Saturday, August 09, 2014

#1 Songs on My Birthday: 1987-1996

Continuing this series after a week break, I'm just cribbing this explanation straight from Roger: "I have links only to the middle tune, the song of my birthday. You can go to the website and hear the other contenders. If I’ve heard it before, I won’t play it again. If I’ve never heard of it, I’ll play it once. But I won’t listen to the adjacent tunes. My goal: am I happy with THAT choice to celebrate my birthday? Or (as will be the case in the latter stages of the game), I have no idea?" Good distillation. (Roger's posts have better music, though; check out the latest, which goes through the sixties.

Here's my next decade of life:

6/27/87 Whitney Houston "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"
7/11/87 Heart "Alone"
8/1/87 Bob Seger "Shakedown"

No contest here: "Alone" is one of my favorite songs to this day, and I hate the Whitney Houston song. "Alone" is that kind of semi-operatic arena ballad cheesy stuff that I love, much to the annoyance of most people I know. The Bob Seger song was from Beverly Hills Cop II, I think, right?

7/2/88 Michael Jackson "Dirty Diana"
7/9/88 Cheap Trick "The Flame"
7/23/88 Richard Marx "Hold On to the Nights"

I'm not really a fan of any of these songs. I had completely forgotten the Cheap Trick song until now, but it's all come flooding back. Not the best year of my life, 1988, so none of these really bring back any good memories.

7/8/89 Fine Young Cannibals "Good Thing"
7/15/89 Simply Red "If You Don't Know Me By Now"
7/22/89 Martika "Toy Soldiers"

Well... here we are again, Simply Red. Just like in 1986, you're here with a depressing song that was seemingly played for years and years in time for my birthday. It's easily the best of the three, though I prefer the original 1972 version by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. I remember not dancing with anybody to this song at a junior high dance. I hate the FYC song (all of their songs, actually), and the Martika song is even more depressing, though I remember being briefly excited about Martika's singing career because I had been a big fan of Kids, Incorporated as a young'un.

6/16/90 Roxette "It Must Have Been Love"
6/30/90 New Kids on the Block "Step by Step"
7/21/90 Glenn Medeiros & Bobby Brown "She Ain't Worth It"

*sigh* Goddammit. I'm surprised the Roxette song wasn't number one longer; it seemed like you couldn't go a day without hearing it in the summer of 1990. (To be fair, the Pretty Woman soundtrack was kind of great. Terrible movie, but everyone had that soundtrack.) My cousin Brandi was one of those girls who was into the New Kids to a hugely embarrassing degree, and for far longer than a lot of fans were. Gosh, they were so big with girls of my generation. They had a damn comic book. From Marvel Comics! I don't remember this song at all, and I'm listening to it right now and it is horrible. We are firmly into my Dark Age period, where I wasn't into the current pop culture very much and didn't pay attention to it. Mostly it was because I was horribly depressed for years. But even now, hearing a lot of music from the whole 1988 through 1998 time period, I don't feel like I missed out.

I don't know the Bobby Brown song off the top of my head, so I have to pick the Roxette song here.

6/8/91 Extreme "More Than Words"
6/15/91 Paula Abdul "Rush, Rush"
7/20/91 EMF "Unbelievable"

I remember this song pretty well; my Mom loved it. It had that video with Keanu Reeves which is an extended homage to Rebel Without a Cause. Paula Abdul was a big deal. It's not a bad song (the violin is very pretty), but in this case I'd go with the Extreme song. It's silly, and it's about coaxing a girl to give you a blowie "for love," but it was so omnipresent that to this day I somehow still know all the words without even listening to it, so it kind of defines that year for me. I despise the EMF song with every fiber of my being. I was surprised to find out it was only number one for a week, given how everywhere that thing was. It was displaced by Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It for You)" from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, the monster hit of the summer (from what may still be the most sloppily-made movie I've ever seen), until that one fell away from number one in September, where it was replaced by another Paula Abdul song. Circle of Abdul.

6/20/92 Mariah Carey "I'll Be There (Live, Unplugged)"
7/4/92 Sir Mix-a-Lot "Baby Got Back"
8/8/92 Madonna "This Used to Be My Playground"

Okay, yeah, I love this song. I did at the time, too. What can I say? It's that kind of Mad punk unapologetic silliness that I always find delightful. Sadly, it's bred lots of college morons who think knowing any of the words makes them hilarious. (Every year out here in college town, someone's blasting that shit like they're the first person who ever has.) I don't care for the other two. No one sang "I'll Be There" like Michael Jackson did, anyway. 26-34-26? Only if she's 5'3".

5/15/93 Janet Jackson "That's the Way Love Goes"
7/10/93 SWV "Weak"
7/24/93 UB40 "Can't Help Falling in Love"

I don't remember this song at all. I barely remember the group. It sounds very much of its time; that kind of New Jack swing era R&B soul ballad revival period. But it's pleasant and sounds enough like old school soul that I like it. I don't mind this at all, especially when compared to the UB40 song (number one until mid-September!), which was an everlasting annoyance that summer. I remember the Janet Jackson song (look how long that was number one), but I can't recall how it sounds.

4/9/94 R. Kelly "Bump 'n' Grind"
5/21/94 All-4-One "I Swear"
8/6/94 Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories "Stay"

Look at that; this one was number one for over two months! Almost the entire summer. Respect. That's a year-defining monster hit. This was the summer I worked at Target, my first regular job, and I heard it a lot on the piped-in music. It's not bad, actually, I just got really tired of it. I don't think I know the R. Kelly song. I prefer the Lisa Loeb one to "I Swear," but I don't mind this one being my birthday song. It's a function of time that many of the things you found unworthy of your time when you were younger often become nostalgic 20 years later. And wow, I just realized this was the number one song when I graduated from high school.

I kind of miss sax solos.

6/3/95 Bryan Adams "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"
7/8/95 TLC "Waterfalls"
8/26/95 Seal "Kiss from a Rose"

I don't like this song at all. I never really got the excitement over TLC. I despise the Bryan Adams song; that one used to send me diving for the tuner to change the station. "Kiss from a Rose" is one of the greatest songs in the history of all time and space. To this day, I will crank up the volume on that one and just groove with it. One of my favorite memories, which has really stuck with me all of these years, is of heading off to work one morning at Barnes & Noble. For a while, I worked around 6:00 in the morning, so I'd be heading out ahead of a lot of the commuter traffic. That was a dark winter morning; the sun wasn't up yet and there was a fresh blanket of snow that hadn't been disturbed yet. I turned on the car and hit the radio just as "Kiss from a Rose" was coming on, and it was just so perfect; the dark, the snow, that song... that started the day the right way. It's the little moments that keep me alive.

5/18/96 Bone Thugs-N-Harmony "Tha Crossroads"
7/13/96 2Pac featuring K-Ci & JoJo "How Do U Want It"
7/27/96 Toni Braxton "You're Makin' Me High"

I definitely had other things on my mind this year; I don't know any of these songs at all. I don't know if this is the first time I'm hearing this song or not, but I'm really digging it. This is a nice one to end this installment on.

More #1 songs next week!

Friday, August 08, 2014

Marvels: Strange Tales #116

"In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!" by Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & George Roussos
(January 1964)

When we last saw the Puppet Master, he was fleeing from a giant octopus in a submarine. This issue spends a couple of pages showing his escape, before turning to his new plan to take on the Fantastic Four: divide and conquer. He knows that his stepdaughter, Alicia Masters, is in love with Ben Grimm, so he uses his puppets to send Johnny Storm to hit on the girl. She's confused and tries to brush him off, but Ben enters and the two fight. Their tensions have been simmering long enough that Ben barely needs the extra push.

Most of this story's time is spent just watching the two battle their way across town to Idlewild Airport. Alicia, having figured out that her stepfather is behind this, takes a cab to their location and, at her direction, Johnny burns the puppets and the Puppet Master's control is broken. The Puppet Master flees the scene, but the day is more or less saved.

It has potential, but it's pretty much filler. Entertaining filler, but inessential.

Stray observations:

:: Are we still clear on how the Puppet Master's powers work? Originally it was explained that he had found some radioactive clay, and when he made puppets in the likeness of others, that clay would allow him to control them. Here, he makes the puppets, puts them to his head, and establishes mental control. So, is the power from the clay itself, or from Puppet Master's mind? Because if it comes from the clay, just take the clay and lock it up somewhere, problem solved. It seems more like it's some kind of mutant power. The whole thing doesn't make much sense to me, honestly.

:: During their fight, Human Torch uses his flame to cut a gigantic wrecking ball in half, like a knife through an apple. Also, does Stan Lee think that Johnny loses physical integrity when he's in his flaming form, or is he just overworked? In this story, Johnny gets sucked into a jet's engine and harmlessly floats out through its exhaust. Wha?

:: I don't think George Roussos is the right inker for Dick Ayers' pencils. The Thing is very dark and ugly in this issue.

"Return to the Nightmare World!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

I've wanted to see more of the Nightmare World since we first ventured there in Dr. Strange's debut in Strange Tales #110. This story does not disappoint.

The way Steve Ditko visualizes the Nightmare World and the strange physics that govern it is wonderfully weird. There's nothing else like this in the Marvel Universe, really. (I do love that, as grounded in reality as Marvel Comics have been so far, it still has room for real leaps of the fantastic like the Nightmare World or Asgard.) Nightmare--who is never seen fully, but always has shadows over his face--eventually wants to invade our waking world, and to that end decides to kidnap humans in order to study them. When the police begin to notice that people are falling into deep sleeps from which they cannot wake--with their eyes open, no less--they consult Dr. Strange, master of the supernatural.

Strange consults the Book of Vishanti, of which he has the only existing copy. Through a spell in the book, he enters the Nightmare World.

Have I mentioned enough how amazing and weird this place looks? Because it does, and I adore it.

Strange, connected to physical reality by the power of Hoggoth, cannot stray from the path in his astral form. Nightmare tries to impede him, but cannot act against the astral form unless Strange steps off the path. Strange uses some mystic tricks to save the captive humans, but steps off the path and is trapped in the Nightmare World, where Nightmare unleashes his spinybeast on the sorcerer. Strange defeats the monster with his amulet and escapes Nightmare, making it safely back into the mortal world.

My description of all of this doesn't do it justice; so much of this is in the art of Steve Ditko, and the choices he makes in panels, in pacing, and in the delightful strangeness of it all. This is my favorite Dr. Strange story so far, and I just hope they get weirder from here.

Stray observations:

:: "In the name of the dread Dormammu... in the name of the all-seeing Agamotto... by the powers that dwell in the darkness... I summon the hosts of Hoggoth!" Nothing like the first time.

Next Marvels: Iron Man vs. Angel!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Teen Rage Moolah Nitwit Turtles

I’ve been trying to reserve judgment on these new Ninja Turtles, but seeing this picture, I’m just not into it. This is the same kind of terrible, overly-detailed CGI that makes those Transformers movies so physically painful to look at.

I don’t mean that as hyperbole; in both cases, there’s so much detail with no sense of perspective that it’s hard to know where to look—nothing naturally draws the eye to it because everything’s crying for attention, so there’s no natural focal point and my eyes physically hurt trying to take the whole thing in. It reminds me of every kid I knew in art class who wanted to draw something badass and cool instead of learning anything along the lines of more detail =/= more realistic. Apparently no one in Michael Bay’s CGI factory took the time to learn anything about art and how to lead/please the eye.

Look, let’s be honest; I loved it as a kid, but there’s nothing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that’s so essential that it can’t be endlessly rebooted. People remember Turtlemania and tie-in merchandise and the hokey tone more than any of the stories. Seriously, what’s that one classic TMNT tale that needs to be touched on in order to do the original justice? Other than getting the origin right, there really isn’t one. So I would argue that it’s much more important to get the look right than anything else. And this… this isn’t it.

Look at Guardians of the Galaxy and the designs of Rocket and Groot. All of that detail, but all of it unified in a way that made those characters pleasing to look at. You wanted to look at Rocket and Groot. You couldn’t take your eyes off of them. It was rewarding. These Turtles I want to look away from. Everything is detail for the sake of detail. Bamboo over a turtle chest? What’s the reason for that? Is there one, or did it just look neat? Every detail feels extraneous. The only thing I can tell about these characters from any of the accouterments they’re sporting is that Raphael must be a huge douche because he’s wearing Oakleys.

The only thing about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that’s captured my attention is what Bella Thorne was wearing at the premiere.

The 1990 movie wasn't great, either, and its sequel was pretty terrible, but at least they were fun and knew better than to be dark and gritty. I guess I was holding out hope that they were going to go for a Fast Five kind of vibe with this one, where it's got whip-fast action but comic book humor and likable characters. Nothing I've seen so far makes me want to go out of my way for this.

Someone will make a fun one of these some day, but I don't know if this generation is capable of pulling it off.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

D Is for Delbert

As far as Jim Henson's advertising characters go, I'd say my favorite has to be Delbert, the La Choy Dragon. It's three things that do it for me. First, Jim's voice, loudly extolling the virtues of La Choy. Second, it's the general chaos that erupts around Delbert's every move. In this classic commercial, watch as he knocks over groceries and sets a sign on fire and doesn't react to any of it.


That's from 1966 or 1967. I remember seeing it as a kid on a special about the Muppets, and it just captured my imagination for the third reason I wanted to mention: he's a full-bodied walkaround character.

My first exposure to movie creatures as a kid was Star Wars and old Godzilla movies, and the idea of costuming combined with puppetry to make something that was both alive and human-sized (even if, as in Big G's case, made to look gigantic) was captivating to me. And some of those big walkaround Muppets, like the Mutations or Thog or Sweetums, were so much bigger than people; it was like looking at Where the Wild Things Are and feeling like there were these wonderful things out there somewhere.

I'm just now realizing this might be a big part of why elephants are my favorite animal.

The La Choy Dragon was actually built as a hand puppet, but soon redesigned to be a full body (one that Frank Oz famously hated working inside). The campaign went from 1965 to 1967, and yielded several commercials, including these two titled "Sad Bride" and "Wifeless Husband."

Delbert was one of the earliest full-bodied Muppets, but certainly not the last. As always, Jim Henson wasn't a "one and done" kind of guy; he modified and re-used designs and techniques, using them to create all kinds of memorable characters that had lives of their own.

In fact, Jim's original concept of Delbert was as a tall bird creature. He elected not to use it, but he was thinking about Sesame Street, which began in 1969... so the original Delbert became Big Bird!

Everything can be used. You just never know exactly when you're going to use it.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

THE PIANIST (2002)
I always meant to see this, and somehow 12 years went by. I'm glad I finally caught it, the day before they pulled it off Netflix. One of the most effective Holocaust dramas I've ever seen, in large part because the film doesn't purposely court your tears. The Holocaust is terrible, and the suffering in this movie is hard to watch, but there's also a sort of impassive quality; the Holocaust happened, people got caught up in it, and how can we explain it? In this film, we can only watch as someone tries to survive within something he's powerless to affect and finds difficult to understand, and it's only through luck and help that he does. It's not fate, it's not even the machinations of the story. It's a really impressive film because it doesn't demand sympathy and considers the Holocaust as an immovable historical background. Pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's survival is not seen as heroic, as a fight against monstrous evil, but rather as a simple, powerful story of survival. ****

SHARKNADO 2: THE SECOND ONE (2014)
Oh, boy. Well... the last time, I said: "My problem with this kind of cheap piece of garbage is this: it's not meant to be funny. People put these things on and everyone gets excited by the stupidity and says the whole thing is supposed to be a goof, a movie that's so bad it's funny, but here's the thing: it's hard to make a bad movie on purpose." Well, it's much harder to make a bad movie on purpose twice. At least with this one you can see it's intentionally silly, but it's still a movie that just sort of happens while Ian Ziering Shatners all over the place and "stars" pop up around every corner and we're all supposed to be caught up in how fun it is, when really I think we just can't believe that we're all watching and talking about something which isn't even good or especially witty trash. The first movie was barely a movie; this is barely a movie but with confidence that people are going to watch it no matter what and assume that everything ridic that happens is just meant to be part of the fun. Still, it's hard to hate a movie that gives me Tara Reid with a buzzsaw hand and Judd Hirsch as a cabbie, I admit. I'm still not giving it the dignity of a rating because it's not really a movie, and I think it's weird that this is what keeps capturing our attention, but it's not like I'm offended by its existence. But as a cultural phenomenon, you have to admit it's bizarre that this is what we're all into for a couple of days. Look at what I'm writing, I'm clearly confused.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
Exceptional. I said some of this the other day, but this is exactly the movie I wanted it to be. I mean, I think it's a safe bet now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks are going to be good (or at least that I'm going to like them), but I was surprised just how much I loved this. I didn't expect the characters to resonate the way they did, even Rocket and Groot, who are as three-dimensional as the others and excellently realized. This really turned on every switch in my creature-loving, comic-digging, space-faring, 70s music-rocking, adventure movie-craving soul. It's interesting how it was based on the more current comics version of Guardians of the Galaxy, but had a 70s cosmic Marvel vibe to it (particularly in some of the great details in the Collector's collection, including Adam Warlock's cocoon, Beta Ray Bill--I swear he's there--and THAT cameo). All of the actors are great here, totally in character and wearing some of the best makeup I've seen. I especially want to praise Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace, and Michael Rooker, whose take on Yondu is surprising, but yes, this movie absolutely needed a bounty hunting cowboy character. And in all the talk about the chemistry between Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, and all of the talk about how great Rocket and Groot are, I don't want Dave Bautista as Drax to get lost in the shuffle; I found him moving as well as funny. I love this whole thing to death. ****

COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970)
I have to admit, when I saw the box at the video store years ago, I assumed Cotton was a guy's name, not actual cotton. Which is a nice commentary in itself. This just showed up on MGMHD the other night and I got caught up in it. It's about two police detectives who are on to a deacon who is fleecing the people of Harlem with a "Back to Africa" scam. Fun movie, and I always get caught up in the detail of the time period (cars, clothes, signs, etc.). I particularly liked Judy Pace, because of course I did, and Redd Foxx had a nice little role with a happy ending I sort of needed. Co-written and directed by Ossie Davis. ***

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Marvels: Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5

"At the Mercy of Baron Strucker" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(January 1964)

Five issues in, it's about time that Nick Fury stopped facing various Nazi officers and got a real archenemy, right? To that end, Stan & Jack have created Baron Strucker, an aristocratic Prussian who has dedicated his life to weaponry. We first see him dueling an opponent, handily disarming him. There's an elegance to Baron Strucker, and this is important; since the best villains are the hero's opposite in some way, where Fury is rough and unrefined, Strucker is sophisticated and genteel. His mission, straight from Hitler himself, is to find a way to humiliate Nick Fury, the most feared American commando in Europe, in a way that shows Nazi superiority.

Strucker's reputation as a master swordsman precedes him; Fury and his Howlers know who the man is when he challenges Fury to a duel on the island of Norsehaven in the English Channel.

Excellent expressions from Kirby on the challenge.

Look at that face! The challenge rankles him from the first minute. Captain Sawyer turns down Fury's request for transportation, calling this challenge a private matter that the Army has no time for. Of course, Fury finds a way to Norsehaven, anyway...

And is thoroughly defeated.

Baron Strucker, observing noble Heidelberg rules, insists on a toast before the duel, but he has Fury's wine drugged. They cross hard plywood swords in a match where the object is to disarm, not to kill. What Fury lacks in swordsmanship he tries to make up for with brute strength and direct attacks, but as the drug works on him, he loses his strength, runs out of steam, and falls, unconscious, into defeat. Afterwards, a camera crew emerges; the Nazis have filmed the whole thing, and now plan to show it as a propaganda film. Strucker has Fury dumped back behind the front lines and gloats over his triumph.

Fury, a laughingstock in Europe now, gets busted down to private for his troubles, and Dum-Dum takes over the Howling Commandos, just in time for a big push into western Germany, where the Howlers are charged with destroying a rocket base in Dortstadt. And wouldn't you know who's in charge at the base? Baron Strucker.

Fury challenges Strucker to a rematch, but Dino hips him to the drug in the drink. Fury, in a rage, grabs Strucker and easily beats the crap out of him, laying him flat out. Dum-Dum makes sure to get a few pictures to show the world just how tough Fury really is.

His reputation restored, Fury also gets his rank back. When a visiting general wants to meet the famous Sgt. Fury, Capt. Sawyer hastily reinstates the man and puts him back in charge of the Howling Commandos, ready for whatever comes next.

Stray observations:

:: Fury spends the first few pages this issue training his commandos extra hard in the wake of Junior Juniper's death last issue.

:: Dino, training in a stream: "It's gettin' deep! But I'm better off drownin' than lettin' Fury get mad at me!"

:: "Look out with that grenade, Rebel!! Izzy's expendable, but those tanks cost money!"

:: I know it's too early for him, but Strucker's dog looks like Lockjaw:

22 issues of Fantastic Four away...

:: Strucker identifies himself as the "wing commander of the Fuehrer's Death-Head Squadron." The SS Death's Head unit oversaw the concentration camps.

:: Poor Izzy Cohen gets his long underwear shot up by a Nazi plane just before the pilot throws out a tube containing Fury's challenge, which hits Cohen square on his helmeted head.

:: This issue reveals that Sgt. Fury keeps turning down battlefield commissions to officer status.

:: And Fury's also dating Pamela Hawley, whom he met last issue. She's doing her best to teach him manners.

:: The full duel between Fury and Strucker is some of my favorite Kirby art in a while. Clean poses, clear action, just an excellent page and a half.

:: Got to hand it to Fury; during his time as a private, he expects that Dum-Dum will be extra hard on him in retaliation, and resolves to just take it. Further, when the rest of the commandos look to him for leadership, he tells them he's not their sergeant anymore and to respect Dum-Dum's command.

:: "Say, did you commandos hear about the Dortstadt rocket base being demolished?" "Flyboy, where do you think we're comin' back from? A sewin' bee?"

This was a fantastic issue of a great comic. Lots of great character moments with the cast, and Baron Strucker makes a hell of a great villain for Fury, and I can't wait to see more. (Issue #9 will see his return.) I'm more interested here in Fury the man, and this issue let us in more than any other has; the action scenes are always really great, and the characters are incredibly likable, but giving Fury a villain of his own, rather than another of the Allies' Nazi enemies, has a lot of great pulpy, adventurous potential.

Next Marvels: Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm fight over Alicia, and a return to the Nightmare World for Dr. Strange!

Monday, August 04, 2014

16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People: Something of a Health Report

Roger tipped me to this Huffington Post article a while back and told me I should write about it. I didn't, but he did here and here, which has prompted me to give some opinions on it. I recognize a lot of this list, and I've actually brought up a number of these things with my new therapist.

1. They feel more deeply.

Roger pointed out that the suggestion of feeling more deeply than others seems arrogant, and I would agree with that. I don't think I have any special insight into my emotional state that others don't have. But I do think that the effects of those feelings can last much longer than most people I know. If something makes me feel bad, especially, it can affect me for days or longer, even years.

2. They're more emotionally reactive.
They may also have more concern about how another person may be reacting in the face of a negative event.

True. My capacity for empathy is easily overloaded. I personalize the suffering of others sometimes, particularly others who are facing injustice or simply not being heard. That's very frustrating. Any kind of victim-blaming leaves me yelling and angry. I get frustrated very easily by politics because of the ignorance not only being displayed, but championed, and while rich people in Congress are jockeying for position there are people in this country struggling and not being paid any attention to.

I also am prone to outsize emotional reactions, especially when I feel attacked. I've internalized a lot of feelings of worthlessness over the years, and it makes me defensive and even desperate when I feel like I'm being judged rather than my opinions. I don't remember what people say anyway near as much as I remember how people made me feel, and if you make me feel hurt, feel stupid, or make me feel bad for liking things, there's a good chance I will never initiate a conversation with you again.

3. They're probably used to hearing, "Don't take things so personally" and "Why are you so sensitive?"

Or some variation of it. "Why do you give other people the power to make you feel bad?" "Stop taking things so seriously." "You're overreacting." I hate that. It's dismissive and invalidating, and it will probably make me hate you. It's a big trigger for me, and I don't like people who do this.

Roger adds further the idea that sometimes he just wants to hear "I'm sorry you're feeling that way" over a "Get over it!" type of response, and that's just it: When I feel bad and need to vent, I don't want to hear advice or be invalidated, I just want to be heard for a moment. Just acknowledge that you heard someone and that it sucks, or else don't say anything. It's not your job to mitigate someone else's reaction. You're not a mental health professional.

At best, I'm sure people mean well and don't realize that's what they're doing, but it's what they're doing.

A corollary to that is people who apologize by saying things like "I'm sorry you feel bad" or "I'm sorry that's how you feel" or "I'm sorry that's how you took it," all of which you should recognize as not actually being apologies.

4. They prefer to exercise solo.

I won't even do simple walks up and down the stairs of my building if there are people in the hallway because I'm so self-conscious. And if there are too many people at the pool, I'm just sitting there miserable.

5. It takes longer for them to make decisions.
Even if there is no "right" or "wrong" decision -- for example, it's impossible to choose a "wrong" flavor of ice cream -- highly sensitive people will still tend to take longer to choose because they are weighing every possible outcome.

I don't know if this is sensitivity so much as my internalized feelings of worthlessness. I often feel I don't "deserve" to be happy or satisfied, so when presented with choices I have a tendency to shut down. Especially if it's something that seems innocent but is kind of vague, like "What do you want to do today?" or "What do you want for dinner?" There's too much choice in situations like that, and it's hard for me to really want things when I think they're just for me. Saying "let's watch [x movie]" seems like imposing myself and my tastes (and by extension, the fact of my existence) on someone, and I can't make a decision about dinner because (a) it might be something that only I like, or (b) it might not be good, which will make me feel guilty.

6. And on that note, they are more upset if they make a "bad" or "wrong" decision.

Yup. Obviously. I still feel like I did the wrong thing by going to college, because towards the end of it I had a trauma that took years for me to fully acknowledge, but it kept me immobile, indoors, locked inside of myself, and constantly anxious. It took all of the problems I've dealt with to varying degrees since as far back as I could remember and amplified them, making it extremely hard to function, and all these years later I'm unemployed and weighed down not only by crippling, inescapable debt, but the feelings of guilt and even shame that have developed because of it.

7. They're extremely detail-oriented.
Highly sensitive people are the first ones to notice the details in a room, the new shoes that you're wearing, or a change in weather.

That's true; I'm very sensitive to surroundings and experience. I notice little details in movies. If the weather changes, I always notice, even if it's just gotten slightly darker or lighter. I always notice insects in the room because it's like I can feel something is off. It makes having a pet a little bit anxious for me, because every time Princess gets up and hops around the room, it takes me a moment to re-calibrate. It's especially bad when I've been home alone for hours and my wife comes home; it's like I have to readjust to a whole different level of "normal" to compensate, and I'm afraid sometimes she takes it as just simple annoyance at her presence. Just adjusting.

I wish I was the kind of detail-oriented where I was really organized and great with numbers and had a better understanding of science. Instead, I'm the guy everyone goes to if they want to know what year an album came out or the name of that guy who was in the movie with that woman where they did the thing.

8. Not all highly sensitive people are introverts.
In fact, about 30 percent of highly sensitive people are extroverts.

I've always got someone who knows me surprised to find out that I'm shy and have terrible social anxiety. It's because I'm polite and even talkative if I think someone's uneasy, or if I'm uneasy. It's like a mask, you know? I can interact, and I've been complimented a lot on how polite and nice I am--and what a warm phone voice I have--but later I admonish myself for how stupid I must seem and how annoying my presence must be.

9. They work well in team environments.

Sometimes. At most jobs, I just want to be left alone, do my work, and go home. I feel like I've been penalized a lot at jobs for not being more social, but all I want to do is my work and do it well and just leave it at the site and not go home all pissed off about some political bullshit. It makes me feel undervalued.

I'm not a fan of having to make decisions, but I've been able to manage others and even direct scenes on stage, perform on stage, etc. I'm not always sure what I'll be able to do with other people around.

10. They're more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they've had a lot of past negative experiences).
"If you've had a fair number of bad experiences, especially early in life, so you don't feel safe in the world or you don't feel secure at home or ... at school, your nervous system is set to 'anxious,'" Aron says.

Put that on my tombstone, you know? The problem for me seems to be that any negative experiences I've had in life, particularly from childhood--bullying, parents divorcing, emotional abuse, physical abuse--all became so internalized that it's hard to break away from how I still feel about them, or how other things that happen to me seem to only reinforce those feelings. And a lot of it has affected how I respond to certain situations, and it's hard work to overcome those things.

A good example right now is a commercial that's been on for some cleaning product or other, where the kids are at the table and spilling chocolate milk and giggling. The mom just laughs at what a good time her kids are having, and calmly wipes it up with whatever paper towel or wipe or whatever is being advertised. That commercial makes me feel anxious, and it's because if I had done that as a kid, my Mom would have screamed at me in frustration and probably slapped me across the head. Because of that kind of thing, I take everything very seriously, like every mess is a dire situation, and when I get frustrated I yell and want to hit things. It still happens, but not as often as it did when I was younger.

11. That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.
They tend to be more easily overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much activity.

God, yes. Too many things at once overwhelms me and ramps up my anxiety. But drowning things out with music also helps. Sometimes I just want quiet. Also, little things bother me greatly, like my wife sneezing or coughing, or running the water in the kitchen.

12. Violent movies are the worst.

It depends. I don't have a violence threshold as much as I have a cruelty threshold. I'm desensitized to a lot of more cartoonish or obviously fake violence, but if there's a cruelty to it, that can be very hard to take. I'm willing to put up with a lot for a great film. 12 Years a Slave is an excellent movie, one of the best of the decade, but so much physical, mental and emotional cruelty happens that I felt really, really bad after watching it and will probably never watch it again.

13. They cry more easily.

True. It doesn't make me feel bad, actually; I've come to accept this as just part of how I am. I think because most of the time when I cry, it's during a movie. That seems more socially acceptable to me, and it feels cathartic. I have a hard time laughing and showing joy, because that seems less socially acceptable for me (the worthlessness again), and as you might be able to tell from my blog, I don't always like talking about things I like, because I will feel bad for weeks when someone inevitably comes along and makes me feel stupid for liking it, particularly if they won't let it drop. Crying is an emotional expression that just feels more acceptable to me for whatever reason. Music, movies, television, books, it's all emotionally reactive to me.

14. They have above-average manners.
Because of this, they're more likely to be considerate and exhibit good manners -- and are also more likely to notice when someone else isn't being conscientious.

Very true. You might not realize that if you only know me online, but I have very, very good manners in public and I always notice when people do not. I am very concerned, especially at my weight, of getting in someone's way or accidentally being inconsiderate, but I think this also ties in to the empathy I mentioned in #2. Everyone's a person and should be treated like one. (Except for me, apparently, because as much as anyone might dislike me, I'm way ahead of them.)

15. The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.

I think most of the people reading this could probably pull an example they've witnessed out of the comments section of this blog. My reaction can be intense, particularly when I feel criticism is directed at me as a person rather than what I've said or an opinion I've expressed, and I know relationships have been severed because of it. And then there's that magic zone, where someone criticizes me in a way that I've already criticized myself, which just makes me shut down entirely.

16. Cubicles = good. Open-office plans = bad.
Many highly sensitive people enjoy working from home or being self-employed because they can control the stimuli in their work environments.

I've never had a cubicle or an open plan; I've usually been the guy who either works in a room alone or with one or two others, or who just floats in and out in an ancillary capacity (delivery driver, substitute teacher). I can't even work now because it's overwhelming; when I can, I plan to talk with my social worker about finding me something I can do from home.

Roger also mentions a mental health counselor in the comment who notes tactile sensitivities in some, which is certainly true. For a long time in my life, I would only wear flannel shirts and jeans, because I didn't like things rubbing against my arms or legs (the grass, other people, etc.). Oddly, now I'm more sensitive to the clothes themselves; I prefer to wear shorts and soft tee shirts. And I can't stand wearing socks and shoes anymore; I always take my shoes off in therapy. I've reached the point where being self-conscious of my appearance has been outweighed by my desire to be comfortable (and my inability to relax myself).

I'm not sure how to end this post, so...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Song of the Week: "Go All the Way"

I didn't get to my second #1 songs post yesterday because Becca and I spent the day out in Geneva. We went to Five Guys, I got an exquisite bacon cheeseburger with onions and a Vanilla Coke from a fountain, and we saw Guardians of the Galaxy. It was everything I wanted it to be and more, easily one of the best movies of the past few years, and my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie so far. If this were the late nineties (when we didn't have to save up all summer just to do stuff like this), I'll bet Becca and I would go see it at least five or six more times. It's beautiful. It's special in that way I find movies that the internet tries to make me feel stupid for liking are special to me.

One of the things I dig most about the movie is the way it puts its futuristic Heavy Metal imagery against some classic seventies rock 'n' roll. The soundtrack is as fantastic as it could get. If I'm ever in space, of course I want to listen to David Bowie, the Jackson Five and the motherfucking Runaways. Right up my alley; some of the songs have even been featured here in Song of the Week (which I've been doing since '06, can you believe it?). So here's a track that played in the flick, the Raspberries' 1972 power pop single "Go All the Way," which was banned by the BBC for its suggestive lyrics. Great song; I always forget Eric Carmen was in a band.

Feel like it's time to 70s up my iPod...