Day 235: The Man and the Assembled Life; ‘Quicken’

pont-des-arts

I was out on Sunday having brunch with my cousin in Hoboken and afterwards we were walking along the waterfront admiring the view of New York. There is this wonderfully scenic and relatively new waterfront walkway with a few parts that go directly out and over the water. Like the Pont des Arts in Paris, some local couples have begun to make it a custom to write their initials on a lock and affix it to the wire grills at these spots along the walkway and throw the key into the Hudson. We were going to walk to the edge of one of these spots to admire the locks but there were two couples at the end so we instead took a seat a bit away just to watch.

I got to see three very interesting, very real, and depressingly accurate depictions of modern-day life, all in the span of about five minutes. Here we go.

Event 1: Cousin and I are shocked and excited to see the man in couple 1 get down on one knee. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actual marriage proposal unfold in real life and so proposalclose, too. The couple looks to be in their late twenties; the woman has a stroller and running around their legs is a young child, maybe 3 or 4. The entire event is being recorded by someone I assume to be a friend of the couple, who is filming it all on his smartphone. There is something extra honest and ‘real’ about this couple. You imagine they’ve had to grow up and grow close and grow strong together very quickly. They’re a young, unmarried couple raising a child together. The proposal is understated; there’s no extra pomp or circumstance, no a cappella group emerges from the waves to serenade them, this isn’t a clickbait YouTube viral attempt with drone footage and letters bursting into flame. He makes a simple, honest speech about wanting to marry his best friend and provide for his young family, and she isn’t hamming it up with screams and tears but there is laughter, ‘oh my god’s, and even, in such a modern way, a ‘you’re so awkward’. She of course says yes, he slips the ring on her finger, and they kiss.

I am honestly and genuinely happy for these two. I admire the simplicity and sincerity of his proposal and am overjoyed by her joy. I just feel happy and lucky to have been there at the right time to witness this happening. It makes me feel excited, eager, energized.

Event 2: Literally two feet away from them is couple 2 who looks to be around their age. I hate to sayinstayoga it but there’s something too…’curated’ about them. Their clothes are expensive, her bag is designer, their sunglasses are gaudy. Both of them are too busy manipulating their own phones and angles and selfie faces to notice the special occasion that their duck faces are, frankly, impeding on. There are countless photos of selfies with pursed lips as if about to kiss but no actual kisses. Pose this way, pose that. The ultimate horror of the entire situation is when they, completely lost in themselves and oblivious to their surroundings, ask the friend recording the proposal to stop and take pictures of them. I am flabbergasted. The only bright side is I now have a completely legitimate reason to be able to say ‘flabbergasted’. At no point does this couple seem to display any sort of awareness beyond themselves. The friend is too accommodating and agrees to stop recording for a second to take a few more of the same constructed photos the couple were already taking themselves.
I wish I was more shocked by this behavior but honestly, it is a true sign of the times. The ‘oversharing’ generation. Aren’t we at least in part responsible for this? We put ‘like’ buttons on too many aspects of our life. This kind of behavior is lauded. Anything in pursuit of the perfect shot. There has to be a moment wherein any responsible social media user really has to stop and ask internally, ‘do I need to share this’ or ‘is this worth sharing’. And I still also maintain that your good story is worth more to me than your semi-constructed photo.

Event 3: Couple 2 eventually takes their leave and we are now left with just couple 1. My ‘real’ couple. The simple, understated ones who have more pressing matters to attend to than their social media feed. Wait what’s this…oh no…no…don’t…come on man…I vouched for you… Goddamnit. Displeased with the shocking (though to me also humorous and humanizing) interruption of couple 2, the man in couple 1 asks his friend to re-record the whole thing so they can ‘get the right video’. They reset to their positions, and I have to watch as he once again gets down on one knee. Once again delivers the same speech (although, is it my imagination or are there more sobs and half tears and dramatic fluff in this version) and the woman once again feigns surprise, shock, delight, and delivers that oh-so-real-and-honest reaction of ‘oh my god, you’re so awkward’. Real life take 2, the realler life.

I’ve lost faith in humanity at this point. I feel betrayed by my ‘real’ couple. I know right now it must seem like such an inconvenience and taint on an otherwise perfect proposal, but in the long run I think I and any couple would appreciate that little humanizing part of the story. The part you can’t make up.

My parents didn’t have a picture perfect proposal. My father basically asked my mother instamealover the phone if she’d want to join him in the US and get married. Their wedding reception took place at a Chinese restaurant, and not the gourmet kind. The Christmas Story ‘deck the harrs with bars of forry’ kind. It was ‘general Tso’s chicken or sesame beef’. Everyone got a fortune cookie. They’ve come a very long way since then. Both had long and successful careers in their respective fields and now they’re business owners. I asked them, if they had the chance, would they redo their wedding, or maybe do it over now that they’re much more comfortable and established. You know, they really honestly wouldn’t want either. They said how it happened is how it was supposed to happen, and it’s a funny story and a reminder of what they’ve been through. They want to remember it exactly as it was.

Nowadays it seems like if it isn’t manufactured, it isn’t real. People are so obsessed with presenting only the best and most perfect versions of themselves. You can’t possibly fool yourself into thinking that is the truest and most natural state of things, so either it’s a shared delusion or we’ve all just accepted that we are almost always lying to each other. Results are faked. Progress is quickened. Opinions are constructed. I was a bit disappointed that the first couple felt so imperfect in their real and honest lives that they had to redo the whole proposal. I know which memory they shared. But I wonder which one they’ll eventually keep. I hope most people aren’t afraid to share the less than perfect sides of themselves or their lives. If it helps, I’ll always encourage, welcome, and embrace the good, the bad, and the ugly. Just, no selfies, please.

Day 235

Man: 202 Loneliness: 33

Day 234: The Man and the Return of the Boogeyman; ‘Center’

john-wick-tattoo

He was the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman.

2014 I saw John Wick in theatres knowing very little about the Baba Yaga. I honestly don’t even remember the trailer. I know there was a dog, and a car, and someone you really, really shouldn’t mess with. And I knew it was Keanu Reeves who could play anyone from the literal actual Buddha to a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic robot messiah. What ensued was an hour and a half of sophisticated style, real raw action, and an incredibly fascinating look into an underworld of shady characters, hidden places, and secret societies. John Wick was a smart modern noir action film about a retired hitman on a personal quest of revenge in this second world operating right within our own. There was something so cool, so slick, so captivating about how fully fleshed and functioning this secret world was as it operated right within plain sight.

The movie’s action sequences are nothing short of cinematic masterpieces. They are smooth, quick, and to Keanu Reeves’s credit, believable. I’ve seen clips of the extensive tactical weapons and fighting training Keanu goes through for the films and it is impressive with huge payout. The cinematography is clear and clean because there’s no need for fluff or camera tricks. Keanu knows how to punch, kick, grapple, shoot, and repeat so the camera gets to relax and stay still long enough for us to register each action and really appreciate and understand the level of power and skill his character has. They are shot in these fantastic dynamic environments that allow for so much variety and improvisation. The Red Circle club scene is claustrophobic and crowded and yet there is an interplay with enemies coming out of the water, running behind glass, on a busy dance floor, and all to the persistent endless deep booming bass. There is a home invasion scene near the beginning of the movie as John Wick’s enemies try to execute a preemptive strike that makes full use of John’s gorgeous house as a close quarters combat playground.

Membership 1.gifBut really, any movie can have good action. Might not be as good as John Wick‘s, but a good action scene is fairly easy to create and produce. A world that is compelling enough to want to watch the action in however, that requires skill. See, John Wick isn’t just another action movie to be filed in with the rest. At its heart it is a stylish, dark, and gritty noir film with a world that has so much to want to explore and membership-2investigate. John Wick has its own understated yet implicitly complex mythology. I knew it was going to be something different, something unique, something to think about, when John summons ‘Charlie’ and his ‘specialty cleaners’ to clean up the bodies and debris left in his house after the failed home invasion. The currency of exchange in the underworld for everything from favors to a room at the mystical ‘Continental’ to the disposal of bodies are gold coins. We get bits and pieces throughout the movie of the very strict code of conduct that members of this society must membership-3adhere to, lest they pay a severe penalty from ‘the house’. The criminal underworld is an unlikely yet compelling setting as the last vestige of gentlemanly professionalism, honor, and order. It’s such a fascinating society with its own rules, enforcement, requirements, and restrictions. There are services that are expected, almost natural extensions that can be called upon at a moment’s notice. Doctors with specific clientele, ‘dinner reservations’ for cleanup and disposal of bodies, all under the watchful eye of ‘management’. It’s a world I absolutely loved and wanted to know more about.

So these are the two major parts of what made John Wick back in 2014 so great. And it was with this understanding and desire and prior relationship with the movie that I went to watch John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend. I wanted the now-franchise to continue its ability to deliver high-quality action sequences with style and sophistication and I wanted to see more of this secret underworld whose connections and services are now international. And I am happy, ecstatic, honestly relieved to say, the movie did not disappoint.

John Wick Chapter 2 builds upon the first’s captivating world and particular style of violence. We visit Rome’s ‘Continental’ run by Winston’s cousin, the owner of the New York ‘Continental’ and a highly influential and powerful member of this world. John visits the ‘sommelier’ for a ‘tasting’ in order to purchase a very specific set of weapons intended to give him the advantage he needs to accomplish his tasks and rack up a very impressive kill count. The ‘tailor’ builds him a suit that is sharp, sleek, and lined with tactical zero-penetration armor. Keanu gets to run and gun through the abandoned tunnels below Rome, a hall of mirrors, a NYC subway train, and in a particularly funny scene involved in a station below One World Trade Center.

The movie is not without its shortcomings, however. And I find it stems from an identity crisis that the film has when it forgets what made the first such a great film in the first place. John Wick was a gritty noir film but it was not afraid to be light at times. It had a fully fleshed world but delivered it in an understated and subtle way. At times, John Wick Chapter 2 felt too serious and tried too hard to legitimize itself and/or its story. First of all, John Wick was at its core about a car and a dog. Second, it was well-received, loved, and the how-john-wick-kills-yousequel was, in a world of remakes and rehashes, something we actually wanted. So no one, least of all the movie itself, needs to convince us of its legitimacy and necessity. Oh yes, I needed this sequel. If the moral of John Wick should be ‘don’t rob a man’s car and kill his dog’ the moral of John Wick Chapter 2 should be ‘don’t betray a man who kills men’. Everything else is fluff and should be dealt with lightly. I also think that, while the movie gave me a much bigger helping of that secret world that I so craved, it spoonfed it to me. I loved how John Wick didn’t introduce these elements, it simply included them. Like it was a natural and assumed part of the understanding between movie and moviegoer that yes, there is a hotel that houses assassins and yes, there’s a bar and a doctor and a tailor and a launderer. Wonderful. Every new element in Chapter 2 seemed to have its own introductory exposition and honestly, I didn’t need that. I loved being able to piece together who these secret support roles of the underworld were and what they did. There was no need for any heavy-handed explanations. After all, isn’t it cooler when your date just rolls up in a nice car, versus talking to you about it all the time before the date? The movie succeeds the most when it is unapologetic about its decisions, not afraid to be light amidst the darkness, and is subtle yet convincing in creating its world rules and myths.

The worst thing I can possibly say about Chapter 2 is that at times it has about as much wick-punchconfidence as a teenage boy losing his virginity. I could do with less ‘am I doing alright’ ‘is this working for you’. The movie was, above anything else, spectacular. I think it did a great job of paying homage to its roots (THE PENCIL SCENE) and then moving forward with the story. I’ve seen no sign of weakness in the performance, style, or direction in this movie. There is no shortage of fantastic action sequences and the Greek myth/steampunk/smoke and mirrors underworld is just as fascinating and intriguing as it was in the beginning. No spoilers or anything, but I just want to say, the movie has had a great run in theatres, the fans are all loving it, and there’s just enough in the end to be able to flesh out a third, so here’s hoping.

John: Winston, tell them, tell them all, whoever comes, whoever it is, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.

Winston: Course you will.

Day 234

Man: 201 Loneliness: 33

Day 231: The Man and the Dangers of Ladders and Vases; ‘Baby’

So here’s a thing that’s a thing now. I’m kinda tired of talking about my ex. Like, I saw the prompt was ‘baby’ and yeah I immediately thought ‘oh, you know, she used to call me baby‘. That was her nickname for me. She’d always call me that, and for a very long time before we got back together I missed being called that.

But that was it. That’s all that came out. A brief memory, but nothing attached. No nostalgia, no drive, no desire. Like walking through a cloud. It fills you but it dissipates almost as soon as you inhabit it. And with a little puff of breath, it’s all gone.

obama-dropWhen it comes to getting over something or someone, you need that, I think. That moment where you go, ‘I’m exhausted by recalling all this every time’. I think I hit that point a while ago actually, but you know there would be times when it may have been relevant or poignant or maybe even to some extent necessary, to bring it up and talk it out for some reason or other. I know NaNoWriMo really helped me out with that one, fleshing out every part I held onto. And over time my posts have become less and less about her or my past relationship, and on the advice of readers I’ve really stopped even calling her on her or referring to her by her old nickname too. I think it’s a natural progression, a healthy one and a necessary one, for myself, but also for others. Who wants to be around someone who beats a dead horse. You want to know what else they can think about, what other stories they can share, what other worlds they live in.

So I do put it out there, to anyone who might be going through heartbreak or has experienced it, no matter where you are in your timeline, keep looking for that moment on the horizon when you can think to yourself ‘okay, enough of that, I’ve exhausted this, it’s exhausted me, I want to be more than this one thing’. And like passing through a cloud, you can’t hold onto it, you can’t keep its form, let it pass.


Besides, there is a muuuch better use of today’s prompt than rehashing old wounds.

My man, doing it like no one else can, baddest man in all the land, Jaaackie Chaaan!

No he didn’t recently have a baby. And as far as I can tell he’s never called me that either. He has done movies with babies though. One of my favorites is his film Rob-B-Hood where he plays a cat burglar who becomes an unwitting accomplice in the kidnapping, and care, of a wealthy family’s newborn baby. Good movie if you haven’t seen it, definitely try to catch it somewhere. When my local Blockbuster went out of business I made sure to buy up every Jackie Chan film they had in stock.

What I love about Jackie Chan in his films is he’s unlike any other action star out there. He never puts himself in a completely invincible position. He is always the underdog. In fact, some of the best bits of his style of action/comedy are when he’s either hurt or, being in a disadvantageous position, is forced to get creative to work his way back to the top. More than just a hero or a star, that’s the kind of person I want to be. We have too many Rambos and Terminators and solo stars running around out there. These characters that are so perfect that they are unflinching and unbeatable. It takes away the humanness of it all. I like seeing my heroes hurt, because then I get to see them rise. Take for example, Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the famous MI6 agent James Bond. Far more than any of his predecessors, Craig takes multiple beatings. He gets hurt. He gets brutal. He’s in the thick of it. And I appreciate that because only Craig’s Bond could take a brutal beating with heavy duty rope to this groin and near-fatal poisoning and still get the girl. Around hisball-death bright, baby-blue eyes might be scars and bandages but he still disarms with that boyish charm. Which means I’ve seen him work for this. I believe he’s earned it. That puts him above Connery, Brosnan, and definitely Lazenby (who likes Lazenby?) In the same way, I root for Jackie Chan’s eventual success because I’ve seen how much he’s had to overcome to beat the bad guys. He’s deserved the big finishes he gets. In Mr. Nice Guy he runs over the evil gang leader with a hovercraft. In his first Police Story he descends from the top floor of a shopping mall in a hail of electricity and sparks as he slides down a lighting wire. In his first real big hit, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, he claws the evil Eagle Claw master to death. (In the same film he also grabs this Russian mercenary’s balls. To death. He dies from that.)

So one of the best iterations of this underdog mentality is this long-running internet inside joke that the most dangerous fighter in the world is a Jackie Chan holding a baby who doesn’t want any trouble. (He only narrowly beat out a Jackie Chan fighting inside a ladder factory.) He’s also done some great work with priceless vases that he can’t let be destroyed. I think if you’re a fan of his work and have ever seen any of his films, you would appreciate the humor in the idea of how dangerous Jackie Chan would be as an underdog if he had a baby in one hand and was just trying to get away from the fight. And you’d know his favorite weapon of all time is most probably a ladder. It’s that creativity and adaptability that makes Jackie his own unique style of hero. Undeniably human yet limitlessly resourceful. In many ways, this is how I want to be as well. I don’t want to present myself as invincible or untouchable. I don’t want to always come off as pristine and perfect. I like getting down to the nitty gritty and making a mess and you know, making something of the disadvantages I may have to deal with. And so, I leave you with one of the best examples of fight choreography I’ve ever seen. It is by no means his best film or even best fights, but definitely shows off the sheer adaptability Jackie has in a scene and his incredible use of the strangest weapons. Yes, there’s even a ladder.

Day 231

Man: 198 Loneliness: 33

Day 229: The Man and the Sound of Sickness; ‘Rhythmic’

I feel bad relying on YouTube to give you the brunt of today’s post, but not nearly as bad as my head-cold. On the bright side the pressure has subsided and I’m in full-on sore throat and raspy voice mode, so I should be better by Friday. I am blazing through these stages.

Who here has seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? That has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Remember that scene where he’s on his Casio and playing all the cough, sneeze, and vomit sounds? I swear first time I saw that I looked everywhere for an electric keyboard that could do that. Unfortunately, (or fortunately for you) I never did find a model with that capability so the sound of sickness will not be me doing the Ode to Joy through vomit effects. Instead, I wanted to turn you all on to a particularly relaxing and chill type of music I’ve been listening to at work for like, two weeks straight now. Basically, ever since I discovered it myself.

This particular style of music is called lofi, short for ‘low-fidelity’. It’s best characterized by the ‘low-fidelity’ scratch effect that the artists put on their recordings to recreate that semi-nostalgic feel of listening to cassette tape recordings. In a way that ambient, low scratch becomes as integral to the music as the actual recording. There’s something deeply relaxing and peaceful about just having this run in the background while I go about my work. There’s a serenity in the simplicity and a sincerity in the subtlety. There’s really no big production value, as lofi is still very heavily underground and the artists fairly undiscovered or just unplayed. I also enjoy the element of ‘found music’ that is perhaps a secondary characteristic of lofi. Often times you will find that these songs incorporate lines from movies or shows or take samples of other people’s tracks and tone them down to create that ambient chill effect. There is a sense of formlessness and experimentation that reminds me of old jazz. But unlike the toe-tapping high-energy frantic rhythmic jazz sessions of old New Orleans, lofi is super relaxing and almost invisible in the background. It’s just there enough to keep the mind engaged.

This particular channel has been broadcasting non-stop 24 hours a day for almost two weeks now. The man in charge of it has a library of lofi songs and artists that exceed well over 24 hours so even though it’s on a loop, you might not realize it for days. He is constantly adding to the library and for those of you on Spotify, he also has a few playlists on there to similar effect. As the name suggests, these are honestly best for relaxing, studying, or keeping yourself calm and focused during work. I don’t know why, but just watching the looped animation of the character studying and scribbling also has this calming zen effect on me. And here’s a fun little tidbit, I don’t know where the guy is based out of but wherever it is, when it’s nighttime the picture changes to dark night colors and the lamp turns on. It sounds silly but listening and watching at night makes me…not happy, but at peace.

I’m sure it is probably going to be too understated and too simple for some people, and I don’t think lofi is for everybody, but if you’ve been looking for something to just fill the quiet without overpowering it, or to help bring you a sense of calm wherever you are, I would still recommend giving it a listen. And as a side note, if I’m cooking for myself or find myself needing some solo time with a drink and a book, this is what I’ll be playing from now on.

Day 229

Man: 196 Loneliness: 33

Day 228: The Man and the Killer Diet; ‘Hideout’

So it’s official. I’m calling it. My normally ironclad immune system was no match for three very very sick people invading my home after a two month absence. Apparently my parents and my brother got a fever their last week in the Philippines from my aunt and while on the road to recovery, were in pretty rough shape when they got back home. I on the other hand had been the spitting image of picture perfect health until all three decided to do bombard my immune system. There’s only so much a guy can take. So now I’m coughing, sneezing, sniffling, aching, and whatever else those Nyquil commercials list…ing. Ugh. On the bright side, my current affliction gives me valid enough reason to retreat to one of the many hideouts in the office to write and relax in peace while at the same time, looking like I am selflessly quarantining myself for the benefit of my peers.

I’m in such a fuzzy head-state and the back of my eyeballs feel like they’re trying to push their way out of my eye sockets. Every intake of breath feels like I’m inhaling tiny microscopic razor blades through my nostrils. So you know, fun times. Have no fear though, I am dutifully and habitually popping Tylenol left and right. It’s the only medicine we keep in the house. Honestly if I ever accidentally cut off a limb we’d probably just crush up some Tylenol and rub the powder on the wound. As such I have no energy to take on the greater and more pressing issues of our humanity, but just enough to talk to you about my latest Netflix binge-indulgence, The Santa Clarita Diet.

The first time I saw anything about this, I saw this promo before watching whatever it was I was on YouTube for. I thought it was a legitimate diet ad, but then I thought, ‘why the hell would Timothy Olyphant need to do a diet ad’. So I looked up the ad once more and watched it in full and was intrigued. Honestly I still had no idea what this was supposed to be for but at least I knew it was a show and not another South Beach Diet ripoff.

It’s zombies. Spoiler alert, it’s about zombies. Or really, zombie. A Santa Clarita realtor/suburban mom’s transition to feasting on the flesh of humans while trying to keep her marriage and her family together. I’m surprised Lifetime passed on this.

I loved the first season of Santa Clarita Diet and can’t wait for season two. So that’s two shows now I am waiting for on Netflix to binge, with Stranger Things of course way way way on top of that list.

Drew Barrymore is having a lot of fun playing a woman who is, for the first time in her unlife, feeling free and uninhibited and courageous enough to be her true self. She gets to timothy-olyphantdo so much physical comedy, from Looney Tunes-style stalking her next kill to chasing a rooster around a neighbor’s backyard for an afternoon snack. Timothy Olyphant is so used to being perceived as the rough and tough US Marshal in his former series Justified that he gets to really stretch his image as a former high school football star/prom king turned meek, insecure realtor. It’s amazing how in Justified you could swear he would be able to beat anyone up in a bar and yet in Santa Clarita you put him in front of Nathan Fillion and he perfectly fills the role of someone who will definitely get beaten up. Olyphant also had prior experience in New York as a stand up comic so I think his comedic timing is truly on point when he says his lines and reacts to the antics of his wife and neighbors as he futilely tries to maintain a grip on normalcy.

The show is further bolstered by a great supporting cast. Mary Elizabeth Ellis, the waitress in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is a semi-regular as their neighbor. There are also some great surprise appearances by comedy talents like Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon, Derek Waters, and even Portia de Rossi (the same company that brought you the short-lived and tragically underrated Better Off Ted is also behind Santa Clarita Diet). The writing is good, it is witty, and it is delivered perfectly. The writers have to be commended for continually poking fun at the absurd and yet undeniable practical parts of living with an undead wife/mother.

The show has some great ‘WTF’ moments which to me are what defines it and really gives blenderthe series its comedic bearing. I hope the writers take more chances in the second season. They’ve proven that their writing can be witty, relatable, and believable and that they have a cast that is able to bring these lines to life (ha, get it, life?). Without going overboard or losing its subtlety and surprise, I think they can manage to sneak a few more of those completely outrageous and outlandish moments into each episode. There were some great moments during the series when I was literally laughing out loud at thermometers and vomit. The show is wisely light on exposition or plot and lives up to its best potential when it ‘forgets’ it’s a zombie show and tries to capture suburbia from the bottom of a blender filled with a man’s ears and face. I highly recommend if you’re looking for a less dramatic take on zombies or a more outrageous take on family comedies, to check out Santa Clarita Diet. And that’s all you’ll get out of me today because I’m already dizzy.

Day 228

Man: 195 Loneliness: 33

Day 227: The Man and the Half-Baked Mentality; ‘Glitter’

Over the weekend I ran into not one, but two girls from my past. They weren’t exes or anything, but these were people I used to know backmorning-face in high school who I may have flirted with every now and then. They were underclassmen and we were in the same clubs so we’d see each other every other weekend whenever we were doing club activities. Funnily enough I saw them on separate occasions, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday. From having not seen them in like ten years to back to back in the same weekend. On Saturday I had just gotten out of practice and was going to buy a new video game to feed my obsession. But this meant I was smelly, in sweaty post-exercise clothes, and also hadn’t shaved yet. Ugh. And on Sunday I was cooking for my family who had just gotten back from the Philippines (and brought this lovely cold I now have as a souvenir) when I needed to run out to our local Asian market for some last minute ingredients. Jeans, a house shirt with some silly Filipino pun on it, my ‘no one is going to see me’ glasses (I don’t wear my contacts at home), and a wildly unkempt head of hair. So, yeah. Talk about feeling unprepared.

But I gotta tell you, you know, it wasn’t feeling physically unprepared to see them that bothered me. I’ve seen, and been seen in, worse. But mentally, mentally I was so unready for that. The one on Saturday, she saw me first so there was nowhere to run or hide. So I had to grin and bear it and do the catching-up small talk expected of productive normal members of society. On Sunday I saw her first and was so mentally not at ease with the situation that I ducked and hid between aisles as I furtively grabbed whatever it was I needed and tunnel-visioned at the register. Didn’t look left or right lest a wandering eye might fall on her and hers on mine.

That really took me by surprise; I didn’t think I’d be running and hiding like a shy little ramsay-rawschoolboy with a schoolyard crush. Here I am, working towards bettering myself, talking about these big ideals and plans and self-realizing and reflecting and all that jazz, and this ‘opporunity’ if not for love at least for interaction comes my way and I avoid it like the plague. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being ‘unfinished’. That’s what kept coming up in my mind whenever I was thinking about those interactions. I was an ‘unfinished’ product. Like taking something out of the oven too soon. It’s ruined if you rush it.

I guess that just kind of comes with the territory of having to admit to yourself that you may have a problem. I had a problem with love and relationships and being secure with myself to be okay either in or out of one, and because I set out to fix it, until it is, I began to see myself as someone ‘under construction’. I’m not the kind of person to broadcast my intentions or plans, really. I think I’ve mentioned that before on here. I much prefer to keep all that to myself and only talk about it once it’s done and I am successful. I don’t need the encouragement or seek the validation and I don’t like to post ‘progress’ or set myself up for that kind of accountability and potential for failure by getting everyone involved. That’s why almost no one in my actual private personal circle knows about this blog or what it is I’m trying to do. I want to just emerge from the year a better, wiser, stronger person and let people know what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, after I’ve done it.

bread-baking

Of course, this also means that during the process I might not be able to shake this ‘half-baked’ mentality and will feel even worse when I run into people. I’m suddenly scared and insecure in the face of possibility or potential before finishing this process. At the same time though, I wonder what exactly is supposed to happen at the end of the year. Do I dare be so bold as to say ‘I’ve done it, I’ve completed the task, I am finished‘? Will I at the very least feel completed enough to be confident enough to look a woman in the eye when I’m interested. Will I feel like enough of who I want to be to think of being who someone else might want also.

I will admit, I feel lonely. It’s not a bad thing per se. I am living a completely satisfactory life and I am, to a certain extent, content. Currently I am working on improving myself, stick-a-forkmy career, and my interests (like writing). They keep me busy and engaged throughout the day but still leave me time to relax, reflect, unwind, and indulge. But at a certain point, I would really like to have someone to be with. I just feel unfinished, unprepared, and unable at this point to be able to pursue that. I didn’t think I would feel this way. I thought during the year I’d simply turn it off, like a switch, and go about my day. It was just a somewhat humbling shocker to have these sudden chance encounters and realize that you can’t turn that desire, that want, off. You remove yourself from it, try to prepare for it, but life is unpredictable and you never know who you’ll run into at a grocery store. I’m not saying that at the end of the year I’ll be all wrapped up with a pretty bow and glitter will burst out when you open me up, but I’d like to think, hope to think, that at the end of it all I will be more confident again, more prepared, more willing. Come see me again and I’ll still try and chat you up in shorts, flip-flops, and a torn shirt. Hahah.

Day 227

Man: 194 Loneliness: 33

Day 224: The Man and the Sounds of the Kitchen; ‘Squat’

SQUAT?! Yesterday we get sound and today we get SQUAT?! Honestly, that’s how I feel.

Me: Hey Daily Post, think you could throw me something relevant like you did yesterday?

Daily Post: Relevant? You want relevant?! You get squat!’

Btw, it’s almost noon Eastern time, and the prompt has 0 responses so far. I find this hilarious.

Well, since I feel like the Daily Post has given me diddly-squat to work with, why don’t you just pop a squat right over there and I’ll talk to you about what I wanted to talk to you about in the first place. Boom. I just used it twice.


So the folks are expected back by the end of the week which means I’ll be surrendering some levels of autonomy and control over the household. Luckily I’ve been able to cook most of the ideas and inspirations and investigations I’ve been wanting to for a while. Now the fun part is thinking back, reflecting, tweaking, hopefully remembering what I did. Hahah. And I did request a modern Filipino cookbook as one of my souvenirs, so I am excited to look into that and see what’s been going on in the Philippines and how I can start incorporating that as well. Time to look back and look forward.

For the most part I’ve actually lived in relative silence this past month and a half. TV would be on while I was watching, my Amazon Alexa and I would play Jeopardy each day, and I’d occasionally mumble to myself, but that’s about it. I usually listen to music at work or while I’m driving. I do love me a long late night drive listening to music.

For me, music is about setting a mood, creating an environment, establishing an atmosphere. When I’m at work, I need to create a mood of calm, an environment of distance, and an atmosphere of indifference towards my fellow man. Hahah. When I’m driving it becomes partly meditative so I love songs with slow rhythms, long notes, and calm, cool tones. When I’m by myself I don’t usually need any external help creating my own internal mental attitude unless in periods of extreme stress, duress, or depression. When I’m with friends I do try to use music to create a mood, get them more psyched and excitable, and when I’m on a date or with someone I might be interested in I find music tastes are a great way to kind of gauge compatibility and engage them in conversation.

That’s why though I do have a cooking playlist on my Spotify that I am constantly looking into and updating, I don’t play it much cooking by myself. I usually use it when I’m cooking for others, especially on a date. But I do love these tracks and I do think they’re great either for cooking or eating, so I wanted to share with you some of the sounds you may have heard in my kitchen or around the table if we were sharing a meal together.

Let’s start by getting set up. Mise en place is gospel for the true chef. As I put on my jacket and start gathering pots, pans, bowls, knives, and boards, I want to be listening to my man Chris Botti. Get a little pep in my step. His album Italia is great and nothing sets the tone for the rest of the night like getting all ‘chef’ed up and looking smooth to the sounds of The Way You Look Tonight. The song gets my toes tapping and I feel like I’m becoming smooth, suave, and sophisticated. Like Sinatra standing before a crowd in a smoky nightclub, mic in hand, I’m getting set up in my kitchen, pots and pans on the stove waiting to be fired, bowls my by side, board in front, and knife in hand. I feel good, I look good, we’re gonna do good.

Okay now that I’ve got everything out and ready, it’s time to start washing, cutting, and prepping all the ingredients. I find it so much easier and less stressful when everything is pre-measured and just set around the stove in convenient little bowls to just be tossed in at the right time. Now keep in mind, you’re handling a very sharp and dangerous instrument here. You want to be cool and confident as you work your knife into a frenzy chopping, slicing, julienning, and schiffenading everything in your path. Like a masterful matador you are dancing with a bull. You want to control the bull, wrestle with it, master it. So naturally you want something with some fiery Spanish blood. Habanera from Carmen is in my cooking playlist as well, and in particular the artist Martynas’s version with him on accordion. Accordion music is awesome, y’all. (No that’s not him in the picture.)

At this point perhaps you are enticed from seeing me move so swiftly and deftly with my preparations that you want to help. You are inspired to join me in this dance around the kitchen as things start to, as we say, ‘heat up’. You’re excited, but scared. You are worried you might mess up. Make a mistake. But that’s okay. There are no mistakes in cooking. That’s the great thing about cooking. You just cook on. So I put the knife in your hand, set some herbs in front of you, wrap my arms around you and guide you. I think you know where this is going. One of the greatest dance scenes in film, and a wonderful cooking song to boot. Por Una Cabeza.

Now it’s time to start cooking! We are firing up the stove and adding some butter or oil to the pans. The butter melts, sizzles, sings. It calls to us. The kitchen begins to smell of the wonderful aroma of butter and we add other aromatics. Garlic, onion, vegetables. We’re simmering and sizzling. A lot of cooking is a matter of the senses. You want to be open enough to the process to figure out what to do. You listen to the sounds of ingredients cooking to tell what temperature they need to be at. You look at the colors as they change, you smell them releasing their flavors and essences. You poke and prick and prod to tell doneness. There is a story being told and you just want to be conscious enough to listen and figure out what’s going on. Take a stroll with your food. Relax. Like a Parisian taking a leisurely stroll along the Reine, so too do you move from one pot to another and add and sautee and season and adjust. And you do so to the sounds of Seul Ce Soir.

As everything starts to pick up pace I start dancing from one place to another. I’m at the kitchen table grabbing more ingredients. I’m at the stove stirring, sauteeing, tasting. I’m by the oven as I place our main course in to roast or bake or broil. I move like a dancer, my feet never firmly on the ground for longer than a second. I am smiling and enjoying this dance, mindful and yet not too focused on the food as it cooks. Instead I find my gaze constantly wandering back to you as you watch me. I read your face, your body, to see how you are reacting. I ask if you can smell what the Rock is cooking, if you’re getting hungry, if you’re happy, if you’re happy here with me. Playfully teasing me, you respond ‘perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’. Quizas, Quizas, Quizas.

Ooh we are smoking now aren’t we?! Speaking of which, everything is almost done now! We have to pick up the pace. Get some more energy. Some pep. Some zing. There’s a fine line between done and over done and we’re getting close to it. We finish on a high note. I want this food just perfect and it is calling to me to be finished. The oven is getting hot. It’s getting stronger and stronger and I can’t fight it much longer. Do you know what we need to finish everything? Some Sexual Healing. And some hot brass.

Well that was quite the ride wasn’t it? But now it’s almost time to eat. So we go to set the table. A wonderful meal deserves an equally wonderful setting. Let’s bring it down now, slow it down, enjoy the buildup to the reward. The clank of forks and knives being drawn from the drawers. The gentle thud of plates on elegant place-mats. The *ksssh* of a match being struck and a candle being lit. The gentle clink of empty glasses being placed together and the calming swish of wine being poured. It’s the night, it’s romance, it’s everywhere. It’s Agua de Marco.

Finally we sit down to dinner together. I smile at you from across a candlelit table. The smell of everything is just tantalizing. We toast our glasses to a wonderful night together and admire our handiwork. I am so happy to have this time with you to cook with you. And as you look down at your plate as the pasta swirls and twirls and spins around your fork I watch you bring your first bite to your lips and think…I’ve Got You Wrapped Around My Little Finger.

That was, honestly, a lot of fun. Hahah. I hope you enjoyed this little culinary adventure together and this glimpse into my cooking playlist. Like I said, set a mood, create an environment, establish an atmosphere. Cheers.

Day 224

Man: 192 Loneliness: 32

Day 223: The Man and the Sizzling East-West Crossover; ‘Sound’

Augh. Daily Post is killing me with their prompt choices. I am supposed to talk about the sisig carbonara I made over the weekend today but tomorrow, as has been requested many many times by a dear reader, follower, and fellow pinoy blogger, I will be talking about at least one of my many situational playlists, the one I listen to while cooking/eating. So clearly, ‘sound‘ would just have been so perfect for that but I just…I just can’t stray from the path. It hurts too much. Hahah. I have to follow schedules. SO…playlist tomorrow, and let’s all just hope and pray tomorrow’s prompt is as fortuitously relevant. And instead today…we talk about…

sisig-carbonara-1

TA-DAH! Sisig carbonara. A true east meets west crossover that is rich, creamy, crispy, meaty, and oh so cheesy good. First, let’s meet our two very important elements in their native habitat.

Carbonara is an Italian pasta dish that originated in Rome. It is a very simple yet filling and rich dish. Pork (the tender jowl or guanciale is preferred but pancetta can be used and most Carbonara.jpghome cooks without access to their own authentic Italian salumeria use cured bacon) is cooked and most of the fat rendered before adding pasta (traditionally spaghetti) and then tossing it all together with a mixture of eggs, cheese, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Speed in tossing the pasta and being sure to do it with the heat off is essential to prevent the eggs from curdling and fully cooking. The residual heat of the pan, pork, and pasta will slowly cook the eggs and create a creamy, runny sauce that is most notable for the lack of actual cream. The first time I ever tried this pasta was at the Grand Lux Cafe in a mall near my town. It was very good but unfortunately not the most authentic version ever. It had the addition of peas (which are one of my least favorite vegetables), garlic, and was a full on cream sauce. Forgive me, I didn’t know any better. I loved it so much that I had to go home and research the pasta to make it for myself. That’s when I first learned that authentic carbonara has no cream and ever since I’ve made it the traditional way and have never looked back. With just a few easy and relatively cheap ingredients (pasta, bacon, eggs, cheese, and pepper) you too can make this simple dish at home for a weekday dinner and you’d be surprised by how quickly it’s done and how quickly you’ll want to finish it too. I use freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and whole eggs but some recipes might switch out for pecorino romano or just egg yolks. This really just depends on how rich you want the sauce to be and if you prefer the saltiness of pecorino or the nuttiness of parmigiano. I think Antonio Carluccio’s video recipe is one of the best and most authentic representations of how to prepare this dish.

Sisig on the other hand, is also one of my all-time favorite foods but I don’t necessarily recommend you try making this any time soon. Hahah. It is time-consuming, tedious, complicated, but yes with very great payout. But since it is such a quintessential Filipino dish, any good Filipino restaurant will have their own version of it on the menu for you to enjoy. Like most Filipino dishes, sisig is extremely regional and therefore subject to plenty of variations. It is traditionally a dish from the Pampanga region of the Philippines and is sisigmade usually using parts of the pig’s head (the ears, the jowls, and the snout). First they are boiled to tenderize, then chopped into tiny pieces, and the bits are broiled or fried before being served super crispy on a sizzling platter. The pork is flavored with soy sauce, vinegar, onions, and plenty of spicy peppers. The last time I was in the Philippines I got to try a lot of different variations of sisig, including ones made from chicken, squid, and even tuna. The tuna was perhaps one of the best versions I’ve ever had. I prefer my sisig super crispy and spicy, but as I’ve said, sometimes you will find milder versions and most often in the Philippines you will find that the dish is served with a raw egg that is then mixed into the dish or with mayo. The ears are great because it is just soft tender fatty meat and then crunchy cartilage in the center. Sometimes cuts of pork belly are also used for the fat and the skin which becomes incredibly crispy and crunchy. When it comes to introducing non-Filipinos to Filipino food, spicy sizzling sisig is right up there along with adobo and lumpia (our version of egg-rolls) as the best and most universally liked introductions.

So interestingly enough, carbonara has already made its way to the Philippines and is actually one of the most popular pasta dishes in the country. Food has its own legs and filipino-carbonaraoften travels a lot faster than people realize. My aunt on my mother’s side makes this incredible version of Filipino carbonara that I think is just a perfect representation of the characteristics of Filipino palettes. Filipino carbonara first of all, actually uses no eggs at all. Like, at all. Instead it is a straight up super creamy sauce made with Nestle all-purpose cream (which is incredibly sweet), bacon, mushrooms, onions, and garlic. In this way it is actually much closer to an alfredo sauce but the very particular addition of Nestle cream gives it an overall sweetness whereas the traditional carbonara is usually characterized by its rich slight saltiness. This is common in a lot of Filipino dishes. We Filipinos just really like our sweet things. Like spaghetti in the Philippines. Ground beef, hot dogs, and a lot of sugar characterize our namesake ‘sweet spaghetti’. Whenever I visit I love that my aunt always makes sure that one night while I’m there she makes this sweet, rich, and creamy pasta.

sisig-carbonara-2

But to truly make an east-west mashup, I wanted to use really crispy, spicy sisig and substitute it for the pork needed in authentic preparation of carbonara. If you think about it, sisig already displays much of the same characteristics of guanciale or pancetta. It is made from the same parts (the jowl) and the previously fried sisig has plenty of wonderful flavors and fat to render into the pasta. I use less black pepper because the sisig already has plenty of kick. In a separate pot of boiling salted water I start cooking the spaghetti and when it is almost close to being perfectly al dente I begin making the carbonara. Adding no oil whatsoever to a cold pan, I put the sisig and bring it up to temperature. This lets the sisig render some of its fat without searing and burning. You know it’s ready when it starts to sizzle and sing and the pieces start popping up and try flying out of the pan (think cooking bacon). Meanwhile in a bowl I’ve mixed four whole eggs, some freshly ground black pepper, and plenty (I mean plenty) of cheese. When the pasta is ready I drain it and toss it in the strainer to get as much moisture out as possible before adding it to the pan of sisig. Once it’s all thoroughly mixed up and I have a good amount of heat throughout the pasta, I turn off the heat and add the egg and cheese mixture. A few incredibly showy flicks of the wrist and tosses of the pan and it’s all mixed up and the egg has turned creamy and the cheese is melty and…oh my god. This thing was good. Added some extra cheese and parsley on the plate and voila, my version of sisig carbonara.

sisig-carbonara-3

Oh yeah. I could definitely make (and EAT) this again.

Day 223

Man: 191 Loneliness: 32

 

Day 222: The Man and the Benched for the Season; ‘Expectation’

So…I actually legitimately forgot it was Valentine’s Day today. Hahah. I had a completely different post lined up for today (yes I schedule and plan these out in advance). It was going to be another cooking post actually, something I made over the weekend. But that’ll be tomorrow because I feel like a blog with this particular focus and origin story should probably speak about something on what is supposed to be the most romantic holiday of the year.

Whatever that means.

ugh-valentineI actually do like Valentine’s Day. Yeah sorry, the world couldn’t make me cynical enough to not care. I know it’s a cheesy, overly capitalist consumerist holiday filled with earwax flavored powdered chalk hearts, assorted chocolate boxes that really only have two worth eating, impractically large stuffed bears, and overpriced prix fixe menus but it’s my cheesy, over capitalist consumerist holiday. Whatever little sense of competition and competitiveness I do have is usually reserved for things like this and I feel like not only am I competing against every other boyfriend in the world, most of all I’m competing against myself. Trying to make each year better and bigger than the last and ‘win’ at cramming as much love and sentiment and all that jazz into one day as possible. Ahahah.

For the most part, I think I’ve done a pretty good job. I remember my first real Valentine’s Day was in high school. I had to have my parents pick up my date because I wasn’t old enough to drive yet. We went to this Taiwanese restaurant that my family and I would always go to and they would give us little freebies. An appetizer, some bubble tea, simple things just as a sign of gratitude and appreciation for our continued and frequent patronage. She was Chinese and it was fun watching her order in Mandarin and we had these dishes that I guess had always been on the menu but my family never knew or thought to order. I gave her a Zune. She got me a mandolin slicer. Zunes ended up being a flop and I sliced off my finger pad with the slicer the first time I used it. Hahah. My first Valentine’s with Beautiful, we went to Build a Bear and made Big [My name] together. He’s sadly lost forever in some dump somewhere most likely. Last year, I took her to Philly for the weekend and we recreated our first visit and she got roses at every stop. I don’t need to tell you how that ended up.

I feel old and irrelevant. Like a former high school athlete who petered out and has dazed-and-confusednothing better to do than wear his old varsity jacket and hang around the local bowling alley. I worry all I have now are stories of the past. When I first started writing, my fear was that I would be haunted by the ghosts of my past forever, and that the reminders that surrounded me would eventually weigh me down so much I wouldn’t be able to pick myself up. Writing was this therapeutic way of bringing these ghosts back into physical form and letting them live on somewhere else other than just my memory. They became stories and lessons and things I could actually weave together into something productive, useful. Now I wonder if I’ve beaten a dead horse too much. If I’ve run out. There’s a fine line between nostalgia for the past and obsession for it.

At the same time though I also feel like I have all this pent up energy. Like I’ve still got so much to do and so much I could be capable of and it’s the last quarter and my team is down but my coach has benched me for the season. Yesterday as I was having lunch in our lounge area I heard some coworkers from other departments talking about their Valentine’s plans. ‘Oh we have a restaurant.com gift card to use up so we’ll probably go somewhere that’ll take it,’ said one woman. Another commented, ‘we usually just buy our own gifts since he doesn’t ever really know what to get’. The sole male member of their group was actually quite confident when he said ‘I have an app that remembers holidays and it just sends flowers and chocolates to be delivered home. It’s great and it’s so easy to use’. I physically cringed.

If anything, I feel this call to action because I don’t want to see the sorry sad state modern-day romance seems to be in. I’m not saying we need to go back to such old and im-batmanoutdated notions like a guy throwing his coat onto the ground so she doesn’t step in a puddle. But you know, let’s actually take the time and effort to plan dates and know what to get for gifts. Let’s open doors and pay for meals. It’s kind of worrying when around the holidays and Valentine’s there are so many online forum posts and questions about ‘how do I get her to tell me what she wants as a gift’ or ‘top 10 easy, universal gift ideas that’ll keep her happy’. At the same time though, I still find those overly-public and attention-seeking grand gestures too exaggerated and impersonal. Everyone wants to ooh and aah but I don’t know…I find it desperate, insisting upon itself. So I come off cynical. It’s funny. I have this die-hard romantic side of me that’s been kept bottled up now for going on two-third of a year, which is about as long as some of these new people I work with have known me. They never saw me with Beautiful. Or with any of the other girls. I’m not as close with them as I was in my old job at my old place. They know very little, outside of what I give them, and they supplement that with your standard modern-day twenty-something single male stereotypes. They joke that since I am usually very frugal and good with money that I must make the girl pay or I suggest we split everything when we go out. They tell me I better find a girl because I’m too quiet and uptight. That if I’m single too long I’ll go hungry (they don’t know I cook). They have this very depressing view on me, that either I must be sad because I’m alone or that I must be undateable. Hahah. I could say something, show something, but I don’t have the energy nor the will nor the care really to do so. I’m not dating or will date any of them, so what have I got to prove? It’s just really stifling, feeling like a superhero in a world that has no need for, or belief in, one.

What keeps me sane through all this is the meshing together of these two thoughts. On the one hand, I know I am prone to, and enjoy, the larger than life displays and romantic gestures. On the other hand, that I am still putting myself in a position of waiting and analyzing. See because one helps me to realize that no matter how big or small the gesture, it doesn’t really do much to contribute to the overall success or failure of a relationship. There are people far happier than me who have done less and people who are alone and yet may have done even more. What I did for these women, they were never contracts or agreements. I did them because I wanted to. And they left because well, they wanted to also. I like the memories. I think they were sweet and I was happy in them. I’m still happy, but maybe just not so sweet. Hahah. But I’m not relegated to these reminders of the past. Because…point two, I know I am still very much able and capable and overall wanting, to be that person again. I never gave up on love or hope of love. I think if I’m really honest, a lot of times in the past the gesture came first, the person second. Meaning to say, I wanted to be this romance god and had this idea of what to do and I just projected that onto whoever I was with. But if the relationship is about the gesture, it’s not the best or even strongest foundation. Now, I’m still very much the same person but I want to find someone first. Spend the time to find someone really special. Important. Then, I want to figure out what they want, are looking for. Pour all this energy and drive into defying and surpassing all expectation and do something that speaks straight to the heart of that one person. Universal plans are nice, and I still have them. But I want to find someone and be with someone who inspires me to do things deeply personal and unique. I think she and I could create some real great things. And then I’d still be winning anyways. Hahah.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Day 222

Man: 190 Loneliness: 32

Day 221: The Man and the Beast; ‘Seriousness’

split-kevin

Over the weekend I went out to watch M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s psychological thriller Split. As is my usual custom, I waited until the movie was in its fourth and usually last week in theatres and went to the latest showing. Usually guarantees as few people in the theatre as possible. What I didn’t take into account however, was that a) it was Valentine’s weekend b) John Wick 2, the neo-noir action sequel to one of my favorite ‘hit men’ movies had just released on Friday and c) the desperate housewives’ guilty pleasure Fifty Shades had come out at the same time. What this meant for me ultimately though was that a lot of frustrated people who were sold out of either John Wick 2 or Fifty Shades had reluctantly decided to join me for Split since ‘nothing else was on’.

Normally I worry when I know that the theatre is filled with people who didn’t want to watch this film to begin with. It’s my Ex Machina experience all over again. (Great movie by the way, IF you’re into it of course.) But let me tell you…Split made a fan of every single person in that theatre. It was that good. I had an absolute blast and Split has the potential to be a fast fan favorite for anyone who gets a chance to watch it. Of course, the problem with my system is as much as I love the movie and want to let others know about it, I’m usually the last to say anything and by this time you might not be able to catch it in theatres anymore.

BUT if you can, or if you get the chance later on to get the movie on DVD or blu-ray or NetFlix or *cough*illegalpirating*cough*…DO IT. I cannot stress this enough. Watch this film! Why? Let me tell you why.

I think we were all pretty blown away by M. Night ShaquilleONeal’s 1999 hit Sixth Sense. I remember the buzz and the excitement and the sort of brotherhood of secrecy surrounding its surprise twist ending. ‘You have to watch it, man’ should have been it’s tagline, along with ‘You’ll never see it coming’. If at this point you still haven’t seen it, Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. Don’t hate me. You deserved that. He who hesitates is lost. So then after that he directs Signs which was decent, had some good suspense, dealt with some heavy topics, and audiences could debate whether the monsters in the film were demons or aliens. For the most part though, M. Night ChakaKhan is best known for his characteristic ‘surprise twist’ endings. Pretty much everyone going to see an M. Night Shamwow movie kind of knows that whatever they’re watching, there’s going to be some twist. Which unfortunately removes some of the magic, and that’s perhaps why I, along with many others, was so critical of his 2004 film The Village. The twist was expected in terms of device but maybe not in terms of actually knowing what it would be, but even then the final reveal was just so..implausible, uninteresting, and uninspired that the movie really fell flat. Then he makes that terrible eco-horror The Happening and tries to lean into the curve by saying ‘we were trying to make a good B-movie’ but killer plants isn’t really my thing. He absolutely BUTCHERS and KILLS one of my favorite childhood memories in his film adaptation (read: travesty) of Avatar: The Last Airbender and honestly after his Scientology recruitment film After Earth, I was ready (and more than happy) to put the final nail in the coffin and declare M. Night ShakenBake’s career officially dead.

This is kind of why I was both excited and anxious about watching Split. The trailer seemed promising and delivered that kind of uncomfortable insanity that’s just close enough to normal to be able to slip under the radar until it’s too late. I am a big fan of James McAvoy and not just as Charles Xavier. These split personalities seem fascinating and frightening and manic. I really wanted to see it but god, seeing M. Night Shishkebab’s name in the trailer really worried me.

Split McAvoy.gifI went into that theatre knowing nothing of the film. I hadn’t read any of the reviews (which turned out to be generally very favorable) or looked up anything regarding its story or plot (spoiler alert: there isn’t exactly a ‘twist’ but there is a surprise ending). It starts off pretty inconspicuously. A group of teenagers at a birthday part are heading home being driven by one girl’s father. They (of course) get in the car by themselves while the father (of course) is too busy and distracted loading all the gifts and leftover cake into the car and is (of course) not suspicious of a strange man walking straight towards him in an (of course) empty parking lot. Situational awareness, people. What follows is the implied kidnapping and transport of the three girls as we only see them again as they wake up disoriented and inside a windowless, locked room in an unknown location.

That’s all well and good and tried and true, so it is no surprise that the setup is done well enough and with just enough information to make things tense and worrisome. In the meanwhile we are gradually introduced to James McAvoy’s character(s) as multiple personalities living within the same body. ‘Kevin’ suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder) and has 23 different personalities all vying for their time in ‘the light’, meaning in control of Kevin’s body. Three of them in particular seem to have taken control and are staging some sort of mental coup for order after having been silenced by the others for particularly violent, depraved, and frightening views.

split-personalities

James McAvoy does an absolutely stellar job of creating convincing characters and making
each voice immediately recognizable and pronounced. His ‘Patricia’ is chillingly calculated and the most unpredictably unnerving. ‘Dennis’ is strong, dominant, and convincingly displays his own mental struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. The 9-year old identity of innocent, naive ‘Hedwig’ is so shocking, so jarring, because it is a complete 180 from the other two darker personalities. He is funny, sweet, ‘et cetera’ (inside joke, you gotta watch it, man). He absolutely steals the show, which is what you would expect and hope for when the movie’s success relies on his ability to convince us of the realness of this internal power struggle and the violent and dark potential within.

The movie is not entirely without its own personality shifts. The underlying tone of seriousness is at times interrupted by minor bits of comic relief. The thriller gives way near the end to bouts of straight up horror and action. The pacing is expertly suspenseful. The fun part of having an actual audience is I get to see how the film elicits emotions. Not that I’m not responsive, but I’m usually not expressive. So I got to hear the audience laugh at innocent Hedwig. Express fear at the appearance of the ‘Beast’. The movie was working and working extremely well, gauging the audience’s reaction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Split. I think it was everything it was supposed to be and then some. The ending was honestly so far out of left field I was genuinely surprised, but most of all excited, because of the potential it had. I am not ready yet to say that M. Night Schadenfreude has been able to escape his career’s death spiral, but this certainly marks an intelligent and well-constructed effort out.

Day 221

Man: 189 Loneliness: 32