has been a rough one. That all seems to be changing this October, though, as the changing of seasons marks the changing of fortune. When I say “changing of seasons,” I mean it figuratively, of course, because Florida doesn’t really have those.
October is normally a great time of year anyway. It signifies baseball’s postseason and the time of the football schedule when the contenders start to separate from the pretenders. October means the return of The Walking Dead, haunted houses, and inappropriately risqué Halloween costumes. It’s the time of year when, just as Jesus changed water to wine, everything edible becomes pumpkin. October means it’s finally socially acceptable for me to gorge myself on candy corn all day long. If those lazy guys at Brach’s would get around to making pumpkin-flavored candy corn, the circle would be complete.
This October I also ran my first ever 5K. This was a big deal because generally I the only time I run is when trying to get out of the rain. In this case, I ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure because it was important for me to honor and celebrate one year cancer-free for a survivor who means a lot to me. When I say “ran,” though, I really mean more of a walk/run. Okay, I don’t want to get into what the ratio of walking to running was, but the point is that it’s the most I’ve run in at least 15 years. Running in the race taught me a lot — mostly that 5 kilometers is actually pretty far. I also learned of the existence of a ligament in my hip joint that had heretofore gone unnoticed prior to loudly announcing its presence at the race.
Perhaps the most life-changing and fortune-changing event of October happened to me on Friday. It was my last day at the Evil Law Firm. To understand what it was like at the Evil Law Firm, just picture any scene from 24. Imagine the clock ticking while the CTU staff scrambles to avert a catastrophe at the last second while Jack Bauer grabs you by the collar and screams in your face “Damn it, we don’t have time!” The Evil Law Firm was basically like that all day every day, and for me work days were from 8:00-ish to around 7:00 or 8:00 at night, not counting the phone calls and text messages from my Evil Boss that I would get at midnight.
Even without the high stress level, the legal field — let alone managing the entire plaintiff operation — was definitely not in my wheelhouse. When your boss’s biggest complaints about you are that you’re too nice and too honest, it could be an indication that you’re working the wrong place. I don’t know if my new job is going to be the perfect career for me, but I know that I will spend significantly less time at work fantasizing about hanging myself from the rafters, so that’s a start.
I don’t know what the rest of the year will bring, but for the first time in a while I’m excited to find out. With a new job, a healed hip and a heaping bowl of candy corn, I’m ready to take on whatever the future has in store.
Your Song of the Day: “Getting Better” by the Beatles
Every day when I come home from work, my dog greets me wagging her tail, excitedly jumping around and hoping I don’t notice that she pulled my (insert object of the day here) off the counter and chewed it into pieces. Just once, I wish I could be that happy. I wish anything made me as happy as my dog gets by getting to sniff some grass. Could anyone be that happy? Is it even possible?
Throughout most of my life, I’ve thought of happiness — true happiness — to be kind of like a fancy Porsche: I recognize its awesomeness when I see it, but realize I could never have it myself. But maybe I was looking at happiness the wrong way. Maybe it’s more obtainable; I just have to know where to look.
So I decided to seek some guidance. I went to the bookstore, which is a place where they sell the books on your Kindle except they’re printed out on actual paper. The Self-Help section had hundreds of books. I didn’t know where to begin. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any good information from reading the book covers and I sure as hell wasn’t going to buy any of that crap. That’s when I was approached by a clerk with blue pigtails.
“Do you need any help?” she asked. It was kind of a stupid question, considering the section in which I stood.
“I want to be happy. Can you help with that?”
“Sure, it’s called Ecstasy. That’ll be $35.”
I didn’t have $35, so I needed to find a different answer. It seemed strange to me that she thought you could buy happiness, but I guess that’s a common misconception. In our materialistic culture, people think the things they own will make them happy.
“Check it out, neighbor! My new luxury SUV is made of solid gold, has a 3-D plasma screen TV built into the windshield, and a robotic arm that massages my scrotum while I drive. Now don’t look at me like that; it’s good for your prostate health. Anyway, I know what you’re thinking: All that luxury and no power, right? Wrong. This baby’s 120,000 horsepower. Runs on rocket fuel. It’s a little expensive in this economy, but totally worth it.”
I’ve never really bought into that kind of materialism. I think the Beatles were right when they said “I don’t care too much for money; money can’t buy me love.” Of course, the Beatles also said “give me money; that’s what I want.” If the Beatles can’t figure this thing out, what chance do I have? I really hope that material possessions aren’t the key to happiness, though, since I can’t afford them. So I decided to look at some other popular theories for finding happiness.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that you should “write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” He was one of many who believe that positive thinking leads to happiness and success. Adherents may do things like repeat daily affirmations, post inspiring quotes on Facebook, or listen to recordings of dolphins laughing because “it turns out it’s the happiest sound on earth; it’s scientifically proven!”
On second thought, dolphins are gang rapists, so maybe it’s best not to use them for inspiration.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,” said a stereotypical hippie that I made up for this post. I guess it makes sense that if you do things you enjoy, you will be happier. But what makes me happy? What makes me feel the way my dog feels when she gets to pee on a previously-marked piece of grass?
Cream cheese is the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, it can be icing on a carrot cake, filling in a cheesecake, spread on a bagel, or you can just dip random foods into it! Still, as awesome as cream cheese is, I can’t help but feel that it’s not enough to sustain lifelong happiness. I needed something bigger. Music makes me happy, but it can also be painful, such as when someone decides to play a Maroon 5 song. Being in love makes me happy, but it can also be painful, such as after a breakup, when feelings are unrequited, or when getting a sprained back after trying a new position.
Helping others makes me happy. It can be something small like carrying an old lady’s groceries or something bigger like doing volunteer work. Getting feedback about the help makes me especially happy, like when I get a letter from the child I sponsor in Malawi. It brings a smile to my face when I see 10% of my income automatically deducted from my bank account to go to my church tithe. That one is more complicated, though. I start out feeling good but then the tide quickly turns. There you go, God. Go do something good with that money. You’re welcome, Jesus. But then I panic and wonder if there is actually money in my bank account to cover that. I frantically pull up my bank statement online and then breathe a sigh of relief that there is still money in my account. Thank you, Jesus.
Altruism, of course, seems to go against human nature. It certainly conflicts with our culture’s social Darwinist ideologies. Still, maybe there’s a reason why I’m my happiest when I am being obedient to God. C. S. Lewis wrote that “God invented us as man invents an engine: A car is made to run on petrol and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.”
Many Christians believe that everyone has a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts. In Confessions, Augustine wrote “Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in you.” Perhaps Blaise Pascal put it best: “There was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace. This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and unchangeable object; in other words by God himself.”
If I continue to try to find happiness from the world outside me, I’ll continue to fail. This is a broken world and it will often let me down. Love will lead to heartbreak, bank accounts will go empty, the Miami Heat will win championships, and Maroon 5 songs just won’t go away. I can’t say that my heart always feels filled by God. Sometimes I don’t feel like he’s there at all. But I do know this: The times I am happiest, the times I’m most at peace, are the times when I am seeking God or serving God. Maybe the reason there are so many self-help books with so many different theories for happiness is that this isn’t something you can do by yourself. Maybe this is something for which you need God. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I have to place my hope for happiness somewhere, God’s a good place for it. Celexa helps, too.
I was at another wedding yesterday, because as I get older I’m quickly running out of single friends. Most of you know that I have a love-hate relationship with weddings. I love the idea of formally declaring your commitment before friends, family, and God. I love getting to see all of the friends and family there. But I hate some of the expectations, such as the idea that I have to dance while I’m there. Also ties. Who was it that decided men’s formal attire should involve wearing a pretty noose around our necks that slightly strangles us throughout the evening? Of course, I’ll get no sympathy from the women, since high heels are even more ridiculous.
This time, I was lucky enough to be given a job at the reception. The groom asked me to do the stage lighting for the dance floor, which basically meant there were a few buttons I had to push every now and then. More importantly, it gave me an excuse to do something other than dancing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against dancing. I’m against me dancing. I won’t go into detail on that topic, since I already wrote about it in this post titled You’re Not Dancing; What’s Wrong With You? That post comes highly recommended, described as “a nice post” by someone who is probably a spam bot.
Since I didn’t have the stress of being expected to dance at the wedding, that gave me time to think about important things — things like “what would I want my wedding to be like” or “would it be bad manners to eat the cake up here at the DJ table” or “should I ask her to dance with me?” I know what you’re thinking: But you keep telling us you don’t want to dance! I know, I know. I’m a complicated person.
Because I know you’ll be unable to sleep tonight if you don’t know the answers, I didn’t ask for a dance and I didn’t get any wedding cake. Now, what would I want my wedding to be like? That’s easy: I would want it to be however the bride wants it. There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of decisions to make when planning a wedding, but I think there’s only one that would be a big deal to me: the music. Some call me a snob, but I’d like to think I just have a low tolerance for bad music. You can pick whatever theme, food, and location you want and I’ll go along with it, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow Maroon 5 to play at my wedding reception! If I ever get married, I’m hand-picking the playlist. In fact, if you were to borrow my iPod, you’d see that I already started working on it years ago…
The wedding after-party went as you would imagine, starting with a few drunk people playing Jenga at a bar and ending with me leaning over the 26th-story balcony and explaining to a friend that, no, even if you’re certain you would land in the pool, jumping from here would still be a very bad idea. Overall, I’d say my wedding experience was a success. I got to celebrate the marriage of two great friends and my alcohol was free. Also, no one jumped off the balcony or saw me dance, so there were no major disasters. I think that’s the best you can hope for, since weddings never go as perfectly as planned. The important part isn’t the table settings, the photos, the gown, or any other part of the ceremony or reception — it’s finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. I guess that’s the other thing I’ve been working on, in addition to the playlist. It’s not an easy task, though, because not only do I have to find the right person, I also have the improbable task of convincing her that I’m worth the commitment. At least if she has never seen me dance, that’s a step in the right direction.
Spoiler Alert: This review has a lot of spoilers. Like, a lot of them.
For those who were unimpressed with Man of Steel, seemingly everyone had a different moment where they realized the movie was going to suck. For some, it was when they first saw General Zod. For others, it was the lack of red underwear. For me, it was when I heard who was directing the movie.
While promoting Man of Steel, producer Christopher Nolan’s name has been arguably more prominent than that of director Zack Snyder. That was no accident. In order to sell tickets, they wanted the movie associated with the genius behind Inception, Memento, and the Dark Knight trilogy, not the guy who made a dumb comic into a dumb movie (300) and a weird comic into a bad movie (The Watchmen). Oh, and let’s not forget that he also directed a children’s cartoon about owls. Putting Zack Snyder at the helm ensures that the movie will look like crap, which is a problem here, but not nearly the largest one.
The film starts with Superman being conceived because, really, what great movie doesn’t begin with birthing? Unfortunately, things go to hell after that and his dad (Russell Crowe) has to steal a skull from that thing that feeds babies to the Matrix and put it on a ship with Superbaby before Krypton is destroyed. He has to hurry because General Zod decides not to let the fact that the world is going to end deter him from launching a coup. When the coup fails, the counsel wisely sentences Zod and his crew to the only place that is safe from Krypton’s annihilation, thus ensuring that the people they arrested for trying to take over the planet would then be the only representatives remaining of the planet. Aside from Superbaby, of course.
Superbaby is raised by earthly parents as their own, most likely because a kid with the strength of a locomotive is pretty damn good at plowing their cornfields. They change his name from Kal-El to Clark, probably so he wouldn’t end up on the No-Fly List. Clark has a hard time growing up in Smallville, where he is bullied for being different and is constantly worried about being found out. Eventually, his dad has “the talk” with him (“when two people love each other, sometimes an alien baby falls out of the sky and into their yard”). His dad tragically dies by getting sucked into a tornado because a) he didn’t have a pole to tie his belt to and b) Clark was under strict orders not to do anything that gives away his superhuman strength. Upset, Clark leaves town and lives as a drifter. It seems he can’t hold down a job because he has to disappear every time he’s seen using his strength to save someone.
Lois Lane discovers Clark when doing a story about a military cover-up of an alien spacecraft, but he again decides to disappear, explaining that the world isn’t ready for someone like him. Lois keeps after him, though, because she’s fascinated by a guy who can cauterize her wound with his eyeballs and also because he looks like Henry Cavill (women tell me he’s kind of attractive).
Clark is content to live in the shadows until a spaceship shows up and threatens Earth. In retrospect, I bet the Kryptonian Council wishes that they hadn’t not only saved Zod’s life but also provided him with a means of interstellar travel. Anyway, General Zod, looking every bit like an Evil Buzz Lightyear, pulls a dick move by taking over every television channel during primetime just to deliver a message that could wait until later (I hate it when Obama does that, too). He demands that Earth hand over Superman or he’ll destroy the planet. Please, couldn’t that wait until after my sitcom is over?
So Superman boards the spaceship, along with Lois, who the aliens also wanted to kidnap because they needed an excuse to give Amy Adams more screen time (no complaints here). Things look pretty bleak, but luckily Lois uses Clark’s Superman keychain to awaken his dad’s consciousness. Russell Crowe then walks around the ship, operating the ship, warning Lois, and providing exposition in a totally believable way.
“Well, you’re in a hopeless situation here, Lois. Luckily, the ghost of your friend’s dad is here to explain everything to you and tell you how to defeat the enemy.”
“Wow, thanks, mister. It sure is convenient that you’re here to solve our problems.”
“It’s like I warned Zod: If you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you could possibly imagine… But I digress…”
Anyway, Superman and Lois escape the spaceship and have a battle with the Kryptonians that was roughly 40 minutes of one person throwing another person into an exploding building. It’s basically a long live-action version of the Marvel vs. Capcom arcade game. The movie has a couple epic battles, one in Smallville and one in Metropolis. The cities may seem totally different, but one thing they have in common is that everything in the city is highly flammable. If you throw a car at someone, it explodes. If you knock a person through the walls of an office building, you leave a trail of pyrotechnics behind. Everything explodes in this these towns. The insurance premiums must be ridiculous.
Superman eventually bests Zod and the other Kryptonians, but the victory is only temporary. Zod then shows up with two spaceships and starts going Independence Day on Metropolis, zapping it with giant death rays. With Will Smith out of town guiding his son through the rainforest, Superman has to step up again. That means about another hour of Superman and Zod fyling into each other, throwing each other into buildings, and leaving explosions and cracked concrete in their wake. It’s kind of cool in the way that it’s fun to watch the Jenga pieces topple to the ground, but it gets old fast.
In short, if you’re the type of person who just wants to watch Henry Cavill’s muscles in a tight suit while he flies and cracks concrete, this movie’s for you. If you like a little more substance and a script that makes sense, stick to comic book movies that Nolan directs on his own.
Disclaimer: Most of my posts are supposed to be funny and are meant to entertain. This is not one of those posts. Feel free to skip it. If you want a fun post to check out, this one is a good place to start.
It’s time to admit a little secret I’ve been keeping from everyone: I’m struggling. If my relationship with God is best understood as a walk, right now I’m in the middle of an arduous hike. Trudging up the steep mountainside, I can’t even see the top, obscured by the treeline and the twisting path. My muscles burn and more than once I am forced to stop and catch my breath. Looking over my shoulder, I consider how much easier it would be to just give up, turn around, and go back. Going downhill is always easier.
There are a number of reasons for this feeling, but the biggest one is that I feel my life means nothing. Paul told the church at Ephasus that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” I’m never happier than when I am serving others. I love volunteering with various nonprofit organizations and with my church. The problem is I’m so overworked at the job I hate that I have little time or energy for anything else. I’m exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. A while back, I decided to make a change. If I’m really to live for God in the spirit of serving others, I want to do everything to that end. That means my job as well. So I began my quest to leave my job for a career in the nonprofit sector, applying to and interviewing with several great groups.
A few of the jobs seemed perfect. They were writing jobs for which I was more than qualified, with my Creative Writing degree and professional writing background. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). I was excied, figuring I finally learned why God have given me the gifts of creativity and writing talent. There was even a job I went for that was a support-based position, meaning I would have to raise my own salary. As scary as that sounded, I decided to go for it. Despite that, I keep getting rejection after rejection. Getting turned down for a job is certainly not uncommon, especially in this economy. Still, it stings a little worse in this case. These are jobs I went after thoroughly convinced that they were ways to serve God. Being told the employer doesn’t want me almost sounds like “God doesn’t want you.”
I’m not so self-absorbed to think I’m the only one with problems. I realize I am more blessed than many. I realize that following God doesn’t mean your life will be easy (in fact, the Bible repeatedly says the opposite). But just as Job, one of the Bible’s most righteous characters, comes to curse the day of his birth, I too wonder why I am here if I am continuously denied the chance to do what I believe I’m here to do.
I accepted an opportunity to help on a volunteer basis for one of the nonprofits that turned me down for a job. I don’t think I will be able to serve often, though, because of my work schedule. Instead of helping spread the Gospel or help starving children, I continue to clock in at the law firm, where I serve that other master: money. At a personal injury law firm, I work in one of the few professions that sides with Pilate when he asked “what is truth?” Truth is however you present it. Facts are ignored, suppressed, or vigorously challenged if they are not consistent with our representation of the “truth.” And it’s all in the name of money.
I’m writing this not to complain or to get sympathy, but to come clean. I go about each day as if everything is fine, smiling at the right times and joking around as usual. Even when friends from my church group ask how I’m doing, I lie, smile and say I’m fine. And then I go home, get on my knees, and beg God to draw nearer to me, to show me guidance, to comfort me. My only response is the echo of my cries off the bare walls. I’m writing this to be honest. Next time you ask me in person, I’ll say I’m fine. But I’m not fine. I’m struggling. And it was time I admitted it.
Well, I just got an email saying I paid to auto-renew my domain name (which is important, because “stealing pesos out of my brain” is huge in SEO searches). Since I’m paying for this website, I might as well use it. Hopefully this post goes over better than my last one, which I think accidentally offended some friends. To play it safe, I’ll do something that will offend no one but Canadians: make fun of hockey.
Over the last few months, I’ve been to several hockey games, because Orlando has a minor league team for some reason. I don’t really know much about hockey, since I’m from Florida, so it’s been a learning experience. I’m used to knowing all of the rules and strategy for sports, but for hockey it’s all arbitrary. It’s totally cool to purposely slam a guy into the wall, but you can’t punch him. You can knock a guy down, but you can’t trip him or pull him down. Breakaways are a great way to score a goal, but you’re penalized if one of your teammates tried to help you out by skating ahead of you. Basically hockey is a less retarded version of soccer.
In fact, most people don’t know this, but hockey was invented by a drunken Canadian vacationing in Mexico. “So they’re just running around chasing a ball and occasionally someone takes a shot, eh? The only way you can make this watchable is to put it on ice and let them hit each other.” And thus hockey was born.
So I’m not exactly a hockey fan – I mean, why do you need two halftimes, anyway? – but I’ve been talked into going to some games. The first two times were because they were special games to benefit breast cancer charities. Hey, I can support that. Breast cancer sucks, and I can fight it buy watching a game? Even if it’s hockey, I’ll do that every time. That would be like if someone said “Hey, would you like this delicious slice of cheesecake? By eating it, you’ll be helping cure AIDS.”
Though I’m far from a converted hockey fan, I’ve come to appreciate one aspect of the game: the shame. Hockey is a game where they love to shame people who make mistakes. During face offs, which is what they do because apparently a jump ball on ice would be dangerous, if you take a swipe at the puck too early, you have to leave. “No, sir. I’m sorry. You had your chance. Go stand over there and let your friend try to do it right.”
The same goes for the penalties. If you commit a penalty, you have to leave the ice and go sit by yourself. “You know you’re not allowed to trip, yet you did it anyway. You need a time out. Go have a seat for a few minutes and think about what you’ve done.”
I still think a lot of hockey doesn’t make sense. If you didn’t take two halftimes, you might not have to save time by substituting while the puck is in play. Who do you think you’re fooling? I’m aware that I just spent 10 minutes watching kids try to skate on the ice while I stood in line for a $9 hot dog that tastes worse than those that spend 3 days on a warmer at 7-Eleven. (Of course, that’s still more interesting than soccer.) I guess I might as well embrace hockey, though. Though Orlando is supposed to be a basketball town, I guess it’s better to watch a team with players whose names you can’t pronounce rather than a team that traded away every good player to free up cap space.
“Great news! By trading our best center, power forward, and shooting guard, who have a ton of cap room to sign free agents this offseason!”
“Good thing, because we need to find ourselves a good center, power forward, and shooting guard.”