Blog

The Crazy Crains

1*89xtSp7JW9-f_FYyV3mtTw

The Haunting of Hill House is your binge-worthy Halloween treat

The Haunting of Hill House, at 10 episodes, does not feel long. It’s the story of a family of seven easing their lives into an old house and of what happens to them many years later.

“Ease into the house”, of course, isn’t exactly what they did. The house sucks them in to a whirlwind of paranormal events, ending with the mom, Olivia Crain’s (Carla Gugino), mysterious death.

The Crain family moves out of the house, but their lives are changed forever. Steve (Michiel Huisman), the eldest kid, becomes an author of paranormal stories. He publishes a book about the haunting at Hill House — a bestseller — at the cost of wrinkling his relationship with his sister, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), who has become a professional embalmer. Shirley considers Steve’s earnings blood money. Theo (Kate Siegel), meanwhile, secretly accepted Steve’s money to finish her PhD in psychology; aloof since childhood, she struggles with what seems to be the middle-child syndrome. Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) turns into a heroin addict and is at rehab. All but Nellie (Victoria Pedretti) thinks he can still change. But Nell is now a young widow suffering from sleep paralysis and the refreshed haunting of the Bent-Neck Lady from Hill House. Only Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton), the patriarch, seems to be of clear mind, placid and wise from years of grief. And then Nellie kills herself. And the family gathers under one roof again. But the story is only just beginning.

The Haunting of Hill House transcends the horror genre into the genuinely dramatic. It tackles parenthood, sibling dynamics, and ultimately, love. It describes how people can sometimes have a twisted, deadly view of love. A love that confines. Fortunately, as the series shows, there is always the sane, serene, forgiving kind of love. The love that is freeing. The love that can vanquish all ghosts of fear and guilt and sin. The Haunting of Hill House beautifully unravels this towards the end.

Technique-wise, The Haunting of Hill House is a marvel. Episode 6 is especially remarkable for a long single-take/single-camera scene, when all the Crains gather for Nellie’s wake. It captures what one is sure to feel at excruciating events, when one painful moment just flows into the next equally stabbing one — no cuts. Anyway the series’ editing is superb throughout, actually. Even with its characteristic zooming back and forth in time, the series maintains a compelling story; it reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s time experiments. I just have trouble with some parts of the script — I mean, does Theo really need that long monologue on Episode 9?

But this baby is a 9/10. It’s beautiful, it’ll haunt you.

Advertisements

What I Learned from my Recent Job Search

saulo-mohana-78181-unsplash

6 lessons that may help you land your dream job

After a long period of hemming and hawing, last May I decided to leave academe and return to corporate life.

That was one of the scariest decisions I made. True, I had about two months to find a job before my previous employer stopped giving me salary (my contract would expire at the end of our summer-term vacation); but also true, many employers are known to be sluggish at best and discriminatory at worst. I would probably need more than two months before I get to my next job.

I got it on the third month.

The journey was tough and rife with mistakes. But it all ended with more than I wished for. Here are the top six things I learned in the past three months, searching for a job:

1. Job hunting is a full-time job.

Turns out, looking for a job can and should be taken as a full-time job, because of all the research and traveling and writing you’ll have to do. It took me a while to learn this. I barely had any progress in June, when I was often busy at a volunteer organization I belong to. My mind was split into the job hunt and “extracurricular” tasks. It’s no wonder I had zero feedback about any of the applications I sent. So yes, “Professional Job Hunter” might as well be a thing.

2. Start early and relearn the ropes.

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

When you’re already having that vague, unsettled feeling of wanting a new job or career, then already start refining your resume and LinkedIn profile. Don’t wait till you’re out of a job. Reacquaint yourself with the basics of job hunting. The Internet is a vast resource for this, of course, but I recommend that you also consult an actual recruiter. Halfway through my job search, I belatedly consulted a recruiter friend on how to improve my resume. Turns out, I was doing my resume wrong! One of the lessons I learned: I didn’t really have to stick to just a one-page resume, especially since I was already aiming at managerial positions. It was a blow to my ego, but I learned a lot.

3. Learn new things.

One of the toughest parts of being unemployed is the psychological tunnel you’ll have to go through. Sure, there is light at the far end, but 99% of the place is utter darkness. It’s easy to imagine demons lurking in the shadows: the naysayers and their ugly ilk. So why not bring your flashlight or torch and read something on the way? You can also bring your smartphone for Duolingo!

Probably the good thing about being jobless is now you have time for reading. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

What helped me a lot in the past three months were reading books and articles, watching online courses, and attending Toastmasters meetings. I also figured blogging was a good activity as well: creating something always brings with it a lot of research and discoveries. And if you have enough budget for it, you can try getting LinkedIn’s Learning subscription. They have hundreds of well selected courses I found both enjoyable and informative.

4. Learn from every rejection.

Now this is the hardest part of the process. Rejections hit right smack at our ego, the only thing we probably retained from our previous job. And this squishy blob— ego — gets even more sensitive when it’s not seated in a job or position; it becomes younger — as young as a four-year-old brat.

There, there. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

For me, the most humiliating part was how almost none of those I sent online applications to ever gave me feedback. Were my cover letters bland? Were my customized resumes too generic and unattractive? Are the recruiters simply sluggish as expected? These were the questions twittering in my head. Later on, I realized it must have been the resume (see #2 above). In any case, I realized it’s no use complaining; it’s only going to make my blood boil and probably make the people around me annoyed. When I already had my glass of bile-like sadness to last me another month, I finally decided that rejections are a good thing — like all the world’s failed courtships and relationships — they are signage that direct you to what’s most suitable to you and you alone. I threw away that glass of gloom.

5. Widen your network through extracurricular organizations.

I’m a member of Maharlika Toastmasters Club, where they never laugh at my jokes, hahahuhu. Photo: Maharlika Toastmasters Club

I mean Toastmasters. Okay, it doesn’t have to be Toastmasters, but find yourself an organization that will give you a diverse network of professionals. Thanks to Toastmasters, I found myself in a caring environment that promotes self-development, especially in communication and leadership. It was in Toastmasters that I learned to communicate better and began to lead teams and get to know a wide range of people — some of them recruiters. That “recruiter friend” I mentioned above is a toastmaster. And so is the one who recruited me to my new employer.

6. Get professional help (from heaven).

My personal favorite is St Josemaria Escriva, followed by St Clare of Assisi, for anything work-related. I started a novena to St Josemaria nine days before his feast day (June 26). On the eve of the feast, my then potential employer personally gave me an application form. Sixty days later, I got the job — one that’s even better than I wished for.

If you’re still in between jobs, I hope you got something useful here. Don’t give up. Let the naysayers say their nays. In time and accompanied by hard work and prayer, you’ll get the job suitable for you and you alone.

Creating a Life Plan

robert-baker-522731-unsplash

How I use Milanote to plan my life and achieve goals

Vacations and transitions between jobs present opportunities to get to know yourself better — who you are, what you have, what you want, how you can pursue them. A few days ago, I reviewed my so-called Life Plan and made some tweaking. I was relieved to get out of a limbo after that; nothing feels damper than not having a clearer self-image and personal plans.

I also realized what an awesome app Milanote is.

Screenshot_2018-08-20 Start planning your next creative project in Milanote
Screenshot of Milanote’s homepage.

Milanote is described as “a tool for planning creative projects,” relying heavily on the power of visuals and boxed lists to aid creators and strategists in coming up with plans. I used it for some brainstorming work before, but it’s in goal-setting and action-planning that I’ve reaped most of its rewards. I realized Milanote does it so well for me because I’m part-visual, part-list-manic: I can drag-and-drop images that inspire me, lay them out, group them together, whatever is necessary to give me a good conceptual structure for my ideas. It’s vision-boarding on steroids.

In this blog post, I’ll give you an idea on how I use Milanote to make my Life Plan. You just might find something useful, too — or give me some tips on how I can improve my method.

(To give you a glimpse of what I’ll be talking about, here it is. You may refer to this as you go along. Or not. Whatever.)

I call the document a Life Plan, though really it’s just for a particular year, as you’ll see why below. And there are eight sections or parts in this plan:

1. Theme of the Year

The first part is the Theme of the Year. I started coming up with it when Pope Benedict XVI dedicated 2013 to the Faith (“Year of the Faith”). There were no year of whatever in the three years after that, so I just named them after the other supernatural virtues (Hope in 2014, Love in 2015). And then Pope Francis made 2016 Year of Mercy; so did I. My 2017 veered to the secular and I called it Year of Achievement, and this year is…

Why come up with themes? Not exactly sure why. But somehow the years’ decidedly positive themes give me a sort of affirmation, giving me direction on what projects to take and a lens to find some sense in the past. For example, in 2014, “Year of Hope” was simply meant to be an optimistic reminder throughout the year, particularly since at that time, I was rather depressed. In 2015, when I had finally bounced from the trough (and I had moved on to Year of Love), 2014’s theme of Hope became even more meaningful.

So I’m keeping this section.

2. Vision

This is the ideal state which I strive for during the year. Since it’s ideal, there’s really no need for me to scruple over whether it’s realistic or not. Realism comes at the goal level (see section #6). Closely related to the Theme, the Vision gets my motivation going. That’s why I also make sure its wording gets me giddy about a future state.

A good vision can follow a template as simple as: “I am an [adjective]+[noun].” I am a well-known real estate broker. I am a financially free entrepreneur. I am an organized and fun-loving mom. Something like that.

3. Framework

Photo by Mahdiar Mahmoodi on Unsplash

In pursuing my goals, what do I consider as natural laws, the mechanism by which pursuits work? This set of laws or mechanism is what I call “framework”. In academe, we find a study framework to see a particular phenomenon using a particular perspective. Doing so gives a certain sense to the thing you’re studying; it doesn’t seem as much of a puzzle anymore, although you will still have to adjust or discard your framework, if necessary, once you conclude the study. And it’s the same with understanding yourself and your life. You need a framework — a set of assumptions — that will simplify or guide your project, i.e. your life.

For this year, I decided to use the following framework: systems of good habits lead one to success. Meaning: if only I carry out certain good acts consistently, then I’d soon excel, sometimes even without my noticing it; it just happens.

Of course, you can use other frameworks for success. Find what suits you best and then follow through.

4. Key Outputs

Photo by Mahdiar Mahmoodi on Unsplash

These are my main deliverables during the year. Often these are “large” tangible things like reaching a particular weight or getting a certain professional certification or traveling to a dream destination. While I place this high up in the Life Plan, this is actually a product of the list of goals I list in the sixth section. This list is most useful when I want to see what big, concrete things I still have to achieve this year. And I find it helpful to indicate the deadlines for these things, too.

5. Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far

This is the running list of achievements during the year. Many of the items here come from the Key Outputs, others are accomplishments that I did not see coming. It’s good to have this list because it reminds you that, even when things look bleak, still there are some good things that are happening — we just don’t care to look.

This is actually a recent addition to my Life Plan. When I realized it’s already August, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction settled in. It’s uncomfortable, like wearing tight underwear, or munching a tea bag. The way to feel less sorry — and even to feel good about myself — is to count my blessings; thus “Why the Year Has Been Awesome So Far.”

Applying vision-boarding principles, the more inspiring the images, the better. Screenshot of my Life Plan.

6. Goals

And so here we are at the heart of the document: goals. We have hundreds of goals. But it’s good to keep them to a minimum, so there’s greater focus. After all, some of the goals we have in mind are actually natural by-products of other goals.

For my year’s goals, I try to sort them according to the various facets of my life. You may also call them priorities — although sometimes I hate using that term because some items can’t be given a particular order: they simply have the same “weight”.

These facets I turn into “cards” (in Milanote parlance). Right now, I have 12 cards, though I try to pour most of my attention to the first five or six. Again, the importance of minimal number for maximum focus. (I know, I know, 12 is too many, but I just want to be as comprehensive about understanding myself as possible.) For 2018, my cards are:

  1. Spirit — I struggle so much in getting a better relationship with God, but I believe that if this is in good standing, I’ll be in good standing everywhere else
  2. Profession — My 20s are over, and boy what a decade of experimentation that was. This card covers everything related to making up for lost time in developing my career.
  3. Finance — Because everybody wants to be financially free, of course. Unless you’re Richie Rich, or one of those crazy rich Asians.
  4. Toastmasters — My lone “extracurricular” self-development organization. I’ve gained so much from this group, and there’s still a whole lifetime in which to gain from it — and serve it — more.
  5. Masters — I’m trying to finish my MA in communication.
  6. Family — I don’t live with my family, but I try to be an “active” member as much as possible.
  7. Love — Maybe it shouldn’t be called that way (cheesy!), but this refers to my trying to become a better boyfriend.
  8. Fitness — Looking good and feeling good are often the strongest confidence booster.
  9. Culture — Food, places, experiences, and ideas are some of the most beautiful things in this world. I don’t want to miss out.
  10. Friends — Perhaps because I’m quite an introvert, I have very few close friends. Sometimes I still struggle relating with them. That’s why I keep it a point that this area is one of the active cards in my plan.
  11. Business — Someday I’m gonna put up a business.
  12. Travel — My one luxury.

Each of these cards or categories have one main goal, under which are subgoals, which are often habits that I try to foster. After all, I believe that habit systems are the key to attaining excellence. If you notice, some items have been scratched off: that’s because as far as I’m concerned, I’ve already turned them into reliable habits. A triumph; no need for me to fuss over them.

7. Routines

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Since I struggle with habit formation, I need to keep some routine-related things especially in mind:

  • System Changes — The three key ideas I try to apply in daily life, based on insights I gained from prior self-reflection. Normally these ideas counter the main vices or negative habits I’ve noticed in myself. For example, I and some people close to me have complained about my tendency to overthink. So I’ve proposed to myself that I “focus, and not overthink.” The items on System Changes are the mantras I should be sort of “reciting” in the course of each day.
  • Morning and Evening Routines — The first few activities I do upon waking up and the last ones before hitting the sack are like bookends that keep the books of my day well propped up. I got this idea from author Brett McKay some years back. Having these routines is consistent with my habit-systems framework: I know I’ll have a good day if my day starts with my Morning Routine, and I know my day has ended well if I close it with the Evening one.
No more images because I got tired. Screenshot of my Life Plan.

8. SWOT Analysis

(This should probably be at the top of the document — even before the Theme of the Year, because it helps me to identify what I lack and what I already have, therefore informing me how to craft my vision and goals.)

The SWOT Analysis, of course, looks into the internal and external forces that affect your pursuit of goals. Albert Humphrey is credited to be the creator of this self-awareness tool in the 1960s.

  • Strengths are your current abilities, talents, skills, and stock knowledge (e.g. writing skills, singing talent).
  • Weaknesses are your inadequacies — abilities, skills, and knowledge that you don’t have yet (e.g. driving skills, ignorance about the complexities of taxes).
  • Opportunities are factors outside yourself that may help in achieving your goals (e.g. vast professional network, close proximity to workplace).
  • Threats are those people or things outside yourself which can foil your plans (e.g. envious coworkers, micromanaging boss, rainy season)

Once you have your SWOT Analysis matrix filled, you’ll have a better perspective on yourself. Often, for me, the best part of doing SWOT Analyses is figuring out my strengths. Like most people, I’m really quite insecure, and nothing beats discovering some innate qualities — Strengths — which I already have and which I can exploit to my advantage, if I wanted to.

That’s it! And congratulations for reading (or scrolling down, haha) this far. As I’ve mentioned, my Life Plan is a work in progress, much like its subject: me. So if you have some tips for me, please don’t hesitate to tell me in the comments below.

In case you missed its link above, here’s a peek into my Life Plan.

And if you’re interested in signing up for a Milanote account, please use my referral link. Thank you!

The Real Temple Run

14772182371_db534fa894_k

What makes a 21k run around Cambodia’s Angkor Wat exhilarating

Back when Temple Run was a hit, I decided to someday go running around the jungle temples of Cambodia. Dodge some crazed gorillas maybe. Jump over ravines probably. Definitely with the dashing air of Indy Jones.

In July 2014, it came true.

The plan was to go around the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, from my hotel in Siem Reap and back to it in maybe three or four hours. My first half-marathon.

It was grand.

The sweat and blisters and vehicle smoke notwithstanding, the run was exhilarating, for three key reasons:

The change of landscapes — from Siem Riep’s bustling streets to the asphalted road with impenetrable jungles on either side to the majestic moat surrounding Angkor Wat — made for a real beholding of raw and rugged beauty. Add to the experience the monsoon rain that goes berserk one moment and gives way to the sizzling sun in another.

With a bit of imagination, I “saw” how ancient Khmers transported the 10 million sandstone blocks from faraway mountains. It is said that King Suryavarman II had the Angkor Wat built in the early 1100s, dedicating it to the Hindu god Vishnu. His ambition for the project was such that the temple — currently the world’s largest religious monument at 1.6 million square meters — would be a gilt heaven on earth — Mount Meru, home of the gods. It boggles the mind how such a colossal complex would be located in the middle of nowhere: now the complex is practically in a the middle of a vast forest, but in its heyday it was a city larger and busier than London at the time.

The air was fresh, crisp, and moist — far from what I was used to in urban Manila. Drizzles punctuated the run, but that only made it more exciting, and refreshing when needed. It’s good to plan your route well, though. There were stretches in the route that were hardly inhabited (but the roads were well paved); I didn’t have a bottle of water with me, so I had to run a couple of miles before I reached the nearest store. Don’t be like me.

Angkor Wat from its east entrance, at the moat’s edge.

So if you happen to visit Siem Reap, why not go temple running? It’ll be a unique experience. But don’t commit the mortal sin of not taking a closer look at the temples a day or two before your run (there are more than a dozen in Angkor alone). They are ruins, yes. But what treasures they hold. On that trip to Angkor Wat, I realized the impermanence of earthly life and glory, and how nature and time can overcome man in the end. If you want adventure and some introspecting, go to Siem Reap.

And don’t just go: run.

More photos »

Live, Learn, and Prosper — with LinkedIn Learning

IMG_00000092-current
Dr Spock would agree: Signing up for LinkedIn Learning is rational. Art: Daryl Zamora

5 reasons LinkedIn Learning can help you become a valuable professional

Imagine a one-stop-shop of bite-size multimedia courses — from personal branding to project management to Adobe Illustrator to resume building. It has a name: LinkedIn Learning.

I stumbled upon LinkedIn Learning by accident. I was updating my LinkedIn profile to boost my job search, clicking here and there, until I found myself signing up for LinkedIn Learning’s one-month free trial — one of the few times I didn’t regret aimless web surfing.

Formerly Lynda.com, LinkedIn Learning is LinkedIn’s response to the growing demand for soft skills enhancement among professionals. In their 2018 Workplace Learning Report, LinkedIn noted how “communication”, “leadership”, and “collaboration” skills rank as the top three skills wanted by talent developers and executives the world over. These and many “role-specific skills” can be learned on LinkedIn Learning.

LinkedIn Learning teems with hundreds of carefully selected courses in various fields.

When my free trial expired, the only logical decision was to pay for the service, which is included in LinkedIn Premium’s Learning package. One of my best buys online. There are other features in the package, but to me its crowning jewel is LinkedIn Learning.

Below are the top reasons LinkedIn Learning can be an investment in your professional growth:

  1. LinkedIn Learning has 12,000 tutorials from various fields — technology, business, creative, you name it. And these courses are taught by select instructors, experts in their respective fields, including Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.
  2. The lessons are easy to understand and displayed in an intuitive format. Depending on the course, exercise files are also included to complement the videos (which can be saved for offline viewing). Transcripts are also available in case you simply want to review the lesson and don’t want to bother rewatching the video.
  3. The courses are self-paced: it’s up to you when you’d want to watch them. No need to wait for a particular date for a particular class to be held, as is the case with other e-learning platforms. Lessons are also cut to just 15 minutes or less — even as little as a minute — making sure that each segment won’t be too heavy for the busy professional.
  4. The tutorials are produced professionally and, as I’ve said, with legit experts as instructors. Such is the platform’s credibility that some multinational companies are now beginning to subsidize employee subscription to LinkedIn Learning for their learning and development (L&D) programs. Take cosmetics company Estee Lauder, for example.
  5. Last but not least, LinkedIn Learning is connected to your LinkedIn account, your professional profile on the Internet. If you want, you can automatically list on your LinkedIn profile the courses you completed or the relevant skills you gained from the courses.
LinkedIn Learning has a clean, intuitive interface. You can save the courses for offline use, too.

The only drawback of LinkedIn Learning is, of course, the price. On a closer look, though, it doesn’t seem to be a drawback at all, especially if you’re serious about learning new skills or enhancing current ones. The Learning Premium package costs $29.99/month, or about about PhP53/day — about half the cost of a Happy Meal or a third of a Starbucks coffee.

Talk about investment.

***

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by LinkedIn.

Anatomy of a Toxic Relationship

VickyDaniel

Phantom Thread (2017) weaves a story of love, revenge, insanity

Phantom Thread is a study on toxic relationships with a proposal on how to live with it — if you’re insane enough.

Three-time Oscar Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays the perfectionist fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. Set in 1950s London, heiresses and royalty come to him for their dresses. To these women, Woodcock is a god who turns them into silken queens in ermine coats.

Woodcock carries an air of silent dukedom and magnetism, a calm flirtatiousness that streams out in choice words. We see this perfectly when he retreats to the countryside and meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), the young, coy, and audacious waitress who serves him breakfast. The first time they talk, you’d think they’d known each other for years. Not that they talk profusely; they don’t, they’re British. In fact, a formal customer-waitress transaction ensues, but you know a life-long deal is already being negotiated. You just know one is tailor made for the other. They know it, too.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) believes he’ll never get married because of his profession. Photo: Focus Features

So soon Alma finds herself in London, working for Woodcock as assistant and model. But more than that, she is the old man’s muse and sweetheart.

Trouble begins to brew during breakfast when Woodcock demands fuss-free silence over the table. Alma was buttering her toast and tinkling some china and disturbing Woodcock from his dress-sketching reverie. The man stormed out of the room, enraged.

Woodcock then maintains a manipulative and demanding behavior that smothers Alma’s naivety. There’s already a preview to this attitude in the couple’s first after-date date, at Woodcock’s country cottage, when he took Alma’s measurements, with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) noting the numbers. “You have no breasts,” he said, casually. The startled girl apologized, and Woodcock just said, “no, no, you’re perfect” — to the girl’s baffled relief — “My job to give you some. If I choose to.” When Woodcock went out of the room to get a sample dress, Cyril noted that Alma actually has the ideal shape. The scene was weird, but you’re endeared, like Alma, to the thought that for once, what you thought was a weakness is actually a strength.

Breakfast is time dedicated to silence, at least according to Reynolds Woodcock. Photo: Focus Features

Too bad, Alma is too insecure to leave Woodcock inspite of his genteel douchery; she craves his attention, his esteem. At one crucial point, he tells her he doesn’t need her.

Then the world goes upside down.

Alma takes her revenge. The story goes to a sickening swerve, making you question your previous feelings towards the couple. Is it right to hurt the person you love, who happens to be a prick in tuxedo? Will you tolerate an endless cycle of abuse, knowing that…you can do something similar and reignite that early-stage romance?

According to one writer, the film seems to be the best “food movie” in recent memory. Photo: Focus Features

Phantom Thread — one of the Best Picture nominees at the 2018 Oscars — is a beautiful zooming in to contrasts: Woodcock’s posh lifestyle versus Alma’s rustic upbringing; his exact measurements and demands versus her haphazard outlook in life; his condescension versus her tacit rebellion; his superstitions versus her culinary science; his loving and wounding, and hers.

In the end, one may feel sympathy for the two loonies — for the old man who has not grown up and for the young woman who’s ready to mother him…their niche of Freudian f*ckery. But I bet no one wants that kind of relationship — a prequel to hell.

Help Wanted

the-help-book

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help boasts humor and heartbreak

Everyone has a story. Many tend to have a ready audience; others struggle to make a few listen. But some of them just don’t get to tell it at all — because society forbids it.

Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help, revolves around the lives of three women in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s who are bound by a uniting misery — alienation, a need to be heard.

But how can they overcome it? Aibileen and Minny are oppressed, black maids with their grim stories: Aibileen — still recovering from her son’s sudden death four years ago — has raised and loved 17 white children, some of whom have now unloved her because of her skin color; meanwhile Minny has more children (and a bigger mouth) than she can handle, and is reputed to cook Jackson’s best chocolate cream pie (chief villain Hilly Holbrook can attest to that). Skeeter, on the other hand, is fresh out of college and single — the worst combination for a decent white woman, according to her mother — and rather the ostrich among her flamingo friends: Skeeter is just too different. The three end up writing a book that would rock Jackson to the core.

Viola Davis as Aibileen. She was nominated in the Oscars for Best Actress. Photo: Dreamworks

Throughout the book, Stockett displays her genius in humor, drama, and nuanced characterizations. The story alternates through the perspectives (and dialects) of its three protagonists — equally insightful, of course, but Minny’s point of view is the juiciest and spiciest. She reminds you of the officemate who whispers between snortles on how tacky the manager’s dress was at last night’s gala.

The novel also has no shortage of heart-wrenching subplots: Aibileen’s relationship with her ward kid, Mae Mobley, who doesn’t get any love from her witless mother; Skeeter’s love-hate relationship with her own manipulative mother; and the overall plight of the black community described in the book.

What’s great about Stockett is that she made sure all the characters were flesh-and-bones human. There is a strong advocacy for equality, sure, but the sort that says whether black or white, people do good and bad. The characters’ complexities bring diverse flavors to the book’s 453 pages, which do not feel long at all.

Bryce Dallas Howard (Hilly), Sissy Spacek (Hilly’s mom), and Octavia Spencer (Minny) have the most hilariously gross scene in the film. Photo: Dreamworks

Two years after Stockett published The Help — her debut novel — writer-director Tate Taylor adapted the book to a film starring Viola Davis (Aibileen), Emma Stone (Skeeter), and Octavia Spencer (Minny) who won Best Supporting Actress in the Oscars. The film was also nominated for Best Picture.

Totally not bad for a debut novel.

And I confirm the rumor is true: The Help is outstanding, both book and film. It’s one of those pieces of art that make you think — no matter your skin color or other data you put in your curriculum vitae— “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Stoicism in This Crazy World

marcusaurelius
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Photo: FEE

Why this ancient philosophy is great — and what it lacks

Stoicism seems to be quite the rage recently. New books on this ancient philosophy have seen a rise in the past few years: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson, even The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. And there have been Stoicons since 2012.

This newfound interest seems to be a reaction to the info overload and emotional flurry brought about by new media. People were already harassed by traffic and bosses and brats and the Joneses before Mark Zuckerberg was born…but now here come Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which constantly flood people with emotions, from disgust to delight to disdain to disappointment— sometimes all within one minute. People are drowning; they need safety vests. Stoicism comes as a lifeboat from heaven.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is not a boat: it is a Greek philosophy founded in 300 BC by Zeno of Citium. Other key philosophers of this Hellenistic-turned-Roman thought — spanning up to 300 AD — were Seneca, who has written the most; Epictetus who, wiser, delegated the task of writing to a student; and Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and perhaps the poster boy of Stoicism (“Ruler of the Known World — But Not Worldly”).

Stoics believe that no “disaster”, ultimately, is end-of-the-world kind of disastrous: that bad things can happen and do happen, and that we have the power to survive, move on, and not give a damn; that happiness equals virtue and self-mastery, not fortune nor fame nor health nor pleasure, which are all temporary and rot in the end; that our emotions and unbridled perception of the world can cloud our minds, making us fail to understand the truth of things.

Some people mistake Stoicism as absolute repudiation of emotions. In fact, it just abhors excesses. Joy, for example, is something that Stoics cherish. And while anger may be in their gamut of emotions, they try not to give it free rein.

What’s great about Stoicism

Stoicism can give you a more objective, more godlike, perspective. According to Alain de Botton on The School of Life, Seneca demonstrated this to a woman who was grieving his son’s death for years. Asking her to imagine going back to a distant past, flying over beautiful mountain scenes and then to the horrors of another place at that same time, Seneca pointed out that things can’t really be all that bad…and that her sufferings weren’t original or singular. Hence we actually can and would do well to expect the worst whenever something bad happens, knowing that “the worst” isn’t really so bad.

Harsh, right? But such is reality, and Stoicism wants to desensitize us to that. Often we are just too wrapped up in ourselves that we forget the bigger picture and our small role in it. (This is not to say, of course, that we are insignificant, but that there are things larger than ourselves. We can’t be divas.)

Stoicism also helps us to focus on the things we can control, thus promoting inner peace. A key tenet of Stoicism says,

There are things we can control, and things we can’t.

Hence there’s no use cursing the weather or other people, because in the end we really can’t coerce them to do something they can’t or don’t want. Instead Stoicism advises us to concentrate on practicing patience, temperance, courage — that is, virtues we can nurture and control in ourselves. It teaches that virtue is every person’s ultimate goal.

Lastly, in this age of too much emotional spontaneity (thanks to social media and the sentimentalism prevalent in mainstream media), Stoicism may seem like a raft in the turbulent waters of our soul. It helps us to detach ourselves from excessive emotions, treating those feelings as mere clouds in the sky of our minds. We can say, “No matter how cloudy or stormy the sky can get, the sun of reason and will shines brilliantly as ever.” So f*ck feelings — and time is our friend.

What Stoicism lacks

Despite its glories, however, Stoicism seems to lack something crucial to live a good life: juicy, smile-inducing hope.

Yes, expecting the worst may have its immediate and sobering benefits, but knowing that good things will happen in the end (even despite all evidence to the contrary) will catapult us to a much higher level of happiness now — one that is not merely having contentment (eudaimonia), but indeed having joy (gaudium).

Because if we remain at the level of fundamental Stoicism, life and the universe will seem like a mistake. Pointless. Meaningless. After death, nothing. All those knowledge and pains and loves and wisdom we have gained throughout our life will end up being eaten by worms.

But with hope, we can align our philosophy with that principle buried deep in our hearts: that life and the universe are for something better. That the perfection we had been pining for during our lifetime can have its fulfillment — finally — beyond the grave.

In conclusion, Stoicism is great…but add hope. Appreciate the present moment — with all the fireworks of emotions — but let reason reign. And when you see that your route is nowhere but to the worst, expect that if you pursue virtue nonetheless, you’ll ultimately get what is best.

Scandals and Snobbery at Downton Abbey

PBS2
Photo: Carnival

Why this period drama is worth binging on— in style, of course

I knew I was watching too much Downton Abbey when my thoughts started to acquire a British accent. I’m sure other pretentious non-Brit Downton fans experienced the same.

Downton Abbey is a multi-awarded British TV series that ran from 2010 to 2015. Written by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), it follows the life of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, who all live at a majestic Jacobethan castle, Downton Abbey, with a story spanning 1912-1926.

Only a few days ago, it was announced that filming of a Downton Abbey movie will begin next month. For sure, interest in the series will leap again. I’m going to get my accent back.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) are one of the central couples in the series. Photo: Nick Briggs

So what’s the big deal about Downton?

Dame Maggie Smith — Professor McGonagall — stars as the indefatigably wry, prim, and sagacious Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet. I haven’t seen much of Smith’s other work except in the Harry Potter films, but it is in Downton Abbey where she, in true Violet fashion, barges into your consciousness and dominates it. All her lines are delivered with perfect comedic timing. Sometimes I imagine myself having tea with Lady Violet: I’d sizzle in her gaze like sauteed onion.

Lady Violet (Maggie Smith) is the prudishly wry matriarch of the Crawley family. Photo: Carnival

As a period drama, it’s a fascinating glimpse into an era we secretly miss. A time when people worshiped etiquette and chivalry. A time when people strove to show their dignity and their respect for others through what they wear. One striking feature of that period is how servants — particularly butlers, valets, and footmen — dressed up almost as well as their masters. As Downton’s butler, Carson, would say, that is how families distinguish themselves as noble, that even their servants reflect their glory.

Everything is in apparent order downstairs, thanks to the strictness of butler Charles Carson (Jim Carter). Photo: Gary Moyes

The characters (dozens of them!) are memorably endearing. Aside from Lady Violet, there’s her son, Robert (Hugh Bonneville), the Earl of Gratham, and his American wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They have three daughters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay). Season 1 begins with the family discovering the fate of the Titatic — Robert’s heir presumptive (and Mary’s second-cousin and fiance) had been in it. And so enter the Crawley’s middle-class distant relatives Matthew (Dan Stevens) and his mother, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), who definitely provide more texture to the drama.

And then there are the “downstairs” people, the servants, who lead lives as interesting as those upstairs. Carson (Jim Carter), the strict family butler, is the literal big boss, assisted by the stoic head housekeeper, Mrs Hughes (Phyllis Logan). They keep the household in order. But sometimes they have to keep their own employees in order, too, including rebellious head footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) and his partner-in-crime Miss O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). And, of course, the Abbey has love teams: Mary and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), Sybil and chivalry-incarnate Tom Branson (Allen Leech), and Mary’s personal maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Robert’s valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle).

John Bates (Brendan Coyle) is the valet who ends up marrying head maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt). Photo: Nick Briggs

The series offers an intriguing contrast between the aristocrats and their servants and a perspective on how they ultimately are similar. Whether upstairs or downstairs, life is always rife with scandal and friendship and conspiracy and love. Perhaps the entire range of storylines in an effective dramatic series are explored here: deceptions, betrayals, trysts, verbal wars, actual wars, deaths. It’s feels galore.

The Crawley family and some of their servants. Photo: Carnival

Finally, Downton Abbey gives insights into how the social conditions of the time affected the characters’ lives. You’ll empathize with Mary, who has to figure out if she could marry Matthew, who is from a class lower than hers and is supposed to inherit what could have been hers by the fact that she’s the eldest child of the dower! (In the UK, only male heirs could inherit titles and properties of aristocrats.) You’ll find the dawning of feminism and moderate liberalism among the Crawley ladies encouraging, especially when Sybil motivates a maid to pursue her dreams of becoming an office clerk. You’ll also find how compassion and delicadeza are used when dealing with a homosexual scandal at Downton. Overall, the series provides a look into the transition from the stringent, prudish attitude of the 19th century to the modern, more libertarian mentality of the 20th.

Official teaser image for the Downton Abbey movie

Unfortunately, Downton Abbey isn’t available on Netflix. But it is on PBS Passport and Amazon Prime (and other sources *wink wink*). And while you probably don’t have to watch all 6 seasons to appreciate the movie, you’ll still miss one-fourth of your life if you don’t.

Try it. If it’s not your cup of tea or you don’t have time, don’t blame yourself. After all, as Lady Violet would say:

“Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s so middle-class.”

Obliger, Upholder, Questioner, Rebel — what are you?

sharon-mccutcheon-535844-unsplash
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

How to deal with people using Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework

People are different. Let’s say you’re a boss. Some can obey your orders like little angels, especially if you give them deadlines. Others struggle, unless you can justify your demands with graphs and tables and perhaps pages-long appendices. And then there are those who simply disobey, or loaf, no matter what you do.

It can be frustrating.

Bestselling author and lawyer Gretchen Rubin has an explanation. In her book, The Four Tendencies, Rubin proposes there are four basic Tendencies by which people can be described. And these are based on how people respond to inner expectations (like New Year’s resolutions) and outer expectations (say, rules and doctor’s orders).

Adorably obnoxious Upholder Dr Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is a riot in The Big Bang Theory.

Upholders are the demigods, who can meet both inner and outer expectations. Hermione Granger is obviously an Upholder. So is Sheldon Cooper. They’re those whom all the other Tendencies often want to become: after all, Upholders are usually the overachievers, who can automate their actions and, presumably, their success. But they can be insensitive pricks.

Bureaucrat Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is a disgruntled Questioner in Parks and Recreation. (UPDATE: Or maybe he’s a Rebel — because Tammy.)

Questioners are the Grand Inquisitors. They need information, justifications, before they can act on any external demand. They question traditions, customs, imposed company “cultures”. While they often can stick to their gym schedule (that is, meet inner expectations), they often can’t abide by gym rules (outer expectations). They ask, “But why, smartass?”

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is a classic Obliger, with a great responsibility and a weak will (although you can argue that the One Ring is simply too seductive…and precioussssss).

Then there are Obligers, who comprise the majority of people. They are the angels I was talking about, the loyal servants, who can turn in work on or before the deadline. They’re often the ones who had invited you to be their gym buddies, the ones who struggle unless they have someone to be accountable to. They are those who can work best when they have to give their work to someone who can appreciate it. And they suck at resolutions no matter what day of the year it is. They meet outer expectations, but resist inner ones. They can also be the parent-figure kind of leader. The curious thing about Obligers, however, is that they can rebel when pushed to the brink — they can shut down or quit unexpectedly.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Norse god of mischief, is clearly a Rebel.

And then, finally, there are the Rebels, who struggle with both inner and outer expectations. You can’t bother them. They obsess over freedom. They act only when they know it’s what they want: anything another person tells them to do, they do the opposite. If this describes you, though, don’t panic. On the plus side, Rebels are often those who initiate refreshingly unorthodox solutions…like creating some new procedure, a new design, a new system; or quitting altogether.

∗∗∗

Rubin says no one Tendency is superior to another; it’s just that each is different, and each has pros and cons. So don’t tell me you’re an Obliger who wants to be an Upholder. I’ve been there. Accept, don’t resist. Instead, work on your strengths to get around your weaknesses.

And yes, boss, there are ways to get a Questioner, or even a Rebel, to obey your orders. You just have to know their Tendency quite well. So if your employees are all Questioners (heavens forbid), it is likely that they’d want you to provide the reason for reducing costs for office stationery. Or if they’re a Rebel, communicate in such a way that their freedom to do things is highlighted. First, inform them about your demand, justify yourself, provide possible scenarios if they won’t do what you’re asking them, and then stop: let them decide what to do (hopefully it’s similar to your would-be command!).

When I read The Four Tendencies, it almost felt like a sequel to the Book of Revelations. I connected the dots. Patterns emerged. People, as well as myself, became a little bit simpler — all while retaining their uniqueness, nuances, beautiful differences, and individuality as persons.

Take this quiz to know your Tendency.