Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Improvement

If you tried to follow every piece of meme-based “wisdom” on Facebook, you’d soon find yourself in an utter dither about what to do with yourself. “Out of sight, out of mind” wars with “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” “Continuous improvement” dukes it out in your head with “Be kind to yourself and accept yourself as you are.” I’ll take some time today to untangle that second knot. Your approach could vary, but then that’s part of reality, isn’t it?

Continue reading “Self-Acceptance vs. Self-Improvement”

Movie Review: Rogue One

I will try to keep this review spoiler-free. No, really. 

If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’re going to see this film. You know it and I know it. What you might be worried about is will you like the film? Rest assured, fanboys (and gals), you will come out of theater happy with what you see.

The setup

Many Star Wars fans–I am among them–have memorized the opening crawl text from the first film, now titled Episode IV: A New Hope:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.

Rogue One, as shown in the trailers, is the dramatization of that prologue. The MacGuffin moving the story forward is, as in Episode IV, the Death Star plans.

This is a fun film. The title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story covers it nicely. It weaves in and out of Episode IV here and there while concentrating on a new batch of characters, both members of the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Many of the elements are familiar: the Death Star, the force, Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, X-wings, Tie Fighters, Imperial Stardestroyers, etc.

As is typical of a Star Wars story, the story also takes its characters and us, the audience, to a variety of exotic planets. Unusual aliens greet us, as do a new set of spacecraft–some sleek, some ugly and dented–all part of the “lived in” universe George Lucas did so much to bring to life (yikes) 39 years ago.

Why I liked it

This will be tricky without spoilers, but I’ll give it a shot.

Geek that I am, I always like to see what new stuff the folks at Lucasfilm will add to the galaxy far, far away, and I was not disappointed. They’re running out of new landscapes to film on Earth, but through careful hunting around our diverse planet and some judicious matte painting or digital effects, the filmmakers still manage to give us (if I may cross genres for a moment) strange, new worlds.

I liked the new characters, who manage to carry on the snarky interactions and uncertain-friendship dynamics of the original trilogy while still being likable. Over the course of two hours and some-odd minutes, I managed to care about how they fare. That’s no easy thing, as we learned, painfully, from Episodes I-III.

I suppose what impressed me the most about this film was the production design. Everything from helmets to tools to clothing to architecture to spacecraft looked believable. Again, that “lived in” feeling of the environment was meticulously crafted. And, more to the point, much of it was crafted to look functional, worn, and used, as everyday objects are in our real lives. There are also some other special effects tricks in the film that I can’t describe without spoiling things for the fans, but suffice to say you will be impressed.

The plot I described above. Director Gareth Edwards deftly handles the script and all of the moving parts necessary to make a good Star Wars story. The pacing is good. The dialogue is mostly “business” (moving the plot forward) with just enough character moments to remind you that these are supposed to be people we’re rooting for, not action figures. The space and planetary battles moved by at a rapid clip, as expected, almost a shade too fast to follow at points, but nothing glaring.

I suppose the best compliment I can pay to the film is that I want to see it again. And really, isn’t that what we want out of a good movie?

A couple thoughts for non-Star Wars fans

I know you’re out there: people who are not Star Wars fans or who for your own reasons have never seen any part of the franchise. Yet now your spouse or significant other has told you that you’re going, and you’re wondering if you’re going to care at all. If you like adventure stories, yes, you should like this. There’s some “heart” to be found as well.

The best piece of advice I could give to the uninitiated would be to at least watch the first Star Wars, the one for which this story serves as a prologue. It will introduce you to the Star Wars universe and provide the background for what’s going on. You don’t need to watch the entire series. Episode IV will also provide you with some timeline connections that will help you see how this episode fits in with that one while telling its own story.

Okay, I’ve blathered on long enough. Go see the movie. You know you want to.

The Curse of Charlie Brown and My Possession by Sportball

We’ll see if I get through writing this without getting misty eyes. Odds are nil. I am a Chicago Cubs fan, and today in Chicago the city will be celebrating, commemorating, and even in some curiously mourning the longest dry spell in professional sports. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Cubs finally, after yes, 108 years, won the World Series. Why get misty-eyed over a baseball game? I guess you had to be there.

In the beginning…

I grew up in the Western Suburbs of the Chicagoland area (yes, we call it that). I spent one season in little league, lacking skills and playing for the worst team in my division–the sort of team the very forgiving, patient, and understanding coach seemed to enjoy coaching. It probably comprised the kids from all over the district who were picked last for any team sport. We played badly, ending the season something like 4-10, 4-16, something awful like that, and two of those wins were due to the other team not even bothering to show up. I was the kid they put in right field on the worst team in the little league, but I played, I tried, and I learned what I could about the sport of baseball.

I also learned about being an uncoordinated kid among kids who could play sports. I learned that being incompetent at sports was a bad thing for a boy to be. You get called names for that. You get laughed at. You get zero sympathy for getting hit by a pitch right in the elbow and crying because, well, you got hit by a fast ball right in the elbow. You learn years later that the boys from across the district who saw what a physically incompetent weakling you are in baseball will find you in junior high and high school and pick on you because you’re an easy target. And if you’re on the worst team in the little league, you learn how to lose graciously. Kind of like the Chicago Cubs.

If you’re a weak kid who’s not good at baseball, you learn to identify with Charlie Brown, the Peanuts character who managed a bad baseball team and always seemed to get the short end of the stick, either through external circumstances or his own bad attitudes. “Just wait ’til next year!” was his despairing declaration at the end of each losing season. Again, kind of like the Cubs.

charlie-brown-baseball-aaugh

Baseball is just something a boy was simply expected to do. Grandpa Leahy and my dad took me to Wrigley Field to see a Cubs game. I went to a Cubs game with my work buddies and we drank beer in the bleachers and engaged in a healthy game of taunting “Left field sucks!” to the people in the other bleachers. Got one of the worst sunburns in my life, got hit on by a cross-dresser on the L, and came home drunker than my mother would have preferred. The Cubs lost. It was still a great time. I admired the 1984 Cubs (the Ryne Sandberg/Jody Davis era), who got as far as the National League Championship Series before being eliminated by the San Diego Padres. They came close, but they lost. Choked. Whatever. Losing was just something the Cubs did, and yet if anyone asked about baseball, I was always a Cubs fan.

Sportball

So I went off to college and started to return much of the resentment and contempt toward people of athletic ability that they had shown me once upon a time. I went to one football game in college, lasted maybe half the game, and spent most of the time drinking beer and talking to girls. I took golf and bowling pass/fail so that a) I wouldn’t irritate anyone in team sports with my incompetence and b) it wouldn’t affect my grade point average.

I spent my 20s with very little attachment to sports, though I never forgot the Cubs. I watched as their 2003 National League Championship dreams collapsed after a more dedicated fan in the stands reached for a ball at the same time as a Cubs outfielder Moises Alou. That poor guy got death threats, for gosh sakes, over a baseball game! I never forgot that, either. Maybe Chicago will finally forgive Steve Bartman. I hope so.

Today my past attitude  would be expressed with disdain by non-athletic hipsters about televised sports and sports fans thusly: “I don’t know anything about ‘sportball.’ All I hear when I watch an interview with a professional football player is, ‘Well, we didn’t sport very well in the first half so we have to sport better than the other guys so we can sport and win in the second half’.” I was never quite that bad, but there were years when I was very definitely not a sports fan.

Becoming a “born again” sports fan

Sometime in my 30s I moved to the Washington, DC, area. I didn’t fit in, I wasn’t a political guy, and I had no interest in being so. I missed my family. So I started going to the bars to watch football. When I realized I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for the Washington Redskins, I became a Chicago Bears fan for the first time in my life. It was a way of being different from the locals without being terribly off-putting (I was also a conservative, and DC is not a conservative town). So I found things to talk about with the locals and with my family.

I’ve been screaming at my TV since then, and “Da Bears” have as sketchy a record as the Cubs some years, though they had been to a Super Bowl, and I remember that being a whole lot of fun…and within my lifetime. But while the Bulls, Blackhawks, and even that other baseball team in the city, the White Sox, managed to win their respective league championships, the Cubs continued to disappoint. Losing was just something the Cubs did.

The change on the North Side

And then last year, I started hearing curious things about the Cubs. Their front office was different, their manager was different, the players were young and talented. They reached the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Perhaps I ought to try watching them again. So I watched the Cubs in October, which is usually not something one does.

They won the Wild Card Game. They won the National League Division Series against a very tough St. Louis Cardinals team in four games. Then came the Championship Series and the New York Mets. The Cubs weren’t as “hot” as they had been in St. Louis, and after four games, bam! Back to Chicago and “Better luck next year!”The Cubs got better this year, though, and if I came across one of their games while channel surfing, the odds were better that I’d stop and watch the game. They really were good. And the wins kept coming. They had the best record in baseball that year. Could this really be it? Could the drought, the curse, the perpetual losing actual end? It’s easy to be cynical about such things.

I missed the first half of the playoffs because the games were on networks my cable package didn’t carry, but they kept winning. They finally got to the NLCS and a network I could watch. The world was stressful and weary, and I needed something else besides to watch besides politics and the news of the world. I dedicated myself to watching the Cubs games, every single one, from start to finish. And I was seeing something I’d never seen before–or something I’d not seen in a long time: the team fought back from deficits. They refused to get dispirited in the face of adversity. And they were really, really fun to watch.

What this World Series has meant to me

I needed to tell all that to get to the actual Series because, like many Chicagoans (or Chicago suburbanites), my relationship with baseball and the Cubs has been long and complicated. What other team than the Cubs could teach three generations of Leahys among others the virtues of persistence, hope, and optimism in the face of and failure? Not all the kids of my generation played football, but nearly all of us played or watched baseball or at least softball. Not all of those memories are great, but they are part of who we are, and many of my peers from that time grew up as Cubs fans.

So the Good Lord saw fit to put the Cubs up against the team with the second-longest World Series drought in Major League Baseball and scores of their own to settle. We got maximum drama: the Cleveland Indians went up three games to one, and many of us felt, oh great, we’re doomed again. Curses or superstitions were invoked. Some fans couldn’t watch, the whole thing being too painful or stressful to watch. I determined to keep watching. And they won a game to get themselves out of the hole. And another. They tied the frickin’ series–unheard of! The Cubs and the Indians in Game 7 of the World Series? Surely the Apocalypse was upon us.

We had a close game in Game 7. Early lead. Tie scores. Rain delay. Extra inning. And then this happened:

And so all that experience comes back to you–whatever it is: the wins, the losses, the long experience with supporting a team that has not been taken seriously, the family members who lived their entire lives without seeing a Cubs pennant win or World Series win. It’s like having an ancient prophecy to come true during your lifetime. It’s like laying a beloved relative to rest or nostalgia for those who have left us believing in something without ever seeing it come to pass. It’s like seeing your childhood struggles redeemed. So yes, grown men cheered and cried at that moment.

Did millions (and yes, it’s millions) of Chicago Cubs fans do anything particularly different November 3, 2016? No. We sat and watched or listened or monitored our Twitter feeds for news about nine men playing a game of sport. We had so many voiced and unvoiced expectations, and for the first time in 108 years, something magical happened, and the team we expected to lose emerged victorious. However, it will be a while before some of us come to terms with a new relationship with the world because to define yourself as a Cubs fan for nearly a century has been to define yourself as a fan of the underdog or a lover of a lost cause. But that’s not true anymore. We aren’t perpetual losers, we can win. We aren’t cursed, we aren’t doomed. We can win. Anything is possible!

The Introvert’s Guide to Orlando V: Disney Springs

I’ll get off of Disney property, I promise. Today, however, is not that day.

Disney Springs is one of three places I walk around for exercise regularly. This is because it’s got a circle route with a few optional branches I can take for extra distance or extra quiet. Said walk starts by parking in the back corner of the Cirque du Soleil parking lot (what the street signs in the Disney Springs area now call “Surface Parking”). From there, I can walk in one of two directions on the path that borders the south side of the parking lot: along the Sassagoula River toward Cirque, House of Blues, DisneyQuest, and the rest of the West Side.

Usually, however, I head in the other direction, toward the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course.

Golfing

Speaking of which, do you golf? If not, consider it. Disney has three very nice courses: the Palm, Magnolia, and Lake Buena Vista Golf Courses. Don’t do it just for the physical activity–I personally know very few people who actually enjoy golf–but because you’re guaranteed three hours or so of relative quiet, walking or driving a cart over grassy hills, wooded fairways, and unpopulated scenery. If you want to golf or go to the driving range and just smack the heck out of a bucket of balls, the clubhouse for the LBV course is across the bridge on the other side of the Sassagoula River. If you have your own clubs, you’re better off parking at Saratoga Springs Resort.

Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Other Walks

If you’re not into golfing, you can still cross that bridge to Saratoga Springs. From there you have a couple of options. If you’ve got a lot of time and strong legs, you can walk around the Saratoga Springs Resort campus, which is quite extensive (grab a map from the front desk, or consult one of the many public kiosks they have spread around to help the clueless tourist).

My personal favorite walk is along the water, so I’ll walk along the perimeter of the golf course parking lot or through the Saratoga Springs commercial buildings until I get to Golf Drive. From Golf Drive I walk to Broadway, hang a right, and cross a bridge before making my next right and keeping the water in sight. This takes me around the Congress Park lodge buildings and onto the other side of the Sassagoula River. Saratoga Springs has a nice paved walkway that runs all the way to a pedestrian bridge that takes you to east side of Disney Springs (still called the Marketplace, for those of us old enough to remember when the whole area was called Disney Village Marketplace).

Saratoga Springs’ walkway has plenty of benches and a nice view of Disney Springs across the water. (They used to have some rocking chairs on a nice stone terrace that features a fountain, but those seem to have vanished. Why??? Curses!) What I like best about it, however, is that unlike Disney Springs, there is no background music. I’m not precisely certain why commercial entities like Disney insist on having music everywhere in public spaces. Perhaps it’s for theming. Personally, I believe it’s because they know that background music subliminally annoys people, and so they get up and start walking, talking, or shopping just to get away from it. So, fair warning: there aren’t a lot of actual quiet places in Disney Springs, just places with fewer people in them.

Disney Springs Marketplace

There are some sidewalks that go between the stores and what used to be the bus depot. There aren’t any entrances on that side, but there’s less traffic.

The first relatively quiet place you might find is the Lava Lounge, which is attached to and slightly below the Rainforest Cafe. I say “relatively” because it’s a saloon, and those places can get crowded when afternoon thunderstorms or dinnertime arrive.

From there, you can check out the performance stage in the Marketplace. There’s plenty of seating if they don’t have a band or choir performing. My introverted mother also likes the planter in front of World of Disney, looking toward the stage. “Great for people watching” was her exact quote.

Detours

Before I get too far afield, I should mention another option when you reach the LBV Golf Course. Instead of crossing the bridge to Saratoga Springs, you can continue on the path that follows the Sassagoula River all the way up to Disney’s Old Key West Resort, which is the first Disney Vacation Club property. Again, depending on how vigorous you’re feeling, you can also walk around Old Key West, understanding that while it is more or less circular in its layout, finding the paths that get you all the way around the circle can be hard to find. If you’re looking for a quick/quiet beverage, the Gurgling Suitcase at OKW is worth a stop.

Another detour you can take away from the crowds at Disney Springs is up Hotel Plaza Boulevard. Disney recently installed some very nice pedestrian bridges with stairs and elevators on each side of the road. I’ve walked up to the TraveLodge, crossed the street, and come back.

An additional detour is to keep walking on the sidewalk across from Disney Springs along Buena Vista Drive. You’ll pass the SunTrust Bank, the Walt Disney World Casting building, and a gas station before you come to Team Disney, the WDW administrative building. There’s a pedestrian bridge there that will take you to the Disney Springs Landing and West Side.

The Landing

There’s a stage area between the Boathouse Restaurant and Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, which is an Indiana Jones-themed saloon (“There’s a big snake in the plane, Jock!” “Oh, that’s just my pet snake, Reggie!” “I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ’em!” “Come on, show a little backbone, will ya?”). I don’t see that seating area used very often and there isn’t a lot of shade, but there are some benches for resting and getting out of the traffic flow.

Jock Lindsey’s and Paradiso 37 both have nice outside seating areas and they’re usually pretty quiet between noon and 4:30 (or until the afternoon thunderstorms start).

There’s a walkway behind Raglan Road and Morimoto Asia that’s not as high-traffic–at least it is now, until they open a new restaurant there soon.

Town Center

This is the new section of Disney Springs, which is chock-full of air-conditioned upscale shops. Not a bookstore to be found. However, they do have a Tommy Bahama and a Sprinkles cupcake place where you can get cupcakes out of an ATM. A lot of the stores you see there you could find at your closest upscale mall at home. It is relatively quiet before 10:30 or 11 a.m. and does have one “street” that is roofed over and seems to be air conditioned.

One fun thing I like in the middle of the Town Center is an Archimedean screw that you can turn yourself to bring up water from a water to a higher-level reservoir to keep the waterfall going.

West Side

If you can’t stand the crowds anymore, there is an AMC Theater at West Side. One side has a dine-in theater, with waiters, much more personal space per seat, and a fairly diverse menu. Catch a matinee. My biggest gripe with the place is the smell of the carpet, which has probably seen plenty of hard messes over the years.

The courtyard (“Exposition Park”) between Starbucks and Bongos Cuban Cafe has Disney food trucks stationed there. It’s usually not too crowded mid-afternoon. From there you can reach the walkway that leads along the Sassagoula River and behind most of the restaurants.

Do you like open-air heights? Do you want to get above the crowds? They have a massive balloon at West Side that’ll help you get above it all. The “Characters in Flight” balloon will take you up to 400 feet for sightseeing, weather permitting. Good luck with that.

Several of the saloons on the West Side can be reasonably crowd-free between noon and 4:30: Bongos Cuban Cafe, the upper-floor patio at Splitsville, and the sushi bar inside the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe.

If you just need somewhere to sit and get clear of the traffic, the outside seating area by House of Blues is good and reasonably well shaded. It is somewhat less convenient when there is a concert about to happen or when the afternoon thunderstorms pop up. You have been warned.

The last places I’ve identified for resting are the benches on the west side of House of Blues and the south side of Cirque du Soleil. From there, you can find the pathway to (and around) the surface parking…and your car, if you’ve parked it in the back corner.

Awhile back, someone asked me, “How can you deal with all those crowds on your walks?” My answer was simple: “I’m just walking. I’m not talking to them.”

Until next time…

Feeding the Beast Properly

Just what everyone wants to read about…someone else’s diet history. There’s a point to this, really. Read on if you’re interested in doing things to improve your health and (maybe) your body mass.

On the way to becoming Homer Simpson

For most of my life I have not been a “health food” nut. Or an exercise fanatic. In fact, until my 30s, I was pretty much an eat-what-I-want-don’t-exercise kind of guy. Okay, sure, I rode my bike or took walks around my neighborhood, but it wasn’t with any sort of health plan in mind. Then my 30s hit. That super-duper young-guy metabolism started wearing down a bit.

So I tried a few things–cutting back on this, eating more of that, and really things just weren’t improving. By 2012, I was a Homer Simpson weight, and that wasn’t good. I started doing serious reading on the subject, which for me was the only proper way to learn anything. I started getting more strategic–being conscious about my eating and exercising choices.

In 2014, I had the opportunity to help a friend write a class for Florida Hospital patients about to enter the baryatric surgery program there. That was an eye opener because while I was writing for people in much worse shape than I was, I could see what direction I was heading. And I also saw that advice meant for the seriously obese also could work for someone not-quite-as-fat as I was. I spent the money on a YMCA membership and talked to one of the coaches about reducing my personal level of “marbling.” Exercise is one part of the calorie-reduction equation (about 25%); a major part, however (65% or so), is the food I’m using to fuel my body. That needed to be fixed.

Unfeeding the beast

One of the most important things I learned in the process of writing that class was how to fix my diet. Not go full-Vegan or Mediterranean or Atkins or Pick-Your-Fad Diet of the Week. The goal of the Florida Hospital program (and, as a result, my own personal program) was simply to establish better, permanent eating habits. This focused on several things: what I ate, how much I ate, and when I ate.

Fixing what I was eating was surprisingly simple. A lot of it boiled down to eliminating processed foods from my diet. What’s a processed food? Pretty much anything that isn’t a direct plant or animal part. If it’s on the shelves instead of in a refrigerator, that means it’s got preservatives in it, and preservatives are bad. More to the point, the process of extending the shelf life of a food also means that you’re sucking out nutrients. Oh yeah, and all that great Chicago food–heavy fats, extra beef, deep frying–that had to be cut back severely. To like once a week. Or once a month. Or once a quarter. Or once a year.

Just to make things more complicated, while I was approaching horrific size, I was also having acid reflux (though that would take a couple years to diagnose) and sleep apnea, both of which can be brought on by poor diet. Just to make things worse, the combination of poor diet, minimal exercise, acid reflux, and sleep apnea were all reinforcing each other.

Controlling how much I eat has been an ongoing challenge, but a lot of it boils down to portion size–does the whole mess on your plate equate to a mass larger than the size of your whole fist? If so, it’s probably time to cut back. Also, most American restaurant portions are at least twice what you really need. I needed to go into a place looking to eat appetizers for dinner or expecting to bring home leftovers.

As to when I ate…that probably wasn’t as big a deal at home, but at the office, well-meaning coworkers had a tendency to bring stuff into the office, or my employer would graciously stock up on snacks. Most of it was usually bad for me, so those snacks had to go. And one of the biggest things I did? Quit sodas and juices. The acid reflux made it more or less a necessity. I could drink that stuff and feel like my throat was being clenched by Darth Vader or I could drink water and not feel that way. No contest. Oh, and as a result of quitting the soda, 20 pounds disappeared and pretty much stayed off after that. I could quit alcohol as well, but good grief, why take all the enjoyment out of life?

Specific shopping advice

What I really wanted to share in this post was some constructive advice on what to buy at the grocery store. It’s done me some good. Hopefully it will help you as well.

  • As noted above, try to eat natural foods. By that I mean actual plants or animal products, not things that have been processed in some way. A “process” can be defined as anything that extends the shelf life of an otherwise-plant or -animal product and take it out of the refrigerated section. Most of these foods can be found on the perimeter of your typical American grocery store.
  • Avoid the foods in the aisles. Again, anything “dry” or with a long shelf life has a lot of preservatives and a lot of nutrients taken out.
  • Eat only the serving size at one sitting. That helps you better gauge how many calories you’re actually consuming and it helps your food last longer. Most packages (again, if it’s in a package, that’s usually a sign that it’s been processed somehow) contain more than one serving size.
  • Reduce the amount of sugar and salt you’re consuming. This includes variations on sugar, like high fructose corn syrup, or sugar substitutes–and anything that contains them. You know what I’m talking about: cookies, cakes, desserts, anything with a nutritional information label that includes “additional sugars,” and any other thing that’s probably also going to rot your teeth.
  • Focus on fish or chicken as a source of protein or, if you’re more plant-friendly, beans or other things that contain protein but don’t come from an animal. Beef is bad for a couple reasons: it’s high in saturated fat, which is bad for your weight and also can affect anyone with acid reflux (ahem).
  • Choose whole-grain breads instead of plain white bread. The flour used to make white bread is processed like nobody’s business and so has little to no nutritional value.
  • If you find yourself craving snacks, buy things that are also direct plant or animal products like fruits, nuts, or cheese.

Is that all?

Actually, despite all this sage advice I’ve just dispensed, I’m now taking a specific class on maintaining a healthy diet through A Whole New Life because while these rules seem pretty straightforward, they also struck me as boring.  I’ve been in an ongoing struggle for the last 3-4 years with trying to find foods that are:

  • Delicious
  • Filling
  • Good for me

Usually I get two out of three. (I remain overweight in part because I haven’t been able to find foods that work for me.) I’m hoping the new diet coach has some recipes or things I can try that fit all three criteria. My goal, after all, is to eat well and happily into my 90s. I sort of have my mother’s philosophy on eating: “I could live into my 90s by eating only the right foods, but good grief, why would I want to?” With that mindset in mind, my goal as I reach beyond mid-life is to eat foods that won’t kill me while also eating foods that won’t make me wish I were dead. Is that too much to ask?

How Coupled People Shouldn’t Talk to their Single Friends

Greetings, readers! I hope you had a pleasant Christmas/Federal Holiday/Day Off. On the whole, my Christmas was quite good. There are always those little annoyances, though, aren’t there? The remarks you really didn’t need to hear. What follows is an extended rant. If you’d like to avoid reading rants, ignore this post.

I’m a longtime-single male, so you can guess which button was pressed: “How’s the dating life?” As it happens, I’m a more private person than most, so regardless of my actual state, I consider this question rude. If I wanted someone to know my social status, odds are good that the magic words girlfriend, partner, lady friend, fiancee, or spouse would drop out of my mouth within a minute of starting the conversation without prompting. Well, for years now my response has been, “I’m single, thanks for asking.”

This is often followed up by an expression of anything from curiosity to sadness to actual horror. Because there’s nothing a single person loves more than being pitied, right? Anyhow, this expression is then accompanied by the usual follow-up question: “Why?”

My honest answer is, “Because I’m happy. Why screw things up?” And if someone pokes a little harder, I might explain that I’m too lazy to court and too selfish about protecting my free time.

I’ve used that response a few times, and usually the snark closes the subject. Others, however, are more persistent, and here is where the rudeness really amps up: “You should…” It’s at this point that the single person on the receiving end is treated to unsolicited advice about what they should be doing with their personal life:

  • You should try online dating.
  • You should get out more.
  • You should join X group/church/organization
  • You should meet my friend X.
  • You should have someone in your life.

The first four suggestions fall under the category of practical advice. As if, at the tender age of 46, I wanted to find a woman, but just didn’t know how to go about it. The coupled person might think they’re being helpful, but here’s the thing: if I or any other single person wanted a partner in life, odds are we’d be doing whatever we could to fix the situation, yes? And if we were serious about about partner-hunting, we might even ask for advice. Again, that assumes that I am seeking someone or that my situation is a problem that needs to be solved. That fifth bullet is merely an assumption on the coupled person’s part: You should have someone in your life. Again, my response is usually, “Why? I’m happy living as I am.”

Admittedly, this is not just an introvert thing, as I have a LOT of introverted friends who have navigated the dating mine field and managed to find someone they love enough to marry. Great! Good for them. This is simply a Bart thing. In the spirit of full disclosure and authenticity, I’ll just say it: I don’t date well. It brings out the worst aspects of my personality, and the problem has only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. So that’s out there, thanks for asking.

But let’s get back to the coupled person who’s determined to “fix” the “problem” of the single person. Again, you might think you’re helping, but really, don’t unless you’re asked for helpThe short version of this blog would be: shut up. You have no idea what the life of the single person in front of you is like. Now as it happens, I spent Christmas Day before the above conversation opening gifts I’d bought with a gift card received from a friend, baking cookies, and taking a long walk in the Florida sunshine. I managed all of that on my own and quite enjoyed it. “Oh!” the concerned coupled person might say, “But it would be better/more fun if you had someone to share those experiences with!” Maybe. You don’t know that, and shame on you for assuming so.

I have single friends who have been dumped just before Christmas; who have family members who are convinced they are spinsters and doomed never to marry because they are a particular gender and above a certain age; I have friends who are single parents and so must balance work, family, and a romantic life; I know others who have been burned badly by contentious divorces and others who have been physically abused by previous partners. And then some of us are just happier living alone–it’s not a problem, it’s a lifestyle choice. Bottom line: a single person might have any number of reasons for why they are in that social state, and most or all of them are none of your damn business. If you are unable to contain your curiosity, you might ask what the person’s status is or, at most, why. Once you move from inquiry into the realm of “you should do X,” you are intruding.

Imagine this: I learn that you are married. A horrified (or pitying) expression covers my face, and I say, “Oh my gosh, why are with someone? You should be single! Do you need the number of a good divorce attorney? Do you need someone to help pack your bags?” What do you suppose the reaction would be? I’d be considered rude, and rightly so. So whatever compulsion people have to fix the social state of their single friends, it needs to stop, and it needs to stop being socially acceptable to do so. Some individuals might, in fact, be unhappy with their singularity and wish desperately that it were different. How does poking at that wound help them? Like I said, I’m happy in my current state. What really bothers me is the presumptive and intrusive nature of the inquisition.

Again, back to the short version of “What do you do if you’re in a relationship and you encounter a single person?” Shut up.

Movie Review: Star Wars VII

I will do my best to make this a spoiler-free review, as I’m posting opening day and a lot of people haven’t seen the film yet. Maybe I’ll do this in Q&A format.

Did you like the film?

Yes indeed I did! Star Wars is back*, with a movie worthy of the name for the first time since 1983. It has a good story that moves along at a pace similar to Episode IV, with a script that (for the most part) sounds like real people talking, albeit in a space fantasy universe. The characters are–and I can’t emphasize this nearly enough–likable. Not just our old friends like Han Solo, Chewbacca, or Princess (now General) Leia, but the new kids on the block. I found myself caring about these new characters in a way that I just could not manage with the prequel characters. What a difference good directing makes!

The technology in the film that “lived in,” scruffy look that the original trilogy has, and of course all of it has the telltale music orchestrated by the immortal John Williams. And really, some of the moments in the film where you’ve got the original story’s characters doing their thing and Williams’ soundtrack doing its thing are quite enough to warm the heart of the most cynical Gen Xer. Note on that: I preordered the SWVII soundtrack, and unlike previous soundtracks, there are no “spoilers” in the musical piece titles. I did encounter that on the prequel trilogy soundtracks.

(*Yes, I know there have been other movies, books, comic books, and other media bric-a-brac in this universe, but I’m not so enamored of the series that I’ve been willing to watch all of them.)

Are there major plot surprises in the story?

Yes. If you want to know what the spoilers are, go here.

Can I take the kids?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13 for several reasons, mostly violence related with some “language” and other situations that you might not want to have to explain to your curious, impatient, or easily frightened 6-10 year old. Your call. Some of the stuff that might bother younger viewers would qualify as spoilers, so bear with me if I don’t divulge too much.

Without revealing spoilers, what can you tell me about the movie?

Set around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, we find the galaxy far, far away still in turmoil, this time through a war between The New Order (the bad guys) and the Resistance (the good guys). The bad guys, led by a new scary guy in a mask named Kylo Ren, have a new, scary weapon to terrorize the good people of the galaxy.

In the midst of this turmoil, we have some new characters living out their lives–a junk scavenger, a stormtrooper deserting his post, a crack Resistance pilot, a new lovable droid–as well as some people we’ve seen before, advancing in age, but still charmingly likable and doing things true to their characters.

Did I mention that the heroes are likable? Why is this such a big deal? Because the characters in Episodes I-III were so damned unlikable. I can’t blame all of the mess in Episodes I-III on the actors. Much of that must be laid at the feet of the director/executive producer/money man George Lucas, who in the years between 1983 and 1999 forgot how to write and direct.

Do you have any gripes with the movie?

While watching the film, I had a couple moments where I couldn’t understand what people were saying, either because the technobabble was  spoken too quickly or was overwhelmed by sound effects or music. Nothing critical and not often, but these things happened.

The political situation in this film is a bit murky, but then compared to certain other films in the franchise, it’s a model of parliamentary coherence. I might buy the novelization to see if some things I’m curious about are explained, but none of my questions affected the action or my enjoyment of the story.

There are also a couple of moments in the film that are predictable if you’re attuned to storytelling.

After the film I had to sniff around a spoiler site or two to pick up what other gripes there were to be found. I’m not going to lie to you: I had misgivings about this film due to some of the things director JJ Abrams did with the Star Trek franchise. He has a tendency to repeat things done with the original material he’s working with, if only out of nostalgia, but the things he did with The Force Awakens were done respectfully and handled entertainingly. There were places where The Force Awakens “rhymes” with the original film (e.g., mission to destroy large superweapon). As long as he doesn’t retell the entire Episode IV-VI trilogy, things will be fine.

However, given all of these nits above, none of that really bothered me because I got to involve myself in a story with characters I wanted to see succeed. Isn’t that why we go to the movies?

Should I go see it?

Yes! In the theater! I paid extra to see the film in 3D, which was a nice touch, but isn’t 100% necessary. In case you hadn’t noticed, this film has won me over simply because of the charm of the characters and JJ Abrams’ ability to tell a good Star War story. In fact, I found the film enjoyable enough to forgive him for much of what he did to the Star Trek franchise. That’s saying a lot, I guess, depending on the type of nerd you are.