Category Archives: Humor

Making a New Start: or, How I Discovered the Wisdom of Bridget Jones in a Fortune Cookie

Several weeks ago, I met a few friends for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant, and as usual, at the end of the meal, each of us broke open our fortune cookies to read aloud, between crunches, the nuggets of wisdom tucked inside. I generally put about as much faith in fortune cookies as I do in my weekly horoscope; neither have ever contained phrases like “A million dollars,” “You’ve won an all-expenses paid trip to England,” or “full time employment.” They’re slips of paper baked into a hard pastry shell, after all, not the Amazing Kreskin. This time turned out much the same. “Welcome the good change coming into your life soon,” my cookie prophesied.
“How suitably vague,” I mused. “That could involve anything from winning the lottery to ‘The Big Bang Theory’ returning to Thursday nights and thus restoring order in my universe.”

On the drive home, I found myself chatting with my friends teenage daughter about relationships. In a mojito-inspired burst of Bridget Jonseian wisdom, I suddenly heard myself declaring, “Never settle for someone who makes you want to do everything they want to do. Don’t sacrifice your identity for anyone. (unless he’s 6’1 and English. Then maybe you can negotiate, but just a bit). Nobody makes you whole. You’re an individual with or without anyone else. You don’t need anyone to make you a whole person.”

“Why,” I wondered as I got ready for bed, “is it so easy to give advice to others and not follow it ourselves?” Everything I told my friend’s daughter I’ve learned from my own experiences. My bruised, battle-scarred heart tells a story of resilience. I’m proud of those bruises. They remind me that I’m brave enough to fall in love and strong enough to survive and climb out from beneath the rubble of crushed dreams. I thought again of my flimsy fortune and suddenly recalled that this month, I will celebrate what I’ve affectionately termed my “Bridget Birthday.”

Anyone who’s seen the 2001 film adaptation of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary knows that it all began for her in her 32nd year, and by “it,” she means everything. Between losing and gaining a job, losing and gaining a boyfriend, and learning how not to climb a fireman’s pole, Bridget learns that being a woman of substance doesn’t mean getting it right all the time; rather, it means learning how to fall, and how to brush yourself off when you do so you can try again and maybe, or maybe not, land on your feet the next time.

Bridget Jones writing in her diary
“It is a universally acknowledged truth that when one area of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces.”- Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

As I thought about Bridget’s story and how much I’ve learned from her about how to be a woman in a world that seems full of wrong turns and roadblocks, I made a resolution to make this year, my 32nd, the year of Bridget. So, to start things off right, I’ve made a list—not exhaustively long because I’m nothing if not practical—of my Bridget year resolutions.

1. Stop obsessing about your job

You have one. Many people don’t. It will lead to bigger and better opportunities in its own time. Life is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash.

2. Stop comparing yourself to others

When you set other peoples’ lives up as the gold standard for your own, you set yourself up for disappointment. Tell your own story. Live your own life.

3. Stop obsessing about being single

Just because you haven’t gotten married, bought a house, or had a baby, you’re no less of an adult than anyone who has. (Re: stop comparing).

4. Stop thinking of your heart as broken

Your heart may be bruised, but it beats, and it feels, and it remembers how to love, if you’ll let it. You’ve been hurt, yes—badly. So have a lot of other people. Your heart is whole, beautiful, and full of love. Your love is a gift; give it where you know it will be treasured.

Before you offer your heart to someone, check to see if he’s holding out his hand, ready to take it. If he’s not, it doesn’t mean you’re unworthy; it just means he’s not ready to hold something that precious and cherish it the way it deserves to be cherished. Don’t stand there thinking one day he’ll decide to hold out his hand and take it. When and if he’s ready, he will come to you and ask you to share it with him. If he never does, someone else will, because you’re worth it. Your heart is a one-of-a-kind, limitted edition jewel. It deserves to be treated as such.

5. At least once a day, tell yourself that you’re a strong, confident, woman of substance, comfortable with who you are, just as you are

Tell yourself this as many times as you need to until you believe it, and even when you do believe it.

Question

Do you make birthday resolutions? What have you resolved to do this year?

5 Times We Fell in Love with Colin Firth

He’s left audiences spellbound with his Academy Award-winning portrayal of King George VI in “The King’s Speech.” He’s displayed a surprisingly impressive set of stunt skills in Matthew Vaughn’s “Kingsman: the Secret Service.” He carved a permanent place for himself in the hearts of women the world over with his tenderly authentic portrayal of Mark Darcy in “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” But there’s a bit more to Colin Firth than a dive into a lake and the fact that thanks to him no one else can ever win an ugly sweater contest ever again. Ever.

Photo of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy wearing his reindeer jumper in Bridget Jones's Diary
Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), image credit Miramax

In honor of his birthday today, here’s a look at 5 times the world fell in love with Colin Firth.

1. His 2011 Golden Globes acceptance speech

When he scooped up his Best Actor award at the Golden Globes in 2011 for “The King’s Speech,” the first of many accolades, it was easy to forget for 50 seconds that Firth was drawing on the talent for which he was being awarded. Nonetheless, post-gameshow press recaps praised him for essentially showing showbiz how it’s done.

Go home, Hollywood. Colin’s got this one covered.

2. His moment of gallantry at the 2012 BAFTA Awards

Colin Firth doesn’t break the Internet very often, but we all remember flailing when Meryl Streep, in an adorable if inadvertent Cinderella impression, lost a shoe while mounting the stage to accept an award, and Firth, in true Prince Charming mode, retrieved it for her while his wife Livia looked on with an expression that clearly said, “Sorry, ladies. This one’s mine.”

On a side note, reenacting this scene in the rain while running to teach a class doesn’t conjure Colin from the shadows to save you, as I discovered, to my acute embarrassment. But that’s another story.

3. His jab at Ricky Gervais at the 2012 Golden Globes

Colin Firth is the king of deadpan, and that is all. When Ricky Gervais, albeit jokingly, called him a racist kitten-puncher at the 2012 Golden Globes, this was Firth’s response.

Colin Firth 1, Ricky Gervais 0.

4. His moment of appreciation for Jane Austen

In a 2006 interview, when asked to name the women in his life, Firth replied, “my wife, my mother, and Jane Austen.” While some of us have since speculated that this was largely a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that his role in the BBC’s wildly popular adaptation of Pride and Prejudice forever entrenched him in Darcy mania, I have to confess that despite my healthy skepticism, I allowed a tiny piece of my heart to drop into his hand at that moment. You’ve said it, Mr. Firth, and you can’t take it back.

5. His flawless improvisation as Mark Darcy

We’ve all seen “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” We all remember that fateful snowy kiss that was likely the primary catalyst for my decision to drag my last boyfriend with me to a wedding in Wisconsin in the dead of winter in the hope that he might be similarly inspired. (He wasn’t. Because you were wondering. And he’s not my boyfriend any more, for entirely unrelated reasons. Let’s be clear on that). But many people don’t know that Firth ad-libbed Mark Darcys forever classic line at the conclusion of that snowy kiss scene.

Pro tip, nice boys: that’s how it’s done.

So, Happy Birthday, Mr. Firth!

Question

What are your favorite Firth moments?

Fictional Fragrances: or, What If Yankee Candle Created Scents from Classic Novels?

Confession: I’m addicted to Yankee Candles. From Butter Cream and Blueberry Scone to Pumpkin Pie and Pineapple Cilantro, you name it, I own it. I cannot walk past a Yankee Candle store without rushing inside to catch a whiff of the fragrant fun. I can spend hours losing myself in the scents, and walking out of the store empty-handed works about as well as trying to defy the laws of gravity.

Since I often work from home, my focus depends on maintaining an atmosphere of peace and productivity, and I’ve found that I achieve this balance with fragrance. One whiff of Fresh Cut Rose instantly transports me to an English country garden reminiscent of a scene you might encounter in a Jane Austen novel. For those days when I long for nothing more than a margarita and a massage, Pineapple Cilantro sends me on a mental trip to the tropics. During a recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond with a friend, I attempted, bravely and ultimately unsuccessfully, to resist the temptation to browse their Yankee Candle selection. After several minutes of sniffing, savoring, and sighing, my friend shoved a jar at me, declaring “Smell this! Girl Scout Cookie!” I wanted to respond, but I was in the throes of an olfactory orgasm.

My fondness for fragrance and the images I associate with various scents has resulted in a number of amusing conversations, the most recent of which involving a debate about what literary characters, like Mr. Darcy, might smell like. The exercise is a bit like that scene in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Professor Slughorn explains that the love potion Amortensia has a distinctive fragrance for each person, based on what attracts him or her. When I think of Mr. Darcy, I imagine pine trees, a hint of pipe tobacco, and the well-worn smell of saddle and boot leather familiar to anyone who’s grown up around horses. Combining this with my love of scented candles, I’ve hit upon a brilliant marketing concept that will probably rocket me to the apex of affluence, and I’ll be able to spend the remainder of my days sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping margaritas and reading all of the books on the BBC’s “Big Read” list that there haven’t been enough hours in my day to tackle. Fictional fragrances!

Seriously, just run with me here. The concept is scented candles inspired by classic novels that booklovers everywhere will bury their noses in. Here are just a few examples:

1. Donwell Strawberry

Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, this delicious scent that replicates freshly picked strawberries will instantly transport you to Donwell Abbey. One whiff, and you’ll be strolling through the strawberry fields, arm in arm with Mr. Knightley, chatting comfortably about the latest Highbury gossip while occasionally slipping a succulent berry between his laughing lips. Who knows? He might even find a sunny spot perfect for enlightening you with his knowledge of crop rotation.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Emma, image credit Penguin Classics
Emma by Jane Austen (1815)

2. Passion of Pemberley

Another Austen-inspired fragrance (because of course) this candle will envelop you in the comforting smell of a crackling fire combined with well-worn leather. Close your eyes, and when you reopen them, you’ve been magically whisked away to the library of Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. And there’s Mr. Darcy, alluringly, Austenianly handsome from the crisp collar of his ruffled shirt and impeccably tailored waistcoat to the tips of his perfectly polished boots. He glances up from the volume in his hands, and his dark eyes fix you with a smoldering gaze to rival the blaze of the fire at your back.

Cover image of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, image credit Penguin Classics
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

3. Thornfield Summer

Enter the world of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with the smell of haymaking and the strawberries Adele has spent the afternoon gathering. As you stroll the grounds of Thornfield Hall with Mr. Rochester, admiring the gloss of his dark hair in the setting sun and the light of love in his eyes, you want nothing more than to pass through life at his side.

cover image of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, image credit Penguin Classics
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

4. Springtime on the Moors

Set your spirit free with the scent of fresh, spring rain, running wild, barefoot and free across Emily Brontë’s moors in Wuthering Heights with Cathy and Heathcliff, chainless souls swept up in the whirlwind of their passionate, boundless love.

Cover image of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, image credit Penguin Classics
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1846)

5. In the Garden

Bury your face in a bouquet of roses picked straight from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden. If you close your eyes, you can feel their silky petals tickling your nose and hear Mary and Colin giggling at Dicken’s Yorkshire accent, with Captain the Fox curled in Mary’s lap and Soot the Crow occasionally interjecting a wise comment from his perch on Dicken’s shoulder.

Cover image of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, image credit Puffin Classics
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

So, there you have it. Fictional fragrances: available wherever imaginations are sold.

Got any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

In Defense of English: or, the Day I Sherlocked the Internet

When you teach English, you learn a great deal about the colorful palette of poetic language people resort to when expressing their ideas. In the seven-and-a-half years since I began teaching, I’ve learned, for instance, that Martin Luther King Jr. preached passive-aggressive resistance, that he and Malcolm X were assignated, that nuns live in a covenant, and that our continual depletion of the Earth’s resources is part of a viscus cycle of human destruction.

I’ve written in the past about the fact that these errors result from human laziness due to the reliance on spell-checker, autocorrect, and predictive text. All of the above words (with the exception of assignated) are Standard English words, so a spell-checker won’t register their incorrect usage within the context of a sentence in which they clearly don’t belong. The Urban Dictionary, however, does define assignate as follows: “To take off someone’s $3000 designer glasses, wipe your butt with them, and put them back on their face.” Ya know, because you were wondering. You’re welcome.

Over at You Knew What I Meant, a fellow English teacher posits that students might also be mishearing certain words, an opinion that, if more willing to give students the benefit of the doubt, is nonetheless entirely plausible. (If you call yourself a grammar geek, and you aren’t following this blog, why aren’t you? But I digress.) I know I’ve certainly misheard expressions over the years, and had I not bothered to check the spelling and pronunciation, I might never have been any the wiser. In the popular Christmas carol, “Here we Come a’Wassailing,” for instance, I could have sworn as a child that the lyric actually went “Here we come a’Waffling.” Wassailing. Waffling. Perfectly understandable. Sort of mistake anyone might make.

I don’t offer the above examples of carelessness as anecdotal evidence of my own self-righteous adherence to perfect grammar. On the contrary, just this past week, a friend of mine was kind enough to point out several hilariously ridiculous errors in my own work that, because we both recognized how an incorrect homonym can completely change the meaning of a sentence, proved both a lesson in proofreading and an entertaining diversion in my day. We’ve affectionately termed our typo-spotting game “Sherlocking,” after a scene in the BBC television series “Sherlock,” when the great detective takes the time to correct a criminal’s grammar before sending him to the gallows.

You are all charity and benevolence, Mr. Holmes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Friday morning was off to a snickering start when I read the following Tweet from the BBC:

While the actual article headline assured readers that Lee wasn’t “pressured” into releasing her second novel, the damage had already been done. Merriam-Webster defines pressurize as “to press (something) tightly into a container.” No one can ever erase the images my mind conjured of Lee being forced into an enormous pressure cooker. In my score-keeping, this ties for first place with the time that Kristen Stewart told a reporter that she’d “literally implode” if she couldn’t act. OK, now, I know that Bella Swan tends toward the melodramatic, but I find it hard to believe that not having one’s dream job would result in collapsing inward in a very sudden and violent way.

Last Sunday, I dared to Sherlock the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” on a post written in honor of International Women’s Day, discussing what makes the main female characters such amazing role models. I tried to restrain myself. Truly. You must know this. I did everything I could to keep my hands otherwise occupied. I played fetch with my dog. I ate a cookie. I sat on my thumbs until they lost all sensation. Nothing helped. I just had to point out that, given the subject matter of the article, describing Bernadette as “the dependent character who has her life in line” doesn’t quite carry the intended meaning. Did they mean independent? Dependable? Either possibility would make far more sense in the context of the sentence. The writers of the show have since expressed their undying gratitude to me with a pair of tickets to the next taping. Bazinga! No one ever actually responded to my tweet. I don’t expect to be thanked for doing my duty as I see fit, but I ask you, in my position, what would Sheldon Cooper have done?

Challenge

If you spot any errors in this post, I give you leave to shamelessly Sherlock me. It is your duty as a devoted reader.

From Feminism to Fuckwittage: 20 Reasons Why we Love Bridget Jones

On February 28 1995, across the pond in the UK, the following column appeared in the Independent:

Sunday 26th February

8st 13; Alcohol units 2 (excellent); Cigarettes 7; Calories 3,100 (poor).

2pm. Oh why hasn’t Daniel rung? Hideous, wasted weekend glaring psychopathically at the phone, and eating things. I cannot believe I convinced myself I was keeping the entire weekend free to work, when in fact I was on permanent date-with-Daniel standby…Right: work. Beginning on Ash Wednesday: “I will not fantasize about or behave ridiculously regarding Daniel Cleaver, boss of my publishing house” is to be relaunched along with the other New Year Resolutions: I will not smoke, I will get down to 8st 7, I will not recycle items from the laundry basket, I will not bitch about Perpetua but work positively with her.

8pm. Phone call alert, which turned out just to be Tom asking if there was any progress. Tom, who has taken, unflatteringly, to calling himself a Hag-Fag, has been sweetly supportive about the Daniel crisis. (He has a theory that homosexuals and single women in their thirties have natural bonding; both being used to disappointing their parents and being treated as freaks by society.)

When the Independent relaunched the columns in 2005, Helen Fielding wrote candidly and, it should come as no surprise, self-deprecatingly, of the Bridget Jones project: “Back in the winter of 1995 I was trying to write an earnest and frankly unreadable novel about cultural divides in the Caribbean, and was rather short of cash. The Independent asked me to write a column, as myself, about single life in London. Much as I needed the money, the idea of writing about myself in that way seemed hopelessly embarrassing and revealing. I offered to write an anonymous column instead, using an exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.” Yet twenty years, three sets of columns, three books, and two films later, Bridget Jones remains a prevailing pop culture icon.

Photo of author Helen Fielding, seated at a cluttered table, surrounded by scraps of paper. Image credit: Pal Hansen
Author Helen Fielding (2013)

Bridget Jones’s Diary, first published as a novel in 1996, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, has appeared on the BBC’s “Big Read” list of 100 books everyone should read, and readers of the Guardian voted it amongst the 10 books that best defined the 20th century. The 2001 film adaptation, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” starring Renee Zellweger, Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth, grossed a worldwide total of $281,929,795, and the 2004 sequel, “Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason,” adapted from the second novel (1999), grossed $262,520,724 worldwide. Most recently, on June 18th of last year, Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy (2013), the latest installment in the series, celebrated selling 1 million copies. From dieting to dating, starting a new job to single parenting, Bridget tells, with brutal honesty and self-deprecating humor, of the sometimes-hilarious, sometimes-heart-breaking truth of being a woman. For twenty years, readers have laughed, cried, and loved with Bridget, following every step of her life journey from her first date with Daniel Cleaver, to (SPOILER ALERT!) mourning the death of her husband, Mark Darcy (always remember…), and every cigarette, calorie, and croissant in between. So, in honor of one of the most beloved characters of Contemporary British Fiction, I give you: 20 reasons why we love Bridget Jones.

1. For making women everywhere feel less ashamed about harboring a secret fear of dying alone and being eaten by an Alsatian.

2. For the fact that, if you swap Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction” for, appropriately, Renee Zellweger in “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” my Saturday nights pretty much look like this.

3. For introducing the term “emotional fuckwittage” into popular discourse, because it so eloquently and accurately encapsulates the post-breakup feeling of oscillating between heartbroken and hurling empty wine glasses at the wall. (Plus, unlike many words in the English language, the ease of pronouncing it increases with the number of alcohol units consumed).

4. For the time she actually *gasps* walked out on Mark Darcy.

It takes tremendous courage and a strong sense of self to stand up to someone you love the way Bridget does to Mark. From amidst spouting self-help platitudes and objections to obsessive-compulsive underpants folding, we can extrapolate a fundamental truth about all relationships here—that to love someone “just as you are” is far easier said than done. It involves recognizing that, however ashamed we might be to admit, we need validation. We need to be told and shown that we’re loved, if not exhaustively, at least often enough to feel emotionally secure. This is where Mark falls short until Bridget elucidates that for him.

5. For the time she didn’t beat Daniel Cleaver’s lousy, cheating arse to a bloody pulp when she discovered his infidelity.

Sometimes it takes more strength to walk away than it does to throw a punch (not that we will ever fault Mark Darcy for valiantly, albeit ineffectually, taking matters into his own fists).

6. On the other hand: sometimes, a good tongue-thrashing is the only way to get a point across.

Preach it, sista!

7. For the time she survived a horrifying experience in Thai prison with only a Wonderbra, a Madonna song, and a scrap of paper containing a Kipling poem as her tools of survival.

8. For the time she inadvertently stumbled upon the secret to gourmet cooking that Marco Pierre White certainly never shared with us: the way to a man’s heart is through a mess of blue soup and congealed green gunge.

9. For the time she had the courage to ask Colin Firth the question that has been torturing Pride and Prejudice fans for the past two centuries: “Do you think Darcy and Elizabeth would have had sex before the wedding?” (He thinks they would have, by the way. Obviously. Ya know, because you were wondering).

10. And speaking of Colin Firth, this interview just makes all of my fantasies look like the diverting daydreams of a perfectly sane, well-adjusted woman.

I no longer feel ashamed. Thank you, Bridget.

11. For educating us about the mystical properties of terracotta oil-burners, which do, in fact, take in milk. Ask Mark Darcy; he swears he saw it with his own eyes, and a barrister would never lie under oath.

12. For volunteering herself as the comic poster child for basic ski safety, such as, rule number 1: when skiing, always wear skis. Neglecting this usually doesn’t end well.

13. For believing that certain skills, i.e. the ability to ski, the ability to write eloquent Christmas cards, and developing inner poise, improve in direct proportion to number of alcohol units consumed while endeavoring to perfect said skills.

14. For reminding us that women of substance don’t pine over ex-boyfriends and sit waiting for the phone to ring in manner of Pavlov’s dog.

15. And then for making us feel better when we do engage in Pavlovian dog-like behavior and promptly indulge in breakup sex with said ex when he does decide to ring. Because people are human.

16. For the time she succeeded in getting Mark Darcy to defend the postmodernist merits of “Blind Date.” Because let’s face it, there’s something deeply satisfying about the knowledge that even hoity-toity top human rights barristers who drive fancy cars and live in wedding cake-shaped houses in Holland Park are still human enough to occasionally be slaves to mainstream popular culture.

17. (SPOILER ALERT!) For the time she helped Billy and Mabel to mail Father’s Day cards to Mark under the address “Daddy, Heaven, the sky.” Because sometimes being a single parent means accepting that, whatever you do, there is still a gap in your children’s hearts, and the only thing you can fill it with is extra love.

18. For her saint-like show of restraint at the smug married dinner party during which she was forced to endure Woney asking why she wasn’t married yet in a simpering voice while stroking her own visibly pregnant belly. Here’s the thing, all you Woneys of the world: when you ask a singleton that question, this is what we’re really thinking: “Because if I had to cook Cosmo’s dinner then get into the same bed as him just once, let alone every night, I’d tear off my own head and eat it.” But thanks to Bridget, we know that sometimes inner poise is nothing more than biting one’s tongue to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, and this is what makes us superior creatures and women of substance.

19. For educating readers about the pitfalls of tweeting under the influence of alcohol. Exhibit A:

11.07 p.m. @JoneseyBJ ‘They toil not, neither do they tweet.’ Hmm. No, they do tweet though. Thasu point with birds.

11.08 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Anyway f*** em. Stupid birds flapping around tweeting all over s place. Oh oh look at me! I’m a bird!

11.15 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Hate birds. Look at that movie ‘The Birds’! Birds can turn MAN-EATING.

11.16 p.m. @JoneseyBJ Pecking people’s eyes out with 60s hairdos. Vicious nasty birds.

11.30 p.m. @JoneseyBJ 85 followess gone waway. Why? Why’wasi hwohave I don? Comeback!

@JoneseyBJ Noo! Follwers draining away as if through sieve.

@JoneseyBJ Nooo! Hate bireds Hatetweetings Hate drainqine away follwoers. An goingsoto bed!

I’m now going to keep that on my desktop as a caveat against “Twunking.”

20. For reminding women everywhere that sometimes feminism is not about political movements, or defying marriage statistics, or plotting ways to lock men in kennels until they’ve learned to wash their own socks and do the washing up, but about living honestly, being true to yourself, and listening to the quiet voice in your heart that tells you to love yourself, just as you are.

So, here’s to you, Bridget Jones, just as you are!