Searching for Happiness in Paper Towns [Film Review x's 2]

I saw two films last week that on the surface may not have much to do with the other, but wound up being connected in surprising ways.

First up was "Hector and the Search for Happiness" (2014), something Andy rustled up on Saturday night while scrolling through Netflix. It stars Simon Pegg, whom I love both for his goofy good looks and his irreverent sense of humor, which is best on display in "Shaun of the Dead" (2004). Pegg handles a completely different type of role in "Hector," but he does so with great depth and yes, a bit of the same irreverent humor. As the titular hero, Pegg plays a psychiatrist who's found himself in a bit of a rut. His days are marked by routine and simplicity, but rather than finding solace in the mundane, as he once did, Hector finds himself suddenly straining against it, ultimately deciding to go on a trek around the globe in search of happiness. His journey takes him from England to China, Africa, and California, meeting all sorts of different people along the way. He takes notes in a travel journal his girlfriend Clara gives him before he leaves, writing down these sort of epiphanies on the nature of happiness. Things like: "Sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story." In one of my favorite exchanges in the film, Hector is speaking to a monk about the elusive nature of happiness. It goes a little something like this:
Hector: You've been a fugitive. You've been in prison for your beliefs, you've lost family and loved ones. I mean, you've just been through so much. How is it you're so happy?
Old Monk: Because I've been through so much.
Hector: I mean, searching for happiness is one thing, but making it the goal, it just doesn't work, does it?
Old Monk: Higher than that, Hector. More important than what we are searching for is what we are avoiding.
Hector: Like unhappiness. So, don't make unhappiness *not* the goal?
Old Monk: Higher than that.
Hector: Avoiding unhappiness is *not* the road to happiness.
Old Monk: You hold all the cards, Hector.

This resonated with me. So many times I've thought that I have to work for happiness, that I have to avoid things that upset me and just focus on the positive. This notion that you just have to go through life AS IS, accepting both the rain and the sun in equal measures, was something like a revelation for me. (And they say you can't learn anything by watching TV.)

Next up was "Paper Towns" (2015), which I saw on Sunday with some former students of mine. I read the book by John Green and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I had high expectations for the film. Happily, these were met. The film concerns Quentin and Margo, two childhood friends and neighbors who were once thick as thieves but have gone their separate ways. Both characters are played by actors I'd never seen before, Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne, but I have a feeling I'll be seeing them again because they both did a great job. I also really liked the actors who played Quentin's best friends Ben and Radar -- very funny and natural comedians. Anyway, back to the plot -- Quentin and Margo are now high school seniors who barely speak to each other when Margo suddenly reenters Quentin's life and invites him on a late night escapade to help her take revenge on her ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend (long story short, ex was cheating on her and BFF didn't tell her -- ooh, burn!). Speaking of burning, Quentin is thrilled, because he's been carrying the torch for her all these years, and it looks like he might just get that chance he's been hoping for. But just as quickly as Margo reentered his life, she suddenly disappears the next day, leaving behind a series of clues that seem to suggest she wants Quentin to come search for her.

Quentin's journey takes him from Orlando, Florida on a road trip with his best friends (and randomly that BFF that supposedly betrayed Margo) to the paper town Agloe in New York. FYI, Paper towns are fictitious entries that mapmakers create as a copyright trap. (The more you know...)

I won't tell you if Quentin finds Margo (go watch it to find out), but I will tell you this -- his quest to find Margo reminded me in more ways than one of Hector's search for happiness. Both characters were shells of themselves, not living to their full potential. It took a journey to set them free, one where the outcome, as well as the journey itself, wound up being so much more than they expected.


Playing catch-up

So much has happened since I last posted that I don't even know where to begin. I am still teaching high school English, only now I teach 11th and 12th graders in Dual Enrollment Composition, Dual Enrollment Intro to Fiction, and AP English Literature. This upcoming school year will be my second year teaching these courses. I am enjoying it immensely, though the workload has intensified tenfold -- the biggest difference between 9th graders in regular English and 11th/12th graders in advanced English is that the upperclassmen actually DO their classwork. Which equals more grading for me. Oy. But it is nice to teach students who are overall inspired and disciplined.

As of June 2015, I have officially been living one year with my fiancé. We lived in our first apartment from June 2014 until April 2015, at which point we moved into the apartment we are living in now. I loved our first apartment -- it had a covered garage and had the best view of downtown Miami, especially at night. So when our landlord called in March to let us know he was moving his daughter into our apartment, I was devastated. But there are some upsides to our new apartment. It's only five minutes away (if that) from our old place; it's got two bathrooms, one more than the other; our current bedroom is much bigger; we now have a pool; and best of all, it's $200 cheaper in rent, only $1100 a month. Sure, our second floor apartment may not have the spectacular view that our other place did (we look out onto a motel, ick), and it's a little louder here because many of our neighbors have kids, but it's all right. After I got over the initial disappointment of losing our amazing first apartment, I was surprised how easily our second place began feeling like home. We have yet to try the pool, but hopefully we'll get around to that before our summer vacation runs out.

So you've probably noticed that I've been calling Andy my fiancé. That happened on February 21st. It was something I was hoping for, daring not to expect too much, and while the circumstances surrounding that happy day were not the best, it was still a very happy surprise. February was a tough month for all of us. My father passed away on February 10th after battling colon cancer for seven months. He had been hospitalized with pneumonia but was expected to recover and go home in a few days. So that late night phone call from my mom was not at all expected, and the first few days felt like a nightmare I couldn't shake. The engagement was like a ray of light, one I clung to. And then the distractions of having to move, plus going back to work, helped give me focus and comfort. But I will not lie -- this has been the hardest thing I've ever gone through. My mother and brother have both been incredibly strong, and that has helped me. Andy and my friends have been great, too.

Originally, we had planned on getting married in December, but we have since decided to get married in February. It is the month in which we met, he proposed to me in this month, and while my father may have passed in this month, that doesn't mean February can't be a time for celebration and remembrance both. We have even chosen a date and location -- February 21, Sunday (the same date he proposed, natch) at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant. The restaurant is beautiful, styled after the 1940's wartime, complete with airplanes and jeeps on display in the front yard. It faces the Miami International Airport and has a beautiful little garden in the back, where our ceremony will take place. Right now we are in the process of choosing our priest and seeing if the Catholic Church will grant us permission to wed outside of an actual church. We had originally planned to wed in a church but the exorbitant "deposit" and "donation" fees scared us away. Besides, as Andy says, God will still be there.

Truthfully, I'm glad we are getting married in February. Not only does this give us more time to plan and save up money, but it gives me more time to meet my weight loss goal. After dad got sick, I kind of let myself go and gained a ton of weight. This summer I finally decided to refocus, not just for the sake of my wedding but mostly for my health -- my blood pressure has been high even on medication. When my cardiologist threatened to put me on even more medication, this time to control my heart rate, I decided enough was enough. I promised her I would focus on diet and exercise. So I've been doing Weight Watchers again, which helped me lose weight back in 2011. It's completely points based, which really helps me control my portions. I've been working out 30 minutes a day to Leslie Sansone's workout videos, which are basically really intense walking-based exercise routines. When I've lost some more weight and have built up some endurance, I'll go back to Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred. That workout is a bit too intense for me right now. I also got myself a Fitbit, which is basically a wristwatch that monitors your steps, heart rate, and calories burned. It's a good way to track my exercise and monitor my heart rate, which happily hasn't been that high since I started dieting and working out.

Since I started my weight loss journey three weeks ago, I've lost 9 pounds. I'd like to lose at least 50 more pounds by February. It won't be easy, but I know I can do it.

I go back to school in two weeks to get my classroom ready, and school resumes in three weeks. Part of me is kicking and screaming at the notion, wishing time could stand still. But the other part of me is excited and looking forward to a new school year. A lot is going to happen in 2015-2016. I can't wait to see what the year brings.


So what's my story?

I have a confession to make: I'm a bad parent. I get these incurable urges to create and then produce the inevitable offspring only to leave them hanging, barely giving them another thought after I've pushed them out into the world. Sometimes they nag their way back into my consciousness, and sure I'll give them the time of day for maybe, oh I don't know, a day. But then they're shunted relentlessly back into oblivion. Out of sight, out of mind.

This is the part of the post where I tell you I'm not actually a parent. I'm a writer. Well, a wanna-be writer. Because the title "writer" signifies that actual writing is taking place and sadly, that hasn't been happening much for me. I told myself all school year that this was the summer I'd brush the dust off my many half-finished story ideas and get cracking again. Maybe even (gasp!) attempt to write a novel. June passed by in a hazy, humid blur and then July came storming in like an angry toddler, all fluster and bluster. I had to take notice. And reader, I realized that I HAD to take action. So I put down my Candy Crush game (damn you, level 65!!!) and goshdarnit, I started writing again.

The good news -- I officially have 15 full pages for a potential novel, a story I shelved about two years ago before I took it back out today. The bad news -- I am not really sure where to take the story next. But I guess this is the fun part. The unexpected part. The part where anything can happen.

So what's my story? It's about a young man named Jack who has trouble getting over his first love Ingrid after she mysteriously disappears. Especially when she starts mysteriously reappearing in his life again in brief is-she or isn't-she-there flashes. I'm at the part of the story where I have to decide whether to keep it in the real world or venture into the sci-fi/fantasy realm. And it's a hard, hard decision to make. Because as much as I love reading sci-fi/fantasy books, it's not an easy thing to write because you have to make it believable to your reader. Buuuuut.... I have a feeling that I might just take it in that direction anyway. At least to try it out. If it doesn't work, whatever, I can always rework, revamp, re-re until I find my way back.

In the meantime, here's the last page of what I have so far, just to give you a feel. I'm writing the story from Jack's point of view, which has been fun, trying to get into the mind of a guy. No doubt I'll be asking my boyfriend for pointers to make sure I've captured the voice right.

I welcome your comments and thoughts! Thanks for reading. :-)


Remember when I said this wasn't a love story? Perhaps I should elaborate. This isn't your typical love story. By that I don't mean that this is your usual unrequited love story, with your usual lovesick hero mooning after his usual oblivious heroine. (Though mind you, I've done my fair share of mooning. My darling siblings can both attest to that.) I guess what I mean to say is that I'm not your typical hero. And Ingrid is certainly not your typical heroine. She's not even my first heroine.

In grade school I was forever looking for my new crush. My new heroine. I blame too much exposure to New Wave music. Depeche Mode and New Order were the soundtrack for those heady, formative years. First there was Miss Sharon, my kindergarten teacher. (Yes, I know I started rather young.) I used to love hearing her read to us, and I would spend all of nap time just staring at her, marveling at this creature who was so unlike other women her age, women like my mother. In first grade there was Pamela, a pretty brunette who sat at my table and shared her lunch with me one fateful autumn day. Then from grades 2-4, I was all about Amy, a redhead who lived on my block. I used to sit on my porch for hours just waiting for her to pass by on her roller skates. Grade 5 brought me the exotic allure of Maria, a newly immigrated Cuban student. Our teacher used to pair me with her for group work so that I could help her with her English. Grade 6 introduced me to Mrs. Donovan, my first crush who was (dun, dun, dun) also a married woman. I blush just remembering the unnerving way she had of dropping the chalk and then bending down ever so slowly to pick it back up.

I guess I'm a lot like Romeo, in the way that I can fall in love at the drop of a hat. Only I'm still stuck on my Rosaline, that nebulous, formless character we never even get to meet in Romeo & Juliet -- the one he was supposedly in love with before Juliet? Yeah, her.

Why isn't Ingrid my Juliet? Perhaps it's because sometimes I wonder if Ingrid ever existed at all, or I somehow made her up inside my head, like some mad opium dream. Then I sift through my memories again, digging through the years as if I'm trying to excavate the past, and the confirmation of her existence overwhelms me once more, as it inevitably does. Flooding me with recriminations and regrets. 

But if there's one thing I've learned it's that memory is never precise. It's like an overexposed photograph. The colors may be heightened, but the details are blurred, caught somewhere between existence and dream.


Poem: "A flock of birds lifts up"

After a brief hiatus (read: too much grading!), I am back to writing poetry and reading for pleasure again. And boy does it feel good. Here's one I wrote on the road the other day after seeing a flock of birds suddenly take off.

"A flock of birds lifts up"

A flock of birds lifts up
in the distance--
in the distance.

Your face as it was and not as it was.
You standing before me
with your eyes already behind me.

What happens to longing when it is gone?
Is it replaced with loss?
Or with indifference?

Maybe to you I am like that flock of birds
That is shocked into sudden flight--
A blur of movement that briefly colors the sky
before it is gone again.




Don't exit your browser, this isn't a mistake -- yes, I actually updated my blog (gasp!). Lots of updates have been going on in my life, but we'll start with first things first, this blog. After I foolishly let the domain "" expire on Blogger, I learned that in order to get it back I'd have to go through Go Daddy and redeem my domain with them, plus pay a steep redemption fee ($84!!!) and other assorted charges. Yeah, no. So I decided to let that domain expire and go with the domain "," which will take some getting used to, but oh well. At least I can stay with Google, not to mention I'm only paying $10 a year to keep this domain. I can always go back to the ".com" once the expiration date elapses, which will be in a few months. But I might just stay with it as it is now. In the meantime, I'm working on my carpal tunnel by updating all of the redirect links in my posts. That should take me a good long time...

As for my life outside of this blog, there have been many changes, mostly good. The last time I was regularly updating this blog was in late 2011, at which time I was going through a difficult breakup with my long-term boyfriend. Out of that difficult time came some very positive growth, mainly my conquering my lifelong fear of driving and even buying my very first own car (exhibit A!). Another step in a positive direction during that time involved me dating again. Out of that experience, which began in late October 2011, I had maybe a handful of interesting dates, some of which led to friendships, and two of which actually led to relationships. The first of these was a huge no-go, though it taught me a lot about myself and what I wanted out of a relationship in the first place. That lasted a few painful months until I finally got the nerve to call it quits. And then there were some more hit or miss dates in January of last year, but nothing really worth mentioning. Not until February. That was when I met Andres, my current boyfriend of 11 months. This isn't a surprise to any of you if you've been following me on Instagram and Facebook. I don't know why I haven't blogged about it before. Superstition? Laziness? Perhaps a combination of the two. But I'm posting about it now because I felt the urge to resurrect my blog. And in order to wipe away the cobwebs, I felt it was necessary to mention the new changes.

So just who is this Andres, whom I call Andy? He's an artist who works with pencil, paint, and camera (and probably other mediums I'm not mentioning, but those are his main three). He's also a jokester who sends jokes out on a daily basis. We share a lot of musical interests in common -- we were even at the same concerts before we met, which I think is crazy. What if we were in the same row?! Madness. When we met, it turned out we both had tickets to see Radiohead a few weeks later, and we somehow managed to sit together. He makes me laugh, and yes, he even makes me groan sometimes, but throughout it all, he makes me happy. In the eleven months we've been together, we've meshed our lives together in lots of different ways, namely our families, our friends, our schedules. And while it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing (what relationship is?), every day that I learn more about him is another day that I learn to love him more. I can't wait to see what year two brings. If you'd like to learn more about Andy, plus see his work, you can visit his blog.

Other things I was up to in 2012 other than meeting Andres? Well, I went on a bunch of trips. With Andy, I visited the following cities: Key West, New York, San Francisco, Sarasota, and Chicago. We went to New York again recently for New Year's, and I got to see snow for the first time. They were all amazing cities, but I think San Francisco just might be my favorite of all of these. There's just something about the city, a certain vibe, that suits me perfectly. Though New York is a very, very close second. Like I joked with Andy, I wouldn't mind living the winter months in San Fran, and the remainder of the year in New York. ;)

Andy and me in New York, Spring 2012.
In 2012, I also went on a trip in the summer to Washington, D.C. with my friend Sibel, which was an amazing time. I learned so much about our nation's capital and about one of my favorite presidents from history, Lincoln. D.C. is also a a great city for food and nightlife -- I can't wait to go back.

Sibel, Lincoln, and me.
Lots of other things happened in 2012, but those are the highlights. Another big first for me was learning about football. I credit Andy with this completely. Before him, football used to make me fall asleep. Literally. I just couldn't understand the sport. But then Andy very patiently explained it to me and little by little, I began understanding it better and better. Now I can actually watch a game and keep track of the ball lol. And I even have a favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers! Apparently I sure know how to pick 'em, because it turns out the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl on February 3rd, which yes I will be watching. With my 49ers shirt on and everythinggg. :-)

As far as other areas of my life are concerned, work is going well. I'm still teaching at the same high school, Hialeah Senior High. Now I teach 9th and 10th grade Language Arts and I honestly love all of my students this year. There are no troublemakers, no kids that give me grief. It's been a good year, so far, and I hope it continues that way. My friends are all doing well -- many of them have gotten married or become first-time parents. I've been cheering for them all the way, while eagerly looking forward to those milestones in my future.

2012 was great, as you can see. I can't wait to see 2013 holds in store -- I'll do my best to document  the moments from now on. Stay tuned...


Sun In My Mouth

One of my favoritest ever poets is e. e. cummings and one of my favoritest ever singers is Björk. So you can imagine how happy I was when I discovered a few years back that one of her songs, "Sun In My Mouth," is actually the following poem set to music:

I always thought the lyrics were especially beautiful, and now I know why -- it's this poem. I think it's gorgeous, and when combined with Björk's otherworldly, luminous voice, well it's nothing short of magical. :-)


Heigh ho, Fluffy, away!

Those of you who have been following my driving odyssey on this blog know what a mission it was for me to get over my driving phobia. This past October, I finally decided enough was enough. So I enrolled in a driving course and learned how to friggin' drive.

Last week, I took the final and perhaps scariest step -- I bought my very first car. This is she:


Yes, her name is Fluffy. :p I wasn't sure what to name her, but a friend of mine took care of that for me. No, I didn't choose white because of her name. I was between red and white and just decided the white looked better on the Mazda 3 hatchback.

I can't describe how good it feels to drive. Words like "liberating," "amazing," and "eeeeeeeee" come to mind. Yes, I know the last one isn't really a word. But still. It describes how I feel quite aptly. :D

I promise to get back into blogging. Scout's honor. As soon as I finish enjoying the hell out of my new car, that is. In the meantime, fill me in on YOU. Let me know how you're doing in the comments!