That’s a wrap, 2018!

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Photo by ViTalko on Pexels.com

As the year winds down to a close, I wanted to look back at last year’s wrap-up post in which I set some goals for 2018.  I realized a few years back that I need to set goals, and not resolutions.  Resolutions get dumped after thirty days like a CBS All-Access trial, but goals tend to stick more because I get annoyed with myself when I fail.

How did I do on last year’s goals?  Let’s find out.

My goal from last year: Write more.
How I actually did:  Just terrible.  I managed all of five posts in twelve months, not including this one.   I need to do better.  I even fell behind on travel posts in 2018.  I still haven’t written about most of my trips from this year.

My goal from last year: Traveling more.  At the very least, I wanted to see local places I haven’t seen like Bok Tower Gardens, the Citrus Tower, or the Orlando Cat Cafe.
How I actually did:  I failed to see any of the places around Central Florida that I listed above, but I did see Boston and Hartford for the first time, and Washington DC for the third-ish time.  I had some in-state travel, including a family wedding in Naples and visits to friends in Sarasota, Tampa, and South Florida.  I also took a longish trip back to Germany and Austria near the end of the summer, including a quick detour to a city I had never seen before.

I went out of state a total of four times this year, so I’m calling this a definite win.  Now I just need to post blog entries about all of the trips!

My goal from last year: Reading more. I set a Goodreads Challenge in 2018 to try to read at least 52 books-  one a week.
How I actually did:  Success!  Sort of.  About two thirds of the way through the year, I realized I was going to fall horribly short, so I changed my goal from 52 to 24.  Instead of one a week, I shot for two a month.   And I hit the middle-  a total of 34 books read this year.    It’s more than double the number I read in 2017, so I’m counting this as a win despite my dodgy adjustment of the goal.

My goal from last year:   Change my concert-going selections to be more about quality than quantity.
How I actually did:  Well, this has just been the longest year ever.  Looking back at my ticket stubs, I am astonished to realize that some of these were this year when I thought they were actually last year.

In 2018, I saw Book of Love, They Might Be Giants, Vice President Joe Biden, Randy Rainbow, Erasure, Owl City, 4U: A Symphonic Celebration of Prince, VNV Nation, and Mannheim Steamroller.  Five of those I had seen before and enjoyed enough to repeat.

On the musicals front, I saw the 30th anniversary celebration of Rent, a Central Florida local production of Xanadu, and the Washington DC preview of Beetlejuice: The Musical.   All of these were really great.

All in all, this was a slower year for concerts but I definitely boosted the quality, mostly.  I say mostly, because Mannheim Steamroller was kind of disappointing- Chip Davis doesn’t tour with the group any more, and the whole thing just kind of felt like a  Mannheim Steamroller cover band made up of indentured slave musicians.  There was no interaction with the audience, and no joy on the stage.

Beetlejuice: The Musical made up for that by being amazing and I’m considering trying to see it again after it opens on Broadway in late March.

My goal from last year:   Work out more regularly.  More time on the treadmill, especially.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I am terrible at getting to the gym!   It’s much easier to get to the gym from my new apartment than it was from the old one, but it’s also much easier to justify just sitting on the couch with the remote control and a bowl of Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream.

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My goal from last year:  Get better sleep.  Turn off the screens a little earlier each night.
How I actually did:  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  My sleep is… not good.  According to the sleep tracking that I get from my FitBit,  I usually get somewhere between six and seven hours of sleep per night, and the quality of that sleep is just so-so.   Getting more than eight hours of restful sleep is really uncommon for me.  I know many of the reasons for my poor sleep, and I’m trying to fix them.

My goal from last year:  Eat fewer cookies and less sweets in general!
How I actually did: My results on this one are mixed.  I do keep fewer sweets in the house, and I’ve been eating better overall, but I could still improve this.   Right after I eat this chocolate chip cookie dough.

To sum up,  I did terribly on meeting my 2018 goals.   For 2019, my goals are more or less the same as they were last year, with a few simplifications, and a few significant additions.

The 2019 Goals-

Be healthier:  Eat better, sleep more, and get some damn exercise.  This isn’t complicated, I just have to pay attention to it and put in the effort.

Travel more:  I’ve decided on a try to make at least three out of state trips and at least one International trip for the year.  If I can do more, that’s awesome.

Feed my inner introvert:  Spend more time with books and less with little screens, whether they be my phone or my television.  And, contradicting the little screens rule, write more in this blog.  I used to be so prolific, and it’s been nearly dead for a while.

…but also see friends more often.   I also mentioned in my year end recap last year that I wasn’t very good at feeding my friendships, and I’ve tried to improve that this year.  This is actually a pretty big deal, because I work from home and I can easily go for four or five days at a stretch without leaving the apartment.  I did well, though- I definitely spent more time around other people this year.  I even made a lot of new friends, and I’ve kept a regular social schedule that gets me out of the house at least a couple of times a week.

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Listen to more music,  live or otherwise:  I figured out a long time ago that if I don’t listen to music, I get cranky.  It changes my mood, it lowers my stress, and it’s as vital to me as breathing.    I hadn’t been able to listen to music as much as I like to for a variety of unimportant reasons.

To fix this, I went out a few weeks ago and bought myself a new sound system for my apartment.  The new speaker integrates with streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, and it’s the best purchase I’ve made literally all year.  I even figured out how to stream Antenne Bayern to it, which is wonderful because it’s better than any local radio.  (Sorry, WOMX, I’ll always cherish my time with you guys but German radio is just better.)

Let go of rage.  Here’s something that most people who know me will probably be surprised by-  I am full of anger.   I am Steven’s livid inner monologue.

I have been carrying more stress and anger this past year than any in recent memory.    Carrying this stress, resentment, and bile into the new year would be the least healthy thing I could possibly do.   I am trying to follow the sage words of Elsa, to just let the damn thing go.   I am trying to forgive and mellow, to chillax and be more zen.  It ain’t easy, but I’m trying to let go of rage and negativity in the new year.

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I am trying to incorporate three things into the way I react to stress and conflict:

  1. The Polish phrase, “Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy.”  Translated to English, it means “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”  I’ve been trying to stop myself from butting into other people’s stuff. My tendency is to try to correct people’s errors.  In short, I have become a buttinski.  I can’t even begin to quantify how often I start to write a comment on social media, then pull back because I realize there’s nothing to be gained by injecting myself into the conversation.  Not my circus…
  2. You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.  During my last relationship,  I changed a great deal of who I am in order to better suit my partner. While she never explicitly asked me to do this, I noticed pretty quickly that she was happier when I behaved in certain ways. Subconsciously, I started to act differently in order to feed the relationship.  It started small, but it built up to massive changes in me over time.  It was subtle, and I didn’t notice myself changing at first.  By the end of the relationship, I barely recognized myself.  Changing who you are to make another person happy is incredibly unhealthy, and I hate how long it took me to recognize what was happening.
  3. Not everything needs to be fixed.  I scraped up my car a while back in the parking garage of my old apartment-  the right rear quarter panel is bent and is starting to rust.  I spent months thinking that I either needed to fix it or replace the car.   Because of crappy design decisions by Mazda, the estimate for repairing this one tiny blemish is more than half the remaining loan on the car.   The damage doesn’t affect how the car runs and it doesn’t make it any less functional.  Once I realized that the car is perfectly fine, I let go of the notion that I need to fix or replace it, and that obsession stopped spinning out in my mind.

A lot of the things that have caused me stress and anger this year are things that I have brought on myself.   While I need to accept that some of my stressors must be endured, I realize now that I can cut many of them loose.

You’re allowed to take back a little of your own time, and a new year is a great time to take stock of your life and make those changes for the better.

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 have any goals for 2019?

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?