Isn’t it romantic?

 

 

In my dreams, I’m swept off my feet by grand romantic gestures.

 

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As I’ve alluded to before, I have a guilty addiction to the Hallmark Channel and the endless stream of pretty much identical romantic comedies they produce.

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The Prince Charmings in these movies always make the grand romantic gestures look so easy. Et voilà–a room filled with flowers and lit with twinkly lights and an orchestra playing oh so softly and discreetly as the couple waltzes around said room in their designer jeans bought in the adorable boutique in America’s most charming small town filled with lovable, quirky characters.

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Abby and Trace in Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel, set in Maryland but filmed in Vancouver.

 

The movies are mostly filmed in Canada, so those impossibly charming towns aren’t really American. This only fuels my desire to move to British Columbia.

 

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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

 

After one of these dreams, I woke up feeling a little melancholy. Where were the grand romantic gestures in my life? Then I realized, it depends on how you define romantic.

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In the romance department, I’ve received some pretty grand gestures from my significant other and my life is enriched because of him. We may never be the center of a Hallmark Channel movie, but we have a good life. Not that it’s always been easy, but we’ve worked hard and learned along the way.

Bob and Gen

 

Bob is my biggest cheerleader, always supportive and encouraging without being pushy.

 

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I knew he was a keeper the first time he came to my house and wasn’t taken aback by the fact that 5 animals shared the house with me. I had kind of left that little detail out of the conversations we had had up to that point. Didn’t want to scare him off before he had a chance to meet them!

 

He loved these animal companions, and he loves the ones with us now.

 

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When I bring home foster cats and kittens, he jumps right in to help care for and socialize them. When I brought Marble home a little more than a year ago, he was the first to say we should keep him with us. Sharing our love for these animals we live with is pretty romantic in my book!

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Bob also acts as Barista Bob, fixing me coffee when he has time in the morning. Seriously, real romance is the smell of coffee in the morning. Flowers are nice but coffee is essential! He spent hours researching espresso machines to get just the right one. She’s been one of my best friends for a few years now. AND he got me the world’s best coffee travel cup–the Zojirushi “super-size me” in blue. One of the better “no ocassion” gifts I’ve ever received.

 

When I was divorced and thinking of dating, one of the things I worried about was finding a guy who loved books and reading as much as I do. Bob! He loves books, we both gravitate to bookstores when we explore new towns and cities. He’s even writing books now! Our bedside tables match in the growing piles of books we each can’t wait to read. Romance!

 

A couple of years ago, on Valentine’s Day, he did the most romantic thing I could have asked for–he installed the Little Free Library in our front yard. I swoon!

 

 

Every night after dinner while we binge watch whatever series we’ve been sucked into (currently Bloodline; intense!), we share a chocolate bar. Bob makes sure he buys the vegan ones that have animals on the labels. Of course, this routine might have something to do with me needing to lose 20 pounds, but he never says anything about that. That’s love!

 

Traditional romantic gestures still abound as well. He took me to Paris, a dream come true. He went up the Eiffel Tower with me even though he’s afraid of heights. He led me on a mission to see the Biblioteque Sainte-Geneviève.

 

 

On our recent trip to Iceland, knowing how badly I wanted to see a puffin, he made absolutely sure I got to see one, getting us on an excursion boat and taking that all important puffin photo. He also stopped the car every time I wanted to get up close to the gorgeous Icelandic horses and picture-perfect sheep.

 

 

I doubt he orchestrated it, but Bob was equally excited to meet the one and only cat we saw in Iceland. We named him Benson (after Ben, who is shown sticking his tongue out above). It was one of the best moments of the trip!

Iceland Benson

 

Next time I have a Hallmark Channel style dream of being romanced, swept off my feet, showered with flowers and stars, I will remember what romance really is to me–someone to share the things I love with, someone who accepts me for who am, someone who makes the gestures that really mean something over the long haul. Flowers fade, twinkly lights burn out. But this smile will always be with me.

Iceland Bob

 

As always, James Taylor has a song for this. Don’t take your loved ones for granted, and think about what true romance really means.

 

 

Peace and hugs.

The comfort of sad songs

I used to be a very moody person. Tempered by age, a lot of hard work, the love and patience of my nearest and dearest, a major career change, and the pharmaceutical industry (hey, don’t knock it; Prozac changed my life), I am a fairly happy, easy to get along with person.

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We all have bad days, but I handle roadblocks much better than I used to, and little things don’t trip me up as much. I still have bouts of anxiety. I’ll always hate parties.

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My ideal party is me, cats, a hot beverage, and books, or a good cooking competition on television. And Bob. Bob can attend. And Einstein, the dog. He can come too.

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But I still love sad songs and melancholy singer-songwriters. Why? There’s something about singing along with a sad song and getting a little teary eyed; there’s no feeling like it that I can describe.

I was reminded of this at a party (by which I mean, eating dinner in front of television with Bob and the animals). We were watching season 3 episode 4 of the HBO series The Leftovers.

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This season (the final) has been mind blowing. The writing, acting, the crazy plot turns, the unpredictability, and the use of music all leave me feeling stunned at the end of each episode. The series is based on the book of the same name by Tom Perrotta, published in 2011, chronicling life for the surviors, or leftovers, after a rapture-like event takes some (referred to as The Departed) and leaves others behind.

 

The opening music is different each episode, and sets the tone for the show to come. Episode 4, entitled “G’day Melbourne”, has Kevin and Nora travelling to Australia. The song that plays over the opening credits is a sad song, “This Love is  Over” by Ray LaMontagne.

 

I got a bad feeling about where this was headed!

Here is Ray LaMontagne performing the song with the Pariah Dogs.

 

And I was right. The episode ends with Nora sitting alone in a burning hotel room while the fire sprinklers rain on her, to the seemingly odd strains of “Take On Me” by A-HA (there’s a story to the choice of music here too but I digress).

 

 

In my head, the Ray LaMontagne song took over, combined with the imagery of Nora with water dripping from her profile. The song obsessed me. A giant ear worm ate my brain. I have a thing with ear worms. They keep me awake at night and I start to think I am going crazy. Ray LaMontagne is now on an endless repeat loop on my iPhone music and in my head.

What is it about sad songs and heartbreak that consume me, an otherwise happy person? Richard Thompson, another notable sad song guy, said “It’s fun to sing sad songs. And it’s fun to listen to sad songs. Enjoyable. Satisfying. Something.”

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“Even when I’m in quite a happy state of mind, I like writing really sad songs. I think a lot of people do.” This is from Ellie Goulding, a singer I never heard of until I started working on this post. But she apparently is into sad songs.

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Natalie Imbruglia: “I like singer-songwriters, and I find sad songs comforting rather than depressing. It makes you realise you’re not alone in the world.

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So it’s not just me. And it’s not just songs. It’s books and movies, too. Happy endings are great, believe me. I’ve admitted my love of Hallmark Channel movies. But I love a good cry too. West Side Story. I’ve seen it so many times, the film and staged versions. I cry every time. I hope that the ending will be different every time. But it never is. Chino still shoots Tony and Tony still dies in Maria’s arms. And I watch it again. And cry.

 

 

All you have to do is mention the movie title All Mine to Give (1957) to my sister Ellen, and she will start to tear up. I think the only explanation needed is that the British title is The Day They Gave Babies Away.

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A book title that will do the same to me is Child of My Heart (2002), about 15-year old Theresa and her younger cousin Daisy, who is 8 and ill. It’s a lovely book. I rarely use the word poignant, but I will here for Child of My Heart.

 

Opera is always tragic. NPR, in their 2006 April Fools Day story, did a piece on making opera happy (One Man’s Sad Goal? Make Opera Happy). I still remember sitting in my car listening to an interview with a (fictional) Hamilton Banks, who wants to rewrite operas so that Madame Butterfly doesn’t kill herself, Mimi is cured of TB in La Bohème, Don Juan is born again and repents. It took me a minute or two to realize this was a joke story. But it just wouldn’t be the same, opera with happy endings, would it?

According to Paul Thagard in Psychology Today

On reflection, I realized that the emotional impact of music does not come from imparting particular emotions, but rather from being emotionally engaging in general. Sometimes sad songs do you make you feel bad if they revive memories of your own tragic times, but more often they engage your interest because they describe or convey important events in the lives of others. Such emotional engagement is also important in other forms of art, including tragic drama such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, stirring paintings such as Picasso’s Guernica, and thrilling movies…

All of these songs combine original music, appropriate lyrics, and superb performances to evoke intense emotions. So it does not matter whether a song is happy or sad, only whether it has an emotional impact on the listeners. People are happy to like sad songs, just not boring ones.

Then there is the theory of downward social comparison (you know, that thought that as bad as things are, there’s someone out there worse off than you). This is from David Nield of Science Alert:

In terms of social psychology, one way of thinking about this is that we feel better about ourselves if we focus on someone who’s doing even worse, a well-known process known as downward social comparison. Everything’s going to be okay, because Thom Yorke is having an even worse day than you are.

I don’t know who Thom Yorke is, but I feel bad for him! Thagard goes on to describe the neuroscience theory as well:

Some scientists think melancholy music is linked to the hormone prolactin, a chemical which helps to curb grief. The body is essentially preparing itself to adapt to a traumatic event, and when that event doesn’t happen, the body is left with a pleasurable mix of opiates with nowhere else to go.

Thanks to brain scans, we know that listening to music releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with food, sex, and drugs – at certain emotional peaks, and it’s also possible that this is where we get the pleasure from listening to sad tunes.

My favorite resource for these things, The Greater Good Science Center, also published an article on this phenomenon, and they connect it to both empathy and brain chemistry.

Tear-jerkers such as Adele’s Someone Like You frequently top the charts these days, while gloomy classical compositions like Mozart’s Requiem have moved people for centuries. Both portray and bring about a strong sense of loss and sadness. But our enjoyment of sad music is paradoxical—we go out of our way to avoid sadness in our daily lives. So why is it that, in the arts, themes such as loss can be safely experienced, profoundly enjoyed, and even celebrated?

The research adds to a body of work suggesting that music appreciation involves social cognition. People sensitive and willing to empathize with the misfortune of another person—in this case represented by the sad music—are somehow rewarded by the process. There are a number of theories about why that is.

The reward could be purely biochemical. We have all experienced the feeling of relief and serenity after a good cry. This is due to a cocktail of chemicals triggered by crying. A recent theory proposes that even a fictional sadness is enough to fool our body to trigger such an endocrine response, intended to soften the mental pain involved in real loss. This response is driven by hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which actually induce the feelings of comfort, warmth and mild pleasure in us. This mix of hormones is probably particularly potent when you take the actual loss and sadness out of the equation—which you can often do in music-induced sadness.

It is also possible that the effect is mainly psychological, where those who allow themselves to be emotionally immersed in the sad music are simply exercising their full emotional repertoire in a way that is inherently rewarding. The capacity to understand the emotions of others is crucial for navigating the social world we live in, and therefore exercising such an ability is likely to be rewarding—due to its evolutionary significance.

They used the phrase that so often comes to mind in this regard–a good cry. There is a Yiddish proberb “A good cry lightens the heart.”

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There are lots of articles on why crying is good for you, emotionally and physically.

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Check out Aging Care on why it’s good for you to cry:

  1. It Relieves Stress
    Because unalleviated stress can increase our risk for heart attack and damage certain areas of our brain, humans’ ability to cry has survival value, Frey says.
  2. Crying Lowers Blood Pressure
    Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and raged.
  3. Tears Remove Toxins
    In addition, Frey says tears actually remove toxins from the body. Tears help humans remove chemicals that build up during emotional stress.
  4. It Reduces Manganese
    The simple act of crying also reduces the body’s manganese level, a mineral which affects mood and is found in up to 30 times greater concentration in tears than in blood serum.
  5. Emotional Crying Means You’re Human
    While the eyes of all mammals are moistened and soothed by tears, only human beings shed tears in response to emotional stress. Emotional expression acknowledges the feelings you’re having. Emotions motivate us to empathize, coordinate and work as a unit to best survive.

Good news for women, and bad for men: on average, women cry 47 times per year and men only 7. Hey guys, instead of that action flick, try watching Steel Magnolias. It’ll be good for you!

 

And now I am wondering about the whole “tears of joy” thing; why do we cry when we are happy? But I don’t have time for that now. I have a party to go to, with Child of My Heart, Ray LaMontagne on my playlist, a cat, a cup of tea, and a box of tissues.

Have a good cry!

P.S. If you haven’t seen The Leftovers season 3 episode 5, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”, OMG! There’s the whole Frasier the Lion thing that is based on a real story. I am still reeling over the episode (a lion eats a man claiming to be God; I mean, this is serious stuff). And there is a song, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and sung by Sarah Vaughan, to go with it. In the words of Bob’s mother, “It’s a weirdy!”

 

And that reminds me of another sad song, Tears for Fears’ 1982 “Mad World”, as covered  by Gary Jules for the film Donnie Darko (2001). Sigh, I am in a never-ending loop here and I only have so many tissues. G’bye!

 

The Do It Yourself Museum ©, maybe someday brought to you by the Hallmark Channel ™

I wear the crown of Queen of the Unfinished Project.

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Good thing my sister sent me the tiara. If I had to make it, it’d be half-finished.

I enthusiastically start things, to either lose interest or time or both, with the promise that someday I will get back to each and every project. If I start something new and I am not immediately good at it, I give up (for example, my very brief flirtation with the pottery wheel; that thing is hard!). That romantic scene from Ghost? Total fiction.

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Remember folks, this is a Hollywood movie and these are actors.

I finally got one not horrible mug-like thing, applied some glaze to it, and then never went back to pick up the fired piece. And my hands and shoulders hurt like hell for days.

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Not my finest work.

For years I have wanted to do something with eucalyptus “buttons”, which are easy to gather here in California where so many eucalyptus trees were planted at one time. I finally found an old frame for a dollar at the flea market, bought some glue sticks, and happily glued away for a day. Never picked it back up.

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I actually think it looks cool like this.

My mother was a talented seamstress, but I didn’t inherit her patience. Over the years, I’ve gone through spells of “I’m going to start making clothes” to then get frustrated when I realize it’s best if you take the time to make sure the clothes will fit you when you are done.

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The current fabric and pattern stash.
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I had a brilliant idea to repurpose a brown satin tablecloth into an evening dress. It hangs unfinished in my closet, about 4 sizes too small now. I have nowhere to wear a brown satin evening dress anyway.
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The mending pile, gathering dust.

I tried quilting for a while. I bought bags of fabric scraps off of eBay, I downloaded quilting patterns, I made about a dozen wobbly quilt squares, and now they are in a tub in a closet somewhere.

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I had good intentions.

There was knitting. I took classes, bought yarn everywhere I went, did finish a couple of sweaters I am too embarrassed to wear, and gave up about 3 years ago.

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The sweater I started for Bob. He picked the yarn and the pattern. I’m probably about 20% done after 4 years. Maybe for his retirement present…

 

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The reduced yarn stash; I cleaned it out a while ago but couldn’t part with the yarns I bought on trips to Germany, Halifax, and Salt Spring Island.

Drawing and painting? Yes, I dabble in those. Have all my life. When I was younger I would finish what I started. What happened? I’m currently into coloring books, but mostly buying them, not coloring in them. I also started a project of drawing portraits of animals at the shelter, but didn’t get very far with that.

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Doesn’t it look like fun?
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Bought on a summer vacation. Again, I had good intentions.

 

When I first met Bob way back in 2004, I was taking a watercolor painting class at Napa College. I enjoyed it a lot, and finished my first painting and was mostly happy with it.

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I finished!

I started my next painting, one of a bird on a branch. It started out okay, commenced going downhill, and went into a tub in a closet. Then Bob decided to write a book. A challenge was issued. If he started writing a first draft, then I would finish the painting. He wrote.

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Bob has now written the first drafts of not just one, but TWO novels.

I didn’t paint. For a couple of years. I was oh so subtly reminded of the deal a time of two. I would get out the watercolor paints and the unfinished painting, stare at it for about an hour, and put it away again. I began to hate that innocent sparrow. After a long time, I finally resolved to do my best. Bob was on a trip to China, and I figured I’d surprise him. I painted, but not happily. I felt coerced. I hated the poor bird. I said “Enough!” and framed it as is, pretending I’d finished it. Everytime I see it on the den wall, I am unhappy with it. But it reminds me that when you are unhappy or angry when doing something, it shows. Chill out, relax, try to have fun.

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Meh. Stupid bird.

Bob has been thoroughly enjoying his writing classes and the group of people he’s been working with, so of course, I decided to give writing a try! My brilliant project–a memoir of the summer of 1972, when my mother married my evil stepfather, split up the family, and moved half of us to California from Georgia on a cross-country drive from hell. It was going to be poignant, funny, and an actual finished manuscript. I bought a road atlas to map out the stops I remembered from the trip, I hung a map with notes on my wall, I signed up for weekly classes.

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We took the southern route, through Texas, in the summer, in an old station wagon without air conditioning and a driver who smoked and drank the whole way. Fun times. (The purple line through the northern route is a later trip in the 1990s, in the winter snow. Yes, backwards planning both times.)
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My stack of notes and index cards. I could restart that memoir someday…

What I turned out to be good at was making up titles. My favorite–“A Good Title Only Gets You So Far”, which would then be a blank book when opened.

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I guess I am more of a concept person.

So what happened? I enrolled in a PhD program and gave up my career in memoir and fiction.

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I am determined to finish this project!

But I still wake up, usually at 3:30 a.m., with great ideas that I think I should really start putting on paper.

So here we finally get to the tantalizing reference to the Hallmark Channel in the above title.

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I am a romantic and a sentimentalist. I have a real weakness for the rose-colored glasses world of the Hallmark Channel. The movies make me happy. I indulge when Bob is at work or his writing classes. I eat chocolate and wish I lived in the Hallmark world of small, charming towns, quirky friends and neighbors, and the cafe that everyone gathers in for coffee and cookies. I still believe that this town exists somewhere.

My latest 3:30 a.m. title and concept:  The Do It Yourself Museum. Please do not steal my idea. It would make a perfect beach read and then Hallmark Channel movie.

By way of explanation: I’ve until recently worked in a lot of museums. I love small town history museums, with old typed labels and dusty cases and volunteers waiting to greet you.

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A small town history museum somewhere I’ve been, perhaps in British Columbia.

I love to curate mini-collections that no one but me, Bob, and the cleaning lady ever see.

I want to have one of these museums in my Hallmark town. The main character, a down-to-earth middle aged woman (no, not in her 20s, not tall, not thin; this is my vision) drives into Hallmark Town, falls in love with the town, and lucks into the job of running the town museum. She buys an adorable cottage with hanging flower baskets on the big front porch (rocking chairs required) and butts heads with the handsome mayor, who wants to turn the old museum into a commercially-profitable something or other to attract business to the town. As they bicker, they fall in love, and she saves the museum and the town. I’ve got the Hallmark formula down!

If you know anyone at the Hallmark Channel, have them contact me. I’ll either be out on the golf course (see Life Lessons Learned Playing Golf) or at banjo lessons, depending on which I decide to enthusiastically take up next.

In my mind, I’ll be a cool cross between Steve Martin and Taylor Swift.

If lucky, I’d probably be more like these ladies (assuming I ever manage to play a note).

Or I could just pose with the banjo, and pretend I know how to play it.

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846-03164971 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: Yes Property Release: No 1960s YOUNG BLOND WOMAN PLAYING BANJO WEARING PLAID SHIRT

As soon as I finish that PhD, I’m signing up for lessons! I’m sure I can find a banjo at the flea market.