Stale Bagels and the Battlefield of Online Dating

A few years back on my birthday, my mom sent me a card and enclosed a comic she had cut out of the newspaper. (Yes, my mother is still one of those people who clips cartoons out of the newspaper. She also has Family Circus art in the house.) It amounted to a joke that was, “at least you haven’t had to resort to online dating.”

Fast forward five or six years and here I am, online dating. Over the years, numerous friends have recommended it. I even know a number of married couples who met online, but I was always resistant. Part of the problem is I just don’t deal well with forced situations. I don’t like having to talk to people. It isn’t that I necessarily can’t, it is more that I naturally have met so many great friends over the course of my life that I just kept believing that process should work for dating.

I first dipped my toe in with OK Cupid, both because some of my friends use it and because it was free. Immediately, I was so overwhelmed with information I had to take a nap. There are, in all seriousness, as many questions as you want to answer. The more you answer, the more the algorithm is supposed to be able to match you up.

Here is the thing though…My profile included words like “nap” and “chill on the couch” and “eat” and every single guy I was supposedly compatible with sure seemed to talk about the gym. A lot. Like, “if I had to save three things from a burning house, it would be my mom, my phone, and my kettlebells.”

I don’t know if other ladies feel this way, but I don’t always find it that impressive that you work that hard to look the way you look. I would much rather have someone brag in their online profile, “I have the metabolism of a horse, I can eat an entire pizza and never gain an ounce,” than people who brag about the gym.

Part of it is because girls have to pretend we didn’t get our bodies in the gym. Like the crazy but spot on Amy notes in Gone Girl, we have to pretend we can eat pizza and never gain an ounce. I already have planned out the speech for my future daughters: “Listen, for the first 18 years of your life, eat all of the bread. Eat all of the candy. Because about the time you turn 19, you won’t be able to eat carbs ever again.”

I tried. I gave it a go. I never went on a date though. The problem for me with these sites where you answer seemingly endless questions in an attempt to save time by ruling out deal breakers is that I don’t really have deal breakers. I’ve dated smokers, I’ve dated Democrats, I’ve dated really intense Republicans. But if I like you, I am willing to make concessions. If I haven’t met you, there is no emotional attachment, so you get tossed out before I even give you a chance.

So I quit OK Cupid and ended my foray into dating until about a year ago. Then, at a WPT stop, some of the show’s producers told me about a new app called Hinge, which only connects you to people that are connected to your network on Facebook. In other words, it is dating six degrees of Kevin Bacon. I tested it out, but the problem is it doesn’t exist in Vegas, so I posed as an Angelino knowing this couldn’t go anywhere.

I was lamenting the lack of Hinge in Vegas to a friend who then pointed me to Coffee Meets Bagel. This app gives you a single match a day based on a handful of requirements like age, location, height. You only get one and, if you like them and they like you back, a chat line opens for seven days.

I was inclined to try it mostly because Tinder feels like Valu-Pack coupons to me sometimes. I know these guys are swiping yes on 100 percent of the girls just hoping 1% respond. I don’t want spam in my email, I don’t want spam in my inbox, and I certainly don’t want spam in my love life.

I went on a few…we’ll call them interesting dates, including one in which a guy suggested we do something that evening, I agreed, then he informed me he was probably too drunk to drive at 6pm on a Thursday, so could I pick him up. For reasons that I think tie mainly to the fact I have a blog that needs fodder, I did. I drove to an address in the fancy neighborhood of Anthem Highlands, which seemed like an odd enough place for a half-employed bartender/actor to live, until you factor in that HE LIVES WITH HIS PARENTS. Again, not a deal breaker, but if this is the first impression, you aren’t doing great.

I haven’t been wholly unsuccessful on the Bagel thing, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a fair share of disappointments. One was even cool with me blogging about him, so long as I referred to him as Bill (If you’re reading this, hi Bill!). Problem was, he wasn’t really in Vegas much, so you know, there is that.

It took four months to meet a guy I liked enough to see twice who, turns out, doesn’t really live here. How, do you ask, can I be offered around 120 guys aka “Bagels” and only hit it off with one? Well, it is because sometimes this app doesn’t have a Bagel for you. Instead, you get a delightful picture of the bagel truck, that is searching for only high quality bagels just for you.

I contacted the app to inform them I was only getting about three bagels per week and to point out it is a little cruel for an app to push notify to check in for the day only to get the bagel truck. I’m Charlie Brown, the app is Lucy, and a half-decent Bagel is the football.

They informed me the issue is one of liquidity, so I should get my single friends on the app too. Yes. Cause exactly what I want in a Bagel is a guy I’ve already met and decided I don’t want to date. Thanks, Customer Service.

The drought of Bagels continued with day after day of getting the truck, when the app notified me that perhaps I am simply being too picky. They suggested I look at my height preferences and adjust accordingly. I raised an eyebrow, as I couldn’t even remember what I had put as height preferences. Being relatively short (5’2”), I don’t really have the height problem of some of my friends, so it was surprising to hear height was the problem. Then I thought maybe I hadn’t included enough tall people in my preferences, so I went to check.

My parameters were this: I would be willing to be match with anyone who is 5’2” up to the tallest man your site has. In other words, they wanted me to become some sort of little people fetishist.

It is a special breed of disheartening to hear that no males of a relatively average height can be matched up with you on a dating site. Being on an app like that to begin with was disheartening enough. But really, I think the conclusion to draw here isn’t that I am not good enough for the apps or there are no matches for me in the world. I think it is more that my matches aren’t gonna be found on Match.com. I came, I saw, I certainly did not conquer, but at least I learned something. I learned there is apparently a line out the door of short guys waiting to date me. I learned picking up your drunk blind date, while entertaining, will only end in eating in the Excalibur food court at 11pm wondering how exactly you were expecting things to be any better. And I learned that there are worse things than being by yourself, hoping you will bump into a real life person to date, like waiting for that damned bagel truck to deliver.

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I’ll Tell You Where to Put That Kite

Mary Poppins says something very wise in the delightful film bearing her name:

“Enough is as good as a feast.”

So, enough already.

Yesterday, news broke that Disney wants to make another Mary Poppins movie set 20 years later focusing on Poppins and the Banks family directed by noted and Oscar-winning director Rob Marshall.

I truly have so many horrible things to say about this idea I legitimately don’t know where to begin, so rather than start with the original and work our way forwards, I guess let’s start with present-day and work our way backwards.

First, let me explain that Rob Marshall is genuinely terrible at directing musicals. He won the Best Director for the film Chicago in 2002, a film that was neither the best movie of that year, nor a very good musical. You see, the thing that makes Chicago the musical great besides the fun noir plot and the juicy character-driven songs is the dancing. This is the master Bob Fosse at his finest in the original rendition of this musical. So what does Marshall do in the film? Cast a bunch of actresses who can’t, pardon my French, fucking dance. So, while I am expecting to see a Fosse-esque showstopper, instead I get a quick cut to a hand and then a leg and then some glitter because Renee Zellwegger cannot dance her way out of a paper bag. I know this, as I have watched her “dancing” at the end of Empire Records about 75 times. Catherine Zeta-Jones fares a little better, but the slapdash editing makes it overtly apparent the cast can’t, by and large, dance, which is one-third of a good musical.

Then Marshall butchered Into the Woods last year, with a woefully reconstructed second act, a complete and utter absence of choreography, and a completely forgettable film version of some of Stephen Sondheim’s best work.

If you are going to hire a musical director, hire Adam Shankman, as there is no other musical director working today (except perhaps Justin Lin) who understands that creativity and choreography and making that choreography cinematic is how to make scenes like the absolute perfection that is Dick Van Dyke dancing with cartoon penguins:

But here is where things get meta in a completely depressing sort of way. While Rob Marshall was off ruining one of the finest stage musicals of the last 20 years, Walt Disney studios made a movie about how the author of the Mary Poppins books couldn’t stand the movie precisely because she didn’t want her creation to be having a jolly holiday with cartoon characters on a merry-go-round. This interesting, though white-washed commentary about the kinds of compromises that take place when creativity meets commerce asked audiences to spend their money and time really looking into the idea that Mary Poppins may not have been worth the turmoil it caused the author.

Then, NOT ONE YEAR LATER, the very same studio says, “yes, we understand that PL Travers did hate the adaptation of Mary Poppins so much because it veered too far from the book, but we have movie history and a different interpretation of a story that many children have really latched on to in the 50-odd years since the movie’s initial release. In fact, she hated what they did to her book so much, she wrote into her will a series of rules about what Disney could and could not do regarding a Poppins stage musical.

And you, Walt Disney Studios, genuinely believe it is worth it to disrespect a dead-woman’s wishes by hiring a hack of a director to helm your money grab of cynicism you call a movie after you make Saving Mr. Banks where you acknowledge, that maybe, just maybe, it is more important to make a film true to its source. And you, Travers estate, better have some sort of story about how all of you have deadly diseases and there is no other way to pay for the treatment of said diseases unless you make more money off this shameless sham of a project.

Who out there saw Saving Mr Banks and drew from this story a conclusion that we need another Mary Poppins movie? Even I, someone who finds Dick Van Dyke (one of Travers’ biggest issues with the movie was his casting) downright perfect feel worse about my love of Mary Poppins. I like to believe just a sliver of Saving Mr Banks was true and the author came around to this film that is near and dear to me. I like to believe Walt Disney made this movie not as a money grab, but because he really did promise his daughters he would.

Now though, to make a film literally no one wanted, that literally no one needs, and to do so right after you made a movie pretending that making money wasn’t the only consideration is the kind of thing that would cause Mary Poppins to float out of the sky, open up her magical carpet bag, take out that talking duck-headed umbrella, then have them sing a duet whilst Mary uses her handy umbrella to beat the tar out of the Disney development team wondering how in the hell they watched the original Mary Poppins and the bank scene and the movie’s finale and didn’t come away with the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, money isn’t always more important than your soul.

Like Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast,” and the thought of some ridiculous, sardonic piece of new cinematic garbage tarnishing the heart and soul of a film that, while not beloved by Travers, is still beloved by many is enough to give me an ulcer.

Miss (Not Ma’am) Manners

This is my judgy face. Isn’t it pretty?

The longer I live in places not called Kentucky, the more I wonder if I was raised on Mars or some foreign place, as the manners instilled in me in my youth don’t seem to be common practice other places I have lived. Some of it is a difference in age, but most of it boils down to this: I’m Southern, and Southern people just care a hell of a lot more about some of this stuff than y’all do.

So here’s what I am going to do. I’m going to let you in on a few things that I promise irritate your Southern friends that you may not even realize bother them. You may find many of them stupid and do them more often to prove a point, you may try to be more considerate of how we live, you may do nothing. Whatever the choice, let’s get started.

When at restaurants in which you have not ordered at a counter, you do not eat until everyone at the table has food. There are a few weird exceptions, like if three of you ordered a salad or soup and two didn’t, but by and large, until there is a plate in front of every person, don’t touch your utensils.

If you are the wayward soul without food, you are obligated to tell everyone to go ahead and eat and not wait for you. Now here is where the Southern passive aggressive behavior we all know and love comes into play. Unless the person telling you to eat is close enough to you that they are 1. in your immediate family or 2. someone who was or is going to be in your wedding party, this is a trick. They don’t want you to eat. They want you to wait. They are just testing you.

When it comes time for the bill, unless it is one of those parent/child husband/wfe birthday celebration situations, you offer to pay for your portion of dinner. Ladies, this includes dates. Offer at least once. If they decline, you can stop, but you have at least offer even if we all know you are pump-faking for your purse hoping to God your dinner partner is going to insist.

When at the dinner table or at other social gatherings, do not talk about future plans you have made or are going to make with people in front of people who are not invited. Again, there are exceptions, like, “Honey, should we honeymoon in Jamaica?”, but again, unless you are around people of wedding-party level closeness, it is unconscionably rude to talk about what three of you are doing this weekend if seven of you are in the room unless you intend to invite all seven.

While on the subject of invitations, when you say, “I’m in,” that means you’re in. Like, you’re gonna be there. And if you’re not gonna be there, it is because you are ill or someone died or you got in a car accident. If your excuse for not going isn’t quite up to that level, it is okay, but you absolutely, positively must notify the person hosting said event that you will not be there, or else we might send the National Guard out with a search party for you.

Finally, we gotta talk about this Miss/Ma’am/Sir thing. Sir is easy enough. Any gentleman who seems your age or older, you address as “sir.” It is the chicks that make things complicated. Chicks, man…

The other day, my best friend (also from Kentucky) was travelling for work and she told me she did something terrible. Wondering what it could possibly be, I got a good laugh when she said the following:

“So I am checking in at the airport and the attendant is clearly in her 20s or, at worst, our age and I just wasn’t thinking and I…”

This is where I cut her off mid-sentence.

“Lindsay! You did not ‘ma’am’ her??”

“I did. I’m awful.”

You may think you are being nice and polite when using the word “ma’am”, but every time a guy who is not still in high school refers to me as “ma’am” I feel about as old as the old Rose in Titanic. I get in the car, I check the mirror for wrinkles, I look over my outfit and wonder if I am dressing like a senior citizen.

At 31 years old, I am not ready to be “ma’amed” on the regular. Honestly folks, unless a woman has grey or blue hair or has spoken about how she is undergoing her menopausal change, she doesn’t want to be called “ma’am”. She wants to be “miss” to anyone who isn’t at least ten years younger than her and what that really means is any guy who isn’t at least ten years younger than she thinks she looks.

I know, we’re an insecure, crazy breed of people, Southern chicks. But please, for my sake, when you want to tell me how crazy Southern people take their hospitality, please begin the conversation with “miss”.

2014: Latching on to the Future, Even If It Gives Me Whiplash

So I wish I was haughty enough to know the Ranier Maria Wilke quote from “Letters to a Young Poet” that I am about to reference, but God’s honest truth is I know it from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. So I’ll let Whoopi explain instead:

While I love the sentiment and I certainly believe pursuing what your true passion is, things are a little more complicated than that. If you want to be a writer, you have to learn about things like grammar and how to structure a piece. You need to know how to outline, how to properly reference and credit outside sources, how to meet deadlines, and how to write about a topic assigned to you, not just something you think is nifty.

In other words, it is not enough to just write every day. You have to push yourself past your comfort zone, you have to study, you have to read people you admire and think about what it is specifically you admire about their work. You need to write and rewrite. You need an editor and feedback.

To put it bluntly: love and passion are not enough.

There are a lot of things to admire about last year’s critically acclaimed movie Whiplash, but what I love most about this movie is the ideology that practice and passion isn’t enough to be truly exceptional. You can be a natural talent, but without someone (albeit not necessarily someone quite as volatile as JK Simmons) pushing you into a place you didn’t know existed in you, you will never be great.

In Whiplash, a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) is at a musical conservatory trying to be one of the greatest jazz drummers in history. It isn’t enough for him to be good. He wants to be the best, and in order to be the best, you apparently have to get locked up in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with your mentor. But this movie isn’t about how terrible a monster this teacher is. Like Black Swan, The Red Shoes, and other “for the love of art” kind of movies, there is reverence for taking your craft to an obsessive level, to being pushed to the brink to see if you have the wherewithal to hang on.

In this optimistic, Millenial-driven era, we don’t pay much attention to the sacrifice that comes with truly pursuing your passion. Whiplash is not a movie intended to be a horror film about an obsessive psychopathic teacher. It is a statement film about the fact that pursuing your passion isn’t easy. Settling is much easier. You can please others, live up to expectations, or you can put yourself out there, take a giant risk, and know there is a very good chance you can end up face down feeling stupid. But there is a chance that you could accomplish something out of this world phenomenal, and you are so hungry for that chance that you are willing to accept you’re probably going to fail, but that it will be worth it.

The more I watch Orphan Black, the more I think the lead clone in this show about an experiment full of identical clones, Sarah, is in the same kind of impossible situation Teller from Whiplash is in. For her, it isn’t a love of music, but a love of her daughter that keeps her driving and pushing through a seemingly endless series of dangerous and life-threatening situations in which giving up makes so much sense, but for love, she just can’t.

This fantastic sci-fi program is relentlessly paced with Sarah and her band of clone sisters constantly working their way through and out of terrible situations. There is barely enough downtime for a dance party before the next problem arises, but the clones care so much about each other and Sarah has such passion being a mother to her daughter that they don’t care and they just keep trucking through because they don’t have another choice. She could just turn herself over to the lab that created her, but she is going to take the hard way against long odds because the slim hope of living a free life with her clone sestres and her daughter and her foster brother is worth taking a chance on your life, even if the chances she will pull it off without someone suffering is slim to none.

Many movies are structured this way. Saving Private Ryan, Snowpiercer, any sort of war or prison film, there is a culling of the herd because the simple fact of the matter is not everyone is going to make it. They know going in that is the case and the thought of living a different, theoretically better life is well worth taking the very likely chance you won’t make it to the end to see it.

The problem today though is that we focus so much on the success stories that people don’t fully understand the risks and the massive number of people out there who failed. I watch people putting themselves out there, opening themselves up for ridicule and I admire the courage, but I shake my head that they thought this plan was ever going to work.

I wanted to be a ballerina for several years. I loved ballet more than anything, I went to a performing arts school as a ballet major. I had the perfect feet for it; small with high arches, but the problem was I was too short and too muscular in build to ever possibly succeed as a professional. More importantly, I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t bad, but I would never be great, so I am grateful for the teachers and my mother and others who supported my hobby, but admitted this was simply not something I could successfully pursue. They didn’t quash my dreams, they spared me from nightmares.

The same happened in college. I was an incredibly active member of my high school speech team to the point where colleges were actively recruiting me to be on their speech teams. As a wise speech coach once told me though—“I know you love this, but here is the thing. You can do speech in college, but you can’t go pro.”

While I fell in and out of love with dance and speech, knowing they would never be anything more than hobbies, somehow I became a writer. I didn’t think it would stick, and I certainly never expected me to start a blog and voluntarily put words to page day in and day out and yet, here I am. And there are people in my life for once telling me not the reasons why I can’t do this, but the reasons why I can. It is still scary as fuck, but I just basically wrote a book this month admitting all sorts of my inner thoughts and personal stories and opinions on things and I survived. So I keep going, cause like Whoop…err..Wilke said, if you want to be a writer, write.

And even though I know I have about as much of a chance reaching the pinnacle of the writing world as I do of being a ballet dancer, I can’t seem to help myself from putting myself out there like I have over the past month. But whether or not this whole writing thing wants me or not, at least for now, I am digging my claws in. I’m ready to Latch.

Sam Smith and Disclosure know how scary an unsafe bet can be. It is horrifying and stimulating all at once and the prevailing thought is that you need more and you need to make sure that it won’t go away. It sounds possessive, but you’ve got to lock that shit up before someone else gets there. If you find that passion that seems the slightest bit attainable, you lock in and you hope to God you never have to let go.

So this is me, writing world, locking in and latching on. Cause I’ve gone through my whole life and the things that have touched me and touched others and nothing gets me more excited about the day than putting fingers to keys and trying to talk about them. I kind of hate how much I enjoy this because it means I can’t walk away without giving it a little more of a try to be a writer of something more than how a poker tournament turned out or what sports betting law went into effect.  I know what I have found and I am ready to try to knock those boundaries down, even though I am fully aware that it is going to suck a lot of the time, and in fact, it may always suck and I give up. It may take a mean as hell editor or my back against a financial wall, but now that this writing thing is shackled in my embrace, I am not letting go for at least a little while. So, we may have gone through the past together this past month, but get ready, cause I am really hoping there is a future full of this to come.

2013: Free Blackfish, Say Something, Just Escape

In the past ten years, the popularity of documentaries has really exploded, at least amongst my peers. As someone who has been a big doc fan a long time and taken several doc classes in school, it warms my heart to see this type of movie getting attention critically and financially. While my poor classic films still get neglected, this sector of movies is growing, thriving, and getting increasingly more creative and inventive.

Here’s where you might not like what I have to say though. You need to understand that a documentary is not the news. They are under no obligation to be subjective and, in fact, very few of these mainstream documentaries are. Just because something is non-fiction does not mean it is non-agenda. These movies are basically persuasive arguments, except instead of a theme paper, they are presented cinematically.

The very first documentary, Nanook of the North, was actually very much staged and far from real. But the point wasn’t to be real, the point was to try to expose American audiences to a culture and lifestyle they weren’t familiar with.

Which brings me to Blackfish. This is an exceptionally well-made documentary about the downsides of keeping killer whales in captivity, focusing mostly on a killer whale named Tillikum, who was captured when he was a baby in 1983 and grew increasingly hostile as he aged, playing a role in the death of three different people. If you’ve seen the documentary, you leave very much feeling as though keeping orcas in captivity is a horrifying thing to do and all should be set free immediately. As a kid who saw Free Willy numerous times over, my heart broke as I watched Blackfish, but the film student in me saw how patently one-sided this argument really was.

I remember when I was obsessed with Willy I read up on Keiko the whale and learned that, after being in captivity for so long, they couldn’t exactly set Keiko free because he wouldn’t have been able to survive on his own. He wouldn’t know how to feed himself, there was no pod to take him in. Keiko got a vastly improved life as a result of the movie, but the sad truth is Keiko died of pneumonia and never fully made it out to the wild again.

When you do some digging on Blackfish, you find out that Sea World wasn’t the only one criticizing this movie. One of the trainers who died has a family that appreciates the film, but refuses to accept any funds from the film to support the foundation in their late daughter’s name. Some interviewed for the film didn’t make the final cut and weren’t told the film would be so anti-Sea World. This isn’t the filmmakers being shady, this is how documentaries get made. Think about how you design an argument. You aggregate as much information and research as you can, you pick your strongest points, and you make your case with that.

So, no, I am not being critical of Blackfish, I am just trying to explain that you are getting an argument on a subject that fits in a box, and the stuff that doesn’t fit in that box gets discarded. That box sometimes is determined before the filming begins, that box changes shape, and in the editing process that box inevitably gets smaller because movies are only so long.

Blackfish’s box is about the dangers of keeping animals in, well, a box. I don’t think anyone would argue that when something is confined versus when they are free to roam, they are going to act differently. It is not unlike when people get filmed. In documentaries, the two approaches tend to get described as “fly on the wall” vs “fly in the soup.” In the former, the documentarians do their best to remain removed from the action, creating a sense of objectivity, like they are sneaking into a situation undetected. Think about when a camera is pointed at you though. You fundamentally act differently. Maybe you smile more, maybe you hide behind another person, maybe you say or don’t say things you normally would. That is why “fly in the soup” documentarians accept this is human (and animal nature), so they insert themselves right in the middle of the action, kind of like Werner Herzog did in Grizzly Man.

While I prefer the fly on the wall documentaries on the whole, the fly in the soup mentality is one it is hard to disagree with. People and animals act differently when you constrain them. That’s why there are terms like “stir crazy” and “cabin fever”. The second you take away something from someone, they become keenly aware that, though it may not seem important in their life, it is actually a big part of it they didn’t know how much they needed it.

Orange Is the New Black is a show all about captivity and what it does to people. In the opening season, the so-called lead of the show Piper is the fish out of water, learning to adapt to a life in prison after spending the rest of her life in upper middle class suburbia. Everything is foreign, from the shower slippers to the food to how to socialize, and the opening season takes us along with Piper learning to acclimate. It seems like she doesn’t change that much as a person, but by Season 3, she is the Tillikum of this women’s prison—a danger to her fellow inmates and, more importantly, a danger to herself.

Throughout each season of the show, we see that every woman on this show is not the person in prison that they were on the outside. These women aren’t in here because of their prison behavior. They did something else in an entirely different venue of their life that ended them up in the clink, and from there it was either adapt or perish.

For some, like Taystee, the outside world is almost scarier than prison. She gets out, but she is kind of like Keiko of Free Willy fame in that she is no longer equipped to survive in the real world. It is an issue many elderly inmates who are released and have no idea what to do because they have no life to return to deal with regularly in the real world. On OITNB, the women always talk about getting out as the end goal, but let’s be real, they won’t be going back to the life they had before most of the time, so it is just a pipe dream, a hope to get them through this stretch of captivity because a crappy life on the outside is something to daydream about when you’re trapped inside something else.

It is obvious how the whales in captivity and women in prison connect. Literal captivity is pretty easy to spot. But we all allow ourselves to get trapped in things we can’t get out of on our own. A job you hate, a bad relationship you need out of, an illness you can’t recover from—all of these are a version of being locked up.

Unrequited love, while romantically endearing, is a version of captivity too. For the guy singing to Delilah, believing she is the answer to fixing his problems. Every emo kid wallows in the pain of Something Corporate’s epic rock ballad Konstantine. More recently, the unrequited love song hall of fame was gifted Great Big World’s Say Something. This song differs a little from your standard unrequited love ballads where the singer belts out that they will love this person forever no matter what.

In Say Something, the singer finally gets fed up feeling trapped and is imploring the other person to give them something, anything to go on because they are feeling claustrophobic and they need out, even if that something said to them is no. They are willing to do anything on their part, be it swallow their pride, give up their vices, or admit fault that they just weren’t good enough for you to give them a shot. But at the same time, they are really begging you to set them free from this feeling of maybe it’ll happen so they can be set free to find someone else or lead their own path elsewhere.

There is almost certainly another side to the Say Something story. A person who just doesn’t have those feelings for the person, someone who feels suffocated by the affection of someone they just want as a friend or maybe, just maybe, they are too scared to say something either. Either way, it is like Blackfish. This guy has put together his best argument to give himself one last shot at the person he loves. It is biased, it is one-sided, and it is coming from someone who wants nothing more than to be set free with or without the person he loves.

2012: May God Bless and Keep You Finding Silver Linings and Never Giving Up

Being in my 30s and not really feeling like I have my life in order is probably the single greatest cause of anxiety in my life right now. Granted, that is a big umbrella of a problem underneath which a lot of frustrations can fit, but I guess another way to frame it is like this: As a kid, I watched like 50 hours of TV a week. I have easily seen over 1,000 movies (I’ve rated over 1,200 on Letterboxd) and in all those movies I saw what I thought life was supposed to look like. I looked to my parents and their siblings and their lives looked like this. My older cousins all had lives that felt balanced and normal and possibly even a little boring.

Even in the old movies like the screwball comedies of the 1930s, people were always depicted as a little wacky or eccentric in a way that was harmless, not in a way that might need a prescription or some therapy.

We’ve really come a long way in addressing mental health in the media, but it is still something tough to talk about, understandably so, because we have decades of hiding crazy relatives form the public and people pretending to be as “normal” as they can. When I look around now though, I can find so many shows and movies in which people have flaws but are not labelled crazy. It is a relieving change of pace, and sometimes I think people are not even realizing the shift is happening.

Wes Anderson aside, there is no current director whose movies I am more excited to see than David O’ Russell.  It may seem like his interests are all over the place and no real theme to what he is doing, but I think he is taking some of the lost cinematic genres and redeeming and reinventing them. The Fighter takes boxing movies in a whole new direction. Three Kings is a movie that reinvented the war genre and became one of the first films to really tackle Desert Storm.

Then there is Silver Linings Playbook, which is a screwball comedy of the 1930s populated with characters with actual, identifiable mental issues instead of just “quirky” people. It isn’t just Bradley Cooper’s character who is struggling. His love interest played by Jennifer Lawrence has intimacy and grief issues too. The movie is very clear that these two are mentally not in a great place, but the whole supporting cast struggles too. Cooper’s mom is a classic enabler, his father clearly has obsessive compulsive disorder, and even Cooper’s best friend has some anger and resentment issues.

Most of the movie is really funny, which isn’t to say they are making fun of the mentally ill. Life is funny, even when you are struggling. If you can’t joke about the rough things in life, what can you joke about? But there are also brutally honest moments of how frustrating dealing with issues can be.

I feel for poor Bradley Cooper, who gave a remarkable performance in this movie that numerous people have labelled as a very accurate depiction of what mental illness can feel like. Hard to be up against Daniel Day-Lewis playing Lincoln and walk away with the Oscar though. You just can’t beat that. But this movie got its fair share of awards recognition and I think part of the appeal is that in this movie no one is stigmatized, because even the characters that spent time in a mental facility seem relatively comparable to those who are deemed to be living normal lives. You know why? Because we’re all a little messed up. It is another one of those Gen X sentiments: yes, you’re a little crazy, but don’t worry, we’re all a little crazy. The fact a movie with that sentiment is being released in 2012 gives me hope that the rah rah yay for your differences mentality of the past decades that seems to willfully ignore that some of these differences are in fact mental health issues that might be improved with medication, therapy, or at least a general awareness that this isn’t just some quirk, but something that can be addressed instead of suppressed, will be a thing of the past eventually.

Parenthood is another show that peels back the façade of seemingly having your life together to reveal that none of us really do. The Braverman clan consists of the patriarch and matriarch, four adult children, and their respective families. In the early goings, there were two kids who had things together, the oldest, Adam, and the youngest, Julia, while the middle kids, Sarah and Crosby, were the lost souls of the family.

The more this show went on though, the more it became clear that every single solitary person on this show has their flaws and their problems. Adam and his wife Kristina have a kid with Asperger’s, but even the two of them as a couple are amazing because they are two of the most socially awkward nerdy people ever recorded on TV. They say dumb jokes, they freak out over silly things, and you can see that they are a little dorky without throwing a pair of suspenders and glasses on them. You love them because of this, not in spite of it, which is why this show should never be watched without an ample supply of Kleenex.

Julia and her husband Joel (who, for the record [and I think the ladies will agree] is actually perfect) is a type-A perfectionist to a fault that, when one thing in her life goes wrong, the whole thing spirals out of control. Her children, one biological and one adopted, struggle to get along. In other words, in a family of 17 people, there is not a single person who doesn’t really have some sort of issue affecting their mental health and happiness, except maybe Drew and Haddie, two children the writers never seemed to have much to give them to do. But Drew certainly seems like a sullen teen, and who knows what Haddie got up to once she headed off to college.

My mom’s family is big like the Bravermans. Her parents begat seven kids that begat 16 more and, once you throw in who married in and the great grandbabies, our family consists of around 65 people. Growing up, I thought everyone was living this wonderful life with children and the occasional hiccup related to health like a cousin who was born with a chromosome piece missing. But once people started dying and those 16 grandkids started growing up, it became clear that some may seem to have their crap together, but most of the families were putting their best faces forward at the holidays, trying to hide their issues.

Nowadays, we’ve had several deaths, several health scares, and several struggles that we just don’t pretend things are fantastic. It is kind of nice though. Our family has been tested with tragedy and we’ve come out okay. We don’t have to hide and pretend because we know they are not going to ever turn us away.

It is a love song, but when it comes to my family, Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up pretty much sums us up. The song stayed in the Billboard Top 40 for five months because, simple as it may be, the sentiment that you are going to be there for someone is such a universal sentiment. It is the kind of sentiment that can settle those anxieties and concerns that you’re a little off or a little crazy because here is someone telling you that it is okay, and, more importantly, that it will continue to be okay.

Friends express surprise when I tell them I am close with my cousins because it isn’t particularly common, but even though I hardly see them, thanks to Facebook and to us growing up and being able to admit a little more about our flaws, I am so confident they’re never giving up on me.

Like I said, Mraz wrote this as a love song, but it is a tune that I associate with my family, especially the refrain about skies being rough and still looking up. In fact, it is almost a joke with my mom and I now. “It’ll work out or get better,” she’ll say. I always ask, “How?” “I don’t know Jessica. I’m just looking up and hoping it will.”

Our family is far from perfect. In fact, we have a fair share of drama and a little division. But unlike my childhood, when we all pretended we didn’t, now we are the Bravermans or the Silver Linings Playbook cast. We have our ups and downs, some of us struggle more than others at times, but I love them even more now knowing they aren’t perfect, I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean we are ever gonna give up.

2011: Born to Be An Artist, But May Not Get Those Happy Endings

It is the most cliched film school student thing to do, call something derivative, but here is the thing: I hate Quentin Tarantino movies and I hate them because I find them completely derivative and unoriginal.

If you’re not familiar, Tarantino readily admits that years of working in a video store set him up for a life of filmmaking in which he puts iconic moments of other films in his own work. If he did this every once in a while to make a particularly salient point, it wouldn’t bother me so much, if there were not something like 90 cultural references in the span of a film that really isn’t about much of anything other than to show off how nifty it is to reference other things. Pastiche, or referencing something just for the sake of referencing it, is just one of my cinematic pet peeves.

I’ve written before about how paying homage to an era or making a point about a cultural text like in The Grand Budapest Hotel is something I am so very on board with, but every time I watch a Tarantino film, I feel like I am watching one of those videos YouTube shippers who compiled a collage of Ross and Rachel kissing. I don’t get it. If I wanted that, I would just watch Friends.

Yet, here I am about to defend a movie that was frequently labeled derivative and actually deemed “cinematic rape” by Kim Novak, who objected to its fully legal use of a memorable portion of Bernard Hermann’s score from Vertigo. But I am going to defend The Artist, a beautiful love letter to an era of cinema that gets written off as base, unwatchable, and largely forgettable.

Prior to The Artist, the last fully black and white film to win the Best Picture Oscar was The Apartment in 1960. Many people, my friends included, hear black and white, and immediately dismiss it as a movie they have no interest in. This is particularly frustrating for me, as I find the era of movie making where B&W and color films were split around 50/50 to be hands-down the best era for movies we have ever seen. It is a struggle to convince people to watch a movie like Sunset Blvd.

The Artist (and Hugo, which was released the same year) remind us that we can’t have the blockbusters of today without the silent films of the past. The mere act of creating a silent film with title cards the audience has to read is a huge deal, as it is something we as audience members are rarely expected to do. While I tend to prefer foreign films with subtitles instead of dubs, most people will take the version where their native tongue is recorded over the film itself. Spending half of your time reading when you go to the movies? Not an easy sell.

And this movie grossed over $133 million worldwide. This is why I defend it as important instead of derivative. After this, hopefully some people made an effort to check out some of the other silent film classics of the era like A Trip to the Moon, The Passion of Joan of Arc, or the beautiful Sunrise or disturbing M (Peter Lorre will always give me the heebie jeebies). It makes sure that these movies aren’t forgotten, which, given that cinema has changed so much over the past 120 years or so, is entirely possible.

Being derivative in order to write a love letter to something forgotten isn’t the only reason I have to appreciate derivative pop culture though. One of my favorite sitcoms of the past five years is a total ripoff of Friends, but what makes Happy Endings interesting is that, instead of having one wacky gal and five relatively well-adjusted people, the sextet in this show are all hilariously bizarre in their own special way. In other words, instead of saying “let’s make a show about six friends in an urban setting,” someone said, “What if the people from Friends actually were a little off their rockers?” Or, more accurately, “What would a group of friends who grew up watching shows like Friends be like?”

In the same vein as Gilmore Girls, Happy Endings is packed to the hilt with pop culture references ranging from obvious to obscure. In the opening teaser of one episode, they managed to make separate references to both Bebop and Rocksteady, so can I just a big T-U-R-T-L-E power to you, show writers? It is a new version of Friends because that life in that sitcom was so far removed from the infusion of pop culture that started with people my age. In an almost meta homage to the show, Happy Endings shows us what happens when people try to live like the people on Friends.

And while there were plenty of things that were insane about Friends, like the quality of their apartments, Happy Endings plays with that notion to an extreme level that ventures into the realm of absurdity. There are very few boundaries of what is real and makes sense, as the baseline of preposterousness in the stories is set very high very early on.

Is it a show that is derivative of another sitcom and rife with pop culture references just for the sake of pop culture references? Sort of. Thing is, I know plenty of people my age who speak almost exclusively in movie references and base their social behavior around what they see on TV. One friend even introduces me to people as, “This is my friend Jess. She talks like a Sorkin character.” There is a need for a media-saturated version of friends because in the time that show ran, our lives became saturated with mass media.

Mostly though, I just like the absolutely out there storylines, like when the gang decides to take Jazz Kwon Do classes.

I am a sucker for any excuse to shake my ass and show y’all what I am working with, so the numerous dance sequences on Happy Endings get me the same way Lady Gaga songs do. From the moment Born This Way was released, critics of Gaga and her fleet of Little Monsters cried foul, noting the song has both auditory and thematic similarities to the Madonna classic Express Yourself.

They aren’t wrong. These are both songs about empowerment, having others accept you for who you are, and setting the bar high when it comes to dating. I for one am a massive fan of both songs, but I have to side with Gaga on the need to brush up this “love yourself for who you are anthem”.

Madonna’s song makes it clear from the opening lyric, “Come on girls. Do you believe in love?” that this a song for heterosexual females. Born This Way, on the other hand sets a very different tone, letting you know, “it doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H-I-M.”

Sexuality has come a long way even from even the late 80s when Madonna was peaking, which is why there is a grandiose opening segment of the Born This Way video that very much challenges gender norms. Then, Gaga does what most songs about empowerment these days are scared to do—frame that empowerment around being treated well by a man as Madonna may suggest or by being conventionally attractive and accomplished.

Gaga tells those little monsters of her to go ahead and be monstrous and openly addresses that it is totally normal to be insecure, you just can’t let it control or, as she suggest, let it be your “religion”. This is a song about just taking what you’re given and doing your best with it, as, much as you would like to believe differently, this is the one and only option. Figure out what works for you, then do it.

That last sentence is pretty much how Madonna got her career started, so it is no wonder someone like Gaga, who is a little younger than I am would be tremendously influenced by the early 90s idea of embracing your femininity and your sexuality and flaunting it no matter how folks may judge you. I mean, she performs the entire video in her underwear if you really want to hit the point home.

So yes, she is one cone bra away from being a derivative Madonna, but unlike Tarantino, Gaga finds a way to replicate, then reinvent into something that in the current musical environment can’t even be categorized. Like Gaga would even want to be in a category. God makes no mistakes and she is on the right track, baby, born to bring a new kind of empowerment to a new group of people using the same kind of messaging as someone before her.