Sunday, 26 April 2015

Not Up for Whatever: Why I'm Done Saying Yes

You know what? I'm done with "yes to life". It's time for some "no".

This was brought home to me kind of forcefully this weekend, as I ended up having a couple drinks too many after work, which led to crashing at a coworker's house (after having more drinks), sleeping on a couch impregnated with dog hairs and curled up so I wouldn't kick another coworker in the head, and listening to a third coworker, who'd drawn the short straw and ended up on the floor, alternately talking in his sleep ("That's up to you, Francesco" was uttered at one point) and snoring like a drain.

And when they finally woke up, a couple of hours after I did (I caught up on email, social media and Premier League scores, as well as listening to someone upstairs having sex), I had to get dropped off at the office so I could pick up my car and drive home. Which is when I was finally able to take a shower, brush my teeth, etc etc etc.

I'm done.

There's a lot to be said for spontaneity, and Bud Light appears to have built an entire ad campaign around the concept of "being up for whatever". Totally admirable. We're urged to say yes to everything that comes our way, because that's how we end up with stories to tell over a beer years later, or with notches on our bedpost, or whatever. If we just say yes to everything, the thinking goes, we won't die alone and unhappy in our miserable little hovels.

But this obscures the fact that, at least for me, being up for whatever has pretty much always ended up with sleeping on someone's couch (or floor), vomiting my guts out somewhere unpleasant or seeing the person I'm into go off with someone that she's into. Or some combination of the above.

On the other hand, if on Friday I'd just stopped at a beer (and a tequila, because come on, I'm not made of stone here), I could have made my way home relatively early, had ramen from the place next door to my house (instead of half a posh corndog and a couple handfuls of not particularly distinguished popcorn), done some writing, messaged someone I'm chatting to on OKCupid, and watched Netflix.

Instead I got my illusions about someone I'm kind of into at the office pretty fairly punctured, declined the offer of a line of cocaine (because even when I'm up for anything, I'm not fucking around with a drug I've never taken before just as I'm about to go to bed), and had to deal with the guilt of staking out my spot on the couch instead of the floor. As well as the concomitant paranoia throughout the night that if I got up to pee I'd lost my spot on the couch.

I guess it's good to have my illusions punctured about the person I fancied, but I'll be honest, there's really no good takeaway from that night. Except perhaps this blog.

Other times I've "just said yes" and "gone with the flow", I ended up getting swindled in Malaysia, or chatting to Colombian strippers in Austria. That may sound exotic, but at some point, like when you're ridiculously drunk, you just want it to end so you can go home and sleep in a proper bed.

So yeah, done. D-U-N. No more "crazy nights", no more going with the flow, and especially no more descending on some unsuspecting person's house and drinking all their booze. No more being paranoid that at some point I'm going to be woken up by the two people sleeping in the living room with me are going to give each other handjobs.

I'm still willing to be spontaneous (spontaneous trips to Singapore or even just down a street I've never been down have proven fun), but I just need to read situations (and people) better. And I urge you to join me in throwing off the tyranny of "yes" and "whatever". It may result in fewer crazy nights, but you'll feel a lot better for having slept well and gone to the gym.

And then I won't feel so jealous of the people whose crazy nights do turn out fun. Win-win. Fuck you, "Yes Man", the 2008 movie starring Jim Carrey.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Training Smarter vs Training Harder

Slightly quick one this week, because I'm typing this out on my work computer after-hours - my home phone line decided to die this weekend, taking my DSL with it. But I'm not here to focus on the negatives.

I ran my fastest 10k ever on Saturday, breaking my previous record by about a minute to do it in 53 minutes and 4 seconds. It was kind of a relief, to be honest, because my running experiences last year weren't awesome. After having (finally) broken the 2-hour barrier for half-marathons in 2013, not being able to repeat that feat, much less break my record, was pretty discouraging.

And particularly when I considered how hard I'd worked - my second run took place in November, and I started training for it in July. I even logged over 86 miles of running in October, as I built up to it... only to discover that I hadn't trained for hill running. At all. Fu. Cking. Balls.

So I made a couple of changes to my routine for this run, with a focus on improving my endurance (I'd noticed that my pace tailed off sharply in the second half of a run). Given that a 10k's a little under 50% of a half-marathon, I was able to do three runs a week without spending too ridiculously much time on it, and gradually got my distances and speed up to the levels I wanted.

And the funniest part is that I did it all without a trainer.

I don't want to bash trainers here, because I only managed my previous personal bests because I was working with someone who really knew what she was doing. But it just underscores how important it is to work with a good trainer - I worked with three last year, one of them for about my entire training regime for the second run, and ended up getting pretty lackluster results.

The difference this year, I guess, is that I took more responsibility for directing my own training and got serious about fixing my specific shortcomings (core strength, endurance). Which, I guess, just illustrates the point that you can have the best equipment and support ever, but it's just a prop - you have to do the work, and figure out what works best for you.

Note, by the way, that this doesn't even necessarily mean longer hours - by the end of November, I was at the gym or on a run five or six times a week, whereas this year I stuck with four workouts a week, and didn't run at all in the week leading up to Saturday.

This is all transferable, of course, to setting goals elsewhere in life. Figure out what's holding you back, and then figure out how to get past it; working harder doesn't always beat working smarter (cliche, I know); and when things don't go as planned, give yourself a break and learn from the setback.

The other important thing is, when you do reach your goal, allow yourself that moment of feeling awesome, before targeting the next goal. But don't forget to get back to work.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

True Detective: True Blood for Grownups

I just finished watching HBO's True Detective yesterday, thanks to my mom having Comcast On-Demand. Given that I caught the first episode sometime last year, and watched the remaining seven in 2015, it's taken me less time to finish than Breaking Bad or the Newsroom.

I have a tendency to check out the first episode of something, and then not revisit it for a good long while. It's not always because of the show's quality (or lack thereof) - it's simply that sometimes I don't have an easy way to follow up with something. For example, I think it was about 3 years between when I watched the first episode of the Walking Dead, and when I saw the remaining 5 episodes of Season 1.

Anyway, with True Detective I hustled a bit more - and I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be pretty good. Not great - not the Wire or the West Wing - but a good way to spend eight hours.

Possibly what caught my imagination first was the show's visuals, and sense of place. The creators seem to really like bird's eye view shots of cars, the size of ants, driving through the highways laid down onto the bayous. I suppose it's to show the scale of the landscape, to emphasize how easy it is to disappear into those bayous, and to hint at what might be lurking there.

The opening title sequence is a good demonstrator of the creators' level of attention to visual detail. Like the True Blood title sequence, its themes are sex and death, two mainstays of Southern Gothic, and there are a lot of images in common, like strippers and desolate houses in the middle of nowhere. For True Detective, some of these thematic images are overlaid onto the silhouettes of the actors, giving a curious double-take effect, where you think you're seeing one image and then the other comes into focus. Given that a lot of the show deals in memory and how stories are distorted over time, this is pretty appropriate.

Within the show, beyond the helicopter shots depicting miles and miles of bayou, the cinematography travels from the tidy home of Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) to the rougher environs of Rust Cohle's (Matthew McConaughey) home and the back country whorehouses, ruined churches and overgrown forts where the rest of the action takes place.

Another thematic point related to the landscape shots is how the landscape is continuously fighting back against the people's encroachment. The killer's home, when we see it at the end, is off in the middle of nowhere, choked by overgrowth; the devastation of the regular hurricanes that pound the Gulf Coast also provides an opportunity for the local flora to reclaim human construction.

As far as the acting, McConaughey and Harrelson make a great uneasy partnership, even if they're sometimes a bit on-the-nose (Harrelson) or almost comically gnomic (McConaughey). Michelle Monaghan is, I'll agree, a bit underused as Harrelson's long-suffering wife who has to deal with his infidelities and drinking. To be honest, I don't think I'd have appreciated the performances as much if I hadn't read the AV Club's episode recaps explaining how this show is also a sort of rebuttal to the misbehaving anti-heroes of shows like Breaking Bad or the Sopranos.

In those shows, the main characters are men who go off the rails and learn to take what they want without bothering with consequences, or have always lived outside the law. True Detective takes the question of whether it takes a bad man to keep the other bad men from disrupting society, and unlike Breaking Bad or the Sopranos, doesn't make excuses or applaud them. Both Hart and Cohle's lives are train wrecks, even if Cohle claims to see the invisible rules keeping a more conventional man like Hart in his place, even as Hart rampages through life fucking women he shouldn't and drinking too much.

A final point is the imagery relating to the King in Yellow, by Robert W Chambers. There are hints and references to a yellow king, and to a place called Carcosa, throughout the show, although they aren't explicitly supernatural like the source material, which was an influence on HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. I have to confess to being a little disappointed that they didn't go in that direction, in the end, although I appreciate how difficult it is to depict that on screen and make it work. That said, the only other work I've read that referenced Chambers's work, The Feaster from the Stars by Alan Baker, earned such a bad review from me that I eventually felt bad and took it down from this blog. So maybe keeping it mundane (and equally creep) was the right choice.

So, to sum up, True Detective is a well-done slice of Southern Gothic, in the same vein (no pun intended) as True Blood, but without the supernatural or the soap opera. And now that I've seen it, I can go check out that trailer for Season 2.