It Happened in Real Life

It’s April in New England, which means the solid crust of exhaust stained ice/snow has finally given way to brown grass. And, like good northeasterners, we pull out our sandals and rejoice.

Me, especially. This year’s winter — with its months of below-zero temperatures and comical snowfall totals — wreaked havoc on my usually-manageable seasonal depression. What started out as a normal case of the winter blues segued into a deep, relentless fog that stretched on for months. It was Bad.

I didn’t feel like doing any of my usual hobbies (or much of anything). At some point, I developed a trace of interest in baking a cake. Then I laid on my couch for a few weeks. Then I bought some butter. Another few weeks went by. You get the idea.

Eventually I made the cake. Something about the distraction of following directions, or the smell of sweets baking… whatever it was, it got me off the couch. So i went with the flow, stocked up on flour, and baked through the tears.

Co-author Lena Webb had a similar relationship with crossword puzzles during a recent rough spell, and her essay describes it far better than I could so I’ll just link to it here. Go read it.

Some photos from my winter of baking:

One of many loaves of crusty peasant bread.

A classic apple bundt.

My home State cookie. I dropped the first batch in the oven and they burst into flames spectacularly, but I stayed the course (read: and also cried) and started over. I’m glad I did.

Lemon custard cakes.

Bavarian Pretzel.

Lastly, vanilla cream filled dark chocolates made with my (new) antique mold.

(Sorry these are mostly crummy iPhone pictures. My DSLR camera was in a closet and I didn’t have the energy to take it out for a few months. People who get depressed will understand this.)

The other thing I did this winter was watch a ton of stuff on Hallmark. Yeah, I’m admitting it. The Hallmark Channel is great for mildly depressed people because everything they air is harmless and therefore Safe For All Moods. While Lifetime movies can occasionally go dark and rape-y, Hallmark movies are both 1) watchable and 2) completely free of conflict. Even when it’s a romance and the protagonist has to choose between two men, she always breaks up with the loser guy in a totally amicable way where everyone hugs and learns from the experience.

Speaking of watchable corniness, you should probably start watching Younger. It airs on the sounds-like-it’s-made-up TV Land network and stars the actress who was in that ballet show by the Gilmore Girls writer that didn’t last very long. It follows a woman who’s 40 and recently divorced, but pretends to be in her mid-twenties to get a job. People believe it because she’s got long hair and highlights. She has all kinds of inoffensive adventures and starts dating this young tattoo artist dude and it’s all very silly and forgettable (and therefore depression-approved!).

Hillary Duff is also in it which will remind you that she exists.

P.S. My mood has improved significantly, lest you worry.

P.P.S Antique chocolate molds are amazing, and you should buy one here.

Remember Fire in the Sky? You know, the based-on-a-true-story-maybe alien abduction movie from the 90s? The really freaking scary one?

When I was ten years old, I saw it exactly once and it was so crap-your-pants terrifying that for YEARS I skipped past HBO while channel-surfing just to avoid catching a glimpse of it. (HBO owned like 5 movies in the early 90s, so they repeated the same things endlessly. I’m fairly sure I saw Gremlins 2 about 65 times.)

Now, after 20 years, Fire in the Sky is on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Mr. Max is curious and thinks we should watch it. I’m still unsure (and somewhat traumatized), so I’m turning to you, Internet, to vote on what we should do.

Arguments For (via Mr. Max):

  • If something is really scary, it’s probably very effective filmmaking and worth seeing for artistic reasons
  • We’ve seen much scarier things on the news/documentaries
  • Aren’t you curious?

Arguments Against (mine):

  • Seriously, just look at this image from the actual movie

So my birthday is tomorrow and I’m turning 30.

I mostly don’t care, but every so often I feel an irrational flash of terror.

It’s hard to describe, but it’s sort of like this:

(I’m contemplating making this an e-card.)

To cope with this important turning point, I watched Ghost World, my favorite movie of all time.

It’s about two friends who have recently graduated from high school: Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson, who was about twelve years old when they filmed it) and Enid (Thora Birch). Enid, who isn’t sure what to do with her life, strikes up a friendship with Seymour (Steve Buscemi), a lonely record collector and general misanthrope.

If you’ve never seen it, it 1) is the best coming-of-age movie ever 2) is a movie about teenage girls that doesn’t insult you with how stupid it is 3) will give you an appreciation for ragtime music (really, it will).

If you have seen it and you don’t like it, you’re dead to me.

No offense.

Even though the main character is a teenager, this movie actually contains some optimistic messages regarding the aging process. Behold, my fellow 29.99-year-olds:

Three Reassuring Truths About Getting Older From Ghost World

#1: Outsiders Are Ageless

Enid’s a punky teenage girl. Seymour’s a middle-aged assistant manager at a fried chicken restaurant. But, as Enid gushes, “”He’s the exact opposite of everything I hate!”

In actuality, Seymour and Enid have a lot in common — they’re both outsiders. Artsy Enid doesn’t fit in with her peers or the creative phonies in her summer art class. Seymour fills his free time collecting blues and ragtime ‘78s and admits that he “can’t relate to 99% of humanity.” Even though they’re about a generation apart, they relate to each other.

I think aging is probably harder to stomach if you had the whole traditional young person experience – dating, bars, being part of a big “normal” social clique. But us weirdos, we’re basically old people when we’re young. So we don’t really age. Boom.

I knew there would be a benefit eventually.

#2: Being Young Doesn’t Make You Cool

There’s a reason Enid isn’t hanging around people her own age. They’re mostly, in her words, “extroverted, obnoxious, pseudo-bohemian losers.” Yup.

#3: The Whole Boundless Potential of Youth Thing is a Myth

It’s tempting to look back on your teens and twenties as a time of boundless freedom and opportunity and get depressed that it’s over. But you’re probably forgetting that high school was less like this:

and more like this:

I’m pretty sure the idea that youth = ultimate freedom is the biggest line of b.s. ever.

My own memories of high school (and many others, I suspect) exist against the backdrop of the following “uplifting” messages:  “If you don’t take AP History, your life is OVER,” “If you go to the wrong college, your life is OVER,” “You didn’t belong to any clubs? Your life is OVER.” Watching Enid and Rebecca struggle to find their way, I realize how much freer I feel now than I did then.

And hey, at least I’m not turning 40. That would suck.

The unholy mix of orange leaves and heavy snow from the recent freak October snowstorm brought plenty of chaos to our neighborhood: downed power lines, trees bent over like soggy french fries, and cars bumper-to-bumper at the gas station. It was the kind of experience makes you go all apocalyptic and start Googling what, exactly, your body needs to survive.

Beans and rice and Vitamin C, mostly, in case you were wondering.

Even our workplaces lost power for several days, which meant a whole bunch of days spent at home. We didn’t dare venture out far into the destruction and our house was among the few that had heat and power all the way through. This meant:

1) Cat pukes got cleaned up throughout the day instead of en masse in the evening.
2) Becoming really really accustomed to the sound of wood chippers.
3) Catchin’ up on TV.

And by TV, I actually mean Netflix. We’re kind of on the cheap/lazy side when it comes to home technology stuff, so we never bothered to get a splitter to easily go from digital cable to the Wii. Therefore we tend to leave the Wii plugged in all the time and just watch stuff on Netflix, instead of fiddling with the plugs.

The funny thing about Netflix is that it tends to have a brainy-ifying effect on one’s entertainment habits. Critically acclaimed dramas, documentaries, and British comedies that feature complex sentence structures – all are comfortably at home in the Netflix queue. Lifetime Movies, Switched at Birth, Dancing with the Stars, and all the other junk I used to watch on TV? Not so much. In my current queue, I’ve got The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a documentary on the Theremin, and Jeeves and Wooster: The Complete Series. All my queue needs now is a monocle.

I guess it makes sense – passively sitting by while TV does its thing is a lot less of a commitment than adding something to a list. Who out there wants to admit that, yes, I’m carving out some future time in my schedule for Keeping up with the Kardashians? Isn’t it better when it just “happens”?

Yes. It’s more forgivable.

But…I love bad tv. Really I do. So I’ve kind of felt its absence under the reign of Netflix.

At the end of the week, Mr. Max had to return to the post-Snowtober outside world, but I still had one more day at home. I used the morning for laundry and one of my occasional WiiFit workouts, followed by couch/lunch/TV. Netflix kept recommending Skins, a British series, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Skins follows the exploits of a group of teen scoundrels (and scoundrettes?) in Bristol. It’s an ensemble cast, so there’s a lot of details to keep track of, but the only important thing to know is that EVERY aspect of the show is designed to horrify parents. And by every aspect, I mean that the teenagers in Skins: drink, smoke, peep at neighborhood middle-aged ladies (who peep back), take pills, drive cars over bridges while clumsily reaching for condoms, etc.

Oh, and they seem to accidentally see teachers naked a lot.

It’s pretty trashy, alright, but it’s like Alice Cooper or a GWAR show – anyone offended by it is probably taking it way too seriously. In short, it’s my new favorite bad TV show.

The group of teenagers in Skins is led charismatic but manipulative leader Tony. Tony is basically an a-hole, but everything he does comes off smoother than molasses.

Yes. Even this.

In other words, Tony is a Gary Stu. Like Ferris Bueller and Wesley Crusher before him, Tony is a super-idealized wish-fulfillment fantasy for teenage boys.

Or TV writers who used to be teenage boys.

Tony is usually accompanied by Sid, his best mate and/or greasier shadow. It’s hard not to feel bad for the poor actor playing Sid – in order to emphasize Tony’s coolness, the writers have given Sid a big-time dose of schlubbiness; I’m talking stained sweatshirt, dirty face, a reliance on naked lady magazines…the whole shebang.

Did I mention his continued virginity is a major plot point?

Naturally, Sid is secretly in love with Tony’s girl Michelle. Michelle’s out of his league, so he settles for hanging around Cassie, a loopy blonde with an eating disorder.

Kinda like Luna Lovegood. But with pills.

I’ve only seen two episodes, but I look forward to binge-watching a bunch of episodes in the near future.

Don’t worry…I’ll throw a documentary in there too.

“In dreams begin responsibilities,” or so they say. In my case it’s more like, “My responsibilities begin in dreams.” Despite being a kinda-sorta creative person during my waking hours, my sleeping mind has the personality of an accountant. Or a to do list.

Other people, at least some of the time, get to spend their evening hours riding atop unicorns or evading vampires. I get this:

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I dreamed the season 5 premiere of Mad Men.

Let me clarify — I didn’t dream that the show was on, or that we were watching it. I dreamed the episode itself.

It opened with a slow, steady shot of 1980s (yes — 80s) New York City, closing in on a sign reading “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.” Inside the building, young ad execs flitted around in snappy Reagan-era suits. The camera slowly moved towards a back office to find a now gray Don Draper and Peggy Olson.  Peggy closed the door.

Peggy: They’re moving forward with the Adidas account.

Don: What? Those idiots.

(He pauses, then looks up)

They’re making a huge mistake.

(He reaches for the phone)

Peggy: (Places her hand on the phone to stop him)

Wait- they’re just looking for a reason to get rid of you. It’s not worth it.

Don: They’re wrong.

(He lights a cigarette)

After that, the focus shifted to a group of yuppie ad executives, and sort of morphed into Mad Thirtysomething. Peggy and Don (and Betty and Peter, too) were there, but they were marginal side characters. Don had long since married and divorced several times over, and was primarily known to the young staff protagonists as being “an old alcoholic.” Peggy had carved out a niche as a copywriter, surviving several rounds of layoffs over the years, but had never ascended any further up the career track.

Yeah…it was kind of a downer. But I think as far as dream scriptwriting goes, it wasn’t too bad. There’s something to be said for shaking up the ol’ plot a bit, even if that means trading Lucky Strikes for Lucky Charms.

Although I’m pretty sure if I was ever actually responsible for a geriatric Joan the masses would probably have my head.