Coffee, Pumpkin, and a Dash of Snark

This week, if we were having coffee, we’d be having pumpkin coffee, because tis the season, and that’s what we’re serving here. If you don’t like pumpkin, then you can get your coffee someplace else, or seek professional medical advice, because you probably had your taste buds surgically removed by aliens without your knowledge. My pantry is currently hosting all manner of pumpkin-flavored treats, from coffee, to oatmeal, to Costco’s pumpkin muffins, which produce a feeling of joy only second to that which I occasionally experience when taking Holy Communion.

Girl dancing alone in an autumn forest (image credit Ed Gregory via Stokpic)
The heavens are telling the glory of autumn!

In an ideal diet, the four food groups would be chocolate, peanut butter, alcohol, and pumpkin. What? Alcohol is fermented fruit. Don’t tell me that’s not a food group. Sit down.

If we were having coffee, you’d get to hear about how one of my paratransit drivers on the way home from work last week tried to convert me to Christianity, because apparently Catholicism doesn’t count. I’ve heard this misinformed argument before, but this is neither the time nor the place to debunk it. I could have thrown all kinds of historical evidence at him to argue that all denominations of Christianity are derivatives of Catholicism, but in fact (and this might surprise you) I’m actually not that obnoxious. Sufficed to say, however, I don’t take kindly to the suggestion that I’m not a Christian.

I talk for a living, so usually at the end of the day, I like my head space, and I don’t want anyone invading it. It’s not that I’m rude or uncommunicative. On the contrary, anyone who knows me well will tell you that once I start talking, good luck shutting me up, but when you’ve spent your entire day repeating the rules of the Oxford comma five times in a row, trust me, it dulls your enthusiasm for conversation.

“So, do you know Jesus?” the driver asked.
“Yes, he lives next-door.” (I wish I’d said this. Hello, staircase wit. We meet again.) “Yes, I’m Catholic,” was my actual, underwhelmingly non-witty reply.
“Oh, you’re Catholic?” The driver asked this in the tone you might imagine someone asking, “Oh, you eat babies?”

He proceeded to continue asking questions including was I married? Did I have children? Why didn’t I live with my parents? (Yet another person who hasn’t received the memo that people with disabilities can and do live alone without harming themselves or their immediate neighbors). The questions continued for my entire commute: Did I have friends? Was my dog Catholic too? (That one, I had to admit, was funny, so, small bonus). As a rule, I limit my conversations with my paratransit drivers to “Turn left at the mailbox,” so my reserves of patience had been stretched well beyond their limits. When he asked me why I didn’t live with anyone, I may or may not have replied with some variation of “because I’m not really a fan of people.” He seemed to run out of questions at this point. Make of this what you will; I’m admitting nothing.

In the department of happy-making things, autumn, in addition to the season of pumpkin, is also my season for cozy mysteries. Since the crimes are generally culinary in nature and often include either recipes or tangential mini-lectures from the main character about food, cozy mysteries are, quite literally, junk food for the brain. My current series of choice is the Coffee House Mystery series by Clio Coyle, which is surprisingly more cerebral than some of the other cozy mysteries I’ve read (Joanne Fluke, anyone?). Full disclosure: despite what I’ve always said to the contrary about genre fiction not being a dirty word, I have rather discerning tastes when it comes to the cozy mystery genre. Okay, let’s not mince words; I’m a total snob about my cozy mysteries. I’m not far enough into the series to offer a balanced review, but I love a good cozy. Give me one that pairs a credibly-spun plot with the perfect cup of coffee, and you’ve brewed me a braingasm.

So, tell me about you; what are you reading? What are you drinking? What do you love about autumn? If you noticed that my sweat is starting to smell vaguely of cinnamon and nutmeg when you hug me, would you tell me?

From Hilarity to Heartbreak and Back Again: some Thoughts on Seeing “Kingsman: the Golden Circle”

When news broke that “Kingsman: the Secret Service” (2015) would be followed by a sequel, my initial reaction was one of skepticism. I only became a convert after the trailer dropped at this year’s comic Con, and I approached the film much as I approach any film that falls somewhere on the parody spectrum—fully intending to embrace it for what it was without allowing my hyper-critical eye to interfere with my enjoyment. When I finally saw “Kingsman: the Golden Circle” on opening weekend, I didn’t expect my emotions to run the gamut from hysterical laughter to heartbroken in what amounted to 2 hours and 20 minutes of emotional whiplash.

In short, after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the agents journey to America and team up with their “American cousins,” the Statesman, and work to bring down a drug cartel known as the Golden Circle.

*****WARNING!***** Some of what follows is shamelessly spoiler-y. I make no further apologies. Read on at your own risk.

Given that the first film left me reeling, I recognize in hindsight that I should have braced myself for the roller-coaster. Even after having weeks to reflect and process, my emotions are still spinning madly in multiple directions, so what follows amounts less to a review than a list-style breakdown of the key takeaways for me.

Happy-Making Things

Eggsy- When I reviewed “Kingsman: the Secret Service,” I observed that Taron Egerton held his own remarkably well amongst the likes of seasoned actors including Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson, and Colin Firth. In “The Golden Circle,” Egerton owns the screen. Now adorably awkward, now authoritative, Egerton has matured both as a Kingsman agent and as an actor. Committed to putting his training into practice and living out Harry’s legacy (more on that later), he still maintains a certain tenderness beneath his toughened armor that made us first fall in love with and cheer for Eggsy.

Merlin- Mark Strong brings immense depth to this character. Alternating between tough and tender, he’s clearly shouldered the responsibility of filling (or at least trying to fill) the void that losing Harry has left in Eggsy’s life. Beneath the repeated remonstrances to “remember your training,” Merlin’s respect for Eggsy not as a mentee, but as a fellow agent shows itself markedly when the pair find themselves the only survivors after their headquarters are destroyed and together they must bear the grief of their lost colleagues as they continue the work they’ve set out to do. Not to mention (SPOILER ALERT!) you can’t help but admire a man who can muster the strength to belt out a chorus of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” in his final moments as he stands on a landmine.

Harry Hart- Once again, Colin Firth delivers an exquisitely nuanced performance. With seamless precision, he balances tender timidity with—there’s just no other way to put this—ass-kicking authority. The scene in which Eggsy uses the puppy to trigger Harry’s memories demonstrates this balancing act most effectively; in the instant that Harry regains his awareness, we can almost hear a click in Firth’s brain as he activates that switch. Can I just say here that their embrace, with Harry cradling the puppy in one arm, is pure hurt/comfort fanfiction gold? My heart crumbled like a warm brownie straight from the oven.

Admittedly, the idea of resurrecting Hart by injecting fluid into the brain after covering the eyes with something that resembles the plastic wrap in my kitchen cupboard stretches the boundaries of plausibility, but Matthew Vaughn never promised us plausible. On the contrary, from the moment we learned that Harry Hart would be returning from the dead, Vaughn was basically saying “check plausible at the door. Here are your suspension of disbelief glasses. Have fun.”

Poppy- Julianne Moore makes a delightfully devilish villain, and this is quite possibly one of my favorite of her performances. Saccharine sweet and smooth-talking, she utilizes every moment of her screen time to hypnotize her audience. If she can convince one of her henchman to swallow a bite of a meat pattie consisting of one of his own dismembered limbs, the rest of us don’t stand a chance. Go home, villains of the world. Poppy’s got this one covered.

Critical Concerns

Storyline- admittedly, the plot is all over the map. from Eggsy’s relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Ahlstrom), to Harry’s Amnesia, to the war on drugs, we never quite know where to look. Despite this fact, however, the film still works, because what it might lack in plot continuity, it more than makes up for with character dynamics. These characters—and the actors who portray them—have established such clearly authentic bonds of friendship that we want to spend more time with them in whichever wacky direction they choose to take us. Most of those adventures predictably involve some heavily alcohol-lubricated, testosterone-charged male bonding, but when you give me Colin Firth cuddling a puppy, my iron feminist resolve will immediately crack. I’m sorry, but you can’t read the words Colin Firth and puppy in the same sentence and not feel, just for a moment, that nothing bad will ever happen to the planet ever again. Don’t judge. On that note, though…

Ginger Ale- In an otherwise scathing review, the New York times pointed out, not altogether unfairly, that The Golden Circle is a man’s film, and women have to get behind. Unfortunately, this proves largely true in the case of Halle Berry’s brilliantly-played Ginger Ale. Intelligent and capable, she can clearly hold her own amongst the male agents and can handle far more than tech support, yet she constantly gets passed over for field work when Agent Whiskey (excellently portrayed by Pedro Pascal) votes her down. In fairness, however, “The golden Circle” manages a challenging balancing act in a film that’s part-parody, part-tribute to the spy genre—a genre that has a notorious reputation for being less than kind to female characters. Of course, Ginger Ale does get her moment of glory in the end, and while I’d have liked to see her character developed further, her promotion gestures toward that potential development since whispers have already begun circulating about rounding the franchise out into a trilogy.

“The Golden Circle” also boasts performances from Jeff Bridges (Champ), Channing Tatum (Tequila), and a hilariously outlandish appearance by the one and only Elton John. If audiences continue to respond well to the film, the likelihood of that third sequel materializing will increase. It finished first in the box-office on opening weekend, grossing $39 million in the U.S and $100 million worldwide, and its earnings have since nearly doubled its $104 million production budget. Despite mixed critical reviews, fans have clearly not been disappointed, and I for one am already on board with Eggsy, Harry, and the rest of the gang in whatever adventures await them.

Coffee and Questions

When I began participating in the weekend coffee share blog prompt, the reason I found the exercise so appealing was the fact that it’s structured to challenge writers to visualize an audience, and who better to serve as your composite listener than your best coffee buddy—the confidant to whom you can tell your deepest, darkest secrets without fear of judgement? Yes, even the one about how you spent three days eating Oreos in bed after your boyfriend dumped you. Not that I did that. Whatever you heard, that wasn’t me. Moving on.

If writing is a dialogue, it follows that audiences must have questions—a fact that the lovely Lorna over at Gin and Lemonade recently reminded me. In case you haven’t noticed, she’s generally responsible for all of the brilliantly sparkling fairy dust with which I regularly sprinkle my readers. She recently posed a series of questions on her blog, and I’m going to attempt to answer them with the Oscar Wilde-inspired wit to which you have all become accustomed, or something.

What are you reading right now?

This is a dangerous question to ask an English teacher. The short answer: everything. The long answer: I generally have at least 3 books in progress, sometimes more, which explains why I never get through more than 30 books a year. This number makes me feel disgustingly lazy, but I always start what I finish, so, there’s that. Right now I’m working my way through the Jane Austen mystery series by Stephanie Barron and whatever guilty pleasure internet fanfiction I have bookmarked, including this gem—a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey that cannot but send me to my happy place.

How did you meet your best friends?

At school, or through work, because apparently my life lacks imagination. I like to add spice to this answer by telling people I met one of my best friends in an attic, because not only does it sound amusingly arbitrary, it’s literally true. When I was a graduate student, the office space for first-years was relegated to an attic even Bertha Mason would have admitted needed an interior decorator…or a demolition crew. It’s also the birthplace of a friendship that has enriched my life with more hilarity than I thought humanly possible.

What makes you laugh?

Snoopy dancing on top of a piano in the Charley Brown Christmas special. The word squirrel. Every word Helen Fielding has ever written. This scene from “The Big Bang Theory”:

What’s your favorite city?

My default answer would be London, but the London of my dreams probably doesn’t count. With a few exceptions, I’m embarrassingly untraveled, so I’m going to stick to my Florida roots here. I adore St. Augustine for its rich history. I fell in love with Key West during a cruise in which we docked there for a day; it has Hemingway House. And cats. Many, many cats. One of the cats granted me permission to approach for a 30-second cuddle. Also margaritas. You can get those anywhere, but they taste better in Key West. On a related note, if you’re willing and able to aid the restoration efforts following Hurricane Irma, especially in the Keys, where 25 % of homes have been destroyed, you can find more information about local organizations in South Florida here, among other places.

Who do you miss right now?

My long-distance besty—yes, the same one I met in an attic. The wine just doesn’t taste as sweet without her.

What’s your coffee order?

Grande Caramel Macchiato. I used to order it skinny until one day when I really focused while tasting it and decided that a skinny latte pretty much defeats the purpose of living. The same rule applies to the skinny midnight mocha Frappuccino, which was such an underwhelming experience that after the first few sips, I had a small meltdown because I was convinced I’d somehow damaged my taste buds.

What’s your favorite alcohol/cocktail?

The kind you drink, but I wouldn’t turn down a Brandy Alexander.

Do you think social media is still social?

I think you have to make an effort, as with any social interaction. Humans seek validation, and in the internet culture of “likes” and “reactions” and emojis of everything from clapping hands to eggplants, communication has become pretty low-maintenance. I mean, when you “like” my status update about the time my dog vomited all over the bedroom at 3 AM, an hour before I had to wake up for work, are you praising my ability to find the moment of comedic timing in my tragedy, or are you just passive-aggressively wishing me nothing but misery? Comment features exist so that we don’t feel like we’re shouting into the void; I’d like to see more people using them.

What do you do on the weekend?

Grade papers, drink wine, and question my life choices. Usually simultaneously, because multitasking is just how we roll in the Shire.

What’s your favorite quote?

A few times in my life, I’ve had moments of absolute clarity.
When for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can think rather than feel…
And things seem so sharp and the world seems so fresh. I can never make these moments last. I cling to them, but like everything, they fade. I have lived my life on these moments.
They pull me back to the present and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.

– “A Single Man” (2009 film)

In similar news, I probably need to re-watch that movie, since I’ve been quoting it exhaustively of late, but during the academic year, a movie about a guy who teaches English, drinks a lot of gin, and questions his life choices hits a little too close to home for comfort (see above).

I guess somehow I’ve become a link in the chain of random questions, so here are mine:
1. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?
2. If you had to be stuck in an elevator with anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, who would you choose, and why?
3. Have you ever seriously wondered what dogs dream about?
4. Penguins: for or against?
5. What is your opinion of Pumpkin? (There is only one correct answer, so don’t bother unless your opinion includes the words pumpkin and tastegasm in the same sentence).

If you feel inclined, share your answers in the comments, or blog them and link me in your answers so I can read them, because inquiring minds want to know.

Of Dogs and Disasters and Death-Defying Actors

Happy Labor Day! I’ve spent my day creating PowerPoint presentations on comma splices and misplaced modifiers, which was labor-intensive and not at all happy. I’d like a refund, please.

School is back in session, so if we’re having coffee this week, I should tell you that I’ve swapped my usual two cups a day for a caffeine IV drip…I wish.

Last weekend everyone on the internet was celebrating National dog day. Somehow, that never registered on my radar, which probably makes me a terrible person. When you have a service animal though, every day is dog day. My dog is probably the reason why my blood pressure is still hovering somewhere in the range that we can medically call normal. Petting a dog for just a few minutes can apparently send calming signals to the brain, which is why I’ve made an executive decision to remove my dog’s harness when I’m in my office between classes. Students come to repair the cracks and comma splices in their essays, they get a five-minute shot of brain therapy, and my dog gets a free massage. 3 for the price of one.

Unfortunately, there are exceptions to the rule. Some people just don’t like dogs, and some take being afraid of them to a disturbing level. I was reminded of this on my morning commute a few days ago when I attempted to board the paratransit van that arrived to take me to work only to have another passenger scream in my face because he was afraid of dogs. I sympathize, but when I’m late for work, this really isn’t my problem. Get over it or go home. The driver insisted that I couldn’t board the vehicle because he needed to accommodate the other client. Last time I checked, fear of dogs is not a legal disability, so I got to stand in the rain and explain why my rights were being violated. Did I mention I was undercaffeinated? My service animal was documented; the other client’s fear of animals wasn’t, so, again, not my problem.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how screaming in my face before I’ve had at least two cups of coffee won’t end well for you, but if you were the sort of person who’d scream in my face before I’ve had coffee, I’d be having coffee with someone else. Did I also mention that my apparently ferocious, I-will-eat-your-face guide dog was, throughout this entire confrontation, cowering behind me with his tail between his legs, doing a pretty accurate impression of not eating someone’s face?

In other news that falls in the category of happy-making things, if we were having coffee—or vodka—you’d get to listen to me squeal about the fact that we’re less than a month away from the release of Kingsman: the Golden Circle. At some point in the conversation, you’d wonder why and how this will work when we all saw Samuel L Jackson shoot Colin Firth in the head at point-blank range in the first film. My only response is that Hollywood knows when it’s made a mistake, and clearly a Firthless franchise would leave a gaping hole in the universe too large to contemplate. Now, however, we all get to sleep soundly at night because Colin Firth is decidedly not dead and is single-handedly going to save the world while sporting a cowboy hat and an eyepatch.

I don’t think Colin Firth is actually ever going to die. If he does, the world will just unite and synchronously chant his name until he resurrects like the 10th Doctor in “The Last of the time Lords.” I know, I know, but a girl can dream, right?

Coffee, Ableism, and Randomness

If we were having coffee, lucky you, because we’re talking about ableism yet again, and how this word pervades every aspect of my life.

This time, it involved a well-meaning but obviously ignorant technician at the eyebrow threading kiosk in my local mall. I only wanted to pop in because I was starting to look like an unfortunate Hogwarts student who’d been hit between the eyes with a hair-thickening charm. If you’re at all familiar with facial hair threading, you know that part of the process involves holding your skin tightly while the technician threads so that your skin isn’t pulled or pinched as the hair is removed. It’s a simple enough task, but apparently if you’re blind, you don’t know where your own face is, so this simple task now becomes monumentally challenging.

“I need you to hold,” the technician explained, beginning to guide my hands toward my forehead. “Can you do?” And then, turning to my mother, who happened to be with me, “Can she hold?” I wanted to roll my eyes, but they were closed, which would, I think, have diminished the effect.
“It’s fine,” I assured her. “I’ve got it. I’ve done this before.”
“Oh, you do this before? That’s very good.” (It’s also very condescending, but whatever).

If I were telling you this story over coffee, you might be inclined to point out that maybe she was just making polite conversation, and I might have agreed with you if not for what followed. . I placed one hand on my forehead and the other on my eyelid, at which the technician exclaimed, “She very smart!” Really? I was touching my face. You could probably train a monkey to do that. On balance, I chose not to reply, because it’s best not to be snarky to someone who’s about to yank hair from your face. “How about I rip you so you bleed? You like?” No, not particularly, thanks.

Other things on my mind this week: Why is it that the average person will spend approximately 43 days on hold with customer service in their entire lifetime? That’s, like, almost the entirety of my summer vacation. Do you have any idea how much productivity I could fit into 43 days? I could grade roughly 5,160 papers in 43 days…I think. I could also learn to be better at math. Frankly, if hold time doesn’t show any sign of improving, I think call centers should just replace hold music with recordings of Hugh Grant reading John Keats poetry. I think that would bring my blood pressure down from “I’m almost dead” to “Oh my god get off my Island this is my happy place.”

I should probably just implant a chip in my brain that plays British male celebrities reading Romantic and Victorian poetry on loop. Then maybe I wouldn’t regularly wind myself into such a tight ball of anxiety that I break out in hives. My doctor said I should avoid stress, because stress is bad for you. Who knew? I laughed. Hard. Then I started to stress out over that in case she thought I was being rude, so, yeah, maybe she has a point.

You know what, never mind the coffee. Can we have alcohol instead?

Girl reading in bathtub with candles and wine.
Not me, but this is what my happy place looks like.

Writer and Teacher

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