24
Feb

Addictions are tricky, aren’t they?

Though you know your quality of life would be much better without them, it’s hard to quit. They’re just so much fun. Drugs. Gambling. Video games. The euphoria you get when indulging in something bad for you can easily outweigh the damage done to your body, mind or bank account. And you can’t just have one hit; you keep coming back for more. That desire for the rush becomes stronger and stronger… So what’s my addiction? Hi. My name is Anna, and I love online comment forums.

I used to think that I could stop anytime I wanted, but after a three-hour bender on espn.com the other night, I know I have a problem. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t even bother reading the article anymore, just the comments on it. The subject matter doesn’t matter to me, but if it’s considered in any way controversial, then boom. I’m there. And the higher the comment count, the better. When I see that an article has garnered a couple hundred comments, it’s game on. If it’s cracked a thousand, I actually get giddy. Not that I will necessarily read all thousand comments, but I’ll come close. I’m no quitter.

Why do I love reading comments so much? It fascinates me because behind the anonymity of a screen name, people will say anything. Anything. No one censors him or herself, which means that people are actually saying exactly what they think. How often does that happen in real life? For better or for worse, these comment forums provide a transparent – and sometimes terrifying – glimpse into the minds of Americans all across the country.

But as mentioned, this can be a horrifying experience. The high isn’t always so great. Sometimes it’s not even about what people are saying; it’s just their writing ability that frightens me. Where did some of these people go to school? The other day I was following a thread of comments relating to Albert Pujols and the speculation that come spring 2012, he might be in a Cubs jersey. (Please, God, please!) Of course the conversation was dominated by Cubs and Cards fans. Sidenote: if you think tensions between Israel and Palestine are bad, go to a Cubs game when they’re playing the Cardinals. Seriously.

Needless to say, the back and forth was getting pretty ugly. That’s when I came across a particular comment from a Cards fan. He was calling a Cubs fan an “embycell” for thinking Pujols would ever come to Chicago. He meant imbecile. Wrote embycell. I guess he was spelling it out phonetically? True, I was a tiny bit, or a lot, amused by the remark; the irony was just too good. On the other hand, the dude was already on a computer. Takes two seconds to look up the spelling of pretty much any word in any language on earth. Either he was too lazy to do so, or he didn’t even realize that he was spelling the word wrong. Yikes. At least it was a Cards fan.

Yet most of the time it is the comments themselves that terrify me. Sure, I have my views on religion or politics or Bieber’s new haircut, and sometimes people of an opposing viewpoint will say something that gets me all riled up. That I can handle. However, truly frightening are the people who seemingly are just one more tortured animal away from becoming full-fledged serial killers. Some people are really sick, y’all.

They reveal themselves whenever an article comes out about someone who’s died or some natural disaster that’s occurred in the world. I have no idea where this hostility comes from, but the number of people who either don’t care or think that the victims somehow deserved such a tragedy is startling. I hope I never meet these people. (They’re probably my next-door neighbors.)

That’s the only time I’m ever tempted to actually comment myself. Until now, I haven’t. As Yoda once said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will.” Wise words. Right now I’m on the cusp of the dark side; should I actually start commenting, then it’s intervention time. For the most part, though, I needn’t worry. That’s the other great thing about these forums. I may shake my head and weep for this nation from time to time, but there’s always someone out there who redeems humanity with some intelligence and common sense. For every idiot online, there’s someone smarter and more eloquent who will call out that idiot and put him in his place. It’s awesome.

Like the guy who called my fellow Cubs fan an embycell. The recipient of that remark, and about a dozen other Cubbies, were quick to not only correct him, but also publicly berate him for his supreme failure in trying to ridicule our team and legion of followers. Please, we’re Cubs fans. It’s gonna take a lot more than a poorly spelled insult to break us. One hundred and three years and going strong. Like I said, addictions are fun.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

17
Feb

Ah, children. The future of tomorrow…

Over the last year I’ve been volunteering for this amazing organization that once a month reads to kids in grades kindergarten through fifth. It’s a blast. I’ve met some great people and read some super fun books. Best of all, I’ve been given the opportunity to instill a love of reading into the hearts and minds of our country’s youngest generation. These kids are awesome. They love to laugh and learn. They love to be silly. They also love to lie. A lot.

A big part of the organization’s creed is to get the children involved in storytime. Engage them. Don’t just rattle off pages while the kids stare on dazed and confused. As I always have the kindergarteners, this is an absolute must. Losing a five-year-old’s interest is fatal to the reading experience. So I ask a lot of questions. Who has a dog? Who’s been to the ocean? Who can do a cartwheel? Things like that.

What I started realizing about two volunteer sessions in is that children always have to take it one step further. They don’t just have a dog. They have seventeen. They haven’t just seen the ocean. They’ve gone swimming with sharks. And yes, they can do a cartwheel. It’s a requisite for joining the circus, which they’ve been a part of for a few years now.

At first I’d humor them; after all, they’re just kids. Then I would give them a chance to revise their statement by innocently asking, “Have you really sailed around the world?” Instead of ‘fessing up and saying, “No, but I’d like to someday,” they just smile and nod emphatically. So you can’t spell your own name, but you’ve navigated the Straits of Magellan? Doubt it.

Of course I want to call them out and yell, “You’re lying!” but I can’t. That would be frowned upon. Yet at the very least I’d like to teach them a lesson or two on the finer points of lying properly. First of all, don’t be so obvious about it. You’re going to raise a few eyebrows if you claim you’ve been to the moon. Very few people have and definitely no one under the age of ten. Second, pick and choose your moments. If you tell me in the span of an hour that you’ve traveled to Antarctica, built your own airplane and survived an alien abduction, I’m gonna know something is up.

Lying is something we all do. Adults are just better at it; we’ve had years of experience to hone our skills. Take for instance the job interview. Who doesn’t tweak the truth a tad during this grueling exercise in proving your worth as a human being? Did you take a college class called Zombies in Popular Media because it sounded like fun? Then you had a minor in sociology. Were you in charge of ordering office supplies and employee birthday cakes at your last job? Then you were the Senior Operations Manager. It’s the truth… sort of.

Or try consoling a friend whose unrequited love has finally burst their bubble. We’ve all been there. Most likely the truth is that Mr. or Ms. Perfect just didn’t find your friend attractive/funny/smart, but they didn’t have the heart to say as much because that would be cruel. You can’t say it either because your friend agreed to give you a lift to the airport that weekend and you don’t want to pay for a taxi. So now you two need to “figure out” why he or she was rejected. This poor person who did nothing more than say, “I’m not interested,” is suddenly under intense scrutiny regarding every facet of his or her life. Ipso facto, this person has intimacy issues. Or he’s intimidated by strong, independent women. Or she subconsciously sabotages healthy relationships because of poor self-image. Two hours into the conversation and you’re still trying to pinpoint the exact moment during Mr. Perfect’s childhood that the mommy issues began.

We lie for various reasons. Sometimes we do it to give ourselves a boost. Sometimes someone else needs that boost a bit more. And while we’ve all heard the saying, “Honesty is the best policy,” no one ever mentions how much grief it can cause should you abide by such a policy. Take that saying to heart and you’ll have no job and no friends real fast.

So listen up, kids of America. Take it from someone who knows. Your future’s not gonna be so bright if you keep up with these ridiculous lies. You haven’t actually teleported through time or won an Academy Award. Just not possible. Saying that you’re in talks about an indie film, now that I might believe… See the difference?

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10
Feb

I have a confession to make. I don’t really “get” the theatre.

I blame growing up in the eighties. When I wasn’t watching MTV, I was playing Super Mario Bros. When I wasn’t playing Super Mario Bros., I was reading Sweet Valley Twins. Going to see a play or musical wasn’t on the radar. As a kid the closest I ever got to a stage was watching the high schoolers sing and dance during our school’s annual Octoberfest program, but as they constantly broke character, I was quickly disillusioned by the notion that the theatre could do anything for me. I preferred my make believe to be projected from the television in my living room.

It wasn’t until college that an attempt was made to cultivate a love for the theatre, yet even then it was somewhat forced. To fulfill a gen-ed credit I took a theatre appreciation class and at best tolerated the endless lectures explaining proscenium arches and stage left versus stage right. Not long afterwards I was given the chance to attend a real live musical currently in town. I walked into the theatre that night with serious misgivings, but upon hearing the first verse of “Memory,” I finally forgot that on stage was a grown woman dressed up as a past her prime feline. I was hooked. For the next several years, I went to as many musicals as I could: Cats, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, Chicago, Rent. Being in the same room with people pretending to be nineteenth century French ex-convicts or Prohibition-era murderesses was still a bit strange for me, but I was able to get past it while listening to “On My Own” or watching Bob Fosse’s mesmerizing choreography.

Plays, on the other hand, have continued to be a problem. I realize that thousands of years before anybody ever heard of an AMC theatre or HBO, there was the stage. And I love reading Greek tragedy. I adore Shakespeare. Even Tennessee Williams is pretty cool. Regardless, sitting in a theatre and watching actors act feels odd. So in your face.

During grad school, I had a very dear friend who worked at the South Coast Repertory and would graciously give me tickets to the plays; I saw this as a second chance to finally appreciate this ancient art form. Instead I just kept thinking up hypothetical catastrophes. What if there was an earthquake right now? What if the power went out? What if I ran up on stage and ripped off all my clothes? I was dying for something to happen that would force the actors to break that fourth wall. They weren’t in ancient Troy or Romeo’s Verona. They were in Orange County, California, and hundreds of people were watching them in a darkened theatre. I had a mean compulsion to stand up and shout, “I know you know we’re here!”

And speaking of clothes getting ripped off… The worst is when the characters have to get sexy. Once that happens, forget it. I am totally out of the story. Sure, I probably have some maturity issues to work out, but come on, it’s just weird for an audience to watch people getting it on. Is anybody even paying attention to the play anymore? Because I’m not. I’m just wondering if the actors in question are as uncomfortable as I am.

However, my biggest issue with the theatre is the occasional bad acting. Now I know bad acting abounds in film and television, yet should I encounter it, I simply walk out of the room or turn off the TV. Not so easy in the theatre. Once it becomes obvious that an actor is really, really bad, I experience a kind of discomfort similar to what happens when watching an ice skater fall during her program. But this time there’s no off button. I can’t just change the channel. I have to sit there and endure an endless parade of falls for the next hour and a half.

So… last weekend I attended a friend’s play. Completely in the dark (pun intended) regarding its origin or storyline, I knew only two things: my friend was in it and there was no intermission. This last bit of information concerned me somewhat, but as my friend is a fantastic actor, I figured that watching him perform would hopefully make the time fly by.

Steve didn’t disappoint. He was great. However, I needn’t have worried in the first place. At some point during the performance, maybe a half-hour in, maybe later, I suddenly noticed that I was leaning forward in my seat. I had forgotten about not having an intermission. I had forgotten that we weren’t really in the Bronx. Instead, I was hanging on every word each character said, wondering how this story would end, but at the same time not wanting it to end at all. I loved this play.

I’ve watched hundreds of movies; most of them are not that good. Yet it’s films like It Happened One Night and Raiders of the Lost Ark and This is Spinal Tap that keep me coming back for more. Have I seen hundreds of plays? No. Not even close. Yet for years I’ve been condemning the entire art form based on the few I had seen and not liked. That’s hardly fair. Having had the opportunity to enjoy Savage in Limbo made me realize that as with many other things in life, I simply had made a snap judgment on something of which I knew very little.

Though I wouldn’t have minded a little Mr. Mistoffelees number thrown in. Just to mix it up a bit.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

03
Feb

I like to know what’s going on in the world. As an American citizen, I feel that it’s my civic duty to be informed about the most pertinent issues of the day. The crisis in Egypt. The Australian cyclone. The Dow Jones topping twelve thousand. As such, I keep my homepage set to CNN so that at any given moment I may have access to all the breaking news from around the globe. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the following headline: “Jonathan Knight: I was never in the closet.”

I immediately clicked on the link to get the full story. “‘I have lived my life very openly and have never hidden the fact that I am gay!’ Knight, 42, says in a message posted in the members-only section of the NKOTB blog.” Shocking, isn’t it? Jonathan Knight is forty-two years old.

When did that happen? Must be a typo. If Jonathan Knight is already in his forties, then… *quick math*… I’m kind of old, too.

I swear it was just yesterday that I was singing “Hangin’ Tough” and scribbling “Mrs. Joey McIntyre” on all my notebooks. It’s true. I was a huge New Kids on the Block fan. Though my sister harbored a serious obsession with Duran Duran only a few years prior, my devotion to those boys from Beantown easily put her British fixation to shame. I listened to New Kids every day. I attended their concerts every chance I got. I even dragged my ass out of bed each Saturday morning to watch their cartoons. My collection of NKOTB memorabilia went far beyond mere posters and CDs. Rather my entire bedroom was converted into one very large and disturbing New Kids shrine. I literally had it all: videotapes, t-shirts, pins, stickers, pillows, comforter, shoelaces, baseball cards, comic books… It was nauseating.

But my love for them was pure and true, and I defied anyone who disputed their greatness. I never encountered backlash from peers, but from time to time, tensions would run high in the Keizer household. In fact, a very heated debate once surfaced between my father and I regarding who had the bigger influence on pop music: New Kids or The Beatles. God bless the man for humoring my idiocy as he did. Talks broke down quickly, though, as neither of us would budge from our stance on the matter. Our conversation finally ended with a definitive, “Dad, you just don’t understand!”

Looking back, I don’t understand either. And where are all those treasured artifacts now? I’m guessing a landfill somewhere in the Chicago suburbs. I instantly adored New Kids on the Block, and just as instantly I abandoned them. Such is the loyalty of a preteen girl. Why I loved them as much as I did is a mystery to me, but I know I’m not alone. In the years since, I’ve watched other musical phenomena come and go and sometimes come again. Backstreet Boys. ‘N Sync. Jonas Brothers. Justin Bieber. Truly mind-blowing is that NKOTB and Backstreet Boys will be touring together this summer. Talk about worlds colliding. It begs the question, “What the hell is wrong with teenage girls?” Seriously. They get crazy. And though I’ve called out only the male flavors of the month, the same kind of mania could be applied to Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus. Their fanatical following transcends all nationalities and races. More than once I’ve caught footage of girls from around the world screaming and crying as whatever pop sensation waves to them from a moving car or airport terminal. I cringe upon realizing that (not too) long ago that was me. I still don’t get it. From where does this frenzied infatuation come? Do boys get this amped up over video games and fantasy football?

The sad truth is that with each passing day my childhood retreats further into the hazy past, and I become less likely to ever again recapture that kind of unconditional reverence. Easily now I could be on the receiving end of that damning phrase: “You just don’t understand.” I try, though. I even searched YouTube the other day to see if perhaps by watching some old videos it might reignite that spark of adulation once more.

It didn’t. Though my trip down memory lane wasn’t a complete waste of time. For one, “Games” was hands down the coolest anti-smoking PSA of 1990. (Go to 3:19.) Two, did nobody notice that while Donnie, Danny, Jordan and Joey were all either hitting up the homies or canoodling with the ladies, Jonathan was washing his dog and checking himself out in a mirror? I think he’s even wearing leather pants in the last shot.

Okay, we get it. You’re gay.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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