What I learned from the Labyrinth

Labyrinth-poster2Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies.  I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now.  A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days.  While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie-  Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood.  As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it.  She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!”  Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her.   Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.

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I need a portable fan for dramatic entrances.

When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City.    This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.

Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.

When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her.  Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion.  Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.

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The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…

Take nothing for granted.

Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth.  When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.

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How does he tie that tiny scarf?  He’s a worm, he’s got no hands!

Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm.  He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall.   She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.

Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.

The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either.  At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose.   She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction.  Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”

If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.

Life isn’t always fair.

Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother.  When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that  it isn’t fair.  Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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Goblin King Sass!

It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life-  fairness rarely enters into it.  Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.

You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.

When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog.  While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time.  Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all.  Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

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This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it.  Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.

Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.

Your stuff is just stuff.

During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie,  Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing.  She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back.  There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.

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The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back-  after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady.   She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.

This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you.  They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you.  And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk-  the important thing is the people you meet along the way.

Love can be a subtle control.

In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship.  Gaslighting, in a nutshell:   “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others-  you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad.  The things you love can control you.  Pretty things are often bad for you.

The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing  Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie:  “You have no power over me.”

What lessons did you learn from Labyrinth?

Dinosaur World, Florida

On the way back from a thing in Tampa in April of 2017, I had the chance to stop in at Dinosaur World in Plant City.   I’ve been meaning to write about it since then, and I am just now getting around to it.  (I know it’s been more than a year.  Shut up, I’ve been busy!)

This wonderful and adorable little attraction is just off exit 17 of I-4, a little bit east of Tampa.  I thought it was one of a kind, but I have learned that there are three of these parks, all owned and operated by the same family.  The park is filled with life sized dino sculptures by a man named Christer Svensson.  (I keep wanting to call him Christopher, but the oph is truly silent.)

The park itself is not terribly expensive, and it won’t take up more than a few hours of your day.  Even from the highway and parking lot, the dinosaurs are visible.

This next picture was actually taken inside the restroom.  I was super entertained that they even themed the bathrooms.

Wherever there are dinosaur sculptures, there are also educational signs explaining what you’re looking at.

::cute the Jurassic Park theme music::

Some of the dino sculptures are just freaking adorable.  There’s a mom-sized one to the left of this little fellow.

The walkways throughout the park are very nicely maintained, and there’s lots of shade.  It’s actually a very pleasant place to stop if you’ve been on the road for a while.

As with nature documentaries, however, there are occasional horror shows.

The T-Rex walk was one of my favorite bits, of course.  It reminded me of that bit in Futurama

There are also numerous photo opportunities throughout the park, which led to one of my favorite recent photos of me.

The sculptures are foam covered in fiberglass and then painted.  A few of them needed touch-ups to their paint but for the most part, the dinos were very well cared for.

There were lots of little showcases throughout the park of dino family groupings.

I particularly liked this one, because a) stegosaurus has long been one of my favorites, and b) it’s so cute when they stand up to get the tall leaves.

There was also a mastodon section, set away from the dinosaurs because chronology.

There was also a set of play areas for children, including a fossil dig and a boneyard that little dino-fans can climb through.  I think there was a picnic styled area where you could bring a lunch, but I’m not positive about that.

Near the main entrance, there’s a smallish indoor exhibit with a few animatronics.  None of the outdoor dinos moved on their own, but this group did.  It just made me miss Universe of Energy more.

Have you ever been to Dinosaur World?

Two They Might Be Giants Shows, Twenty Years Apart

I went downtown to see They Might Be Giants this week.  The show was at a venue called The Beacham, which is a large and venerable concert space right on Orange Avenue.

TMBG did a rollicking two-set show, where they served as their own opening act.  They made jokes about Clippy the paperclip and Phil Collins, and kept their audience thoroughly entertained while doing a combination of their classic hits and their new stuff.

While I was listening to “Whistling In The Dark,” I was thinking about the last time I saw this band- twenty years ago, at another show in Orlando.  They Might Be Giants played at the Embassy Music Hall in 1998.

When I lived in Orlando twenty years ago, the Embassy Music Hall was part of my regular rotation of clubs to go dancing; they had a Wednesday night (as far as I can recall) with lots of 80s and new wave music. I have loads of great memories of dancing there with friends.

The Embassy was a nondescript looking place, situated on the side of a big shopping plaza off Lee Road.  It was kind of nondescript, even when it was open.  This picture is long after the Embassy closed, but it didn’t look much different than this:

The Embassy had a regular rotation of amazing concerts.  While I was looking up details about the club for this post, I found information about shows by Love and Rockets, KMFDM, Green Day, Primus, The Damned, Collective Soul, The Lemonheads, Snoop Dogg, Marilyn Manson, Anthrax, and Iron Maiden, all from the late 1990s.  I got to see TMBG there in ’98, and I also saw Project Pitchfork and Front 242 there.   The Embassy Music Hall was awesome.

Sometime in 1999, Embassy shut its doors and was re-imagined as a sort of after-hours raver club called Cyberzone.  Cyberzone had problems right away, including multiple drug arrests and the deaths of two people.  I never went during the Cyberzone era, and the club closed in early 2001.

I hadn’t heard much about the place in a really long time, so while I was getting ready to see They Might Be Giants for the first time in two decades, I checked in on the old place with some Google Map action.

It’s a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Grocery now.

Yup, that sounds about right*.

*There’s a song on TMBG’s 1992 album Flood called “Minimum Wage.”  It uses a whip-crack to hilarious effect.   Seems about right.

What happened to your favorite places from years ago?

So long, 2017. Hello, 2018!

My friend Jade posted her year in review  a few days ago, and it made me realize that my year has actually been quite a bit less busy than some of my previous years.    Some things haven’t changed at all-  things are still great with Amelie, and nothing major has changed for either my family or hers.

I only had two major life changes this year-  We moved to Orlando in May, and I spent the last two months of the year completely unemployed and job hunting like a fiend.  I should have a job starting on 08 January, assuming nothing goes wrong with the paperwork, so I’m looking forward to that.

I don’t do “resolutions” any more, because they fall through way too quickly, but I will give myself a list of suggested “goals” based on the areas that I feel like I was a little bit stagnant this year.

I wrote 21 blog posts in 2017, not counting this one.  If not for my travel posts, it would have been far fewer.    Goal for 2018: Write more.  Even if it’s only one post a week, that’d be better than this year.

I read fourteen books in 2017.  Goal for 2018:  I plan on doing a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to drastically increase that number.  I’m thinking 52 books is a good goal-  one a week.

We only took two trips out of Florida this year- Los Angeles in June, and New York City in July.  I can’t do much on this one for a little while, because first I need a regular paycheck and the accrual of vacation days.  I’d like to travel some more, but time and money are at a premium.   Goal for 2018:  At the very least, we should do some little trips around here on weekends.  For example, I’ve never been to Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.  These are all places that I’d like to see, and that don’t require an overnight stay somewhere.

The one area where I feel like we did a lot in 2017 was concerts and show attendance.  During this calendar year, we saw all of the following:   Cabaret, Alan Cumming, The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring Ramin Djawadi, The Flaming Lips, Panic! At the Disco, Neil Diamond, Bastille, The Head and the Heart, The Birthday Massacre, Bob’s Burgers Live In Concert, Queen with Adam Lambert, Kinky Boots, Green Day, Arcade Fire, An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Love Never Dies, La Nouba, and The Blue Man Group.   Goal for 2018:   Change my concert-going methodology to be more about quality than quantity.  Last year, we grabbed a bunch of show tickets that we didn’t end up using because the event came up and we realized we just didn’t care enough to deal with the crowds-  concerts should be a delight and a treat, not a chore to get through.  I forgot that at some point.

I was crappy at going to the gym this year.  I was strong early in the year, but then we came to Orlando, and I never wanted to leave the apartment.  My parking space is on the sixth floor of the parking structure, and leaving the apartment means I have to loop down all six levels.  It takes a minimum of five minutes just to go from my parking space to the street, and I hate it!  Goal for 2018:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.   I’ll be moving to a new apartment in May, so I’ll keep the parking lot nuisance in mind as I search for the next place.

I also slept really poorly in 2017.   I have lost all sense of what day it is, or what time it is.  My apartment has poor sound insulation, so every emergency vehicle, every small-dicked jackhole with more engine noise than brains, every drunken sidewalk fight-  they all keep me awake.  Goal for 2018:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.  If I do well with the exercise goal, that will help with the sleep goal.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier overall, and I’m better than I used to be.  However, I am terrible about cookies.  If they’re in my house, they’re in my mouth.  The leftover Halloween candy was especially bad-  I ultimately had to put it in a sealed box on a high shelf in the closet, because I would just grab a handful any time I walked past the bowl on the counter.  It’s too easy to snack.  Even worse,   I’ve noticed a definite trend between my sweet tooth and my mood.  It turns out this is not just me- there were lots of articles this year about how there is a link between sugar and depression in men.  This tracks from my own experience- if I have a lot of sugary stuff, such as cookies or candy, then I feel terrible later.  Emotionally, too, not just physically.  Goal for 2018:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!  I’ve started this already by simply not purchasing them in large amounts.  I try to keep them out of my kitchen, so the temptation isn’t there.

While this isn’t a goal as such, I need to spend more time on my friends.  I have more friends in Orlando than I had in South Florida, but we never see each other because most of them are incredibly busy.  Friendships need to be fed!   Some of my Orlando friends haven’t even met Amelie because the busyness has taken hold.   This shall not stand!

That’s all of the things that I can think of for a general recap of 2017.   I wish all of you a happy and healthy new year.  And, because this joke never, ever gets old for me, I’ll see you next year!

Do you want to change anything in the new year?  What goals have you set for yourself to do so?

Damn it, Idris!

Editor’s note:  The text of this post was written a few days ago, and at that time I was still furiously job hunting.  I was planning on fleshing this out with a few more humorous references to ways in which Idris Elba makes me feel inadequate before posting it.  Earlier today, however, I received the wonderful news that I finally have a job offer.  Suck it, Idris!  Rather than rewriting the whole thing, I’m just going to post the most recent draft below this line, because it’s just funnier that way.


I am now the same age as Batman, Electra, Black Adam, Heimdall, Judge Dredd, Lex Luthor, Cyborg, Captain Cold, and the Tick.

Or, to put it another way, Ben Afleck, Jennifer Garner, Idris Elba, Dwayne “The Rock Johnson,” Karl Urban, Michael Rosenbaum, Khary Payton, Wentworth Miller, and Peter Serafinowicz were all born in 1972, just like me.

Britney Spears, Nelly Furtado, Lucy Liu, Maria Callas, Stone Phillips, Ray Walston, and Gianni Versace all share my birthday, but from different years.

This is me, at 45.  The one on the left, obviously.  The one on the right is Idris Elba, also 45.

 

Idris Elba is three months older than me. Every time I see him on a screen, I feel inadequate.

As I start my 45th year, I am unemployed.  My last gig was a contract which ended on the 31st of October, because the  project was nearing completion.  The following five weeks marks the longest period of unemployment I’ve had since I was in high school, not counting those times that I was a full time student.   It’s a strange sensation.

Idris Elba, on the other hand, has more work than he can handle.  He’s not just a stage and film and television actor- that handsome son of a gun is also a DJ and music producer.  I honestly didn’t know this until I started researching him for this post, but Idris Elba has released music under the names DJ Big Driis, Big Driis the Londoner, and 7 Dub.  He DJ’d an NBA All Star Party at the Venetian in Las Vegas in 2007.  He’s featured on a Macklemore and Ryan Lewis album!  Damn it, Idris, we get it!  You’re a triple-threat.

I spent nearly fifteen years at my last company, and I enjoyed the comfort that seniority provided.  I knew my company inside and out, and I knew the people around me incredibly well.  The last time I stared with a new employer, I was in my twenties.  Joining a new company at the bottom rung in an industry flooded by newer college graduates with mad skills makes me feel kind of like this:

Job hunting is exhausting and stressful.    I know that I have a lot to offer potential employers, but I’ve never been good at selling myself.   At times, waves of doubt and low self esteem hit me.

Still, I keep at it. I apply to a minimum of five positions a week, and I do more if there are good postings that week. I’ve been averaging one or two interviews a week, but with no job offers so far.

I think that smug bastard Idris Elba*, in the same position, would already have several job offers.  And a magazine cover.  And possibly a hit single.

I wonder how one applies to be the defender of the Bifrost.


*I have no actual knowledge that Idris Elba is a smug bastard.  From every indication, he’s actually a genuinely nice guy who is entirely unaware of how inferior he makes the rest of us feel.