logan-2017-poster-2
Film, Thoughts, Writing

LOGAN Seven Point Plot Structure Breakdown

I loved this film. It might even be the second-best superhero movie of all time (the first being The Dark Knight, you spoon). It might, after I rewatch it, have taken the top spot of Best X-Men Movie from X-Men: First Class. It was filmed in New Mexico and my desert-rat heart leapt for joy. It was brutal, sad, uncompromising, and ultimately altruistic — just the way I like it. It was heavily focussed on character, each so rich by the time I left the theater, I felt I’d actually met them.

But you know what? I’m gonna talk shit about it. Because, in the words of a screenwriter I greatly admire, Allen Palmer, it wasn’t a transcendent story. There was no ecstatic agony. And I got a high-ass perfectionist quality standard. Logan was a great film — but not as great as it could’ve been.

LET’S BREAK IT DOWN

****SPOILERS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DONT’ READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE****

Start with the Resolution, (or as Dan Well calls it, the seventh plot point). Also known as the ending. I’m using the synopsis on IMDb to support memory.

  1. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Logan had nothing to do with the final climactic moment, that release of tension when the bad guy dies. Laura takes action, ridding our protagonist, Logan, of his agency right at the crucial moment.

Also, where was the devilishly difficult, character-driven choice for him to make? Before this, the last choice Logan made was to ignore that one kid’s warning and shoot all that green stuff up at once. No crucial choice there that pitted want against need. What about after that, when he gets sassy with Doctor Rice and then shoots him in the face? Definitely not a difficult choice, not crucial, no poignant want vs need — just a good laugh.

(Maybe you could argue here that when he shot up the green stuff, he was choosing between his want — being healthy and not dying — and his need — caring about those kids and saving them. But was his want really to be healthy and not die? I got the sense he was just looking for a good reason to end it all. The whole movie was basically: Logan really wants to die, so when we kill him later, you’ll feel like it was a kindness and not be upset with us.)

It isn’t enough that Logan sacrifices himself. Give him a devilishly difficult choice that reveals character and forces him to choose between what he wants, and what he needs — then give Logan, not Laura, the action at the climax! All Logan does at the climax is get impaled on a tree.

“Logan, this doesn’t feel like a transcendent climax!” “No, but it’s sad and brutal, and that’s mostly what we were going for.”

(There is another argument: maybe Laura was Logan shooting the gun in some way, a sort of proxy choice. This would mean that because Laura learned how to kill X-24 from Logan, and Logan gave her the adamantium bullet, Laura killing X-24 was actually Logan’s skill/ability. This is still a weak justification for removing agency and not including a devilishly difficult choice for Logan at the climax. Laura shooting X-24 was just a basic relief. I wasn’t crying like ‘oh the humanity!’)

Now let’s jump back to the Hook, point one. How the protagonist (Logan) started. This should be the opposite of how he ends (point seven).

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.

Now let’s do the Midpoint, point four. There are a lot of different definitions and schools of thought on how exactly the Midpoint should go, but I think it’s when the character is confronted with their fundamental flaw, and then forced, kicking and screaming, to admit it. This changes a person. For the rest of the story, the protagonist goes on having gained something, which they are threatened with losing later at the climax. It’s also when the true nature of the conflict is revealed. Midpoints are super important.

There are a few options:

  1. Midpoint Option A: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24. 

Here, Logan’s flaw is his rage, and his arc is about him dealing with the shit he’s done, the people he’s killed. Aka: Logan rages out too much.

  1. Midpoint Option B: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”

This means that Logan’s flaw and character arc is about him being emotionally numb and refusing love.

Let’s think about Plot Point 2 and different Resolution moments to figure the Midpoint out.

Plot Point 2 is the sixth point and the crazy-hot friend of Plot Point 1. PP2 is where we get the last bit of setup we need to lay out the final conflict, and where the protagonist chooses to move forward into Act 3. It’s the trickiest plot point to nail down. There are two options here too. Maybe we’re getting into separate-but-interwoven character and action plots?? I told you it was a good damn movie!

  1. PP2 Option A: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.

Main conflict: Bad guys attacking kids (we don’t know that shooting up is going to wear off super quick and fuck Logan up, so choosing to use all of it doesn’t do much to indicate conflict; important set-up though).

  1. PP2 Option B: Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.

Main conflict: Logan refusing love, estranging himself from his daughter.

We’ve got two pretty distinct plots going on here. Let’s list them out now we’ve got so many points ready (and I’ll just fill in the rest real quick).

Plot A

In a nutshell.

  1. Hook: Logan rages-out and murders a bunch of cholos. He’s sad and down on his luck.
  2. PP1: Laura shows up after Logan finds Gabriela dead at the hotel.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: The bad guys kill the nice family. Logan nearly gets his ass beat by the physical embodiment of rage without love, X-24.
  5. Pinch 2: They bury Charles. Logan rages out.
  6. PP2: Logan sees helicopters zeroing in on the kids, decides to shoot up and become a rage monster, and bounds off into the woods.
  7. Resolution: Laura shoots X-24 in the head while Logan gets his ass kicked to death.

Plot B

  1. Hook: Logan is rough and distant to Charles, an old friend physically unable to give Logan love (which Logan would probably reject anyway).
  2. PP1: Logan tries to leave Laura behind but it doesn’t work out.
  3. Pinch 1: Charles almost melts the collective brain of Las Vegas.
  4. Midpoint: After a wonderful dinner with the ranch family, Charles tells Logan, “This is what life looks like: people love each other. You should take a moment.”
  5. Pinch 2: Charles dies.
  6. Before bed, Laura asks Logan if he will come with them. He says no and they go to bed angry. In the morning, Laura’s gone.
  7. Laura saves Logan, but it’s too late. She calls Logan, “Daddy.” Logan feels love. He’s happy to have a daughter. He dies.

I both think these plots are valid (as in, they’re clearly in the film), and that they both suffer from the same weak character choices. Logan is such a strong character and the dialogue and acting were so good, so realistic, it’s almost difficult to see the flaws in the story. But in both plots, what dilemma does Logan struggle with? What does he choose between? If it was supposed to be a big deal that he decided to go save the kids from a bunch of armed men intent on enslaving them as child-solider-lab-rats… come on. Not a big deal. Did anyone actually worry he might decide to leave them behind? No difficult choices in this film, except maybe when Charles pressured Logan into staying with the nice ranch family, but Logan gave in super easily and not at all like he actually cared very much.

One more thing. We were haunted by the Westchester incident with Charles the whole movie — then he just remembers it suddenly while sleeping, pretty much out of nowhere, promptly has a realization about himself and Logan, and dies. The realization itself was powerful, but it was too left field. In the original Logan script, they were planning to shoot the Westchester incident as a prologue scene, but took it out because it made the movie too much about the death of the mutants and not enough about Logan. I agree the as-is opening is great, but they shouldn’t have deleted the Westchester scene entirely — they should’ve moved it!

Imagine we are with Charles as he remembers. We live through the panic with him, see the friends he just murdered, see Logan horrified at being the only survivor. We wake up with him back in the present, experience this realization about Logan as Charles does, then — HOLY FUCK! He dies. My chest is tightening just thinking about it. I would’ve sobbed like a little baby. As it was, it was still awful, shocking, the worst… but I wasn’t moved as other films have moved me. I didn’t cry.

Do you agree with my analysis? Did I miss something? Tell me what you think! Discussing movies and books like this is basically my all-time favorite thing to talk about, so let’s go!

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Film, Thoughts

‘Split’ Review

I joke that a big reason why I wanted to move to the Netherlands was for a Pathé Unlimited card, but like, for real, that is not a joke. When I was a kid I was both homeschooled and basically blind, but no one knew that, they just thought I had a preternatural distaste for looking out the window on long drives or short drives or any length of drive whatsoever. The homeschooling meant going to the movies was something I seriously looked forward to and thought about all week. The seeing issues meant that the only time I got to see the world as everyone else did was when it was blown up on a 50-foot screen in HD. We went nearly every weekend, and I just kept on like that after I grew up and moved out, until I landed in Germany where things were different af.

They don’t like playing movies in English in Germany, but they love Hollywood, so they take American films and re-dub all the dialogue in German. It’s like live-action anime. If you are even the tiniest bit able to read lips, too bad my man, that is going to distract the shit out of you right in the middle of the emotional climax. We were forced to go only to small, artsy independent theaters, which, while nice, don’t really scratch the Rogue-One-in-IMAX-3D itch. They’re also about $10 a ticket, which I thought until this moment was outrageous, but now that I think about it, Naz and I did just spend almost $50 on two 3D IMAX tickets in New York City.

You can also drink as much beer as you want in the theater.

Okay fine, it’s not that bad. However, there aren’t as many movies available, and there was only one tiny theater we could go to for showings in English. We just wanted escalators in our theater like civilized people.

In Amsterdam, we have that and more.

We have four main Pathé theaters to choose from, the fanciest being Tuschinsky, which is in like this 20s art deco, phoenix psychedelic style. It’s stunning. It’s actually art deco, everything super old and custom made and from the same parallel reality as American Horror Story Hotel. It’s a national historic building. It’s the best.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

AMSTERDAM HOT TIP: Go see a movie in Tuschinsky grote Zaal in 4K. We saw Allied there and I felt like an actual 40s aristocrat.

There’s also a big, shiny, escalator-filled theater around the corner, a cool lounge-vibey one downtown, and an IMAX out by the arena. The Pathé Unlimited card gets you into all that PLUS UNLIMITED MOVIES FOR 18€ A MONTH! You both can still drink as much beer as you want in the theater, and get a 10% discount on concessions — which isn’t that great, but let’s be real, I’ll take what I can get.

All that was to get around to saying this: I got that Pathé Unlimited card baby and I’m finally back to going to the movies regularly. As I am excited about it and have a film degree, I feel physically, nay, spiritually compelled to write reviews.

And without further ado…

What I Thought About Split

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I am a long time M. Night Shyamalan fan. I like sort of moody, affected, unabashedly tragic-but-ultimately-optimistic art, like Stephen King or Lana del Rey, and Shyamalan gets that. The Sixth Sense was heart-swooping. Signs was creepy as balls. The Village was twisted and an interesting idea and I don’t know why people care so much it was in a park, I mean, it’s Mr. Shyamalanalanalan — what did you expect? Lady In the Water was THE BEST, I don’t care, I loved it. When we find out he’s the Healer = goosebumps and/or tears. I fell asleep for like a minute watching Unbreakable but I was also seven, so it’s fair.

The Happening was embarrassing. I hid my face in my hands out of overwhelming fremdschämen. The Last Airbender was pathetic. I wasn’t even embarrassed, I was mad, like a disappointed father.

Split made up for all that. It’s the best film he’s ever made. Yes, better than The Sixth Sense. That’s right. I said it.

***THERE ARE PROBABLY GOING TO BE SPOILERS NOW***

Shyamalan has finally discovered the difference between a twist, and a reveal. Every moment which would have been an ah-ha! in an earlier film was here a poignant character reveal. We were discovering answers to how they became who they were, to better appreciate how they changed throughout the story. This made every pinch and plot point more impactful. Even the more minor characters like Claire and Marcia still had unique, interesting personalities given enough air time for us to care about them.

The acting was phenomenal, all the way through, from everyone (except for Shyamalan himself in his traditional cameo, but he wasn’t too bad, he was just surrounded by people so much better at it). James McAvoy was just a real person with 24 personalities. I forgot to notice how great he was acting, I was too busy convinced it was all real — and that is the mark of a good fucking actor! Let’s not forget the minor characters too, from Haley Lu Richardson (Claire) and Jessica Sula (Marcia), to Sebastian Arcelus, who played their dad and only had two minutes of screen time but was a real-enough person for me that I was super relieved he didn’t end up dead. I was with Anya Taylor-Joy (Casey) all the way, and I’m happy to see such a deep, subtle female protagonist in a supernatural thriller (or anything else, for that matter).

And she’s the protagonist, not McAvoy — you can be sure by who resolves the tension through a difficult choice. McAvoy was the antagonist. He didn’t make so many choices there at the end — we realized together that he shouldn’t kill her, but this choice was based on his principles, and there was nothing difficult about it for either of them. The difficult choice was Casey sitting in the police car, finally ready to stand up to her murderer-rapist uncle. Her arc was the most compelling. She had a goal, she tried hard, and though she failed (she never escaped, did she?), she learned something more valuable — to pull the trigger when she has to, and that she hasn’t suffered for nothing.

Two things that are the bane of melodrama are “show, don’t tell and the good ‘ol “cut in late, leave early.” Split had both in abundance. Casey’s choice in the police car is a great example. There were for-sure other great examples, but I can’t remember any right now. Maybe I’ll edit this post later when I think of something.

It was also super intense, like the ideal adaptation of the best Dean Koontz novels.

A seriously weird coincidence is that I saw another film about the value of suffering last week called To Stay Alive: A Method. It’s quirky, slow, and beautiful, stars Iggy Pop, and is mostly in French, which we did not know when we bought tickets, and severely limited our comprehension of the film — however, I did get that it was all about suffering being necessary for art, and that if you suffer, you must create art or go mad. I agree. It’s a nice simple way of stating a serious truth with serious consequences. This theme of suffering and its consequences, both good and bad, was the most meaningful and memorable part of Split for me.

Some things I didn’t like:

  1. What was that ending music? I know it was the Unbreakable theme, but why not just like, the Unbreakable theme, and not a weird Enya version of the Unbreakable theme?
  2. McAvoy in the mirror saying, “You are what you believe you are.” Remember that thing I said earlier about how subtle and non-melodramatic the rest had been because of all that great “show-don’t-tell” thing? Well, he lost it for a second and stated the obvious in the most melodramatic way possible. Meh.

Let’s talk about James McAvoy’s acting for another minute. He had characters so distinct that I could tell the difference between normal Barry, and Dennis pretending to be Barry! He had conversations with himself and I believed there was a group of people talking instead of one. I was a little hung up on the kid’s lisp, but he won me over with the dancing and the meanness eventually.

Betty Buckley’s character too, Dr. Karen Fletcher. She was fantastic. I believed in her and sympathized with her, though the weakest part of the story was when she, after realizing he was bat shit crazy and having an opportunity to leave and, oh I don’t know, call the cops, decided to just wander off down the hall in search of captives. Lazy storytelling there. Her character and acting were still great though, and represented a kind of woman I know, but haven’t seen on screen — dignified, intelligent, tough and no-nonsense with more energy than half her grandkids combined. I can see my Grandma Dougherty doing the same, except she’d definitely have brought a gun.

Last thing: Did the end have a little US-political commentary going on, or am I imagining things?

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Ima Video
Evil Schemes, Music, Thoughts

Perfectionism Release Therapy

My favorite teacher in high school taught musical theater, and her name was Megan McQueen. I had never met anyone so organized, excited, logical, kind, funny, compassionate, and clearly completely in love with what she was doing. She had a fierce and unwavering respect for other people’s time, no matter if they were fourteen or forty-two. She was a force of nature, and her students often became more like her disciples. Her compliments were given rarely and always had a matter-of-fact tone, as if they weren’t so much compliments as obvious facts others just hadn’t gotten around to saying out loud.

She gave me one compliment in particular that has stayed with me. I was applying for a fairly prestigious cultural exchange scholarship I was determined to get but didn’t feel good enough for. Megan said, a touch of impatience in her voice, “The point isn’t that you will succeed, which you will, but that you will take your experiences and share them for others to see and learn from. You are a fountain of ideas and creation; they’re not just getting you, they’re getting all the people you touch afterwards, too.”

I’ve failed to live up to that expectation.

Somewhere along the way my confidence and curiosity got mixed up with my reputation as always being exceptional and created a huge evil scary monster called Perfectionism. Not in a cute, ‘I always re-read my emails before I send them, I’m such a perfectionist hee hee!’ kind of way, but in a crippling, nothing-I-ever-do-is-good-enough kind of way.

It didn’t have to do with what other people thought or the reactions I got, because they continued to be positive — it was about me knowing I could’ve done it better, seeing all the flaws, all the room for improvement, and being incapable of stopping work on anything until it felt finished, which actually meant nothing left to improve.

This relentless drive to IMPROVE IMPROVE IMPROVE means I’m, well, succeeding in improving myself and my skills to some degree — but it’s also driving me mad. It’s crippling. I have been working so hard, for so long, through so much bitter effort, without anything to show for it. I started writing my book four years ago this month – four years! I have eighteen projects going on at once and only one measly finished short story to show. In over two years I’ve only posted on this blog a handful of times.

Basically what I’d look like if transported to an alternate dimension where your outside perfectly reflected your inside.

It’s time to finish things and let them be. This video is step one in what I hope will be a long, happy path called Putting Things Out Into The World. I’m just starting to learn the ukulele, I’m self-taught, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never recorded anything like music in my life. I look at this and I see all the glaring holes and I know I could make it better — but I’m not going to.

I’m not going to.

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2016 Election
History, Inspiration, Thoughts, Uncategorized

An Artist’s Call-to-Arms

Today I was humbled. All of us who took the truth to be self-evident were humbled. We’ve been reminded of those two great barriers to progress, assumption and complacency, trumped by the greatest barrier of all — fear.

It’s strange to always be awake while America sleeps. I wish I could’ve slept on this, instead of having to face the glaring reality in silence, alone with my countrymen scattered around on this side of the ocean, feeling adrift and oddly abandoned even as we commiserate with each other.

I am reminded, more deeply than I have been in many years, why I chose this path for myself. Why my second major in college flitted between political science and philosophy and journalism, but my commitment to film and storytelling never wavered. Why I keep banging on the keyboard four years after I began, trying to finish this damn book. Why I grab hold of anyone with a faintly artistic dream and squeeze every bit of confidence and encouragement into them I possibly can.

Music, film, theater, design, fiction, and art are more powerful than the most vehement rhetoric. They are stories. Stories are our greatest weapon, and our highest purpose. Stories teach empathy, that there are grey areas, that life is not simple. Stories cut through the talking points and hit on the themes we should know, but have been clouded by fear. Stories give us opportunities to face danger and controversy in a safe space, and learn from it before the consequences are too high. And most importantly: stories change everyone, regardless of where you live, what you believe, or who you voted for. Stories are our great unifier.

Fill your stories with what you believe. Touch us. Teach us.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

This I believe: Fear is lesser than love. Compassion is greater than strength. All men are created equal — including that Syrian refugee who can recite the Qur’an by heart, and that illegal Mexican immigrant who can hardly string an English sentence together, and that gay couple, and that loud, nasal-voiced woman. Freedom isn’t free, not (only) because we have to have the stomach to kill for it, but because we have to be willing to sacrifice our money, our lives, and our way of life for our highest ideals. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone craves love and belonging. We must not let fear drive us.

I have always been, and continue to be, proud of my country and my countrymen. Even now, on a day I believe will someday be looked back upon by most Americans with shame. We are a stubborn, ingenious group. And our artists the most so.

Now is the time for cultural change through art. Now is the time to flood every TV, bookstore, cinema screen, gallery wall, theater, and street corner with stories that hit the heart and then the head, that teach patience, understanding, compassion, and love.

We’ve tried politics. If there’s anything this election has shown, it’s that fear is a cancer we’ve let spread too far. It’s time to take the soul of American into our own hands.

ARTISTS: GO CHANGE THE WORLD. We have work to do.

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I did not make this, but I wish I had. It was made by DKNG Studios as a poster for one of my favorite bands, Explosions in the Sky.

http://www.dkngstudios.com/2011/10/11/explosions-in-the-sky-poster-and-art-print/
Design, Inspiration, Thoughts, UX Design

What Does ‘Design’ Mean Anyway?

I came to design a true novice – so ignorant that I thought I already knew most of what there was to be known and was sure talent, confidence, and dedication would be enough to make me a graphic designer. This has turned out to be true only in the sense that because of those things I am now aware of how much I don’t know, and am now ravenously curios to learn more. My original assumption of design – specifically corporate and product design for digital mediums – was as vague and ignorant as saying, “Because I know movies are made with cameras, and I have a camera, I know how to make movies.”

First off, I’m not really a ‘graphic designer.’ That term is horribly vague. I’m more of a user interface designer and fledging user experience designer. But more on that later.

I was introduced to Photoshop at a young age, when a good friend and mentor of mine plopped a disc into my computer and said, “Have fun with this.” I did. I was homeschooled for six years, and spent most of that time doing everything I could on the computer other than schoolwork. With the progression from dial-up to DSL came a whole new world of Photoshop tutorials. I did them endlessly, making buttons and spacescapes, painting awkward faces and eyes with my mouse and the brush tool, and learning how to make text look like it was exploding out of the computer screen.

I never suspected that the obsessive hours I spent trying to make space-gas look realistic would turn out to be the foundation for what is quickly becoming my career.

Before becoming a professional designer, I lumped the term ‘design’ into a few different categories – fashion design (figuring out how to make clothes look good), car design (figuring out how to make cars look good), and graphic design (figuring out how to make stuff in Photoshop look good). All other forms of design I didn’t consider to be ‘real’ design – sort of the way some jewelry makers and florists consider themselves to be ‘storytellers.’ 

I had a brief glimpse of the true depth and awesome complexity of design during my stay in New York, when my editing teacher took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and showed me old telephones and Macintosh computers and, most peculiar of all, a Vespa on a slowly revolving pedestal. When I asked him why those things were in an art museum he looked pityingly at me and said, with a gentle tact I probably would not have managed had our places been reversed, “To some people, this is art.”

My familiarity with Photoshop, a general talent for style, and an obsessive attention to detail led to designing flyers for my mom’s business. This grew to include flyers for school events, advertisements for my mom’s business, and eventually to the design of her website. I found an internship in graphic design, and then another in web design. I never studied it outside of the requirements of the internships – rather, requests for this sort of work I saw as a necessary evil, brief dalliances with what I considered to be profitable but no real example of art.

Then I was offered my current position. I work for a wonderful company, one that is growing quickly enough to afford more specialized personal but too quickly to be ready to hire experienced specialized personal. Though nearly ten years old it still has the casual, collaborative air of a start-up, and the higher-ups are willing to gamble on curiosity and talent because they themselves had been gambled upon in similar ways not too long before.

I am currently the only designer  – and you know what they say about power and responsibility.

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I began to dive into this world of design. I started with a book well-known as a classic among UI/UX designers, though I had never heard of it before my new boss mentioned it to me – Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It took me an afternoon and was full of clear, practical advice about web design that was generally self-evident. Don’t make a button that means ‘next’ and a button that means ‘delete’ look the same. Avoid clutter. Anticipate what a user will want, then give it to them in the clearest way possible.

Next I read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. It was considerably longer, and spoke of web design, or any of the other specialities I’d lumped under the heading of ‘graphic design’, not at all. Instead it talked about door handles, refrigerators, and office telephones. It talked about bus controls and nuclear power plants — it talked about interfaces. Here was the godfather of modern design, which has shaped a generation of designers who have in turn shaped their products, and it posed one simple question:

How can we make our products easier for our customers to use?

Apple, the hot quarterback of the design world, took that question to heart — and the world was changed.

Design should anticipate a user’s needs, then show them the easiest way to meet those needs with clarity and simplicity. My favorite example of this is a door handle. You’re coming into a building of some kind. You’re walking at a perfectly normal pace, trying to figure out if the door calls for pushing or pulling. You call upon a wealth of experiences with similar doors – the mall in Tampa had doors that always push inwards. You heard somewhere that stores are required to have doors that swing outward towards the street. You are trying to make a logical choice before you reach the door handle, whether you realize it or not — but it’s always the other way. You push when it should be pulled, pull when it should be pushed, and have to go through that awkward three seconds of wup, oh… yeah got it, okay.

Some people have tried to solve this problem by slapping a crooked sticker above the handle that says ‘push’ or ‘pull’, but this is a clumsy and often ineffectual option. Who has time to stop and read before opening a door? In German push is drücken and pull is ziehen – making those signs useless to foreigners, or blind people, or illiterate people, or me. Whenever I see German labels above a door handle I go into an immediate panic and forget every German word I’ve ever learned.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the designers of doors had thought this through before going out and making millions of confusing doors?

I have a solution. 

(Thankfully door designers thought of this before me and I have an example to show.)

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 Push = door with something you can push on. Pull = door with something you can grab.

Beautiful.

Since then I’ve gone a little crazy with the user-focussed design, and my definition of design has broadened to include almost anything you can imagine. For example, my boyfriend and I recently moved into our new apartment, and I was determined to make everything as user-friendly as possible. Have a tendency to throw all your clothes in a big pile on the floor for no discernible reason? Don’t force yourself into doing something that sucks for you, because 1) it’ll always suck and 2) you’ll never really start doing it ‘right.’ Instead, find a way to take what you do naturally and focus that into something more constructive. Design your world so it is user-friendly. So we got two big laundry baskets with lids, one for clean clothes and one for dirty, and instead of piling everything on the floor, we pile everything in them. We still have just as much time/energy to organize clothes as before, but now we’re hiding and organizing the mess in the mean time.

There are no bad users. Just bad design.

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This field is deep and broad and vast and insanely rewarding, and I’ve only just scratched the surface. Being a designer means more than making things pretty – it means making things comfortable, inviting, effortless. It means understanding your user’s psychology and being able to play to their strengths while avoiding their weaknesses. It means starting with data and ending with beauty. It means being good at a thousand things other than Photoshop.

I’m now applying this fresh view of the world to my other, older loves – writing and filmmaking. It’s not about knowing your audience and catering to what you imagine their desires to be – it’s about being clear in as simple and elegant a way as possible. In writing, it’s about stepping away from the flourishes and compound sentences and rampant adjectives and just telling the damn story. In film, it’s about stepping away from rampant dialogue and clumsy exposition and zealous CGI. It’s about all I’ve been told by those more talented and knowledgable than I a thousand times over, but never really, deeply understood. It about communication – as is art.

I read a great article the other day in which Whitney Hess, a long-time professional user experience designer, was asked to describe UX design in two hundred words or less. She has a fantastic blog I highly recommend if anyone is interested in this sort of thing. http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ She speaks more of the role of UX design in the corporate product-creation world, which I suppose I am now a part of. As with her work, her words cut straight to the point, and I couldn’t possibly say it any better:

“User Experience is a commitment to developing products and services with purpose, compassion, and integrity. It is the never-ending process of seeing the world from the customers’ perspective and working to improve the quality of their lives. It is the never-ending process of maintaining the health of the business and finding new ways to help it grow sustainably. It is the perfect balance between making money and making meaning.

The user experience practitioner is neither sage nor saint; it is not their role to have all the answers to life’s questions or to advocate for altruism in a capitalist society. They are simply the facilitators of a more collaborative, transparent way of operating in business today — breaking down the walls between silos and bringing the customer into the boardroom.

User Experience is the responsibility of every member of the organization; it is a central philosophy, shared principles. It is not a series of activities and deliverables to perform, but an enlightened way of being.

UX is mindfulness.”

I’m also a little more open to the idea of jewelry makers and florists considering themselves storytellers – because there’s probably way more going on there than I have any idea about, and who am I to say? 

… though they probably mean more design than storytelling. Just sayin’.

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Inspiration, Thoughts

The Happiness Paradox: Guilt vs Inspiration

I have so many things that I want to do that they get bottlenecked, and instead of dedicating myself to one or two in a reasonable way, I do a little of everything, get overwhelmed, and finish nothing. On the other hand, I often dedicate myself to something completely for an intense, short period of time – and then feel incredibly discouraged when I don’t make as much progress as I think I should have.

I’m struggling to learn a balance between the things I need to put a lot of effort into for a short period of time – like step-oriented projects with feasible, time-specific goals – and things I have to do only a little bit, but every single day – like yoga, or learning another language. 

Getting these two categories mixed is what fuels all my self-doubt, insecurity, discouragement, and occasionally crippling anxiety. Getting it right, though, has yielded some wonderful results. Took me 30 minutes of yoga a day, carefully holding my enthusiasm back and forcing myself to put in the time by turns, for months, to finally be able to easily walk my feet to my toes from a Downward Dog without bending my legs. Trumpets should have sounded to match my glee – instead, my confidence in myself just grew a little. When I finished my book after five months, during four of which I woke up at 5 before work and wrote 2,000 words, every single day, and during one of which I wrote nothing and struggled to pull my self out of intense writer’s block – fireworks should’ve gone off. Instead I just saved for the umpteenth time and sort of looked around and wondered, Well, now what?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen though. Most of the time I have a huge mound of ideas, and I find excuses for why it isn’t the right time, or I take something I am really inspired and passionate about, and I put something I don’t want to do in front of it. Work before play. You want to write another novel, this time a sci-fi narco psychological thriller? Well, you’re going to have to wait until after you’ve graduated, because there just isn’t that much time in a day and homework is your priority. You want to make up a dance routine to this song, right now, because it’s just so damn awesome? Clean the room first, and go buy groceries, and put in some laundry, and then you can do it.

And all those things I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing get done – but the things I really want, the things that both make me feel the most accomplished and others see as the largest accomplishments, don’t get touched.

It’s been a full year and a half since I wrote the first 10,000 words to that sci-fi narco story, and it hasn’t been touched since. I have a drum set packed away ‘until I find a better place for it,’ even though I think about playing every single day. I have a list of books I want to read and a list of photography adventures I want to go on, but I have responsibilities instead. And there’ll be time when I’m done. Except, there never is.

The thing holding me back, that always stomps on my inspiration and confidence, is guilt. Reading for pleasure makes me feel guilty, if my room isn’t clean. Making up a dance routine makes me feel guilty, if I’m not doing it to perform for something. Writing another book makes me feel guilty, because it is such a huge commitment of time and effort, and imagine how good your German would be if you spent that time and effort trying to do that instead?

And you know what ends up happening? I don’t learn that much German because I’m forcing myself to. I keep the room clean and I feel like there’s an itch somewhere deep that never gets scratched, all the time. The restlessness never abates. Now there is new guilt – guilt from not beginning all these projects I think about and talk about all the time. Somewhere deep, my confidence shrinks. And the restlessness begins to turn to listlessness and resignation, and the clock keeps ticking, ticking, ticking.

I’m about to start a 9-6 job, with an hour lunch break. I am leasing my time, which I never have enough of as it is, to someone else. In return, I get independence. Oh, the horrible irony. I have the luxury of having a job during which I get to do things I enjoy and want to do anyway, but I can understand a little now about why people have mid-life crises. Or why I’ve so often heard things like, “I didn’t think my life would turn out this way.” I always thought, If you don’t like your life, then why don’t you change it? But now I’m beginning to understand it isn’t that easy.

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The thing with working for someone, or working for yourself, is that it gives you an excuse to do whatever you’re doing. It rids you of guilt. Getting paid for what you do is enough justification, in anyone’s eyes (except in extreme cases like hit men, though they could probably use the ‘just trying to feed the family’ argument too), to alleviate all guilt. And fun things, things that you want to do, are never things that you should do, and they require either an excuse or an acknowledgement of guilt simply because you want to do them.

But what if… you give yourself permission to do what you want to do?

Creating this blog was sort of a step in that direction. A blog is one of those small, constant things, and it gives me an excuse to create. ‘Oh, I have to do this for my blog.’ ‘Yeah, it’s for my blog.’ Now my little ideas and projects have purpose, permission, and are, mostly, guilt free. Sometimes the boyfriend calls this ‘my expensive toy’ – and suddenly all of this needs an excuse, suddenly I am guilty of wasting my time.

I am the one imposing these limits on myself. I am the one making excuses not to begin. I am the one that needs to change my priorities from doing what I think I should, to doing what makes me happy, settled, content. I am the one that needs to learn to live without guilt.

I think this is especially important when there isn’t so much time in the day, because it forces me to acknowledge that there isn’t much time in life, and if I want to have what I want to have, then I need to start working for it now.

And if I want to be happy, then I need to start working towards what makes me happy now. 

And maybe this fear, this bottlenecking, this inability to get anything done, let alone the things you want to do, will start to solve itself. I’d be much happier cleaning and grocery shopping and doing laundry if I did it after I’ve fed my soul a little, indulged in my creativity a little – if I wasn’t doing it as an obligation to free me from guilt. Maybe then, nothing will feel like an obligation any more. And maybe I won’t ever feel like I’ve wasted time.

Play before work because happiness is always the priority. After happiness, all else follows. And I don’t meant play as a disguise for procrastination – the of-the-moment impulsive wants that lead to Netflix binges and hours on Buzzfeed. I mean the kind of play that means waking up at 5am and going for a run, or cleaning your room so you don’t have that cloud hanging over your head, or writing 2000 words a day, or actually going to see your friends and playing volleyball at the park.

Give yourself permission to play. We only have one life.

And maybe I’ll actually be able to retain some German. Ich habe in Deutschland für fast zwei Jahren zusammen gewohnt und ich bin immer noch verwirrt!

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, 'Atonement.'

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, ‘Atonement.’

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Family, Russia, Thoughts

Happy Birthday Viktor, 75 Year-Old Russian Warrior-Poet

I’ve been in Russia for the last week meeting my boyfriend’s family, and his grandfather is super cool. He just turned 75, but he is as spry and sassy as anyone half his age. He works all day as an engineer at factory of some kind, where he has worked for the last 50 years at least, straight on through the collapse of the USSR. He graduated from the most prestigious engineering program in Russia and was appointed to his position by the Soviet government. He’s kept his job this long by both being the best and purposely not telling anyone else how to do it.

His whole face crinkles around his eyes when he smiles and he has the most dramatic, eloquent, dignified gestures. He drank vodka like a champ from shot glasses that held at least five normal-sized shots in the most theatrical way possible, and revealed he makes his own vodka but couldn’t give us a “vodka making machine” because he “only has one left.”

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Russian shot glass.

He saw me writing in my journal and immediately began quizzing me on my credentials – what was my grade in English in school? How many Russian poets can I quote? When he found out I couldn’t quote any, he gave me a solid lecture on how great Pushkin was and how I need to study him to be a good writer, and then sang me a song.

Then I found out he writes poetry himself, and has even had his poetry published multiple times. He’s written beautiful poems about his whole family, about each of his daughters and his wife. He told me a bunch of Russian fairy tales and terribly dirty jokes. He took any sharp thing anyone said to him or to each other and turned it into a little song. He asked for the specifics of Naz’s job with, “What is your rank?”

He is a proud Russian, and a great example of the warmth, humor, and depth of the Russian people. He opened his home to me and made me feel included and welcome, even though we had to translate everything either of us said through my boyfriend and I represent a long-time adversary of Russia. He’s a great man and deserves a hearty happy birthday, or С днем рождения! in Russian, from wherever you are.

(I read this to my boyfriend’s mom and aunt before publishing, and they said that everyone likes America now, and also that they noticed I didn’t say anything about them opening their homes and making me feel welcome. I said that of course I feel that way about them too, and I was just being specific to Viktor because it was about him and it was his birthday, and they said that they forgive me, “but they will never forget it.” So let me take this moment to state, once and for all, that the whole family made me feel exceedingly welcome, the food was new and delicious, I felt pampered and included the whole time, and I can’t wait to visit again.)

Here is one of Viktor’s poems written about his granddaughter. Unfortunately much of the eloquence and lyricism is lost in translation, but it is sweet and beautiful nonetheless:

Our Nastyulya (cute form of the name Anastasia) is already 20
How fast the time goes ahead
Mother should start worrying
Daughter is going to university 

And it would be fine if she’d just go to one
Then you could understand
I can say certainly – accounting is the force
What else would you desire? 

But that’s not enough for her – in addition
She wants to become a lawyer
Let me clear my ears
Not sure I will still be able to understand though

To go into two universities
Accounting and law, learn everything
Is like a clever joke in a local commercial [tuta]
Is the trying to become a professor? 

Though still difficult with math
Changing different measurements may be hard
Will you say it is a bit scary?
Then come to our summerhouse! 

There you can compare debit and credit
Fix the handle for the shovel
And hear birds singing
And find right ways 

And here coo-coo bird will help you
Count the mounds where the plants are
In which you as an exercise
Planted dill – going to wait for it 

Big successes in universities [I wish you]
Big harvests in summerhouse [I wish you]
Which you will help us gather
As long as you remember the way there 

Just hope you have enough health
And just enough sleep at night
There will not be too little time during the day
For everything – studying and coming to us!

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Germany, Photography, Thoughts

The Drunkfest-Contradiction that is Germany’s Karneval

I’ve just lived through my first Karneval as an honorary Kölner, and nothing else I have seen thus far so perfectly exemplifies the strange contradictions that make up German culture.

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Germans are known to be efficient, direct, and somewhat humourless. They are known for their powerhouse economy, a bunch of scientific and artistic achievements, trying to take over the world twice, and beer. Less well known, but equally valid, is their intense eye contact, innate need to explain jokes after the fact, and a propensity for Jack Wolfskin outerwear.

Now that I’ve lived here for two years the German view of the world, and how it affects every aspect of their lives, is beginning to slowly make sense, and I will attempt to explain it here:

Germans never show up late and always follow the rules of a party. Meaning if the entire city is invited to a giant costume party where everyone is supposed to sing the same songs and get drunk in the streets, they show up promptly, in their costumes, already hammered.

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There were about five more of them, all equally fabulous.

Germans do everything with a single-minded intensity, which means they work hard, and play equally hard. Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, other dressing up and drinking holidays in the States – one day. Karneval? THREE MONTHS, ending in one WEEK of constant madness.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade, day three.

Germans have very serious faces. They just have resting intense-face. Which makes it particularly fun when they wear clown noses and/or dress like a giant banana.

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Dejected bananas.

Dejected bananas.

Germans answer questions honestly. Respected adults can (and do) answer questions like, “What did you do last night?” with “I drank twelve beers and threw up in a plant outside the bar,” if that’s what they actually did last night.

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Mr. Smooth

Patches

Mr. Patches

Germans do not feel cold, as exemplified by all these people outside, because it was super damn cold.

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People in costumes – and also George R. R. Martin.

Germans don’t mind trashing the streets. They are totes fine with waking up super damn early and cleaning it all up again by 9am.

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Police barricade? Pfffft.

Germans are unfazed – unless you start singing Kölle Alaaf, in which case everyone will immediately stop what they’re doing and sing. (This works similarly with a certain specific kind of hooting – my theory is that this is the secret German mating call.)

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Germans view drinking like child birth and grocery shopping – it’s just another part of life. The aforementioned respected adults have no problem talking about their drunken exploits, or dressing up in costume and drinking madly in the streets. The whole American drinking culture is wrapped up in shame and prejudice – either you’re a ‘cool’ young kid drinking irresponsibly, you’re a slightly more responsible young person still drinking to be ‘cool’ or to find someone to have sex with, or you’re middle-aged and drinking is reserved for family gatherings or alone at home. German drinking culture is consistent whether you are 17 or 77 – they go to bars, they go out on the streets, they sing songs and yell and laugh, then stagger home.

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I couldn’t get over how serious everyone was followed by such reckless abandon – but watching them, I began to realise. The beauty of the contradiction between the dignified, hard-working German and the masses of costumed fiends in the streets is that it is not a contradiction at all. We as Americans have a tendency to prioritize appearance over substance, form over function. Germans are the opposite of that in every way. Germans say what they mean and mean what they say. They do with a similar bluntness and lack of shame. They cut straight to the truth, and if the truth is that you are good to your family or good at your job, whether it be as a janitor, student, account executive, or politician, it doesn’t matter how you look or how drunk you get in your free time.

Is it not the appearance that matters, it is the truth – which makes the Karneval tradition of silly disguise a much deeper, more interesting topic than the drunkfest it first appears to be.

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Evil Schemes, Germany, Thoughts

How I Dealt With My Crazy A-Hole Neighbor

Last night was cray. Good news – the police in Germany are courteous, prompt, and super chill.

It started with a note, scrawled with orange and black marker in all-caps, determinedly scotch-taped to our box by the cellar door. We’d finished moving all our stuff up the stairs at midnight and had left a giant Ikea box leaning unobtrusively against the wall to be cut up and thrown away in the morning. We weren’t planning on leaving it there that long, but were helping the people who helped us move to move, so we’d left it there while we were moving furniture and boxes into another apartment uptown.

We returned at 3am. We read the note as best we could and took the offending box upstairs. It said something like:

YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE BOXES HERE!! THE GARBAGE MAN WILL NOT TAKE IT UNTIL IT IS CUT INTO LITTLE PIECES AND PUT IN THE PAPER GARBAGE CAN!!! THAT’S THE BLUE ONE!!

Whoever had written the note had emerged from their apartment some time between midnight and 3am and looked around long enough to find the relatively-hidden box by the cellar door. We had tried to be as quiet as possible, but there was a chance we had awakened them, so them being awake at all wasn’t notable – what disturbed me was the determination with which they set out to discover as much as they could about the source of the noise after the noise had ceased. I imagined them lying awake in bed, waiting until the distant hum of our van’s motor had disappeared, then getting up from bed, finding some sort of clothing and shoes, wandering around the empty stairwell, finding the box, returning to their apartment, finding not just a black marker but also an orange one, writing the note with enough force to wrinkle the paper with ink, finding tape, going back out into the stairwell to tape the note onto the box, then going back to bed — all sometime between 1am and 3am!

I began to imagine who our friendly neighbor downstairs could be. We live on the second floor – the first floor apartment is home to a sweet 90 year-old German woman, and the apartment above us was empty at the time. I couldn’t imagine either of them writing such a note. We’d never seen the person who lived in the ground floor apartment, but we walked passed their windows every day and we’d never seen the heavy metal shutters Germans roll down over their windows at night open. The shutters were also covered in a century worth of dirt, so it was unlikely they were often opened when we weren’t looking.

We faintly heard the distant bark of a dog emanating from the ground floor apartment. It wasn’t annoying and what we could see of the dog itself from our balcony seemed friendly in a hyper way.

Then the next note appeared.

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It was a note perhaps for the garbage man, perhaps for whoever else it was who was taking out their garbage incorrectly. It basically says:

Apparently it doesn’t work without a note. So PLEASE LOOK AT THIS NOTE!!! The door to the garbage must be closed properly! You have to make sure it is LATCHED. Otherwise there is COLD AND VERMIN AND BURGLARS! The LATCH must be turned this direction!

The tone and general vehemence was perhaps a little much, but maybe they were particularly paranoid about burglars despite the extremely low crime rate in the city, and maybe they’d already asked the garbage man to please shut the door all the way multiple times and they’d just had enough at that point. Still – odd enough to take a picture and carefully Google translate every word.

I decided the person in the ground floor apartment was male, old, and full of hate for the world. He loved his dog (so he had that going for him), but he never left his apartment and lived in a musty world without sunlight. He hated everyone who made noise, or smiled, or took out their trash.

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Basically this guy.

Then the music began.

It had actually been going on for some time, but it took a few weeks for the boyfriend and I to realize there was a pattern. A couple times a week bass with enough force and ferocity to rattle us out of our deepest dreams would boom at us from the walls and floor. It was hard to identify the source of the sound. It played most often (and loudest) on Tuesdays, starting after midnight and ending around 8am.

Strangest of all – we became sure it was the same song played over and over for eight hours. The repetition of the bass line was too clear to ignore. We started humming to it and dancing to it in an effort to make it our own, and thus rid it of its power.

One night we passed a party in an apartment a building away from ours. We were shocked their bass could reach us in our apartment, but they must’ve had almighty subwoofers and were probably some sort of fraternity with a very odd and specific party-schedule. We closed the case on the loud music.

Basically these guys.

Basically these guys.

Then the third note appeared. It had replaced the first and the thickness and orange-ness of the letters clearly showed the growing ferocity.

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It was accompanied by a second note, this one taped directly to the garbage can.

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They’re super upset that the garbage man (or whoever) isn’t closing the door to the tiny garbage-courtyard thing properly. They’re also unhappy about the distribution of garbage per-can.

Aaaaaand another one:

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In this one they’re still upset about all the usual things, but they also ask if the offending garbage-handlers are retarded or not, and if the retarded garbage handlers had any further questions that they should contact the landlord.

Then we contacted the landlord.

He came over to help us with a small mold problem. We asked, as nonchalantly as possible, about the other tenants in the building. He was immediately alert. We told him we were asking because of a slew of aggressive, exclamation-mark-filled letters. Our landlord might possibly be the best landlord of all time. He is super excited about everything and immediately answers our questions regardless of the time of day – as in, we’ll send him an email, and four minutes later our phone rings. His English is great, but in trying to describe the ground floor tenant he was reduced to gestures.

“It is a woman. She can be nice. But she’s sick. She has…” Here he made his hand flat and ridged and placed it along the bridge of his nose. “… zwei Gesichtsstörung.”

“She has… two faces? She’s two-faced?”

“Yes. It is a disease. She is two people, different sides. But she can be nice.”

Then the boyfriend met her.

He was coming home one day the same time she was. And she wasn’t old or miserly or obviously full of malice. She was extremely nice. Offered to help us out if there was anything we needed. He offered the same back. They introduced themselves and shook hands. She was young, early thirties at the latest, with tightly curled red hair and an open face.

We were both excited and terrified. What did having a disease that made you two-faced, two people, mean exactly? Did she actually have split personality disorder? Did she know she had split personality disorder? Had the boyfriend met the nice one, and did the mean one only come out when garbage or sunlight was involved? Should we talk to her? Should we avoid her? Should we try to find out more things about her?

Then one sunny Wednesday morning the usual Tuesday night bass continued a bit longer, and as we headed down the stairs and out the front door to work, we realized:

It was her. The music had been her’s the whole time.

Now that we were closer, we could clearly understand the words that had only been hinted at in the groggy dark of 4am. It was rap, hard and full of pop-capping violence, and was playing so loudly the perpetually closed shutters rattled with each measured pound of the bass.

Now, last night.

The boyfriend and I arrived late after our trip from Belgium. Because of the Christmas holiday and a broken train it’d taken us five hours to travel a distance that usually took one and a half, and we were exhausted. We got home, threw our luggage all over the floor, and crawled into bed.

At 12:20, the music started.

We realized it was Tuesday night and thus in for a long one.

Unlike most nights, we were not awakened from a very deep sleep. We’d only just gone to bed. Also unlike most nights, we were simultaneously exhausted and oddly wired. Our cheeks were still cold from the wind outside. We could not fall asleep with that music.

I got dressed and went downstairs, determined to solve this like an adult but terrified her Mr. Hyde, violent gangsta rapper personality would be in control and she would pop a cap in my ass. I rang the doorbell over and over and knocked on the door, becoming more confident the longer there was no response. After a few minutes I went back upstairs.

We then texted our landlord a lengthy message about how we didn’t want to disturb him so late, but there was some really loud music coming from the bottom apartment and we weren’t sure what to do about it.

Forty seconds later, he called back.

“Call the police. I’ve texted you the number.” He said. “Let me know how it goes – don’t worry about waking me up.”

So I called the police. I was now imagining the consequences of the police showing up. What if she turned off the music before they arrived? What if she got angry and blew open our door and murdered us in our sleep? What if she started posting angry notes all over the place?

The police dispatcher was the single most cheerful person I have ever heard, minus the man who sold me ham this afternoon. She let out a chiming, “Good morning!” and asked what I needed and what my address was, then transferred me to the noise-complaint office.

(I’ve since learned 1 in 2 Germans have called the police at some point with a noise complaint. The police department may have actually had a noise-complaint office.)

The guy I talked to was super chill. He couldn’t speak English and my German was sloppy at best but he charged on like poor communication wasn’t ain’t nothin’ but a thang. He got my name and address and told me an officer should arrive soon to go up to our apartment, listen to the music, determine whether or not it was loud enough to justify a complaint, then deal with it accordingly. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his time, like I had something to hide, or like my complaint was a stupid one. At the end he said, “Yo! Ciao!” which only super hip trendy Germans do.

I hung up and waited. I was nervous but feeling like I’d done the right thing.

I woke up two hours later to the most almighty terrifying racket of my life.

Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs, not with fear, but with rage. The music was still blasting and I could easily distinguish her words above it, the shrieking was so loud.

She was screaming noooooooo noooooo and a bunch of curse words in English. She was also slamming her door open and shut as hard as she could.

It was this crazy crashing that startled me out of sleep with such force.

The lights were on and I was fully dressed. The police had never come, or if they had, they hadn’t tried to ring our doorbell or come up to our apartment.

The banging started again, echoing across the whole block – the whole damn city. The boyfriend locked the front door and we prepared for war. BAM BAM BAM BAM.

I called the police again. Was greeted with another glorious, “Good morning! Köln police!” Announced I was the one with bad German who had a loud neighbor. Was transferred. The super chill guy answered and recognized me immediately. I asked him if the police had come and he was surprised. Said not only had the police come, but they had determined the music was loud enough to justify a complaint from the street and had already spoken to the tenant at length. I said the music was going again loud and strong and now there was also screaming and terrifyingly aggressive door-slamming. He said he would send them again right away.

“Yo! Night! Ciao!”

I didn’t hear the police come, but I’m guessing they must’ve because when I woke up around 6am, confused as to why I had so many clothes on and why all the lights were on, the apartment was silent.

I have no idea what might happen next. It could be nothing – it could be anything. I’m a little relieved we’ll be in Berlin next Tuesday. But the Tuesday after that and all Tuesdays thereafter? Who knows.

The garbage man came this morning. When I went downstairs, I saw that he had not only left the door open, but had drug the stinkiest of the many garbage cans into the hallway and left it there, just a few feet from the ground floor apartment’s front door.

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Family, Film, Inspiration, Thoughts

The Lacy Klan – The Pecos Wilderness

For those of you who haven’t read my past post (http://wp.me/p4WLbG-1u), the Lacy Klan is the term I use to describe the sprawling, varied, and extraordinarily enthusiastic mass of madness that is my extended family. My grandparents on my mom’s side had eight children – six boys and two girls. They’ve since grown and many have had children of their own, and some of their children have children now as well. The Klan grows, but despite the large cast of characters, we have made an effort to stay close and connected.

There are two main phases to Lacy Klan festivities – summer and winter. If you remember our winter traditions of blowing up zombie and/or Sasquatch effigies and sliding down the pristine dunes of White Sands National Park, and you think you understand, to some degree, our general fun-level, you might be wrong. Because for Summer we are more likely to go outside and we aren’t constrained by the more ridged and well-established rituals of Christmas and Thanksgiving. During the Summer, we just do whatever we want.

Thus, the Lacy Klan backpacking trips were born.

Nearly every Summer a great troupe of the Klan saddles themselves with heavy backpacks and charges off into the wilderness of northern New Mexico. Most years our goal is the Gila Hot Springs, a magic place of cliffs and serpentine rivers and clear pools of naturally hot water set into the bedrock. 

One of the first serious stories I ever wrote was about the first of these trips that involved the kids, who at that time only consisted of myself and my two cousins. It was called Keeping Up With Uncle Steve, and it detailed the entire adventure there and back again, including that one time we almost got caught in a flash flood, and the time my Uncle Richard told his son Zach to not move with such ferocity that Zach bolted into the woods and nearly got a fish hook stuck in him, and that one time a huge boulder cracked and fell off of the cliff we were camped below and we all ran screaming into the woods, in the middle of the night.

Needless to say it was a great time, a true Lacy Klan legend and a particularly strong memory of my childhood, and there is a long-forgotten (but hopefully not lost!) video made of that trip as well. It’s 40 minutes long, and my first real attempt at editing.

Since those days the ‘kid’ bracket of the Lacy Klan has grown considerably, and our Summer Backpacking Trip has become something of a rite of passage. There’s a lot of talk about whether the kids are ‘tough enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to handle the strenuous hike. This is done mostly in front of them, so when it comes time to prove themselves the kids all understand the grave nature of the tradition they are entering into. I’m proud to say that the kids have shown an enormous amount of maturity and determination, and most are old hands at hiking already.

In the Summer of 2012 the Klan embarked on a new journey. We couldn’t go through the Gila as we’d always done because it was literally on fire. Instead we decided to go to the Pecos Wilderness, which is much higher and colder, and hike to a secret mountain lake. No one had ever been there before but we were confident we could handle it.

It was considerably more difficult than we anticipated. It wasn’t very far, but it was way more vertical than we’d expected it to be. The youngest member of the Klan for this trip was little Hannah, who I am proud to say walked the whole way on her own, carried her own backpack for most of the hike, and was not the first to have a total emotional meltdown.

The saga of that particular trip is told with pretty music and pretty pictures in the video at the bottom of the page.

I’ve only missed one trip, and I hope to never miss one again. I was in Germany at the time and thus missed the first trip for a good handful of the kids.

It was strange for me to imagine them, a small group of almost-teens, walking the same path with the same people I had when I was their age – while I walked alone through the cobbled streets of some German town, thousands of miles away.

Today is Thanksgiving. I write this on my lunch break at my desk at work, surrounded by people who have heard of Thanksgiving but don’t really know it’s today and don’t really understand what it means. To me, it means the beginning of the best part of the year is finally here, because the Lacy Klan is coming together again. To me, it means green chile enchiladas and pecan pie. It means a whole day spent wandering from the front yard, to the back yard, to the hammock, to the trampoline. It means laughter from all sides and the well-known, friendly faces of family at every turn.

This Thanksgiving I will stay at this desk until the sun goes down, until the wind and bitter cold entrench themselves. Then I will walk to the train, ride the train for awhile, then walk over cobble-stoned streets to the front door of my apartment building. Then I will have some delicious soup the boyfriend has made for me, and I will Skype a segment of the far-away Lacy Klan. I cannot find the words to describe what this, and all of that, means to me. That I can be so far and still be so close. I have been blessed, and I am so, so grateful.

To the Lacy Klan: I can’t wait to be with you again, and I am especially excited for the next chapter of our Backpacking Trip adventures. I will do all I can to make that possible.

Also: COME VISIT ME. During the Summer the days are fifteen hours long, and you can drink the best beer in the world, in the streets, any time you want, legally. (I’m looking at you Mike.) (Well, and Steve.) (And Richard, and Doug.) (Hell, the whole lot of you. The beer here is as good as they say. Easily worth the price of a plane ticket.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmIk7kl-mM]

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