Tuesday, October 30, 2012

'Appy Daze!-- Kurt Vonnegut Lovefest

Ok.  I had meant to begin the first ‘Appy Daze weekly post yesterday, but personal circumstances (an argument, a headache, and a nasty dog scratch *ON MY FACE*) prevented my update.  As you can imagine, happy thoughts were not forthcoming.

Though my face still hurts and I remain terrified at the prospect of facial scarring (I’m a hypochondriac), I feel entirely better mood today and more equipped to write about happiness.

This week, I thought I would talk to you about my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut.  Vonnegut (1922-2007) was a novelist and essayist known for writing darkly funny works that fused humor and science fiction into one quickly devoured nugget of zaniness (how’s that for mixed metaphors, eh?).  Today, Vonnegut is probably most remembered for his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, subtitled The Children’s Crusade, sub-sub-titled A Duty-Dance with Death, a novel about the time traveling experiences of a World War II vet (and survivor of the 1945 RAF firebombing of Dresden, Germany).  Slaughterhouse-Five, you won’t be surprised to learn, is my favorite book.

For someone such as myself-- someone who has some traumatic events in their past-- Vonnegut’s works really resonate.  Like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut was a former POW and survivor of the destruction of Dresden.  From some of the autobiographical details that Vonnegut wove into his works, it would rightly seem that being a witness to such unfathomable horror was an event that Vonnegut was never quite able to surmount.  From my personal experience, I believe this to be generally true about trauma: you are never able to “overcome” your trauma, you’re only able to come to terms with its presence.

Vonnegut’s work is a testament to life after trauma; In Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat’s Cradle (one of my personal favorites), and Breakfast of Champions among others, Vonnegut constructs narratives among the ruins of life.  The story goes on even when we know what’s going to happen or what has happened; time is secondary, time stops when the world as you know it has crumbled in front of you.

As depressing as that may sound, it’s terrifically uplifting for people like myself who have struggled to overcome a difficult past.  Often, life seems as though it will never go on, as though nothing worthwhile can emerge from the wreckage of your life.  Not only was Vonnegut able to create works about the wreckage of life, he was able to do so with a sense of humor.  There’s hope, at least for me, among the atomic bomb blasts and super-freezing chemicals that populate Vonnegut’s work.

You may never make sense of your own trauma, but if you can pull an amused, Vonnegut inspired smirk at life’s absurdities and slights, well, that’s half the battle.  
Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Movie Picks for the Squeamish and Persnickety

It’s almost Halloween and you know what that means: being guilted into putting a bunch of horror movies in your Netflix queue by friends who don’t seem to understand a) your distaste at having your renting cycle seasonably disrupted, b) your reticence at watching another person being eviscerated, and c) your desire to eat candy alone whilst watching White Chicks.  Fear not, dear reader, I’ve got you covered:

When in doubt, hipster it out.

What would a hipster do in a similar situation?  While not one myself, I am sure our NHS-spec friends with trust funds would profess to watching either something obtuse, foreign, and gorey (out of the question; “Just Say No to Argento!”); watching a B-grade horror movie that few of heard of (a legitimate possibility); or to watching a classic horror or monster flick from the golden age of cinema.  Well, they might make one of the above choices or make some asinine remark about life being a horror movie (blergh).

So, for the squeamish and persnickety among us (*ahem* moi) there are only two options: to watch B-grade horror-ish films or classic horror/monster movies; luckily, many of these films are readily available online either through on-demand services or from YouTube.  Here are a few of my personal-- and widely available--favorites.  

Night of the Living Dead (1968): This is the original-- and best-- version of this horror movie classic.  Yes, there is violence and gore, but the black and white film, B-grade production values, and captivating storyline make the film less graphic and more chilling.  I would recommend playing the film in the background during your Halloween party; those interested in watching the film can grab their sugary treats and watch away while those more interested in mingling and can listen to the film as background ambiance.

The Phantom of the Opera (1925): This is a silent film staring Lon Chaney, one of the first great Hollywood actors and makeup artists.  Chaney was known as "the man of a 1,000 faces" for his uncanny ability to physically transform into his disfigured characters.  Movie makeup was in its infancy during Chaney's time, so the (to our eyes) rudimentary makeup he uses was cutting edge in the 1920s.  Watch this film before Halloween and impress your friends with your knowledge of early cinema.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920): Here is another classic film from the silent era that is also foreign (two for the price of one!) that's widely considered to be one of the first horror movies.  The film still retains much of it's creepy value almost one hundred years after it's release.  For pretension's sake, make sure to refer to the film by its German title Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari.

Carnival of Souls (1962): Again, here is another early horror film that, due to it's B-production values is more creepy than scary.  Being familiar with this film (which I also believe is available from The Criterion Collection-- BONUS) will earn you hipster points and make you seem like a real film aficionado.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959): Perhaps the best worst movie ever, this film is a perfect film (like The Room) to admit to having seen and enjoying in all of its horribleness.  This could be another candidate for a Halloween ambiance film to have playing at your party.  Might I recommend a sing-along party (Rocky Horror style) to accompany your festive viewing of the film?

And last, but certainly not least . . .

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961): What would Halloween be without a grand appearance from Vincent Price, hmmm?  Nada, I say!  This is my favorite Poe-inspired film that Price did with Roger Corman, it's deliciously bad. :-)
What are some of your favorite creepy movies to watch at Halloween time?  Share in the comments.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

'Appy Daze are 'Ere Again

Hello, everyone.

I’ve decided to reclassify the “Happiness” posts from a finite series to a regular feature on my blog.  For the time being, I think I have taxed myself out on finding and expounding upon the things in life that make me happy.  I’m not an optimistic person by nature (my handle is, afterall ironic as well as a nod to James Joyce), so this exercise-- while an important one-- isn’t one that I can come by easily.  If you want Oprah’s sage-like musing upon living your authentic life, go watch OWN. If, however, you want a snarky white girl musing about literature, film, feminism, and foosas (read: pugs), then stick with me kid . . . I’m going places (well, Safeway anyway . . .).

Shall we make Mondays our day’s for happiness?  Yes.

Let us call them “ ‘Appy Daze” and “‘Appy Daze” they shall be known.



Looking for Happiness #4: Eating Like an Elderly Toddler

There’s no two ways about it: I loves me my food.  There is nothing that can beat the taste of warm, rich, comfort food regardless of what mood you are in.

Whereas many people carefully watch what they eat, or snob over their plates like they were a foreign film, I prefer to take a more pragmatic approach to my epicurean delights: I eat what I want until I am satisfied, share what tastes good with others (sharing the food love is almost as good as eating it yourself-- almost), and try not to deny myself when I want something.  I’ll never be a supermodel with this approach, but at least I’ll be happy and get to enjoy lovely eats with amazing people-- food is certainly a social lubricant.

In terms of what I like to eat, my tastes are rather conventional; I’ve loads of food allergies, so I dare not eat anything too exotic less I end up in the emergency room. One of my worst fears is dying and then having my harrowingly sad tale end up on one of those medical mystery shows.

I subsist primarily on a diet of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, sandwiches, cheese and jalapeno rolls, salads, and potato wedges.  I also enjoy the odd cupcake or bit of ice cream. Long story short, I enjoy many of the same foods as both the elderly and toddlers.

[caption id="attachment_259" align="aligncenter" width="300"] A chicken corn dog and potato wedges from the Safeway deli. Yumski for my tumski.[/caption]

More than once, I have ordered off the kid's menu as an adult because "grown up food" was too elaborate and heavy for me; more often than not, I could make a meal of a side dish or an appetizer. Give me a corn dog, some potato wedges, and a soda and I’ll be golden.  I’m also not afraid to admit that I still love Happy Meals, especially if there is a good toy theme going on (seriously, how cool was the Paul Frank collection kiddos?); you get well proportioned food, a toy, and APPLE BITES.

In addition to skewing towards the childish, my eating habits are also decidedly elderly in flavor as well.  I love peanut brittle.  I could live off of pickles.  Oatmeal-- who doesn’t love it?  Coffee needs to be milky, naturally.  Tea should be had throughout the day.  Also, let us not forget cheese.  Cheese should be sprinkled liberally on all baked goods, especially breads.  Oh-- I do love a good smoked meat as well (pastrami, I’m looking at you kid!).

In our society we allow ourselves to be “food shamed” out of eating what we like or made to feel as though our tastes are too pedestrian.  I’ve always been one for moderation: eat what makes you happy . . . just don’t eat a factory’s worth in one go.  Food can be one of the great joys of life when you make it and share it with the people you care about.

[caption id="attachment_258" align="aligncenter" width="300"] If you want a sandwich and Goldfish crackers for dinner, go for it!-- it's Foosa approved![/caption]

So, folks, what eats and tasty treats do you enjoy?  Let me know.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking for Happiness #3: Moozikz

Wouldn't you know it: I, like most people, enjoy listening to music. There are times, when I am terribly sad, when I have compartetalized my feelings so securely that I can no longer access them, when I have no desire to listen to anything, music, television . . . the orders my neighbors' cat gives me (kidding, kidding!); however, more often than not, I can easily be spotted behind a pair of dark shades listening to my tunes.

For many years, from my college years until rather recently, my music collection was contained almost entirely on my iPod-- this after condensing a massive CD collection to digital files.  Within the last year, I have shied away from purchasing music outright and have instead become a premium Spotify subscriber which allows me to stream music on my computer (both my personal computer as well as my work computer) as well as my iPhone.  Certainly, this approach to music won’t work for everyone; however, if you’re a serious music lover who doesn’t want to worry about storage (physical or digital), Spotify is certainly a great option.

Here is a playlist that I have created for this blog post that will give you a general idea of what music that I, when the chips are down (and they are almost always down), turn to in order to perk up.  I’ve also included annotations for each song so you’ll know a little about what each song means to/for me:

  • “Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi” by Jacque Dutronc-- Dutronc’s sound is similar to the Kinks but with the distinct sound of French Ye Ye.  Basically, I love the beat even though I no idea what he is saying besides “and me, and me, and me.”

  • “Emily” by Carice van Houten-- Carice van Houten is one of four famous Dutch people (the others being Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Rutger Hauer) in the world.  She’s amazing and “Emily,” her debut single is catchy.  Did I mention van Houten is a movie star and once retweeted me?  Oh, yes, people.  Oh.  Yes.

  • “Paradisco” by Charlotte Gainsbourg-- Hurrah!  A French person who sings in English!  This is a catchy tune that has a dark undercurrent to it (e.g., “I wonder how long it will last/ Walking through a room full of broken glass”).  I like catchy tunes that are dark.

  • “Dancing With Myself” by by Nouvelle Vague-- Yes, I know this is a cover of the Generation X song (Billy Idol only covered his former bands old song).  However, I love this kitschy chamber pop version of this song.  Did I mention that the video for the tune is a re-edit of Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie”?  Uh huh.

  • “Lili Marleene” by Marlene Dietrich-- I love a good torch song and Lili Marleene by Dietrich is the best.

  • “Ride” by Lana Del Ray-- Say what you will, the Lana Del Ray aesthetic is captivating as are the contrived short films that are meant to be her videos.  I particularly like this song as it’s classic sadcore ala Cat Power.

  • “Babel” by Mumford & Sons-- I just love Mumford & Sons and this is from the new album.  Woopie!

  • “The Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore” by The Smiths-- “I’ve seen it happen in other people’s lives and now, now, now it’s happening in mine!”  Me, too, Moz.  Me, too. :-(

  • “Black Sheep” by Metric-- This song is not only featured in Scott Pilgrim-- which I loved-- but seems to be about a prodigal black sheep.  I empathize.

  • “Punching in a Dream” by Naked and Famous-- Again, another *cute* tune that has a dark undercurrent: “Like punching in a dream, breathing life into a nightmare.”

  • “Little Talks”by Of Monsters and Men-- Imagine if Belle and Sebastian had a sunny holiday every now and again-- that’s this.

  • “Endless Summer” by The Jezebels-- This is just a wistful tune which makes me happy.

If you’re interested in any of these tunes, feel free to subscribe to my WordPress playlist on Spotify, I’ll periodically add tunes as the spirit takes me.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking for Happiness #2: Reading *Love*

Given that I am an English teacher, it goes without saying that I love to read.  Whereas the average American (whoever that heathen “every (wo)man” is) reads about three books a year, I average that many a month, even while taking classes and teaching six of my own.

In some ways, I am lucky that I have to ride the bus to and from work everyday as the commute is found time, something that is a godsend for me.  During the drive into work, I often put on my makeup and check my social media accounts; on the drive home, I tend to read a book while on the bus headed home, or while I am waiting at the bus stop.

Blame Dutch industriousness, but I can’t stand to waste time; any moment where I am not actively doing something is, in my opinion, wasted time.  So, I always travel with a book in my bag, whether I am going to work in the morning, popping out for a coffee, or running errands.  I never know when I am going to have some found time and I always want something to do.

Beyond my practical love, I enjoy reading because it was one of the only things I could do as a kid that would, at least momentarily, take my mind off of what would otherwise be a pretty bleak existence.  On days when I would be feeling at my worse, when it felt like my world was tearing apart at the seams, I could pick up a book and compartmentalize my feelings.  As a child, there were lots of adverts that would promote reading as an escape or an adventure; for me, reading was a means for survival.  In many ways, reading remains a means for survival for me.

Here are some of my favorite authors and their works that I have connected with the most-- count a mention here as a hearty recommendation:

  • Kurt Vonnegut

    • Slaughterhouse-Five

    • God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

    • Cat’s Cradle

    • Timequake

  • Ernest Hemmingway

    • The Old Man and the Sea

    • The Sun Also Rises

  • Graham Greene

    • Travels With My Aunt

    • Brighton Rock

    • The Quiet American

    • The Heart of the Matter

  • Beverly Cleary

    • Ramona the Pest

    • Ramona the Brave

  • Roald Dahl

    • Matilda

    • The Witches

What do you like to read?  What books bright a ray of light into your life?  Feel free to leave a comment and share some happiness.  
Sunday, October 14, 2012

Looking for Happiness #1: My Family

Hello, everyone.  As promised, here is the first post in my series about the people, places, activities, and things that give me hope and happiness, even in the depths of my discontent.  As this title implies, the entry on my list is my family.

If you have read my blog for a while (both in this incarnation and its previous ones) or follow me on Twitter, you’ll remember that I live at home with my mom and my dog.  Before you start laughing at me, know that I elect to live at home.  I make enough money to live on my own; I prefer the company of my family and are loathed to share my living space, and supply of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, with someone who isn’t biologically obligated to care about me.

When I use the term “My Family,” I am really talking only about the two people I live with-- my mom and my dog.  While I have lots of relatives, the only people that I have any relationship with are the people I live with. I learned at an early age that being biologically related to someone doesn’t mean that they deserve a place in your life.  Family, like food, cosmetics, and clothing, can not only be chosen but chosen for quality.  As such, though my own familial roster is a short one, it is very hearty.

My mother isn’t just my parent-- and my only parent at that-- she is my best friend.  I’ve never known another human being who I liked to spend more time with than my mother.  She’s smart, funny, honest, and genuine.

Even though we have our differences, my mother is the greatest person I have ever known; I am truly lucky to have a person like her as my mother.  While we have our differences-- sometimes very strong, vocal differences-- I know that I can still rely on my mother to support and love me.  When the chips are down, when circumstances seem to be at their most dire, I know that my mother is there for me.  No matter what.

My mother and I have always been close; I’ve considered my mother to be my best friend since I small little.  I was an only child and my mother was a single parent; it’s always been the two of us against the world, both literally and figuratively.  Truly, I could never find another person I love, value or trust as much as my mother.  Really, I am a very lucky person to have my mother in my life.

Duchess, my pug girl, joined our little family shortly before my birthday this March.  In seven months, she has become the light of our lives.  Without a doubt, Duchess is a smart, loving, silly, and ever so sassy little lady; neither my mother and I could imagine what life would be like without her.  In the moments when I feel at my lowest, I know that I can cuddle with Duchess and feel better just feeling her warm little heart beating against mine.  The love and comfort that a dog brings to a person’s life cannot be overestimated.  I am a better, happier person for having Duchess in my life.

Even in my darkest moments, in the depths of my deepest despair, I know that I have the love of my mom and my pug and my life is the better for it.  
Saturday, October 13, 2012


I’ve been gone from my blog for some weeks now; my absence was both intentional and unintentional at the same time.  For the most part, I didn’t blog because I had been busy with work and feeling miserable personally. The start of a new school year is always difficult for me: adjusting to new teaching assignments, new group dynamics, and the inherent stress of starting up a school again for the new year.  In true Sunny Jim fashion, the start of our new school year corresponded with some challenges in my personal life.  As such, in lieu of blogging, I have been spending all of the positive energies I have (real or contrived), for the benefit of my students and our program-- I didn’t have anything left for WordPress?  Really, who wants a perpetually mopey blogger?

Even though I am nowhere near sunshine and roses territory at the moment, I feel like I am on the upswing.  This recent upturn is due in part to some words of advice I received-- look for happiness.  While it seems obvious, to seek out those people and those activities that make you feel happy, it is a task that is often difficult to see through . . . particularly when you are in the depths of despair.  It’s easy to wallow in your own misery, looking for happiness and hope are far more difficult.

I know (intellectually at least) that I am not the only person who struggles to find moments of happiness, so I thought I would devote my return blog post to some of my own bits of happiness, not to brag or to kvetch, but to show that (to paraphrase Camus) “in the depths of winter I found an invincible summer.”

Over the next several days, I write posts about some of the people, places, things, and activities that have brought some sunshine into my life.