Author Archives: Scott

Titles and Subtitles

By now, most of you know that my daughter Morgan Audrey Fairley was born on June 20th at 8:47am.  She was born at home with a fantastic team of four midwives coaching Alissa along, and clocked in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces.  Or 3.4 kilograms, if you’re fixated on the metric system.  How long was she?  I don’t remember.  You see, I wasn’t in the right state of mind for remembering anything.

As convenient as a quarter-to-nine birth time might seem, I found it to be the opposite.  For one thing, Alissa went into labour just as we were about to go to sleep for the night.  She had scheduled her vacation time for the week before her due date, so she had no plans the next day.  I was working and had only just started to discuss what kind of time off I’d want after the baby was born.  I started early the next day, so a good night’s sleep was pretty important.

Her labour started off fairly innocently.  Or at least, I was able to sleep through it for a little while.  Or try to.  By hour two, it was clear that sleep wasn’t happening.  One 10 hour shift lead into another.  Around 8:30, our primary midwife asked me if I was up for assisting in the delivery and catching Morgan.  Either because I was too tired to think twice or because YOLO, I agreed.  One way or another, I held my daughter within her first seconds of life.  That sort of thing can mess with your head.

I’ve assigned myself more than a few titles over the last decade.  Philosopher (that didn’t last long), intellectual (obviously self-assigned, and also quickly abandoned), activist (if you missed this stage, we’ll talk later), artist, director, writer, blogger, actor, and teacher.  Husband came a little more recently, but Father – Daddy – seems like the first one that’s a calling.  Obviously, it’s the first one that involves a tiny human who relies on me for everything but oxygen, but there’s a definite weight to this new title.

It’s put things not just on hold, but into exile.  After directing My Radio Flyer, I figured it was best to put my theatre projects on hold.  Only the ones that I really wanted to do (Yasmina Reza’s Art being on my dream project list for a long time).  Within a year, this plan was abandoned entirely.  I shifted from director to Daddy, and I didn’t want to leave Morgan for long enough to see a couple plays at the Fringe Festival.  I honestly doubt I’ll ever write or direct another play, let alone become an award-winning movie director.  I’m not even capitalizing “director” anymore.

I’m also not watching movies much anymore.  So much for my title of film critic (which, to be fair, I did actually do for a while.  Published in no less than three publications!).  I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised by this, but cataloging all the titles I’ve abandoned on the way to becoming Daddy is a little overwhelming.  Oh, and lead guitarist.  I haven’t played much in the last few months, though I’m sure Morgan will ask me to learn a few songs for her over the next few years.

There’s still subtitles, but for now, being Morgan’s Dad is enough.  After six months, it’s become a pretty natural state of being.  I’m not sure what subtitles are still to come, but they’ll almost certainly be just that: subtitles.

What to expect when she’s expecting

My plan was ambitious, but also simple.  Once a week, blog about becoming a Dad.  I gave myself no limitations in terms of length or style.  A blog entry of “nothing really happened this week, but did you guys see New Girl on Tuesday?”  would suffice.  Yet here we are, several months since my last post, with this being the first on my impending fatherhood.

My laziness and inability to set achievable goals for this site aside, why haven’t I had much to say?  Because, for the most part, everything about pregnancy from this side of the equation is almost impossibly gradual.

Aside from a handful of big events, there’s really nothing earth-shattering to deal with during the first and second trimesters. The exceptions are obvious ones, too. The day I found out and when we told everyone else. Alissa telling me wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t cry. Neither did she. We smiled, embraced, and then couldn’t stop smiling or embracing. Simple as that.

Telling everyone else? That was a bit more complicated.  I probably cracked first.  I told a coworker I felt I could trust within a few days (though it may have been hours).  Then another.  And another.  Alissa couldn’t keep it in that long, either.  Eventually, we decided on the right time to tell our families.  Two (exceedingly rare) events were upcoming where every single member of our direct families would be together in the same place at the same time.  That settled it; my family came first at a birthday party for my Mom, and hers came a little over two weeks later at a Christmas gathering.  I’m not sure I’ll forget my Mom’s stunned reaction to the ultrasound picture, or my Father’s grin that stayed in place the whole night.  Or my nephew’s impossibly bright smile when he read the news to the family.  And I missed a few reactions along the way.  By Christmas Eve, it was public knowledge.

Announcements were really the only dramatic part for me.  Really, as a Dad, there’s not much going on.  I probably should have seen that coming.  As I was reminded in Church this week, I don’t actually give birth.  I expect to do a bit of coaching.  I’ve been encouraging.  I’ve given massages, made special dinners, and been sympathetic to a host of ailments (taking blame accordingly), but nothing physical is happening to me.  I didn’t endure months of nausea, discomfort, and erratic sleep schedules.  My body’s come out relatively unscathed, really.  And emotional changes have even been incredibly slow.  I don’t get weepy when I hear “Cat’s in the Cradle”, but I’m pretty sure it’s inevitable.  I’m noticing an increase in sensitivity to various Dad-centric stories, but that’s really been all so far.

In some ways, it’s a lot like being a fiancé.  It’s mostly waiting and planning.  Planning has played a large role, but it’s a temporary season in life.  Perhaps even more than being a fiancé, since there’s a pretty standard window for pregnancies.  I can’t put off the birth because this relative can’t make it in May or that reception hall only has an opening in October.  Maybe that makes it feel even more like a transition.  All in all, the months between October and July of 2012 and 2013 have felt pretty far beyond my control.  But in the best way possible.  So I wait, anticipating nothing to be the same ever again after June 25th, 2013.

 

Do Less Alone.

Last year, I pledged to give up liking things ironically and to be more honest in most aspects of my life. It proved to be considerably easier than I expected, and was, if I’m being honest, a way to listen to Katy Perry without feeling too guilty. Pop culture resolutions are all well and good if they can expand beyond that, but the Queen Rule really didn’t.

I’m learning to like challenging myself more, so I thought of some accomplishments I could achieve:

Run a marathon? Sure!
Beat my time in the Around the Bay race? Sign me up!
Record my electro-folk solo project? Finally!, you likely exclaim.
Find my dream job? Why not?

But aside from being fitter and having more fans and money, and (perhaps) being happier, do these make me a better person even if I fail attempting them? Do they address anything that actually needs addressing?

One thing I’ve been noticing more and more lately is that I’ve come to enjoy the company of others more. That sounds strange, but I’m a very introverted person. I’ve often chosen to stay home when given the option of a social gathering, and still do so every now and then, but lately? I’m feeling that urge an awful lot less.

Maybe it’s some kind of lizard-brain response to my kid on the way. Instead of cramming as much alone time between now and June, my brain wants to get as used to constantly being around other humans as possible before I have no biological, ethical, or legal choice in the matter. But why not see how deep this rabbit hole goes?  What’s the worst that could happen?

So my resolution? Three simple words. Do Less Alone.

What does this mean for you, dear reader? Probably a few more text messages, a few more conversations over a pint/latte/waffle, and a few more invitations to be run buddies. They’re small things, sure, but there’s no escaping the fact that my life is going to change permanently very soon, and I doubt I’ll ever be more reliant on the wit and wisdom of other people.  Odds are, if you’re a parent, I have some questions for you.

So you can expect some changes to this blog, too. I’ll be shifting gears towards more entries about becoming (and being) a Dad because, quite frankly, it’s very easy to feel alone when you’re a man infanticipating. Hopefully, the frequency of posts will increase as well.

So here’s to 2013. The biggest adventure yet.

Unintentionally Athletic

Every now and then, someone comments on how I look.  Usually someone I haven’t seen in a little while.  Specifically, how there’s less of me to look at.  I guess it’s time to admit it: I’ve lost a bit of weight.

I have a hard time talking about it in too much detail for a lot of reasons.  For one thing, I still consider this whole fitness thing to be a work in progress.  But since I’m now past a year of running, and the comments haven’t seemed to stop yet, I think I should get my story straight.

If you’ve been among those who’ve asked me how much weight I’ve lost, you probably didn’t get a straight answer.  This is because when I was at my absolute heaviest, I had no idea how much I weighed.  I wasn’t getting regular check-ups with my family doctor, and I don’t think my parents have ever had a scale in the house.  So the heaviest I’ve actually recorded myself at was 218 pounds, in 2008.  Here’s a picture taken of me at around that time:

Me on Graduation Day, 2008

I’m not sure what my heaviest ever was, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say I came close to 250 pounds at some point.  Those of you reading this who have known me longer than 10 years can probably vouch for this.

So for the sake of argument, the intentional and continued weight loss started in the summer of 2008, and my starting weight was 218 pounds.  The first big milestone was getting under 210.  Not because it was an enormous amount to lose, but because it made a big difference in my appearance.  Here’s me somewhere around that milestone, sticking it to the man on Halloween:

Only about 10 pounds less than above, but there’s obviously a bigger change between the two pictures than just a respectable haircut.  Fast-forward to around May of 2009.  I’d kept up with the gym, but by this point, the main office for the company I was working for had moved.  The new location was considerably farther away from Union Station in Toronto than the previous office.  This meant in addition to my (now somewhat dwindling) gym time, I was walking between 45 and 60 minutes to and from work.  After a few months of regular and lengthy walking, I broke the 200 pound plateau I’d been at since at least age 13.  It didn’t look or feel all that different from 210 pounds, but it presented a huge victory all the same.

I probably parked at a shade under 200 pounds for about a year, but for most of 2010, I was steadily becoming a little more fit.  Aside from the walking, I started running the Wentworth Stairs (500+ metal steps up the Niagara Escarpment) and doing the occasional four or five song jog at a track near my apartment.  It was around this time that I scheduled the first Physical of my adult life, along with bloodwork and all that good stuff.  According to my Doctor, I was 194 pounds with slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.  I panicked.  I was nearly 26 years old, but those didn’t sound like 26 year-old conditions.  46, perhaps.  Nothing a bit of red wine and exercise couldn’t fix, he said.  The next day, I overdosed on the latter and gave myself a pretty nasty case of heatstroke for the weekend.

But I did start taking exercise more seriously at this point. I started experimenting a little bit more with different kinds of exercise after leaving my job in Toronto and going back to school.  I was within six months of getting married, and was determined to get my weight down to what I assumed to be a correct weight for my height: 180 pounds.

I tried rock climbing, tried to keep up with running (I usually did 4-5km a few times a week fairly late in the day), and spent a lot of time playing Wii Fit.  I’m not sure what my final weight was, but here’s what I looked like on the big day:

I’m the one on the right.

Within a few weeks of the honeymoon ending, I started running on the Rail Trail, a semi-paved trail between Hamilton and Brantford.  Alissa and I’s new home was within walking distance of it, and one night while watching a Hockey game, I decided I was going to go for a run.   As you may have noticed, it’s become a pretty big part of my life ever since.

Since May-ish of 2011, I’ve logged somewhere north of 1,000km on the rail trail, roads, and a beach in the Dominican Republic.  I ran the Road2Hope Half-Marathon in 2:05, and the legendary Around The Bay 30km road race in 3:20.  At my last medically accurate weigh-in shortly after the half-marathon, I was 182 pounds.  At Around the Bay, I looked like this:

The smile didn’t last long.  I barely finished, and hobbled across the finish line with a strained IT band at a considerably slower pace than I was hoping for (my goal was to break 3 hours).

Like I said, it’s still a work in progress.  I have a few short-term goals in mind, like running a full marathon or a mini-triathlon.  Both of those, I hope to do before I turn 30 in the summer of 2014.  At the moment, I’m running a few times per week (usually around 20k total) and biking to and from my job in Burlington; about 20km each way.  I’m not sure what I weigh right now, but this is the most recent photo of me, taken at CBC Hamilton’s James Street offices:

Progress has clearly been made.

I’m not sure what the ultimate goal will be, but I do want to keep going.  I come from a family with a lot of Octogenarians, and my Nana just turned 90, so that provides a very distant motivation.  I don’t know if that’s enough, but for now?  It’ll do just fine.  And in the meantime, I can at least get around to replacing all those Extra-Large t-shirts with Mediums.

Running!

Since I started running (well, running seriously as a hobby rather than just a thing I do when I eat too much), I’ve noticed that a number of people in my social circles have either confided that they’ve been doing it for a while, or are interested in starting.  Since I have about a year under my belt, I’ve learned a few things (some the hard way).  Here’s some thoughts..

On shoes

Shoes matter.  A lot.  However, they don’t matter in a lot of the ways you might think.  If you want an impossibly in-depth look at running shoes, Runblogger.com has countless articles and reviews about running shoes and the science behind them.

Since I lack both any scientific knowledge and have only experimented with a handful of shoes, the best advice I can come up with is this:  Go to a running store and annoy the staff until you find a pair of shoes that makes you want to run more.  Cheaper shoes don’t last as long, but they’re not a recipe for disaster beyond that if they’re up to the task of running at all.

Most folks will recommend that you replace your shoes every 500-800km, since the cushioning eventually stops, er, cushioning.  This might mean you’re good for a few months or longer, but it does mean you’re spending a lot of money on shoes in the long run (no pun intended).  One tip I’ve heard a few times is to find a pair of shoes on clearance and buy multiple pairs of whatever you like best; roughly the same price as a brand-new pair, but you’re covered for a longer time.

In general, I feel pretty comfortable saying that shoes are the only piece of running gear that’s really worth putting a good deal of money into.  The wrong shoes can hurt you (even if it’s just blisters), and the right ones can motivate you to run more.

On clothing

Truth be told, you can run in anything you like.  However, clothes designed for running tend to be better at it, and will do wonderful things like wick away moisture and ventilate your torso.  So there are benefits to wearing the right kind of clothing, but you’re probably going to be okay running in whatever feels comfortable.  For me, it became pretty clear what didn’t work very fast.

On races

They’re fun!  Lots of fun!  And you get a free running shirt, which saves you the trouble of picking one out.

One thing I would definitely recommend is looking around for reviews of whatever race you plan on competing in.  Most people will tell you that Around The Bay is a very hard course, but not as many people will know that the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon has long downhill passages and your run might be interrupted by a train.

Another cool thing some races have is a race expo, which is basically a giant running/fitness gear sale.  So if you’re looking for a deal on some gear, it can be a pretty good way to go.  It’s also a good way to find out about other races, and to swap stories with other runners.

Pros and Cons: Podcasts in the ESL Classroom

Periodically, I will be posting some thoughts on teaching English as a Second Language in an urban setting.  This is one of those posts

One of my favourite things for the last few years has been podcasts.  They’re free, they’re entertaining, and they empower creative people in a way few other mediums do.  And as luck would have it, plenty of radio stations have been using the medium as a way to distribute their programming.  Now I can listen to Vinyl Cafe whenever I want!

So I know podcasts are a fantastic resource for keeping me entertained.  How are they as a resource in the ESL classroom?

Pro: Any topic you want, there’s probably a podcast for that

Podcasting requires little more than an internet connection and a computer capable of recording audio files, so it stands to reason that anyone sufficiently passionate about something can release a podcast.  Hooray!  Knowledge for everyone!  Except…

Con: Any topic you want, there’s probably a podcast for that

That low bar of “internet access and a microphone” also means it’s difficult to determine which are actually useful, well-done and worth actually using in the classroom.  Sure, you can make some safe assumptions, like CBC and NPR podcasts having (if nothing else) standard English usage and clear diction, but barring a great deal of research, there’s still a lot of vetting to do.

Pro: They’re downloadable audio files, not physical media or live broadcast

This is probably the most significant pro in my mind.  Gone are the days of hearing something on the radio that is lost to eternity unless you were taping it.  Scratched CD’s and worn out cassette tapes are a thing of the past.  As long as you have an iPod and some speakers, you’re good to go.  Right?

Con: They’re downloadable files.

As easy to use as iTunes and an iPod can be, they’re still not without their issues.  I’ve had a few times where an iPhone sync just didn’t take.  No matter if you’re willing to use your iPhone on the fly and download over 3G, but a smartphone with a healthy data plan is a new and fairly costly resource for any teacher.  A new textbook per month would cost less, and those never get corrupted or not work properly.  There’s obviously a lot of ways around this, but not all are simple or straightforward.  This con depends a lot on the patience of the teacher.

Pro: They can become a classroom activity unto themselves

Remember that bar of a microphone and internet access?  That remarkably low qualification to be a podcaster?  If you’re reading this, you qualify.  If all parties are willing, your class can have their own podcast.  Maybe as a long-term independent writing and speaking assignment, maybe as simply a means of sharing classroom techniques with the world, maybe something else entirely, but this is a possibility worth exploring.

Consider the possibility of a year-end project consisting of a class of 12 immigrants telling the story of how they came to Canada or discussing their story of settlement and integration.  These kinds of projects have always been possible, but creating one for an enormous audience is relatively new.

All in all, having used podcasts in the classroom, I’m convinced that they’re a worthwhile resource.  Not the resource, but a resource that, with a few hours of vetting, can be a reliable and convenient classroom resource for listening activities.  And as an activity itself, it opens up a lot of new possibilities.

The Queen Rule

It’s not that I don’t like irony.  In fact, my favourite t-shirt proclaims the exact opposite (although it’s my favourite because it’s remarkably comfortable after all these years).  And I defy you to name a more satisfying literary device than Dramatic Irony.  You can’t.  And you can still be as ironic as you wish.  I, however, am formally retiring from irony in 2012.

In an effort to have a more sincere and authentic 2012, I’ll no longer be devoting any more energy to liking things ironically.  Or “despite it’s flaws”.  Or “for the genre”.  If I like something, it will be unqualified.  Is this because life’s too short for joy to be constrained?  Because labels devalue what we hold dear?  No.  It’s because I like Queen, always have, and never with a trace of irony.  And because I’ve spent too much time living by my own made up rules.

Queen being, of course, the band that wrote a rock anthem with the complexity of classical music, and wrote it about riding bikes.  They also wrote the theme song to the remarkably silly Flash Gordon movie from 1980.  And the bombastic theme song to The Highlander (because there could be only one).  In general, Queen’s appeal has a lot to do with how earnestly and ambitiously they crafted songs with objectively ridiculous lyrics and subjects.

So logically, if I can love Queen without irony and without qualification, what can’t I love without irony?  Savage Garden’s I Want You?  Lady Gaga?  Meat Loaf?  That Justin Bieber song I secretly hum all the time?  They’re all on the table.  So is the Spider-Man cartoon from the 90′s and any and every Chris Farley movie.

Maybe life isn’t too short, and it’s actually too long.  Maybe I’ll live past 100 years and be able to devote an entire decade to re-writing Dickens in Klingon.  But I’m coming to realize that sincerity is in short supply, and as long as I’m on this planet, it’s not a bad idea to try and add a little more.

So that’s my 2012 resolution in a nutshell: live by the Queen Rule.

role model

I’m pretty nerdy. I play old video games, love sci-fi and spy movies, and spend a good deal of time online. I’ve read more than half of Shakespeare’s plays and have a 67% winning percentage at Pub Quiz night. I will happily argue about why Batman is the best superhero, despite his lack of powers.

So when a friend of mine told me that I was an inspiration to him for being who I am and getting married all the same, I was somewhat taken aback. Not because of any humility or my tendency for self-deprecation, but simply because it never occurred to me that I was living in a way that was inspiring. Sure, I’ve taken steps to find a career that is about more than just a way to make money, and I’ve been successful at the Hamilton Fringe Festival, but I never thought I was already there.

I mulled it over for a while, and came to the following conclusions:

1. Nobody chooses to be a role model. It’s something that just happens. Obviously, this has implications for how I live. I can’t act like nobody’s watching or that nobody cares what I do after I’ve had someone tell me that they are and they do.

2. You’re probably already a role model to someone. I never considered that I might be until someone told me I was. Chances are, you don’t either. Which brings me to point number three…

3. It’d be nice if you told the people you look up to that you look up to them. If you haven’t already, anyway. It might inflate their ego, but it might convince them to keep on keeping on. Who knows how many people are on the verge of giving up on doing good because they can’t see the difference they make. I’m generally a fan of people who do good, and I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to encourage people to be better.

The last year has been one of many changes in my life, and the blog is changing with it.  While I won’t promise regular updates since my track record for that is pretty lousy, I hope that my adventures in the unintentional are worth reading about all the same.

Scott Picks Five: Things Hollywood Believes About Romance

Scott Picks Five: Things Hollywood Believes About Romance

I’m not really a regular viewer of romantic movies as a genre (for arguments sake, a movie that sells itself as a love story, be it dramatic or comic); I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in theatres alone (which is typically how I see movies) and I don’t think I’ve seen more than maybe four or five in theatres in my life.  I do, however, somehow wind up seeing a lot of them at home.  Draw your own conclusions about why that is, but I generally find that they do have a certain escapist appeal.  When they’re done right, you’ll witness clever dialogue and exceptional on-screen chemistry.  When done wrong, however, you’ll realize how little Hollywood appears to know about romance.  And when you spend a good amount of time mulling it over, it becomes clear that these tropes seem to be sending out some rather bizarre (and maybe even alarming) messages about true love.

1. Not being killed by bad guys gets you chicks
One thing about action movies that’s always bugged me is the way they try to tack on a love story.  I’m not really an expert on counter-terrorism, and while I’m sure it’s impressive to a lot of women, but it seems like most people involved in fighting off bad guys of any stripe should really only be concerned with the task at hand.  Logistically and realistically, there’s a lot about “save the day, get the girl” that doesn’t really work, make sense or even seem practical.  But in the world of action movies, suspension of disbelief is key.  What annoys me about this one is that it’s usually just bad writing; sometimes distractingly bad.  In Speed, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock fall in love by facing and surviving danger and little else.  It’s a fairly ridiculous (but enjoyable) action movie that probably deserves some credit for both making Reeves and Bullock’s eventual romance somewhat believable (when not talking about how awful it is to be on a bus with a bomb, they do banter and flirt a fair bit), but for addressing this issue head-on by declaring that “relationships based on intense experiences never work” many times.

So this has been a known ridiculous plot device for over 15 years, yet it persists.  In Transformers (sort of my go-to example for most types of silliness in film), by virtue of not being killed by giant fighting robots (from outer space!), Shia LeBeouf is transformed from the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox tolerates to the kind-hearted geek that Megan Fox loves without much happening in between aside from the aforementioned averted death-by-robot.  My understanding of the fairer sex is by no means encyclopedic, but if not dying from explosions was all it took to have women fall in love with you, I would have had a very different social life in college.

2. Men never have to settle
Actors and actresses are, at least as far as Hollywood cares, a pretty good-looking bunch.  So naturally, complaints about “only pretty people fall in love in the movies!” are a little misguided.  However, there’s a fairly high number of “everyman” actors, such as Tom Hanks, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Vince Vaughn.  While these men are by no means “ugly”, they aren’t, to the best of my knowledge, sex symbols.  And when they appear in romantic roles, they’re generally romancing women who could be considered as such.  An obvious example of this is Knocked Up, where Rogen romances the statuesque Katherine Heigl despite it being against the odds.  Couples Retreat features this in spades; Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Faizon Love and Jon Favreau are all married or attached to women significantly younger and more attractive than they are.

Since most filmmakers are male and not conventionally attractive, I suppose there’s a certain degree of wish fulfillment going on, but there’s virtually no female equivalent to this.  I had difficulty naming unconventionally attractive actresses who appear in romantic roles, and I honestly can’t think of any movie where a woman romances a man who is clearly out of her league.  I suppose Bridget Jones would qualify (thanks to the normally attractive Renee Zelwegger gaining weight for the part), but that’s one example against the countless examples of chubby guys with inexplicably attractive spouses.  So with those numbers in mind, and if Hollywood is to be believed, men can always land the perfect ten if they’re lucky and play their cards right, but women really only have the option of slumming it.

3. Lonely people need extraordinary partners to make them believe in love again
Nathan Rabin of the AV Club famously coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the sort of woman who appears as the leading lady in romantic films with a male protagonist.  She’s impulsive, quirky, probably a little unstable, quirky, intellectual, quirky, and just what the lovelorn male lead needs to believe in love (or anything at all) again.  While it seems like only yesterday that Natalie Portman stole our hearts with her vintage motorcycles and Shins mixtapes in Garden State, in film, this is almost as old as technicolor.  Remember when an impulsive Austrian nun stole the heart of a widowed father with assorted types of song and dance?  The problem called Maria would later be diagnosed as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

I feel that there’s a male equivalent, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on a name.  The Sensitive Cowboy Dream Boy?  The Heartfelt Rebel Dream Boy?  The Matthew McConaughey?  In any case, if your protagonist is a woman, odds are, it’s not a sensible man with sterling character and a nice wardrobe who wins the day.  It’s an unshaven rogue with abs of steel who consistently rubs you the wrong way but is inexplicably charming and worth falling in love with.  He’s usually played by Matthew McConaughey, but he showed up in The Ugly Truth, Leap Year, and countless others just in the last year played by someone else.  Since again most writers and filmmakers are male (and probably look more like me than Gerard Butler), this might not be wish fulfillment and might just be lazy writing (or a complete misunderstanding of the opposite sex).  But I digress…

In both the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and (until a better name comes to me) the Matthew McConaughey archetype, the message is clear: you don’t need someone who shares your views and values or provides mutual support and affection, you need someone who is unpredictable and zany to show you how to feel again by driving you crazy by virtue of being obnoxious (though oddly charming) or acting out domestic fantasies in Ikea because life is too short not to, gosh darn it.

It seems like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl at least is now ripe for deconstruction, however.  (500) Days of Summer took a perverse pleasure in pinpointing both the potential downfalls of romance with the charmingly impulsive and the lack of emotional maturity that plagues the men who stop thinking rationally once they realize that Zooey Deschanel loves The Smiths as much as they do.

4. Fate excuses anything
A common theme in romantic movies is the seemingly insurmountable obstacle.  Be it a career, an ocean or two between them, a language barrier, or most commonly, a pre-existing relationship, there’s always something stopping our hero and heroine from living happily ever after.  Sometimes this is portrayed as a test of the strength of their bond.  Sometimes it’s a means of proving how truly in love they are.  And sometimes it’s a test of character that they fail miserably.  And when it is, the movie won’t recognize that.

This is most common when the obstacle is a pre-existing relationship.  In the world of the romantic comedy, true love is true love and following your heart means you’re always right.  It’s a little odd that nobody in romantic comedies ever thinks that someone willing to drop everything, cancel a wedding or two, break the heart of their current partner and potentially alienate friends and family might not be entirely trustworthy.  Sure, these films might show characters agonizing over the decisions, but they always choose the path of most destruction and it never raises a red flag.

Perhaps someday there will be a film following Bill Pullman, Dermott Mulroney, Dylan McDermott and all the other straw-fiances from the last 20 years of romantic comedies as they commiserate about being left with the burden of telling 300+ wedding guests that their brides to be left them for Matthew McConaughey at the last minute, slowly pay off the non-refundable deposits made at those exclusive reception halls, and play wingman to each other, slowly rebuilding their collective self confidence one desperate hook-up at a time.  But until then, it seems as though true love means never having to say you’re sorry.

5. Opposites attract.  Always.
They don’t.  I’ve looked into it, done my share of field research and they don’t.  See you next column!

Okay, fine.  I will concede that a certain degree of tension and spark can be healthy in a relationship, but the usual song and dance is that the protagonists in a romantic comedy are often adversaries who treat the other with ambivalence more than affection.  This is not the behaviour of adults who seek companionship, it’s the behaviour of an eight-year old boy who thinks Sally has cute pigtails but doesn’t quite understand why.

At worst, this cliche is dumb but harmless.  And honestly, with the right pairing of actors, it can be a lot of fun to watch.  But all the same, I keep hoping a background character will call them out on this and tell them that if they have to cover their feelings this way, they’re probably not ready for a relationship with smooching and other grown-up things.

Or better yet, the recognition that sometimes people act like they don’t like each other because they actually don’t like each other.

Review: Lost In La Mancha

Behind the scenes stories have always fascinated me. Even since before
my time in theatre, I’ve been asking myself some kind of variant of
“how did they do that?” ever since the day I saw Star Wars in 1997.
After a few shots at directing myself (I’ve made three short films and
one 90-minute student film in addition to directing four plays), I’m
more curious about how close to off the rails things can ever get
before disaster.  Lost in La Mancha provides that answer for me and,
painfully, Terry Gilliam.

When Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote fell apart before
completion, there were camcorders to capture it all. Lost in La Mancha
is the closest thing to a proper movie that will come from that
ill-fated shoot. It starts with unprepared actors and jets flying
overhead and it all goes downhill from there. And that’s after only
barely getting financing that left no room for error.

Seeing Gilliam’s dream torn away from him in both fascinating and
heartbreaking. The film never shows him at the depths of despair, but
remembering how long it’s been since he was last shown giggling out of
joy that something is going exactly right fills that in for us.  It’s
certainly a biased documentary, but how Gilliam could come out
anything but tragic given his circumstances is difficult to imagine.

Documentaries can be hard to rate effectively, but I was engrossed and
heartbroken for much of the film. Gilliam sometimes is shown as an
example of how not to Direct, but the scenes of the man beaming with
joy at seeing just the camcorder footage of his giants suggest
otherwise. Passion is what makes great art, after all.  Lost in La
Mancha
isn’t great art, at least not in the same way as some of
Gilliam’s best work, but it is a stirring look at the insanity of
following one’s passion.

B+