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.