Sunday, September 14, 2014

Was it Ferris Bueller or John Lennon that said that thing about -isms?

"The books on this self pertain to empiricism, and on this shelf, materialism, and on this psychopiscoparalysm." 
-Funny Face
I had two ideas for a novel last year when I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month. The first idea was the one I settled on (The Metro Counselor) but I haven't forgotten about the second idea. It was tentatively called Tourist and it was going to be about a new docent/guide who was learning about the cutthroat world of museum and historical site docents. I have no idea if there is such a world but I thought it would be fun to create one. I even had the first chapter written (in my head). I think that what stopped me from pursuing this idea was creating the worlds of different museums and historical sites. I didn't want to use real places for lots of reasons and I knew that I'd have to create believable sites for the story to work. So I went with the other idea (which worked out well) and called my first NaNoWriMo a success. Tourist currently resides in my head and a little bit on paper (a sketchy outline).

Since last November, I was accepted to a museum docent training program. While not cutthroat, it is one of the most intense learning experiences I've had since graduating from college. I'm a docent in training at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. My class started in June and will finish at the end of October. I began my time at the museum as part of the VEV (Visitor Experience Volunteer) team about a year ago. As much as I love telling people that the Frida Kahlo (the only one in DC!) is on the third floor and that the bathroom is around the corner (there are no signs), it gets a little old after awhile. When the education department announced the next docent class was opening, I applied.

I have no background in art history. I love going to museums and talking about art but didn't take any art history courses in college (theatre majors didn't have to). Most of my art history experience was through research for the productions of The Heidi Chronicles that I've worked on. I knew from my experience as a visitor and in researching volunteer opportunities at museums, that docent programs are very rigorous and can last up to two years depending on the site. NMWA's program is not two years but it's every bit as intense. Assignments consist of art history lectures, readings focused on the visitor experience and the contexts of museums, learning new teaching techniques, and leading on the fly and prepared discussions.

The learning aspect of being a docent is what appeals most to me. Docent comes from the Latin docens which means to teach. Being a docent combines many things that I love all into one: teaching and learning, art, being helpful, volunteering, being in a museum. I also think it's helped renew the feelings I have towards my work life. There's a tremendous amount of overlap between my class and my work. I know a lot about story telling and framing learner needs. I like being able to bring elements of my work into my museum life and vice versa. It's a bit of a validation for me - I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing even if it doesn't always feel like that's the truth.

I was watching an art history lecture on Modernism last weekend. It's a nice blended learning experience since the art history lectures are online. The lecturer (who happens to be one of my teachers) began the lecture by listing all the -isms that make up Modernism. I had to pause the lecture because I was laughing at the list. It was lengthy and some of the words sounded made up. It made me think of the scene early on in Funny Face where poor Audrey Hepburn is rattling off all the -isms in the bookstore while Kay Thompson and Fred Astaire take over for a fashion shoot. I have always believed that Audrey Hepburn just made up some words during this scene as many of the -isms sounded completely nonsensical. An -ism is generally applied to an ideology of some form so I guess it really is made up and could be completely nonsensical if we wanted to get all scholarly here. But I don't so let's move on.

Which brings me back to my idea for Tourist. I could create a fantastical world of museums and historic sites and make up any old -isms I want to (seriously synthetic, analytic, and orphic cubism are real things). While I haven't experienced anything that could be considered cutthroat, there are different camps in the larger museum world when it comes to museum education techniques and visitor experience. This helps to reinforce the image I have in my head of this new docent on her first day. Drama and tension over whether to use VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) or lecture based learning could be a hoot. I'm still not ready to write this story but I know that one day I will. Until then remember, the Frida Kahlo is on the third floor and the restrooms are around the corner.

One of my favorite paintings - Lady in an Evening Dress by Lilla Cabot Perry
The first discussion I had to lead was on this sculpture, Apres la tempete (After the Storm) by Sarah Bernhardt (the actress - yes, she was also a sculptor)
Après la tempête (After the Storm
All photos by me

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On My Way

There were boxes everywhere. That’s what happens when you move; boxes and suitcases and covered furniture. I was ready for the movers to get here so I could get on the road. The drive was going to be a long one and I wanted to get at least to Atlanta tonight. Nine hours was totally doable in one day. I didn’t have to be in California for two weeks and had stops to make along the way. I was taking the long route across Louisiana and Texas and eventually up the California coast to my new home in the East Bay. I knew no one there but didn’t care.

I had never intended to stay in Virginia as long as I had. I could lie and pretend that my job was what kept me here but as lame as it sounds, it was actually a guy. We met not too long after I moved here for my job and had been together for four years. He was exactly the kind of guy I imagined I spend the rest of my life with; funny, smart, and kind. We had a ton in common and everyone thought we were perfect for one another and would have perfect, cool babies who liked David Bowie, Star Wars, and Michael Penn straight out of the womb.

That did not happen. My “perfect match” was a perfect jackass. After we moved in together, we got engaged and had started planning a low-key, very us wedding. We were at a cake tasting and he turned to me and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Being me, I thought he meant the cake tasting. He had meant the wedding. He didn’t want to get married. He didn’t want to live together. He didn’t want to be with me. He had only done those things because he thought that’s what I wanted. He never thought to ask me.

I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to leave town. I didn’t want to be reminded of the places we went together or had found together. I didn’t want to run into him at the farmer’s market in our neighborhood (when he moved out, he stayed in the neighborhood). I didn’t want to run into him with someone new. I wanted to start over again. That was the only way that I could move on with my life.

My small circle of friends thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand why I had to leave town to get over a guy. I tried to explain that it wasn’t just the guy (although four years of my life had been spent with someone I thought was the one); it was me. I needed to do this for me. I needed to try somewhere new and start again. I had lived on the East Coast for a long time and decided it was time to see if I was a California girl. I wanted my life to be more colorful and exciting than it was. I needed a change.

The movers finally arrived. It took them exactly two hours to load all of of my worldly possessions into the moving truck. I tipped the guys and gave them waters for the road. My stuff would get there right after I did so. This was all going to work out.

A few of my friends had come to see me off. I was going to miss them a lot but the beauty of life in the modern age is that we’re connected to one another no matter where we are. I promised to check in with them along the way. They planned to visit me in the fall once I got settled.
I got into my trusty Ford Escape and started my way south. I love road trips. Just me, my car, my music, and the open road. I had spent a few days before leaving preparing an epic mix of songs to get from Virginia to California and all the places in between. Some were sad, some were funny and fun, some matched the location I planned to be in while listening. I had been looking forward to my road trip music as much as I had been looking forward to the trip itself. I had even created a mix including songs that I had listened to with my ex. I felt that by listening to them without him and in a completely new context I would be able to listen to them without being sad. Every song took on new meaning for me; it was like I was hearing them for the first time.

The songs kept me going through the mountains and the vast expanses of nothing that I hit as I drove through parts of Texas and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona and then up the beautiful California coast. I was seeing parts of the country that I had never seen before. It was overwhelming but exactly what I needed to get myself in the right place for my new life. There’s always a moment when you just feel like what you’re doing is exactly the right thing to do. I felt that so many times on this trip. And I knew that I was on my way. 

(Based on the prompt "(Play a piece of music without revealing the artist or title.) Write something that goes along with this soundtrack.") The song is "On Your Way" by Michael Penn. Also, this is not autobiographical.

House of Peeps

Margaret was finally going to enter a diorama in the Washington Post’s annual Peeps Diorama contest. She thought about entering every year but for some reason she could never come up with an idea that she felt committed to. She felt that she really needed to feel good about the idea or it would never work. This year, she had come up with a concept that she loved but she wasn’t sure that the voting committee would love it. She decided that she didn’t care if she won; she just wanted to create.

She starting collecting Peeps right after the last contest ended. She picked up seasonal Peeps at Halloween and Christmas and bought out the Easter stock at Target. She worked evenings sketching out her idea and figuring out what other materials she would need to make it work. She did her research online, finding images to help with the designs. She watched countless hours of movies to make she was getting it right. She was finally ready to start assembling her entry. She wondered if the Washington Post was ready for it.

The idea had come to Margaret as she was cooking dinner one night. She didn’t realize there was a hole in one of her potholders and she ended up with a nasty burn on her hand. As she was taking care of her wound, it hit her. Her Peeps diorama would feature iconic horror movie villains but in Peep form. Maybe not the most family friendly concept but it appealed to Margaret’s love of horror movies and the macabre. And of course, her love of Peeps. She loved Peeps and she loved the diorama contest.

Her design was pretty complex. She wanted the diorama to read like a wax museum exhibit or something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not; each villain would be in his own section and the “exhibits” would rotate. If she could figure out how to wire it, she was also planning on having each section play music from the films. One of her friends, Sam, had promised to help her with that part. He loved the idea and was working on the motor and sound effects.

Margaret had settled on four villains: Freddy Krueger, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. She decided to depict each one in a scene that encapsulated the film and the villain. For Freddy, she would depict him the boiler room; Leatherface would be shown as he was at the end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Jason would be silhouetted in the moonlight on Crystal Lake; and Michael Myers would be shown looking at his reflection in his knife while Laurie Strode hid from him. It was epic and gross and hilarious all at the same time.

She had been working on the diorama for weeks. Each of the villain figures was complete. Masks for Michael, Jason, and Leatherface had been made out of various fabrics and posterboard. She had “burned” the Freddy Peep with a match and used paint to make the “wounds” look more like he looked in the pictures. She was working on on the backgrounds and scenes for each of the exhibit spaces. Sam was on his way over to help with the rotating part and to help with some of the painting.

The news was on in the background and she caught the end of a story that made her stop her work entirely. The reporter was at the scene of a murder not too far from where Margaret lived. What had caught her attention was the fact that mangled marshmallow Peeps had been found at the scene, smashed around the victim and around the house. The reporter also mentioned that a note had been found at the scene referencing the two of the four horror movie villains in her diorama. Margaret thought that it was strange.

Just as she was considering the oddness of the report, the doorbell rang. Margaret jumped a bit and then realized it was just Sam. Sam came in with all sorts of equipment; Margaret had no idea what any of it was but she knew Sam was going to make her diorama really work.

“You don’t look so good. Is everything okay?” Sam put down his bag and started pulling out tools and a small motor for the diorama.

“Did you hear about the murder involving Peeps? I just caught the end of a story about it on the news.” Margaret went into the kitchen and grabbed two beers for them. She handed one to Sam and started back to work on the Crystal Lake scene she had been working on before the news interrupted her.

“No clue. What’s going on?” Sam started painting the background for the boiler room scene.

“Apparently someone is killing people and then smashing Peeps around the body and leaving cryptic notes about horror movie villains. In fact, two of the villains are two of the ones I’m including in my diorama. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

Sam paused and considered his friend. “I guess it’s a little strange. Why would a killer smash marshmallow Peeps everywhere?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t enter my diorama in the contest. People might think I’m the killer or that I’m making fun of the murder.” Margaret had stopped painting and was shredding a piece of paper

“You should finish it. It’s a cool idea and you’ve been working on it for over a month. They like topical stuff.” Sam tried to be sympathetic.

Margaret didn’t say anything and switched topics. They continued working on the diorama for a few hours and neither mentioned the murder again. Sam rigged the motor and her diorama was spinning. He would tackle the music next. Margaret had trouble sleeping that night; her dreams involved the characters in her diorama coming to life and going on a murderous rampage. It was a long night.

The next day, Margaret awoke to sirens outside of her building. She lived near a fire station so she was used to it but this seemed more intense than normal. She threw on her workout clothes and left her building to see what was going on. She followed the sirens down the street a few blocks. Police tape was already up and onlookers gathered on the sidewalk.
“What happened?” Margaret asked a man standing next to her.

“Someone was murdered. They’re not saying much but it’s definitely related to that other murder. I saw marshmallow Peeps on the EMT’s boot when he brought the body out.”

Margaret didn’t know what to say. She hoped that the man was joking There’s no way he could have seen marshmallow Peeps on someone’s shoe. He’s speculating. It’s all just too coincidental. Margaret thanked the man and walked back home. She didn’t feel up to her normal walk around the park today. When she got back home, she turned on the news and caught it just in time for the report on the most recent murder.

The reporter didn’t have too much to report yet as the police had not made a statement but she did confirm that marshmallow Peeps had been found at the scene. An anonymous source close to the investigation had also revealed that a phrase from Nightmare on Elm Street had been found on the wall. This was too much for Margaret. It was too odd of a coincidence that Peeps were being found at the scene of murders in her neighborhood and that the same exact movies she was depicting were being referenced at the scenes.

Her diorama was set up on the kitchen table. It was the only place in her apartment that was big enough for it. She knew every inch of the diorama and noticed that something was not right with it. The characters seemed sort of off; something was definitely askew. She looked closely at the panel depicting Leatherface. He was not as she had left him the night before. Nor was Jason. And the paint on Freddy looked fresh and sticky as if it had just been painted. She reached out her hand and touched the red paint. It was not red paint.

Margaret screamed, a true horror movie queen scream. Her Peep horror villains were alive and were killing people. Those sweet Peep faces that she had mangled into horror movie villains were responsible for the murders. Margaret was certain. She had to destroy the diorama. She grabbed a shopping bag and began stuffing as much of the diorama into as would fit. She filled two more bags and then took it all down to the shared patio. She put it all in the grill and set it on fire.

Margaret watched the Peep villains burn. She thought she heard someone singing, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.” She ignored it and added more lighter fluid. She watched her creations burn into a sticky, charred mess. She put the lid back on the grill and went back to her apartment.

There were no more killings after Margaret burned her diorama. She vowed never to purchase a bunny Peep ever again. 

(Based on the prompt "Make me afraid of the Easter bunny.")

It's National Writing Date Day!

Today is National Writing Date Day. Never heard of National Writing Date Day? Join the club. I was not aware that it existed until my friend Jessica shared a blog post about it with me. Jessica curates a monthly random holiday calendar for a group of our friends and she discovered this holiday in her research for September. We have decided to give it a try.

Both Jessica and I participated in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) last year and plan to participate again this year. We've been discussing our writing and writing aspirations via email over the last few weeks and decided that we need to be more proactive in our writing and try new things. This is what prompted us to set a #writingdate for today. Of course Jessica and I don't live in the same state but that's what technology is for.

Our writing date will serve two purposes: us trying some new ideas out through some writing prompts Jessica found on Buzzfeed and some time devoted to plotting and planning for NaNoWriMo. Both of us have two ideas for novels and are having a hard time choosing so we thought it might help to try to talk them out a bit and try some character sketches. No actual writing of the novel can take place (as it all must be written in November) but prepping and outlining is acceptable.

Our schedule:
  • Hour 1: Writing Date Day commences with prompt #12 (one hour)
  • Hour 2: Start second prompt (we're each doing a different one)
  • Whatever time left that we feel we want to spend: NaNoWriMo discussions, prep, etc.
  • After that: enjoy a beer #hemingwaywasadrunk
Later today I'll be sharing whatever I come up with during the first two hours. I can't guarantee that they'll be particularly good but that's not really the point. The point is to set time aside to write and create and see what happens. I like to think of today as part of my NaNoWriMo training regiment. November isn't that far off and as any NaNoWriMo participant can tell you, it is both a sprint and a marathon. I see lots of Writing Date Days in my future.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lazy Movie Weekend: This one time at camp...

It's official - summer is over. I'm ready for fall; pretty leaves, sweaters, candy corn, pumpkin spice lattes, online dating. Fall is a magical time that doesn't last long enough. That's why it needs to start now.

I would, however, be remiss if I did not give summer a proper send off. I never went to sleep away camp and I only went to day camp once (it was a theatre camp when I was in the 8th grade). I thank my parents everyday that they knew me well enough to never consider sending me into the woods with ill-equipped teenage camp counselors and some notion that I would enjoy being outdoors for long periods of time, playing sports, and generally being in close proximity to bugs. Instead, we spent most summers in Detroit (for at least a few weeks). I learned survival skills like how to eavesdrop on adults while they gossiped, how to make mud pies, the Chicken Dance (but only at Detroit Tigers games), and how to tell the difference between gunfire and fireworks. These are all skills I use to this day.

For me a successful summer (as a child/teen) included the following:
  • Finishing my summer reading list early so the librarian could recommend other books to me that were not necessarily age appropriate but were reading level appropriate for me
  • Taping songs off the radio
  • Watching a bunch of movies and in high school, re-watching The Stand miniseries at least once
  • Working at the theatre (this was also in high school)
  • Getting sunburned and being annoyed by it BUT not wanting to admit that I was at fault for not reapplying sunscreen
  • Going to a theme park (preferably Kings Dominion when the Wayne's World themed section still existed)
  • Staying in air conditioning as much as humanly possible
  • Eating Superman ice cream - it's a Michigan thing
If I ever decided to open my own camp I would include all of these things and focus on cabins designed for optimal reading comfort, crafts that include Lego art and unironic needlepoint, movie nights featuring movies I feel every child/teen should know, and lessons on how to be a good rock and roll citizens. Useful skills that the kids these days need to know.

Despite never going to camp, I love movies about camp. Ernest Goes to Camp, Camp, Meatballs, SpaceCamp, the Sleepaway Camp series, Camp Nowhere, Friday the 13th are some of my favorites. Camp seemed cool and fun and not as dirty as I imagined. And this brings me to the subject of today's Lazy Movie Weekend post, Wet Hot American Summer. 

Normally when I write about a movie on LMW, I want everyone to watch it immediately. While I do believe everyone should watch this movie, I will admit that it may not be for everyone. If you don't like absurd genre parody, this movie is not for you. If you don't like every camp movie trope squashed into one movie AND then either ignored or made fun of of, this movie is not for you. It's weird and while it may seem like a long form improv sketch it's actually completely two guys who are geniuses at improv and sketch comedy. A ton of really great actors are in the movie and most of them weren't famous at the time so it's a great opportunity to see them early in their careers.

With that in mind, let's gather round the campfire and settle in for Wet Hot American Summer.
  • The movie takes place on August 18, 1981 - the last day of camp. I didn't know but people celebrate WHAS day on this date. Maybe next year I'll celebrate too.
  • Every possible camp counselor stereotype is here: the stoner, the slutty girl, the couple who only are a couple at camp, the nerdy guy, the guy that brags about sleeping with all the girls but is actually a virgin, the genuinely nice guy who should get the girl but won't, and the cool guy.
  • If you love Janeane Garofalo than you do need to watch this movie. She's so hilarious and awkward and perfect. There are some moments in this movie when I think to myself, "I'm Beth. Beth is me." Sometimes at work I just randomly say, "You're in trouble" and expect nothing to happen. Just like Beth.
  • Paul Rudd is the literal worst in this movie but you can't help but love him to death and want to date Andy for the exact reasons that Katie is with him. I loved Rudd's description of Andy in "The Ultimate Oral History of Wet Hot American Summer" - "You just try and have fun within those parameters of douchebaggery and bandanna-ism."
  • Remember all of the information about astrophysics provided by David Hyde Pearce throughout the film. It will all be important later.
  • The indoor kids! These are my people! David Hyde Pearce's Henry actually calls them that when he makes his way back to camp to teach them about science and stuff. And save the day.
  • OMG Christopher Meloni! Imagine if you will a character that is the complete opposite of his character on SVU. He says the most bizarre things ("I'm going to go fondle my sweaters.") and has an epic monologue towards the end of the movie about being proud of who you are. Gene has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
  • "We're soul mates right?" Yes, Katie, you're camp soul mates.
  • Let's talk about Coop aka Michael Showalter. Showalter wrote the movie with director David Wain. He plays Coop, the camper turned counselor who is in love with Katie (unrequited of course). He also plays the Catskills comic at the talent show. He's so goofy and endearing. And weird. And inappropriate. I think this photo is Coop in a nutshell:
  • Amy Poehler is divine. There are so many priceless Susie moments in this movie: the "Hey you guys" at breakfast to drum up interest in the talent show, her pan-pipe playing at the commitment ceremony, and this quote to her drama kids that is perfect: "OK, stop. I feel like I'm watching regional theatre, you guys. God! Am I in the Cleveland Playhouse or something? Your craft is a muscle, you need to exercise it. Take a break; think about what you've done."
  • I had no idea that asking someone if they would like a piece of gum and then both chewing a piece of gum equals that you want to make out. I have been living my life incorrectly.
  • "It's your job to make sure kids don't drown." Camper to Andy after said camper's swimming buddy goes missing.
  • Ken Marino has the greatest hair and the shortest shorts. After you've watched him win this movie so hard, go online and catch up on Burning Love and Party Down. He was even in a Hallmark movie called Falling in Love with the Girl Next Door that isn't terrible.
  • We haven't talked about Bradley Cooper and Michael Ian Black. I don't want to ruin this particular part of the story for you. I sort of wish Bradley was in the movie more but he's excellent when he is. You should follow Michael Ian Black on Twitter if you like really inappropriate comedy.
  • And then there's Molly Shannon. That is all.
  • When Katie breaks Coop's heart, he and Gene and the other counselor that works in the kitchen go through an epic training so that Coop can be the best Coop he can be montage complete with inspirational music and dancing. You can watch it here. The hawk sound effect is my favorite part.
  •  Of course the talent show goes on as the camp is threatened with total obliteration by remnants of Skylab on its way into the Earth's atmosphere. The drama kids give a rousing performance of "Day by Day" (of course), the robot kid performs his talent, Coop sort of wins Katie over, and the indoor kids "save" the day with a plot that involves a twenty-sided D&D die. You know, exactly like that one time at camp.
With tearful goodbyes, campers and counselors leave Camp Firewood to return to Bethesda or New Jersey until next summer. Maybe in ten years they'll find themselves back at Camp Firewood at 9:30 (even though we said 9 and we should be on time). Maybe they'll find themselves on Netflix. Wherever they end up, you know it's going to be weird.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On the road again...

Summer is basically over. I know we technically have a few more weeks left according to the calendar but here in the DMV, it's already getting cooler (damn summer polar vortex) and the kids are already starting back to school. School supplies are everywhere and I saw a display of candy corn at the grocery the other day.

When I joined the admissions staff of my alma mater in 2004, I began my career in work travel. Admissions counselors travel from mid-August to mid-November and again in the spring after reading season is over. I covered Nebraska, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and North-Central Louisiana so I earned a lot of frequent flyer miles and learned to love AM radio on the drives to Monroe and Shreveport. Since moving to the company I work for now (for eight years y'all), I have logged even more miles and hours in airports. I think I know a few things about traveling and how to prepare for weeks and months on the road.

In honor of travel season, I thought I'd offer my tips for making travel less horrible. Face it, work travel stops being fun the first time you're delayed and have to sleep in the airport. Or the hundredth time you spill coffee on yourself on your way to a school or meeting. Add your own tips to the comments!
  1. Make a packing list. I know you think you don't need to do this but you do. This is especially important if you are going to be gone for longer than one week. You need to plan outfits accordingly or make sure to account for dry cleaning or laundry services during your travels. My list also included items for the actual purpose of my trip: business cards, copies of presentations (if needed), banner, name tag. Making a list helps.
  2. Have two sets of all of your toiletries, medicine, chargers, and other accoutrements. I learned after my first trip that this is the only way to travel. You think that you're going to just throw in something you use the morning you leave but then you forget about it. Invest the money in two complete sets of makeup, other toiletries, medicine, chargers, hairbrushes, and anything else that you regularly need in a day. It's a bit of an investment up front but it will save you packing time and ultimately money in the long run. It's easier to keep track of what needs to be restocked or replaced if you do this. You can also keep the travel set in your preferred suitcase or overnight bag so your only packing is clothing. Two items to add to your kit: a Tide stick (or wipes) and binder clips. The Tide stick will come in handy (trust me) and the binder clips can be used for tons of stuff. My favorite: clipping the curtains together so no light comes in.
  3. Pack in a the same color family. This is especially important if you have to wear suits or more business professional clothes when traveling. If you bring the brown and the black suit, you have to bring the shoes to match. Don't do this. Pick one color family and accessorize appropriately. This cuts down on space in your bag and the number of things you bring that you ultimately won't wear anyway.
  4. Know the rules for whatever form of transportation you are taking. If you're new to traveling and don't know about TSA rules, read up on them. One of my biggest travel pet peeves is people who don't know about their liquids have to be in a quart size bag and that they have to take off their shoes to go through security. Do I agree with these rules? Not really but they exist and as a traveler you need to be aware of them. Same goes for policies on trains and what you're really signing in a rental car agreement. Literally everything is online these days so there's no reason not to be informed before you travel.
  5. You will experience a delay or cancellation at some point - Don't Panic! Delays are annoying and inevitable. Please don't be rude to the airline staff (even if they're being rude to you) and calm down. You will eventually make it to your destination and more than likely, you'll get something for your trouble. Make sure to check in and then go get a drink (alcoholic or otherwise).
  6. Bring something non-work related with you to occupy your time if you end up living in the airport. Did you know that the average American only reads four books a year? I read four books a month (and that's a slow month). Yes, you may need to use some of your time to do other work things but also make sure to bring something with you to allow yourself some decompression time. Books, knitting, your Netflix account - whatever works for you.
  7. Experience the cities you travel to as much as possible. I've had the good fortune to travel to some pretty fun and interesting places in my ten years on the road (and some creepy and horrible places too). If your schedule allows, do something that you can only do in that city or town. Go to a game, visit a museum, go to a local famous restaurant, see a play. The internet makes it so easy to find something to do wherever you're going so don't waste the opportunity.
  8. Embrace the chain restaurant. As a child of the suburbs I'm here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with chain restaurants. I also lived the majority of my life in New Orleans so I know that locally owned and operated restaurants are the best but sometimes all you need and want is a cheeseburger from Chili's or some breadsticks from the Olive Garden. You want the familiar because that's what we crave when we're away from home. Just do it; embrace the chain restaurant. And don't feel bad about it. I have an admissions counselor friend who used to plan trips around Cracker Barrel locations because there were no Cracker Barrels in his home state. That's how he got through travel season. Do what you have to do.
  9. But also make healthier food choices. And exercise. It's a lot easier now to eat healthier when you travel. Airports, restaurants, and even gas stations are getting on board with having lots of options when it comes to fresh food. Have a salad occasionally or some fruit. Don't eat fast food every day. Use the fitness center at your hotel or ask about trails around the area. Don't be a slug; it makes you more tired and less pleasant to be around.
  10. Embrace the Food Bed. Do you ever feel silly when you book a hotel room with double beds and you're the only person there? Don't. You've just been hotel-ing wrong. One bed is your Sleep Bed and the other bed is your Food Bed. Why eat dinner in the same bed you're going to sleep in? Do you want to smell like Chipotle first thing in the morning? You could also use your extra bed as a storage area and a work space if you want to separate work from sleep. 
  11. Invest in a great suitcase. Baggage fees are astronomical and ridiculous. Make sure you have one suitcase (with wheels) that will fit all of what you need for two weeks of travel. Mine version is purple BUT professional so it's easy to spot if I do have to gate check my bag.
  12. Postcards! I buy postcards when I travel. Sometimes I send them from my trip. Sometimes they come back with me and I send them at a later time. Or I use them for decorating my work cube. It's an inexpensive way to remember where I've traveled and I can use them to send people actual mail. Everyone loves getting actual mail.
It should go without saying (but I'm saying it anyway) that you should have fun when you travel even when it's for work. Today you're in sunny Omaha and tomorrow in snowy New Haven but at least you can say you've been there.

What did I miss? Anyone have other travel tips to share? Post them in the comments.

Next week on the Island: We say goodbye to summer by giving it the Lazy Movie Weekend treatment with a viewing of Wet Hot American Summer. I'll also unveil my plans to open a camp exclusively for indoor kids. You won't want to miss it!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Aren't there enough things to feel guilty about in the world?

I love The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

I bet you just judged me a little. Or a lot depending on your personal opinions on RHONJ or any of the Housewives shows. It's also possible that you let me off the hook for liking the show because you also know that Anna Karenina is my favorite novel. They cancel each other out in some form of socially acceptable judgmental math. 

It's possible that you too love the ladies of New Jersey especially since Dina Manzo is back this season which means more Grandma Wrinkles and great combinations of Zen-like phrases and shade. You're probably excited that someone else publicly admitted liking the show before you did. I'm going to hazard a guess that you're probably a firm believer in the concept of guilty pleasures and you only admit to liking a show like The Real Housewives of New Jersey if someone else does it first. Or maybe you're in the trust tree of happy hour and have had one more glass of whatever than you would normally have and you decide to bust out your best Melissa Gorga impression. There's absolutely no judgment here. I'm also going to take this opportunity to encourage the producers of RHONJ to institute the "trust tree of happy hour" on every episode.

I'm here to tell you that guilty pleasures are crap. It's a crap idea and we need to strike if from our vocabulary. If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a guilty pleasure, it's something that a person enjoys but feels guilty that they enjoy it because whatever it is (music, tv shows, movies, books, etc.) is somehow considered more lowbrow or are embarrassing. Guilty pleasures are often found in pop culture - the Housewives franchises, most reality tv shows, certain types of pop music, reading People magazine. Other people get their joy from making fun of you for your likes or maybe taking some form of joy in your embarrassment at liking whatever in the first place. The German term for this idea of joy at the expense of others is "schadenfreude" which sounds very unfun and serious.

This idea of implied guilt drives me absolutely crazy. I have never understood why I should feel guilty or embarrassed about liking certain tv shows, books, movies, or music. You don't have to like what I like and I don't have to like what you like but neither of us should feel guilty about liking what we like. I don't like Fifty Shades of Grey for a whole host of reasons but if you enjoyed reading it and plan to see the movie, just own that. Be okay with the fact that you like the book and enjoyed it. Owning what you enjoy is part of being the best you that you can be. Don't apologize for what makes you happy. There is enough unhappiness in the world why add more?

Which brings me to what I what I really want to talk about today - Sharknado 2. 

That's Pumpkin judging me. Because that's what cats do.
If you're a regular reader of the Island you may remember that I wrote two posts about the first Sharknado. You can read them here and here. No one was expecting the kind of reaction to Sharknado that actually occurred. The fact that a ridiculous movie like this took over Twitter when it originally aired was shocking. The SyFy channel appeals to a very specific fan and I have a feeling even the creators of the movie didn't anticipate it's popularity or the social media frenzy that occurred.

It is by no means a great or even particularly good movie but it's entertaining in its badness. So many improbable and bizarre things happen in this movie that you can't help but love it. I also happen to enjoy the unexpected use of a chainsaw towards the end - good stuff. The basic premise is that super tornadoes somehow suck up sharks into their funnel and then the sharks drop on the unsuspecting people below, killing them. Because science.

I missed out on the Twitter party during the first Sharknado. I was at a work event when it premiered and didn't get to watch the movie until a few days later. I was not disappointed in my experience. When I heard that SyFy was already planning a sequel, I was excited. Where would the sharknadoes hit next? And would America be prepared?

Sharknado 2: The Second One was pretty much everything I didn't know I wanted in a sequel to a ridiculous made for tv movie. I'm still astounded by the sheer number of celebrities that participated in this film. There are random musicians (Biz Markie is my favorite), original MTV VJs, Matt Lauer and Al Roker, an Osbourne, Pepa from Salt N Pepa, Robert Hayes, and two members of the cast of Independence Day. Judd Hirsch and Vivica A. Fox helped defeat aliens so I'm sure they're up to the task of taking care of some sharknadoes. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are back, reprising their roles of Fin and April. Fin has become a national hero and April has written a book about how to survive a sharknado (I like what you did there movie makers). They're on their way to New York for a book tour and to visit Fin's sister and her incredibly awkward family (her husband is Mark McGrath from Sugar Ray - no joke). They don't even make it off the plane before the sharknadoes start again, April loses a hand, and Wil Wheaton (surprise!) dies. Also, Robert Hayes is the pilot. So many things happened in the first ten minutes of the movie it was almost hard to keep up.

Not only did I watch Sharknado 2 as it premiered but I also got to participate in the Twitter event which was so much fun that I want to do it all again. It just so happened that wonderful Neek Confessional, Jessica, joined Twitter just in time for us to watch it together (virtually). I really wanted to get #sharknadosurvivaltips going but that didn't happen (maybe with Sharknado 3 - yep, it's happening). My Twitter habits are typically limited to retweeting celebrities I follow and adorable cat videos. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed live tweeting the movie. I'm sure there are other more clever tweeters out there but I held my own. I'm particularly proud of my MC Hammer "Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em" reference in reply to a friend's query about the casting choice of Biz Markie. He suggested that MC Hammer would have been good too. People I don't know favorited and re-tweeted me. And we all need a little social media love every now and then.

My point with all of this is that millions of people participated in the viewing and tweeting of Sharknado 2. No one, at least to my knowledge, was mean to one another. People didn't act like jerkfaces just because they were behind their keyboards or tried to make people feel bad about enjoying Sharknado 2. The Internet love was strong; for two whole hours we all got along. This rarely happens in life. Let's relish in the harmony that SyFy brought to the world even if it was short-lived. Rarely does a day go by when I don't read about some horrible incident of online trolling so I like the fact that this event had none of that negativity.

I refuse to call this a "guilty pleasure" - I feel no guilt in genuinely having fun watching a ridiculous movie. I'm eagerly awaiting Sharknado 3. Please let it take place somewhere insane like Des Moines.