celebrity crushes, homeschooled geek style

I’m reading Eric Metaxas’ recent biography of Martin Luther, and it’s the first time in many years I’ve studied Luther in any depth. The first time was when I was in middle school. I don’t remember exactly what I read and/or listened to (there may have been some Adventures in Odyssey episodes involved), but I do know that through this process, I developed a crush on the German monk and reformer. Huh? I know. (Google a picture of him now if you don’t know.) It’s a bit baffling, but I don’t think it was his physical appearance I was drawn to. (Years later, though, Joseph Fiennes played him in a movie, and he looked pretty hot.) It must have been his earnestness in pursuing God’s true will for the Church, his clever and sometimes shockingly bold writing style, and the undeniably romantic way in which he met his wife, a former nun (he hid her when she escaped from her convent). And it probably had a lot to do with the fact that back then I didn’t know a lot of guys–young or old, living or dead.

Surely this factored greatly into my even less explicable crush, around the same time, on Union general Ulysses S. Grant, a short man invariably pictured as scowling and chewing on a cigar. And it’s not like he had a pretty face; actually, you can barely see his face in pictures because it’s covered in one of those full-face beards popular at the time. I don’t think I can explain this one, except that he did win the Civil War. Also, I remember reading that he used to get terrible migraines, and his wife would put a “mustard plaster” (I never understood exactly what this was) on his feet to ease his suffering. I guess I appreciated this humanizing weakness, as well as the humility and gentleness expressed by both parties in the anecdote. I don’t know. The ways of love are mysterious.

The next person I would like to tell you about has the advantage of being young and admittedly cute, but the disadvantage of being completely fictional, not to mention animated. Let me preface this by saying that one of my favorite Disney movies has always been Pocahontas. It was the last animated Disney film that came out before I got arbitrarily too old for Disney movies (roughly age 11), and I still think its music and color palette are gorgeous, even if the love story is as sappy as Grandmother Willow. (That was a tree pun.) You probably think I’m about to say that I had a crush on John Smith, but I didn’t. He was too old for me, too blandly handsome and boringly heroic. Nor did I go for Pocahontas’s arranged fiancee, Kocoum, nor her dad, though as an adult I can now appreciate his stately good looks. No, I was into Thomas, the wimpy redheaded sailor voiced by Christian Bale (though I didn’t know that at the time) who accidentally shot Kocoum because he was too nervous to hold his gun straight. Even now, I have to admit he has a sweet face. (Click the link above to see a picture of him, along with my brief review of Pocahontas.) And I’ve always liked his floppy hat.

I like to think that my celebrity crushes have matured over the years, but on the other hand, what’s more impressive–starring in a few movies or starting the Protestant Reformation? I’ll let you decide. I’d also like to hear about your early celebrity crushes.

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a pep talk for me

I’ve been feeling a little down the past week or so, and while I think there are several reasons for this, probably the biggest one is that my much-anticipated first summer of freedom (since college, that is, and with “freedom” defined as not having to report to work) has come to a close. I spent basically the whole summer going from one trip to the next, with people I enjoy being around and with something to constantly look forward to. I didn’t have to go grocery shopping or mow my lawn or take out the trash–all tasks that I don’t mind (sometimes even enjoy) when I’m home but that it feels exciting and slightly transgressive to be able to ditch for weeks at a time. Now that I’m back home but not yet back into the rhythm of the school year, I feel let down, broke from all the money I spent on my travels (I’m not, but it feels that way), and a little lonely. This last part has surprised me–normally, I’m all about my independence and totally capable of entertaining myself, but the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt like I’m suddenly not an introvert anymore.

I’m sharing all this not to whine but because I think this particular brand of mild seasonal depression may be more common among adults than we realize. It might not be an end-of-summer thing for everyone; I think it happens after Christmas for many people. But it’s something we should talk about so we know that we’re not alone. If you’ve ever felt this way, I’d be happy to listen to your story in the comments. (Or, if we know each other, let’s chat off the blog!)

Because it’s started off so poorly, I’ve been dreading the remainder of August, so I’m going to spend the remainder of this post listing reasons I have to be optimistic–if not manically excited like I was at the beginning of the summer–about what’s to come. I realize this is a totally self-indulgent use of my blog, but maybe it’ll inspire you to make a list of your own.

  1. School starts in 21 days, and classroom teaching (NOT meetings or assessment or filling out forms, though I understand why those are important) is the part of my job that I really love. I’m looking forward to meeting the freshmen in my composition classes and seeing some former students again in my literature class. I’m also teaching my first-ever independent study, on dystopian literature, with a really great, motivated student. And I’m excited to restart the creative writing group that meets at my house. I can’t wait to make food for this little community and share stories with them.
  2. I have a new boyfriend! He’s the sweetest, and that’s all I’m going to say about him here because, frankly, it’s none of your business, blogosphere. 🙂 (Yes, I tend to overshare, but I do have boundaries.) I’m excited about the adventures we have planned, such as Hippie Fest in Angola, Indiana, next month (I already know what I’m going to wear)–as well as the less adventurous but no less precious times we will be able to take walks, share meals, and keep getting to know each other. (I like what I know so far.)
  3. Fall in West Michigan is beautiful, but I didn’t maximize my enjoyment of it last year because I was still getting used to my new job and home (actually, I was still renting and home shopping last fall) and generally getting on my feet. This fall, I intend to hike, pick apples, go to festivals, and be outdoors as much as possible. As my siblings and I ironically-but-secretly-unironically like to say, it’s almost time for hayrides, hoedowns, and all things pumpkin spice.

Next year, I’ll probably spend my summer a little more quietly (then again, who knows?). But although I’m feeling the crash right now, I don’t regret my summer of carpe diem. (I know that’s grammatically incorrect in Latin.) And, especially now that I’ve written this post, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, take two

In a post this past November, I argued that the John Hughes classic Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is about radical hospitality. I would now like to add that it is also about learning to be calm during travel mishaps. I mean, duh–but I’ve really come to need that lesson over the past few days. I’ll explain momentarily, but first, can I take a John Candy detour?

Okay. I watched The Great Outdoors for the first time recently. It’s no Planes, Trains; in fact, it’s basically just a loosely plotted series of sight gags related to the outdoors–waterskiing, racoons getting into the trash, comedic bear attacks, you get the picture. But what makes it a delight is the actors. Dan Ackroyd plays a horrible person, but he’s very good at it, and he comes around in the end. John Candy plays that character he’s so good at playing–an affable, long-suffering, optimistic on others’ behalf, Really Good Guy. I have no idea what he was like as an actual human being, but I have a hard time believing he wasn’t at least a little bit like this character type he made famous. I think we need more guys like him, in movies and in life.

Now back to the topic at hand. I was supposed to fly to Manchester, UK, last Friday for a week with my dad, who is working over there. When I got to the airport and tried to check in, I learned, to my horror (not an overstatement), that my passport was expired. It was devastating on a number of levels, perhaps the deepest being that it was a shameful mistake on my part. I take pride in being on top of the details of my life or at least appearing to be, but over the past few years, I’ve found myself increasingly absent-minded, whether because I’m getting older or because I have too much to keep track of (probably both). Often, I can get away with making a joke of my forgetfulness, but there was no humor to be found in this passport screw-up. I have no doubt that many of the well-traveled people I’ve told this story to over the past few days (including some of you reading this post) have been puzzled and silently judgmental over my failure to check on something so obvious. Thank you for keeping it to yourselves.

There followed a series of emotional phone calls to my dad, the US State Department expedited passport automatic scheduling service, American Airlines, Walgreens (to find out if they take passport photos all day), my mom (basically just to cry), the guy I’d met on eHarmony and had talked to for the first time that very afternoon (who was kind enough to call again and make sure I was okay after I texted him the story), and a friend I’d been meaning to visit. I came up with a plan: apply in person for an expedited passport in Detroit Monday morning (the closest and earliest I could get an appointment), reschedule my flight for June 26 (today), and try to distract myself over the weekend. I ended up traveling two hours south to the Michigan-Indiana border to spend Saturday and Sunday with my friend. She was a gracious last-minute hostess and even took me on a kayaking trip down the St. Joseph River that was as relaxing as anything I’ve experienced in a long time. (I mean the part where we were being carried downstream. Upriver was harder.) And, as it turned out, my friend lives less than half an hour away from my eHarmony guy, so I got to meet him Sunday afternoon, more than a week earlier than we had thought we’d be able to meet, and that was lovely too.

I got the passport on Monday, a story in itself that I won’t take the time to share here. Today, I was understandably anxious about checking in, so I showed up at the airport excessively early. (I won’t tell you how early because I’m embarrassed.) There were no mishaps.

Somewhere in the midst of my rushing around and hardcore crying on Friday evening, I came up with a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles mantra for the weekend: Be more like Del and less like Neal. Neal Page (Steve Martin) has many good qualities, but I simply meant that I should enjoy the adventure, mishaps and all. As I’ve written before on this blog, mishaps make good stories.

my best Friend

I promise I’m not turning this into a Friends blog, but I also promised that I would write an occasional Friends post while working my way through all ten seasons for the first time, so now that I’m finished with Season One and a few episodes into Two, I thought I’d share some of my observations thus far.

I’ve been surprised by how smart the humor is and by my unexpected liking for all the main characters. I’ve been frustrated by the failures the show gets itself into because it’s trying to be two things: both a snappy, hilarious, almost sketch-based comedy and a realistic dramedy with relatable characters. Sometimes the combination just doesn’t work. For example, the running joke about how critical Monica’s mother is toward her (and how gamely Monica, though annoyed, puts up with this) is really off-putting to me. I think it would be a funny SNL sketch, but there’s no way this relationship would look this way in real life. In general, I dislike all the parents I’ve met so far; though I appreciate that the show portrays young adults having relationships with their parents, I feel like the parent characters are mostly guest-star vehicles who come across as less mature than their kids, who aren’t terribly mature themselves. An extreme eye-rolling example: the one where Joey’s mom is not only okay with his dad having an affair but actually tells him to go back to his mistress because he’s supposedly (or “supposably,” as Joey would say) easier to live with when he’s got a woman on the side. Please. But on a more positive note regarding guest stars and secondary characters, I really liked Phoebe’s sweet physicist boyfriend David (played by Hank Azaria), and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him when he gets back from Minsk.

The funniest gag I’ve seen on Friends so far? While I laugh out loud almost every episode, for this, I have to go with the scene in which Chandler convinces Joey to use “Joseph Stalin” as his stage name. (Joey, later: “Apparently there’s already a Josef Stalin. You’d think you’d have known that.”)

And this brings me to the main topic of my post today: Chandler. I really like him, and I think I’m a lot like him. I started to realize this last night when I watched The One Where Heckles Dies, early in Season Two. Mr. Heckles, the cranky downstairs neighbor, dies and leaves all his possessions–basically a pile of hoarder junk–to “the loud girls upstairs” (Monica and Rachel). While the gang is going through his stuff, Chandler starts to realize he resembles Heckles not only in harmless ways, such as the geeky clubs he belonged to in high school, but also in more serious ones, like the petty criticisms he comes up with as excuses to break up with women. He starts to worry that he will die alone like Heckles and resolves to change his ways. Although this awakening is played for laughs like nearly everything on Friends (as it should be–the show gets clunky when it tries to be serious), while watching it, I felt a strong sadness and empathy for Chandler.

Because, you see, I’ve broken up with guys for stupid reasons. I worry about driving people away with my critical spirit–not just potential romantic partners, but potential friends and other potentially important people. I have a fear of commitment (which, on Friends, is portrayed as a male trait but I think is more related to personality than gender). And do I use humor as a coping mechanism? Have you read this blog? (See, I even emphasize words like Chandler.) If the blog isn’t enough to convince you, my students and colleagues think I’m hilarious because I go straight to humor when I’m feeling uncomfortable or don’t know how to present myself to new people. It’s also a great way to keep people at arm’s length (back to that fear of commitment).

The show typically offers pretty realistic, if overly simplified, psychological reasons for why the characters do the things they do (kind of like that jerk psychiatrist Phoebe dated for one episode), and the reason given for why Chandler does all the things in the above paragraph is that his parents got divorced when he was a kid. That didn’t happen to me, so there must be some other reason why I have trouble getting close to people, and this blog is not the place to explore it. In fact, I’m going to stop here before this gets too personal. Did I make you laugh? Good. That’s what I do.

 

the Amway River Bank Run

It’s time for me to make my annual moderately profound post about how I’m not fast or athletic but I am stronger than I think and yes, I really can run long distances (okay, not “ultra” distances. Give me a break.). You are probably tired of reading these posts, but in case you’re not, here and here are some examples to help you catch up. Although I know these things about myself, I am still awed almost to tears each time my hobbit body crosses a finish line. I crossed another one on Saturday, so I’m going to write about it, and if you don’t want to read it, you can skip it.

But this time, I’m going to focus mostly on the race itself, not on my performance or lack thereof, so this is also kind of an event review post–still not very exciting for most of you unless you live in the Grand Rapids area or enjoy shelling out money to travel to races. You know what? I’m writing this post for myself. There we go.

The 41st annual Amway River Bank Run, a 25K (that’s almost 16 miles) road race, took place this past Saturday. My two running buddies from Virginia flew in on Friday afternoon, we picked up our packets at the crowded DeVos Place (now I know how to get to DeVos Place! GR milestone), and we spent the evening in a low-grade panic while eating healthy food from Core Life Eatery and then cookies from Cookies and Cupcakes by Design across the street (where we would return the next day for our traditional post-race cupcakes). We got up early Saturday, now in a total fog combined of panic, tiredness, and cold, and drove downtown to park in the Pearl-Ionia Parking Ramp because we had seen on the website that it was going to close at 6:45 am, and we thought it made sense to beat the crowds and park there. It kind of made sense. We sat in the car for over 45 minutes, trying to stay warm (it was 38 outside), staring at Grand Rapids Community College’s Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall (which looked pretty when the sun started coming up over it), talking about how much we hated running, and wondering why were were doing this. Then, shivering, we found the starting line, took a few pictures while we were still looking cute and–more to the point–alive, used the portable toilets, and huddled for warmth inside DeVos Place until it was time to start.

As we knew we would, we appreciated the cool weather once we got started. Although (spoiler alert) I still felt like I was going to die at the end of the race, this experience was much less horrible than the marathon I ran last year at this time in the blazing heat of Waco, Texas. The temperature was perfect, and the wind created a moderate challenge only near the end of the race. (Running against the wind always makes me smile a little anyway because I like that Bob Seger song.) The course, on the other hand, was not what I expected. I was picturing us running downtown the whole time, but instead, we left Grand Rapids proper fairly early on (by way of a really ripe-smelling sewage treatment plant–maybe they should rethink that leg of the route) and ran on the access road along 196 that I have seen people running along before–it seems to be a common route for race events. We crossed into Wyoming and then Grandville (where we glimpsed that bizarre apartment building that looks like a hulking castle) and briefly Walker before turning around and heading back toward GR through the Millennium Park area (which looks really cool! I want to go back and explore). Honestly, the route was kind of boring, but there were bands playing, volunteers cheering and handing out water and Gatorade, and mile marker signs with snarky and/or inspirational quotes. The quality of the event was on par with that of the Virginia Ten-Miler, which for me is the gold standard of races if only because I’m so used to it.

But this was the Ten-Miler plus a 10K. And it was hard. Around the half-marathon mark, my legs told me they weren’t going to run anymore, so I walked for a while and tried to do some dynamic stretching, which didn’t help. (N.B. There was a Coca-Cola bottling plant around this point in the race. You know what would have helped? An ice-cold Coke. Idea for next year, people.) So then I told my legs to shut up–we were going to run the rest of the race. And we did. Highlights of the last few miles included crossing the Grand River and running the last quarter-mile or so uphill, with people lining the street who didn’t have a clue who I was but were still cheering for me (or maybe for the woman who passed me on the curve by Madcap Coffee, but I’m going to believe it was for both of us). This is the part where I got a little teary. I had been listening to a Queen-based Pandora station for the whole race, but here I took my headphones out and listened to the crowd and my ragged breath. And I felt like Rocky, because I went the distance.

That’s as sentimental as I’m going to get this year.

watching Friends

I have some good friends who are constantly quoting Friends in my presence, and I hate the sense of alienation, however small, that my lack of Friends knowledge creates, so I borrowed all the seasons on DVD from my mom, and I’m embarking on this considerable project this summer. I’m now five episodes into Season 1. I’ve seen a few episodes over the years, so the basic storyline and characters aren’t completely unfamiliar to me, but there have been some revelations–for example, I didn’t know that Rachel was the newcomer, in the pilot, into an already established group of f(F)riends, and I also was surprised by her hair, which, in the beginning, is thick and unpretentious and a little frizzy. (I like that.) There are also some sitcom conventions that I’m having to get used to again after many years of watching mockumentaries like The Office and Parks and Recreation and realist dramas like The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey. For example, I have to suspend my disbelief when the main characters start having personal conversations at really loud volumes in the middle of Central Perk and acting like they’re the only people in the coffee shop. Basically, they are. The people in the background are set decorations.

It’s also weird watching Friends at my age. The show was on during my pre-adolescent and teenage years, so to the extent that I was aware of these characters (and everyone was; Friends was part of the fabric of our culture), I thought of them as old. Now, they seem startlingly young, but a lot of the issues they discuss regularly–career, relationships, wondering when you’ll ever begin feeling like an adult–are still relevant to me. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve missed the adult boat, because people of my generation are dealing with these issues for longer periods of time now, or because (and I think this is most likely) most people don’t ever stop dealing with these issues. So although there are things about Friends I find wildly far-fetched and hard to relate to, I understand why this show resonated with so many people, because, ultimately, it resonates with me too.

Expect more Friends posts–it’s going to be a long summer.

because I know you care what I think about Avengers: Endgame

Dare I add my voice to the swirling conversation? I dare. This isn’t a true review, just a list of some of my observations. There may be some spoilers–if you can figure out what I’m talking about.

I liked the movie! I didn’t fall asleep, and that’s no small feat when we’re talking about a three-hour movie that, for me, started at 7:00 pm. Although some of the most scene-stealing characters (Peter Parker, Peter Quill, Peter…no, I think that’s all the Peters) were among the disappeared (N.B. Did this scenario remind anyone else of the TV series The Leftovers?), this allowed some former background characters to step forward, and they carried this responsibility well. I’m thinking in particular of Don Cheadle’s character, whose relationship to Tony Stark I have given up trying to remember, like a lot of things in this cinematic universe. (Sorry, folks. I never claimed to be a true card-carrying Marvel geek.)

I didn’t understand why all the infinity stones came to Ironman in the end. Please do not reply to this post and mansplain it to me. If I really wanted to know, I’m sure I could choose from many different mansplaining websites and YouTube videos. But I don’t really need to know. It’s enough for me that the stones did come to him. It made sense with Tony Stark’s character arc (which was quite moving), and besides, I trust that Dr. Strange knew what was going on. Because of Dumbledore, I have a lot of experience trusting wizards even when I don’t understand their plans.

I want to spend the rest of this post talking about Thor because, as you may know from previous posts, he and his world are the only parts of the MCU that I really get into and buy the Blu-Rays of and write conference papers about. First, let me get my dreamboat Loki out of the way–I was actually pretty happy with the cumulative three minutes or so that he appeared in the movie. It was more than I expected. Thor, on the other hand, was not at all what I expected. I thought it was fascinating that the non-human Avenger was the one who basically dealt with a mental health crisis during this film, though his decline into physical sloth and mental inertia was played mostly for laughs. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing–more than half of good comedy is based on the truism that sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Although I want to be clear that there’s absolutely nothing inherently funny about someone turning to alcohol to deal with grief, guilt, and regret, there’s no harm in audiences chuckling at Thor’s Norwegian bachelor pad shared with his interplanetary bros Korg and Meek. And I loved that we got to visit Dark World-era Asgard and witness Thor’s heartfelt (though, even here, rather funny) conversation with his mother, Frigga, who was always one of my favorite characters in this saga. I also appreciated the fact that when Thor reacquired his hammer, he didn’t immediately turn back into the svelte warrior of the previous films, ripped abs and all. (Though he did suddenly get a complicated braid in his beard when he started channeling lightning during the final battle–not sure how that happened.) I’m glad to see that Thor has taken passage on Starlord’s ship; those two characters (because of their fantastic actors) have wonderful comedic chemistry, and I hope we get to see them in another film.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. I almost hesitate to ask, but I will: What did you think of Avengers: Endgame?