Oh man. Remember when the teacher showed a film? It was like getting an extra year of your life, finding an Oreo cookie, a snow day.
It was glorious.
So when I tell the students we’re watching a film, I’m surprised at the nods and eye rolls.
I gamble on a misunderstanding, so I reiterate that we’re watching a film in class.
No, we got it. Drawn out sighs. Polite smiles.
Oh, I get it. You think by “film” I mean a documentary on the history of the English language, don’t you?
Oh goodie, really!?
No! It’s a film called Scotland, PA. It’s a retelling of Macbeth.
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Stares into phones.
Come on! It’s a great movie. Here are some questions for you to think about while we watch.
I put on the film and sit at the back of the classroom.
And that’s when the terror begins.
First, the bad news: today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.
Not for any particular reason, but rather many reasons. Today is sort of the perfect storm of misery. As a matter of fact, there’s an equation:
[W + (D – d) x TQ
M x Na
(W) Weather plus your (D) debt subtracting your (d) salary multiplied by the (T) time since Christmas, (Q) time since failing your New Year’s resolutions, divided by (M) low motivation levels multiplied by (Na) the feeling of the need to do something.
The good news is that this concept of Blue Monday is commonly regarded in the science community as pseudoscience. But, you know as well as I, all of the factors in that equation mean something to you.
The weather is bad, it’s been cold for months and will be for months. The nights are long and pitch black. Not only are we suffering the harsh withdrawal of post holiday revelry, but the holidays emptied your wallet and expanded your waist. You are low on physical motivation, and chances are any resolutions you had for the New Year never made it out of the Higgins boat.
Sorry folks, but it’s going to get worse before it gets any better. Other factors are making this year’s Blue Monday a bit bluer, such as the stress surrounding Brexit and Donald Trump’s inauguration in 4 days.
Breathe in, breathe out.
If Captain James T. Kirk has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a way out of any cage.
So how can we get out of the Blue Monday cage?
If you’re like me, you’re wondering how you can get through the Trump presidency until he’s impeached in a few months. Fortunately, there are apps and technology to the rescue. Make America Kittens Again is a Google extension that masks all pictures of Donald Trump with pictures of kittens.
And if you’re desperately missing the wise words and soothing voice of our soon-to-be former president, there’s iSpeech Obama, which turns out all text in President Obama’s voice. When Trump’s inane bombast is getting you down, you can listen to President Obama read your to-do list, and tell you to pick up milk and eggs, remind you about a Friday meeting. As well as, probably, spank him good or take off your panties. Because come on, who wouldn’t sext the president just once?
“Oh man, you are sooo lucky to live overseas.”
I’ve heard this before, but I’ve heard it more often recently. “Ah yeah. Trump?”
He looks at me sideways. “No, I mean, living in Europe must be awesome.”
“Oh yeah. It’s pretty cool.”
He cocks his head. “It must be much better than living over here.”
If you are an American expatriate (living in a non-combat zone) then you have had some version of this conversation. In the first place, yes, living abroad absolu-frickin-lutely rocks…at times. No matter where you are living, there are some aspects of living there that are “better” than living in the U.S.
However, you know that your friend is romanticizing the expatriate life. And that is because they are basing their mental picture of your life on movies (and other intake) they have seen about expatriates. You do not judge this person, because before you moved abroad your mental picture was based on the same movies.
But you learned.
A Day in the Life: Expatriate the Movie
It was December 23rd and the mall was packed. The shops were overflowing with deranged shoppers. The food courts were like Valhalla without the booze or war hammers, and mall staff looked as though someone had just set their readiness alert to DEFCON 3.
The walkways of the mall were jammed with people trying desperately to get last minute gifts to bolster Christmas piles. And it was all happening to a soundtrack of Christmas music, store announcements, and screeching children.
I didn’t mind, as it was all part of the atmosphere. Moreover, it was one of my favorite days of the year. I have always enjoyed the build up to an event more than the event itself, so the day before the day before Christmas holds a special place in my heart.
My mom and I made a morning of it. We are early morning people: up at 6 am, caffeinated, organized, and out the door by 8:30 to the mall. We stopped for a bagel and a coffee. We had goals. Goal number one was to get me a coat. The second was for me to buy 90% of my Christmas gifts.
We started at Boscov’s. If you don’t know Boscov’s, sit back and picture every Christmas movie scene that takes place at a mall department store and you have Boscov’s. The clothing floor (ground level) is immense, aisles cut through uncountable racks of clothing and accessories sectioned off in age-old classifications: ladies, misses, juniors, men’s, young men’s, intimate apparel, active, LL Bean. Upstairs is kitchen and dining room, downstairs is living room and bedroom.
After Boscov’s I ran off to Barnes and Noble to buy books. My mother went off to accomplish her own tasks. We agreed to meet at 11 am at the junior miss department at Boscov’s, since that is nearby the east exit and where we parked.
After I left the bookstore I stopped in a sweets shop and picked us up a couple of coconut chocolates. And as I made my way back to the department store to meet my mom is when I processed what I had agreed to. I was going to meet my mom in a massive department store on December 23rd. This was not going to work.
I have watched a few more movies than usual recently. In the first place, I always enjoy a good Christmas tale or two. And secondly, when flying to the U.S. I spend 8 hours trying to convince myself I’m not 8 miles above the world. This calls for mindless action movies and stupid comedies.
In that time, I’ve become a bit perturbed at movie bad guys. For the most part I wish they would just take better care of themselves.
In all of the action shoot-up flicks I watched as I bumped 35,000 feet above Terra firma, I realized that the only people who care for their personal safety during a gun fight are the good guys. Or at the very least, the protagonist. They carefully hide behind pillars, walls, door jambs. They tediously time their gunfire to thwart return fire. They even use tactics to draw attention away from themselves and towards nearby dumpsters, stairwells, and cars.
But the bad guys? Nah.
The bad guys run carelessly through doorways, the other side of which house their heavily armed enemies. They run recklessly out in the open even after a bunch of their friends have just been shot dead from a balcony. They don’t hide, duck, or try out any tricky stratagems in order to avoid being shot and killed. They just run willy nilly into the open as if they know it should be this way. Very Zen. But still, I really wish they’d take better care of themselves.
Another sort of bad guy that really threw me was the evil witch. Now, the evil witch in the show we watched really really wanted to use a really really terrible spell. Really bad. So bad that even her evil witch friends warned her against using it. “Don’t do it,” they shrieked. “You’ll end up in an eternal pit of despair from which you’ll never be able to climb.”
The evil witch’s response: “Meh.”
I am sleeping in the library on an air mattress that takes up the entire core of room. Every spare inch of the room is otherwise occupied with books, luggage, or boxes. I think there’s a chair in the corner, but it’s beneath a pile of clothes that could clothe the residents of Manchester.
This library has obviously doubled as a storage room. I guess it still does, only the stores kept here now include a 42-year-old English teacher and his bag.
I lie in the bed and stare up at long shelves of paperback spy thrillers, National Geographics, classic novels, yellow DIY books. Occasionally, I reach out and pluck one from the shelf, give it a quick perusal or read it to the end.
I’d get up, but getting out of the air mattress is more arduous than it should be. It’s sort of like trying to get out of a bowl of Jell-O without using your arms. Also, every time I manage to get out of the bed, I stub my toe. Every. Time. By the weekend my toes are bloodied and bruised stumps that once were utilized in helping me walk. Now they are slightly hairy pain sticks that jut out of my feet.
It doesn’t matter if I get up or not, I am on holiday, so my routine has been shattered, it no longer exists. I keep up my workout, read a lot, do some writing. But otherwise, my days are long and short, dark and light, and filled with family or very few people.
By the following week, I realize that my handle on reality has become slightly, well, tentative.
This failing grasp is not strengthened by the fact that I wear pajamas all the time and have eaten so many carbs that I would die of bread poisoning if that was a thing. I can’t remember what fruit tastes like. I reach greedily for a vegetable in the fridge, but it turns out to be a green bag of Christmas fudge.
Since my dad has a famous sweet tooth and his patients and colleagues love him, the house is overflowing with cookies, chocolates, and sweets. The quantity and variety are such that each room in the house could have a theme: the living room is nutted chocolates, the dining room is pralines and caramels, the kitchen is caramelized figs and pound cakes. I walk throughout the house simply dipping my hands into baskets of sweets and pushing them into my face.
I don’t want to say that I start to go a little insane, but I start to go a little insane. No routine, no days, no structure, no goals. It’s as though without the parameters of my routine and schedule I allow everything to slip away. I always thought it would take something rather monumental to drive a person nuts, but in my case it only took seven days without a routine. I can now fully understand the men I knew who became pitiful alcoholics or recluses after retirement.
The plan was to completely relax. After a semester of university, students, bosses, responsibilities, and the grind of day to day life, the beacon was the Christmas holiday: ten days in the loving, carefree bosom of my parents’ house in Langhorne. But, as we all know, these plans are never clear cut.
Several things are thwarting those plans. First, there was the travel, always tiring, and combined with jetlag, which is like getting your hands on slightly-tainted hallucinogenic drugs. Then there was the last minute rush of Christmas shopping, which is all part of the enjoyment of Christmas time, but also develops a worrying tendency in which I imagine other shoppers being eaten by dogs and ravens.
Additionally, I have a large, intense family who I love more than anything on this planet (sorry Bela). However, as you know, family time can get overwhelming and exhausting until you just want to hide in a bathtub with a bottle of Irish whiskey.
But today, a few days after the big man slid his pre-diabetic rump down our chimney, my plan is to put on my pajamas and stay in them. The plan is to read and relax and maybe partake in an afternoon drink or two. My plan is to forget everything, my plan is to simply lounge around my parents’ house in a way reminiscent of Christmas break in my college days, or last August.
Unfortunately, my morning duties include the DMV and an annoying and exasperating bureaucratic experience at the hands of a useless airline, whose name I can’t disclose (thank you, SleazyJet).
When these duties are over and I have slid down the meter from apocalyptic to moderately irked, I put on my pajamas and make coffee. I pick up my book and head to the couch.
I have created a quiet life for myself. I am a happily unmarried, ecstatically childless man. I live in a flat with a cat who sleeps a lot and in a building whose residents mostly keep Czech, which means quiet and to themselves. Most of the human interaction or excitement in my life outside of school is under my control. I alone choose to go out for drinks or dinner with friends or politely refuse invitations; I invite guests over when I want and yet spend much of my free time alone writing or reading. I take care of my cat, stay out when I want and come home to a flat that looks the same as when I left it. This is beautiful for a man for whom the Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel is a power ballad.
There seems to be an awful lot of discussion centered on Christmas and the holidays. I know it’s commercial, I know it’s all capitalist and imperialist, and Santa was invented by Coca Cola, and blah blah blah. But could I just suggest that you shut up and try to enjoy yourself.
Whatever you celebrate, enjoy yourself however and in whatever manner you’d like. If you come across my path, I will wish you a damn great day and I hope you do the same to me. I will be emulating our Pagan ancestors by enjoying a Christmas in the Saturnalia style. I’ll put on my ugliest sweater, take my mind off of work for a few days, and I will eat, drink, and be merry. If there happens to be an orgy nearby, well then what the hell?
There’s a lot of bad shit happening in the world right now, and there seem to be a lot of bad people out there too. The American president-elect is dumber, crazier, and less self-aware than a bag of dead squirrels. Other people are in nightmarish situations, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot we normal everyday people can do to help them. This is not lost on me and it’s not lost on you either. The feeling of global impotence just sucks. If you are like me, there are an awful lot of times when you feel helpless and upset.
I am prone, having pressed myself against a wall near the bathroom. I have taken on the physical and personality characteristics of a salamander ninja. In the hallway nearby, three students are chatting and if I move, I will draw attention to myself.
I do not want to do that. One of the students is mine, and if he sees me conversation will commence and I’ll be forced to commit seppuku.
Before you start judging me as a bad teacher, let’s get a few things clear. I love my students. And I even enjoy seeing students in public, where the classroom roles have been shed and we are just a couple of people. The student I am hiding from (in salamander ninja form) is a student who does not attend classes and does not do his coursework.
If you are a teacher at a university, I needn’t explain further. If you aren’t, then read the next few sentences. On the list of all the people you don’t want to see in public, students who don’t come to class are at the top. Why? Because they have 1. an exceptionally low-level of self-awareness, 2. a tiny nugget of some inexplicable feeling in their belly which will eventually introduce itself in their mid-30s as “guilt,” and 3. they unconsciously want to quell that nugget by talking about class and coursework with a teacher whose class they never visit.
These students have a way of moseying up with a What the Hell, Why Not? look on their faces and doing one of several things. First off, they might explain their chronic absence. Sickness. Business. Bureaucracy. I have found that sickly grandmothers feature in these explanations about 59% of the time, with visa problems coming in second at about 34% of the time. They also might simply ask “Did you do anything important in class recently?” to which I usually answer, “Nah, we just sit around and talk about how you’re not there.” Sometimes they get the joke, sometimes they don’t. Either way, a little of me dies every time I use it.
We start out at Demínka. It’s a classic Czech joint near I.P Pavlova. High ceilings, chandeliers, and, tonight, about 350 people. This is weird. Demínka is usually a relatively quiet place. What is also weird is the fact that three nanoseconds after I walk in the place and begin cutting through the crowd, the waiter is on me like John Goodman on a taco.
If you have ever been to the Czech republic or have had any experience with any Czech waiter, you know they are not the most attentive breed. If a Czech waiter approaches you immediately, it’s because he wants to deliver bad news. And this one does with a smile on his faux-hawked face.
“Nemáte reservace?” Do you have a reservation?
“Ne.” No. I already know where this is going. The place is jammed.
“Ah, bohužel…” Unfortunately, he shakes his head and tries to hide the smile from his face. It’s all I have to hear. I somehow try to resist the urge to give him a Merry Christmas headbutt in the throat.
Here’s the thing, there is nothing a Czech waiter likes more than to say “no” or “unfortunately” or “I’m sorry” and then follow that with bad news. Nothing. And as I walk out of Demínka, I know it’s going to be a Czech waiter kind of evening. And this prediction is spot frickin’ on.