Adjustments

In the last month or so since I posted, I’ve continued on with my flip phone. I haven’t changed anything else really “smart-device”-wise, but I have been trying to intentionally do things in my free time other than watch TV or play a game on the computer, and in particular lessening the latter. I’ve not cut it out entirely, I’ve spent some time playing Baldur’s Gate 3, which has been a lot of fun, but I’ve tried to limit that to one or two sessions a week.

At first the main thing I inserted into the extra time was reading. Between spending a week at the beach (always a place I do a lot of reading) and the extra time I’ve spent on it otherwise, I finally completed Rhythm of War, meaning I’m all caught up on the Stormlight Archive. I’ve started a couple more books since then, one fiction book and one non-fiction, and hoping to keep a good pace going. When I finish this post, I’m going to go do a bit of reading to that end.

In the last few days, I started messing around with my guitar for the first time in many years. At first I just took it out of the case and fiddled around a bit, but also went ahead and ordered some things to get it in better shape. The strings on there were probably overdue to be changed out back when I had last played it, and, like I said, it’s been years since then, so I ordered some strings, some oil for the fretboard, and a couple other things. Everything had arrived by the time I got home from work yesterday, and so upon getting home I got it cleaned up and restringed and had a good long session getting to work on relearning things. There’s a ton I’ve forgotten and my calluses and finger strength aren’t what they need to be, but stuff is coming back to me as I play.

I’m not going to overcommit myself such that I burn myself out, but for now I’m saying every day get it out and mess around a little bit – 30 minutes or something like that. Should be easy. Same for reading. They’re just things I need to make sure I do. If I spend more time, great. Both yesterday and today I spent a couple hours, basically until my fingers were hurting. They sting a bit as I type this, but, I’m just reminding myself that’s a good thing… the calluses will come!

The other personal adjustment since I last blogged is the diet I started about 3 weeks ago (I’m in the latter half of the 3rd week now). That’s been going pretty well. It’s basically just calorie counting via the Lose It app. I’ve found that I have an easier time doing that than the slow carb thing I used to do. The last time I did that, I just found it too restrictive. I like to be able to have something with carbs in it if I really want to. Anyway, I’m roughly 10 pounds down since the start, and I’m generally not feeling like it’s too horrible. The hardest bit of the diet so far was a work lunch meeting yesterday where I had to say no to a free dessert – and watch other people eat said dessert – and you know, also order something reasonable for my meal. Honestly though, apart from feeling a little bit hungry throughout parts of the day and in the late evening, it’s not been bad.

My next adjustment will involve adding a bit more to my daily routine. I have two things I want to add, and I’m not yet decided whether I will start them both at the same time, or do one and then start the other a week or so after. Those things are stretching and some sort of exercise.

I’m going to make myself do the thing I don’t really want to and set my alarm for earlier so that I can do those things before work. I think starting out the day with some stretching and exercise will be good. So, the stretching will for sure start this weekend, and the exercise may or may not start with it. When I start the exercise, I think at first I might alternate days jogging and walking. Then before too long I need to get back over to Soldierfit a few times a week after work. A big plus to the exercising will be I’ll be able to add some more calories into my meal plan – because I’m already getting the defecit that I need- the exercise isn’t to help with weight loss, it’s for health generally.

I’d like to think I’ll make more time for blogging as well, so I don’t find myself posting when I suddently realize it’s been a month since I last posted and decide to post again for that reason a month from now.

In any case, I hope to have more progress to speak of in the coming weeks.

Oh yeah, and the flip phone continues to serve me well. There will be a development there soon as I decided to change to something else that will better suit my needs while still serving my goals of not spending very much time on my phone, but I’ll tell you a bit about that next time – which will hopefully be in the next week or so.

Un-Smart-ification

Just over 2 weeks in, I continue unabated.

I decoupled all my work related stuff from my iphone and moved it to my work iphone. I can’t get rid of it, because you know.. work. But it sits in my laptop bag and is only used for work related things during work hours.

In my personal life, my iphone sits in a corner until such time as I finish removing accounts from my Authy authenticator app over to my yubikey. I’ve moved a few of the ones I use more frequently already – I’m going to move the rest in the next couple of days, before I head off for the beach this weekend. Truthfully I’ve not touched the phone at all since about a week ago when I saw the battery had died and I hooked it up to charge. Once I get the authenticator stuff off it I might put it in my desk drawer for a bit to make sure I don’t discover I forgot something before I sell it on ebay or somesuch. Sure, the screen is finicky, but someone will probably be willing to pay something for it despite that.

I also plan to roll back the other smart devices in my life – ditch my Amazon Echo devices apart from my FireTVs. I might get rid of the cube eventually because it has the always-listening Alexa – the stick for the tv in my bedroom requires me to hit the button. At any rate, I don’t plan to stop using streaming services, so I’ll be using some sort of device for that. As I may have mentioned in my previous post on the subject, I don’t intend to get rid of ALL technology in my life, just to roll back.

I have several smart lights that tie into Alexa, but once the Echos are gone they will function as normal lights when I flip light switches. My Alexa-enabled coffee maker will work fine just as a coffee maker as well – I basically never use that functionality anyway – pro-tip: don’t buy one, it’s a waste of money. Then there is my smart lock, which I also rarely use because it’s on my front door I almost always enter my house through my garage. And that’s pretty much it on the “smart” front.

I had wondered if my iPad use might go up with getting rid of the iPhone. While I’ve not actually checked the screen time to compare before and after, it definitely doesn’t feel like I’ve been using it anymore than I was. If it’s gone up, it’s only been a marginal amount. I’m pretty pleased with that. I’ve found that having the stupid flip phone makes it easy to not distract myself by looking at a phone when I’m sitting with people or out and about. Texting isn’t that bad, but definitely I keep myself from writing any diatribes to people.

My next step after that will probably be a temporary thing, like eliminate computer usage apart from what I have to do for work for a month. When I’ve done similar things with like a particular app/website, such as Facebook, in the past,I’ve found when I come back I spend less time doing it. I could do with spending less time on that stuff. If I’m feeling really ambitious I might say no tv/movies either – basically eliminate screens entirely for that month. We’ll see – I’ll have to pick a month.

Beyond that I’m not sure of the best steps. Some of what I’d like to accomplish would probably involve moving. But finding what I’d like to find would probably be a bit of a challenge. I’d like to live in a community with a decent amount of walkability – or maybe bicyclability – but that isn’t like… in a city. I don’t know if it exists in the world today. But it just seems weird to me that so little of what I do is near to me – and I have to get in a car for awhile to do most of what I do.

Anyway, I’ll try to keep the updates coming – and I have a couple other ideas of things to write about that I just need to take the time to sit down and write. With any luck I’ll get myself to do it before too much longer.

Resist Convenience

I’ve been listening to a lot of videos and podcasts recently about how the advancement of technology is increasingly disconnecting us from the natural world. It’s something that I’ve thought about before, but recently it’s been increasingly at the forefront of my mind.

Something about the way that I live just doesn’t seem normal. By the standards of modern society it actually is quite normal. I do work on a computer, sometimes in an office, sometimes from home (that latter part having only recently become normal). I live in a house, in a small development with a bunch of neighbors who mostly do the same. I sometimes talk to a couple of my nearest neighbors, but for the most part I am unfamiliar with them. Most of what I do is on a screen, whether for work or pleasure, or for educational purposes.

Technology improves our lives in many ways. It’s not that it is inherently a bad thing, but much of the time I think we find ourselves being enthralled by it. Scrolling through Twitter endlessly, searching for an argument with some anonymous person. But is it a person? It very well may not be. One irony of the internet is that when we interact someone there, we may do so forgetting that a real person is on the other end of our cruel words – but we also can’t be sure that the things we’re seeing posted were actually written by humans at all – bots increasingly muddy the waters of online discourse. (See the “Dead Internet Theory”: https://youtu.be/9WB5grLMXkU)

That’s unnatural. How are we meant to come to a common understanding if we can’t even know that we’re engaging with something real? Aside from that, the internet has connected people with fringe beliefs into communities that justify those beliefs. For example, flat earthers. Pre-internet, those who truly believed in a flat earth were less numerous than they are post. The spread and pervasiveness of pornography has increased tremendously, never more than a few clicks away when temptation strikes. It creates a world where the fake is easier than the real. The advancement toward virtual reality threatens to move that line even further. Why do work to better your life when you can just load up whatever life you want and pretend it’s the real thing?

There’s also the simpler matters of disconnect from nature. We wake up to alarm clocks to get to a job at a particular time, which really has no bearing to anything meaningful. Whether the sun has risen or set has very little impact on us. Our time is so arbitrary that for large portions of the year we pretend that if we change the time on the clock for one hour we are somehow creating an extra hour of daylight (I did the math, the sun stays up the same amount of time either way). Just the other day someone was telling me that she can only eat meat because she’s convinced herself it comes from the grocery store. Most of us know next to nothing about working the earth.

I don’t know how to get to something approximating “normal” as I conceive it. But a start is to take small steps and experiment with reducing or eliminating certain types of technology. For me, going “all the way” has some serious challenges. I work in Information Security – that is going to necessitate a certain amount of exposure to computers. But, it’s also not necessarily about taking it all the way – just getting closer and learning what technology I can have a healthy relationship with, and what I can’t.

My first experiment is a simple one. My iPhone’s touch screen recently started glitching out, becoming increasingly difficult to use. At first I started to look toward replacing it with a new one, but then I recognized an opportunity. Do I need a smartphone? Is my relationship with a smartphone a healthy one? I honestly think the answer to both questions is no. And so 3 days ago I pulled the sim card out of my iPhone 11 and placed it into a Nokia 2780 flip phone. It’s a much simpler phone, and let’s be real, it’s still pretty technological, but it’s a real step back from current technological advancements. No scrolling through Twitter or news apps. No watching videos (ok, technically it can but the experience is terrible). Sending text messages is far less convenient. Abandoning a cell phone entirely would make it very hard to live in the world today, so this is also a good example of what I want to achieve generally. Roll back to the maximum amount I can without creating serious hindrances in my life.

Maybe I’ll keep at it. Maybe I’ll fail. Like I said, it’s an experiment. I could decide I can’t stand not having a smartphone and pick up the iPhone 15 when it comes out in 2 months. But, I think it’s worth the attempt.

Lasso: My Thoughts

Just under a week has passed since the airing of the final episode of the AppleTV+ show Ted Lasso. It felt very much like a series finale, which it was, although it seems a nigh certainty that they will be returning to many of the characters in some sort of spinoff.

Already they’ve pitched the laziest idea I can imagine for a spinoff, and one hinted at in the finale. You know how Ted Lasso is about a MEN’s football (soccer) team? What if the spinoff was about a WOMEN’s football team? So it’s just going to be the same show but with women? How is that interesting? It’s almost guaranteed to be a less good version of the original, but with more women.

TV spinoffs used to actually try new things. Sometimes they were great successes, like when the hit show Cheers reached the end of it’s run and they launched a spinoff centering on Frasier Crane. Frasier was also a hit in its own right. Other times they were horrible failures, like when Friends ended, and after trying to do spinoffs with virtually any of the characters but Joey (evidently none of them were interested), they made Joey, and ever since then we’ve done our best to forget it. But as bad as Joey was, at least it wasn’t just a rehash of Friends. Oh well – the spinoff will probably happen, AppleTV+ isn’t drowning in hits, and they’re going to want to try to milk this one.

But is Ted Lasso a hit? Will this show be well remembered into the future, like the shows I mentioned that aren’t Joey, or will it be largely forgotten? Maybe what I’m asking isn’t really if it’s a hit (it certainly performed well), but if it will be a classic. I can’t help but think that the answer to that is no. There’s a simple reason for it: Ted Lasso only had one great season.

Season one of Ted Lasso was GREAT. It was such a compelling and interesting story, and falling in love with the character of Ted was a wonderful experience. It was truly great seeing how characters that wanted to hate him be consistently won over by his charm and kindness. Keeping this as spoiler free as I can, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything else quite like his forgiveness of a particular character when he finds out their secret. With how much they made me like Ted, I really wanted to find out one thing: What happened with his wife that made her want to divorce him? Ted seems pretty great. Why is the one person he can’t win over his wife? Is Ted too good to be true? This could make for some interesting character development.

Season one is a really strong season, and for that reason, season 2 was able to coast on it’s strength and momentum. It wasn’t bad TV, it just wasn’t great TV anymore. There were several lulls as the season progressed. But at least the characters were still largely interesting. They explore Ted’s character a bit more. There’s a lot of stuff with therapy, but in my opinion it never really goes anywhere concrete. Ultimately we don’t find much out the reasons for the divorce, other than “I don’t love you anymore,” which in my opinion is a bit like saying “I want to get divorced because I want to get divorced.”

For me, the period between season 2 and 3 was the first time I had to wait for an episode – the first two seasons were both out before I started. I looked forward to season 3. I was excited when I saw the premier date announced. Then I watched it and… I thought, “well, it could get better.” I thought that again after each of the next few episodes before resigning myself to the fact that the episodes were longer and meandering and often rather boring if not outright cheesy. It felt like they didn’t know what to do with Keeley. She really didn’t have much to do with the main thrust of the show for the vast majority of the season. Many episodes had a plotline that the episode would have been better off without. Evidently Jason Sudeikis became the show runner for season 3, and it could very well be that is the reason for the drop in overall quality and cohesiveness. Ultimately, I finished the season because even though I wasn’t really enjoying it, I started it, so I figured I’d see it through. Also, I knew it was the final season of the show, so, all the more reason to tough it out.

Ultimately, I found the ending to be largely passable. They wrapped up most things. It was overly self-indulgent, and I didn’t feel like they earned the emotion they were trying to force out of me, but it was OK. The only end that I didn’t like? Ted’s. Now, I am going to spoil this, so, if you don’t want to know, time to click away.

Are you still here? Ok, if you don’t want to know, don’t read the next paragraph.

For starters, we don’t learn anything more regarding the reasons for the divorce this season. Prior to the finale episode, we find out evidently his wife is dating their marriage counselor, Dr J, she and he take their (Ted’s) son out to see him, there’s some interaction between Ted and his ex-wife where she maybe has some lingering looks, etc. Then they leave, and then in the final episode during the big game Ted’s ex-wife and son are watching with Dr. J and he’s a giant loser the whole time who can’t ever appear to be mildly into the game for the sake of the kid. That brings us to the end of Ted’s road (last chance).

Ted flies back to the US because he had decided he wanted to be with his son. He arrives at their house. We see his son, we see his ex-wife standing in the doorway. Where is Dr. J? We don’t know. Then we see Ted coaching his son’s soccer team. We see his ex-wife watching in the stands. The end. Uhhh.. ok. There was never any exploration whatsoever of why their relationship had fallen apart, and we get a fully ambiguous ending regarding what that relationship is going forward.

For me, I’ll always fondly remember season 1, but I probably won’t ever watch this show again, nor am I likely to watch any spinoffs or resurrections, unless I’m convinced by someone I trust that it’s worthwhile after the fact.

Random Facebook Thoughts

About a week ago I experienced something I haven’t for awhile, which I used to experience all the time. I had a night where I just couldn’t fall asleep despite being tired because my brain just wouldn’t shut up. I guess you could say it was in “nostalgia mode”. I was just thinking about past events, primarily around the time I was in college. I guess because that was a time when things could have gone in a lot of different ways.

That inspired me to look at some of my old Xanga posts. Xanga has been dead for awhile, but I was able to export my old Xanga blog before it disappeared forever. It’s generally rather embarrassing, but if you want to see it, it’s at http://www.darkestlight.org/xanga/. Embarrassing as it is to look back at, it makes me want to document my life better. I’ve been terrible at blogging in recent years, and I’m hoping to perhaps get a bit better at it.

The other thing that I’m trying to figure out how I want to use is Facebook. Maybe 2 or 3 years ago I deleted my facebook account, but then more recently I created a new one strictly for groups – in particular there was a group for a podcast I listen to called Lord of Spirits. After I went to a camp for adult Orthodox Christians, I decided I’d add people from there as friends. Before that, my policy had pretty much been to not add any friends, though there were one or 2 exceptions. I guess the Orthodox world is small enough that then some folks from my church saw me and sent requests and I added them as well – and at some point one of my friends noticed I existed on Facebook and I decided to add them – which resulted in several more sending requests. So it’s been slowly reeling me back in.

That said, I very rarely post anything to my wall. In fact, the only thing I remember posting was something on St. Patrick’s Day… and also I’ve only occasionally posted comments on other people’s posts. For the most part I’ve stuck to groups.

However, since adding people as friends, I’ve been reminded of why I left Facebook to begin with. The primary reason was the feeling that it was a false sense of connection. People sent me friend requests, and I added them, but there’s not been a message sent to say “hey, it’s been awhile, how are you doing?”, or anything of the like. And so, I feel like the same problem still remains.

I’d like to really and truly reconnect with my friends, but I don’t know how to make that happen. All people seem interested in is virtue signaling their politics and having a name added to a list.

If you see this, I invite you to send me a message on Facebook Messenger. I *WILL* respond to you. I’d really like to chat, especially if you’re an old friend and we haven’t talked in awhile.

Fasting

“The outward man perishes through fasting and self-control, but the more he does so, the more the inward man is renewed…”

-St Gregory Palamas

Since becoming Orthodox one of the things I have failed at pretty consistently is fasting. To even say I’ve failed at it might be misleading, as it might imply that I’ve often tried to keep it. I’d tried a bit here and there, but never did very well, and then seemed to just give up on it entirely.

So, naturally, it is one of the things that I am trying to get better at. This was my second week of actually trying to fast on Wednesday and Friday. And I think I did a decent job. I won’t comment on it too much, I certainly don’t want to try to make myself seem good. On the contrary, I’m just trying to stop doing so poorly and actually make an effort.

It may be obvious, but I’ve also been sure to make an effort to pray more on fasting days. That’s gone well also. I feel like it really is making a difference.

Try dedicating more time to prayer in the coming week. And fast, at least fast something. I think you’ll find it will make a difference if you really try.

Authenticity

I’ve heard it said that the highest value of a Millennial is authenticity. I think that’s probably a generally true statement. Loathe as I am to say it, I myself fall into the Millennial category, although I always argue for the Xennial micro generation between Gen X and Millennials. Alas, spellcheck doesn’t recognize Xennial as a word, so that’s still an uphill battle I suppose. Regardless, whatever it is that makes Millennials so value authenticity… I’ve definitely got it.

There’s nothing wrong with authenticity of course. Being true to yourself and saying the things that you truly believe or feel can be perfectly admirable. When someone is being obviously inauthentic it can be a painfully cringeworthy experience. But that said, being authentic is not the best thing that a person can be.

In fact, placing authenticity as the highest standard leads to settling for being less than one could be. One might say he is lazy. It’s not that he wants to be, but that’s just who he is. He can’t change it. He’s just being authentic about it. Or perhaps out of shape. Or no good at “x”. Or overly blunt. Or any number of things. Authenticity as the HIGHEST good simply leads to total acceptance of whatever you are and eschews any impulse that one might have to change. Or with a matter of beliefs, a total acceptance of what you see to be true without any impulse to confirm it or examine other opinions.

I have no intention of putting forth an entire hierarchy of values here, but I will posit what the better highest value is: Truth. If you hold a false belief authentically, it does nothing good for you. In fact, it might harm you, or prevent you from realizing your potential at the very least.

When I watch the videos of the sermons at the church I attended prior to becoming Orthodox, it reminds me of who I was then. I was still the person who put authenticity as the highest good. That was what I liked about the church, the authenticity of it. I’d wager that’s what most of the people attending there like about it as well. Before I say anything negative, I do want to say that I think they for sure do a lot of good there. I’m sure they’re meeting a lot of people where they are. I was glad to be there for the time I was. But, when I watch the videos now what I really think is… this isn’t Church. That’ not me challenging their salvation or saying they’re not Christians, it’s just me saying… they’re not having a Church service. Much of the time it doesn’t even really strike me as say, spiritual teaching. The vibe I get is “self help”, with a smattering of Bible verses here and there. I’m not against what they’re doing (though I may disagree with specific things said from time to time), but what I really think is that they’re too concerned with being authentic and not concerned enough with finding Truth (God). Because of the misaligned focus, I think it makes the people there fall short of what they could have. But thank God that they do have some part of the Truth.

I doubt anyone there would both find their way to this and know who I am to know that I’m talking about them, but if you did – know that I love you and pray for you, and I value what I got in my time there. May you grow deeper in the knowledge and love of God!

Movie: When A Stranger Calls

Whatever you do, don’t answer the phone.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually done a movie review here before, though it was always something I thought that I would like to do. While this might be a strange one to start with, I guess in truth it’s just as good as any other. But since it’s the first, I’d like to intro with a bit of how I expect these to go…

I really am going to think of these more as a reaction to the movie. I think I’ll get into a lot of review elements, and I suppose even a reaction is part of a review, but it’s a question of the focus. Yes, you’ll know whether or not I thought a movie was good or bad by the time you get to the end, and you’ll know why, but more than that you’ll know how I feel about the movie. I’m also going to have some structured sections, which may or may not change over time, but I won’t get into them here in this intro, you’ll just see them below.

Anyway, these are just going to be movies that I happened to watch and feel like saying something about, so they’re not chosen for any particular purpose. They could be old or new, good or bad, significant or insignificant, or any combination thereof.

Now with no further adieu…

When A Stranger Calls (2006)

How it begins

The opening scene could be good… for a different movie than this one. The only thing I didn’t like in it was the weird voiceover of phone calls and a female voice telling the person to stop calling, then a scream. This is all over some carnival/fair imagery shot in such a way as to convey that little bit of horror feel. The imagery felt good if the voiceover didn’t. It turns out the voice we heard was some girl getting murdered somehow. We never see her, not even after she’s dead. That foreshadows later in the movie where we never seem to see anything because all action happens offscreen. But anyway, she was killed… without a weapon. And the movie seems to imply it was a messy murder scene, although it’s unclear why they’d need as many body bags as you see exit the house for one dead woman even if she was torn into a thousand pieces… I dunno, seems they could still get her in just one. But you don’t need to worry about her anyway because she will never be mentioned again. This is all just there to prepare you for the idea that you’re going to be watching a movie about a woman basically alone in a house with someone trying to kill her. I know, we’ve never seen that before.

We then finally see a woman running on a track. Her coach is very disappointed with her because she’s not focusing, they both know she can do that lap in 24 seconds after all. Gee, I wonder if she’s going to have to run later in the film. But anyway, she’s a high school student and has high school student drama in her life. You know how it is when you’re a teenage girl… your best friend kisses your boyfriend and she can’t understand why you won’t just get over it. And there’s this bonfire that EVERYONE at the school is going to. You know, like the bonfires that your high school had that everyone went to. And there’s definitely not any good cell reception at those.

Speaking of cell phones, man does this movie feel dated. You’ve got a Nextel flip phone on screen, and poor Jill is prevented from going to the big bonfire because she went way over the minutes on her cell phone plan! By 800 minutes! It cost her parents a small fortune that they’re making her pay them back for by babysitting, starting on bonfire night.

The Setting

Remember how it started with the carnival? Yeah well the actual story has nothing to do with carnivals, it’s at a fancy house in the middle of nowhere. So of course her Dad drives her there instead of letting her take her own car, because why should she need to be able to drive somewhere in the event of an emergency when she’s in the middle of nowhere?

Really that’s only the start of things that make no sense in the setup of this movie. We learn very soon after Jill’s arrival that there is a live-in housekeeper. Now you might say, but she’s a housekeeper, not a nanny, she shouldn’t have to keep track of the kids, and I hear you, but… we also find out that the kids are sick with the flu, and they’re asleep. Really, Jill is there like.. only in the case of an emergency – she spends the whole movie just sitting on the couch or walking around the house, so I feel like the housekeeper could have managed it. Maybe they could just throw a little extra money her way… I mean, she’s there anyway. But ok, ok, we need Jill to be there because no one wants to watch an old live in housekeeper be scared in a house, they want to watch the pretty young high schooler.

Anyway, like I said, Jill walks around the house and discovers that most of the lights in the house are on auto sensors and turn on as soon as you enter the room. This is an odd choice for a horror movie, as it makes dark hallways decidedly less threatening. There’s some loud noises that don’t really get explained, and wind and tree branches and shaky camera. Oh yeah and a mixture of the creepy guy phone calls with people trying to call from the bonfire. But it’s a very nice house, it’s a shame they didn’t film a better movie there.

Characters / Acting

So there’s a fair number of characters that we see briefly… the dad, the couple she’s babysitting for, the housekeeper, some of Jill’s friends… but they’re not really on screen long enough for it to matter much what acting chops they have. None of them were standout horrible, so I guess they did well enough for their minor roles. It’s really a one woman show though, which makes us focus quite a bit on Jill Johnson.

Jill is portrayed by Camilla Belle, who you might remember from one episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. Really, from a look at her credits I think that might be the place you’re most likely to remember her from. Now, she’s been in more films than I have, so maybe I’m not one to judge, but the performance she gives here in a lead role makes it pretty clear to me why she hasn’t been in anything anyone has heard of… she’s just… bad. As her dad drops her off at the house she tells him to have a nice time, and he replies “Now say it like you mean it,” but all I could think was, “Now say it like you’re a good actress.” But for real, she spends a lot of time on camera by herself in this movie, and she is truly awful.

How I Feel About It

I knew nothing about this movie going in. It popped up as a recommendation for me on Amazon Prime. So, the movie it made me think of first? Scream. It started with a scene in which a female high school student is alone in a house and gets creepy phone calls and then eventually gets murdered, thus setting up a plot where various high school students get murdered in various ways. This movie was kind of like that opening scene.

So my first thoughts on When A Stranger Calls was that perhaps it was written by a guy who saw Scream and thought, “You know what would make a really good movie? If you just took the opening scene of Scream and then made that the whole movie. Oh also, that opening scene in Scream worked really well. We’ll open this movie with that opening scene except we’ll do it all off camera. Then we’ll do the whole scene again on camera but for an hour and 20 minutes.” Also, because he wouldn’t want to have to come up with an original idea, he used the whole “babysitter and the man upstairs” urban legend.

But then when I got on IMDB, I realized this is actually a remake of a 1979 movie of the same name. They’re very different movies. All I’ll say here above when I start getting into spoilers is that the remake turns the first 23 minutes of this movie into an almost 90 minute movie, without adding anything of value… So it’s no surprise that the plot is spread very thin. It’s entirely derivative in every way, and doesn’t add anything new, or interesting. It’s truly just a much worse version of the original with 2006 phone technology.

The Plot

Ok friends, if you made it this far, you’ve made it to the spoiler zone. If you think you might actually want to watch this movie unspoiled, now’s the time to click away from here. It feels pretty weird to give a spoiler warning for a 1979 movie especially, but I’m also going to talk about plot from it as well, so, you’ve been warned.

We’ll start with the remake, because that’s the one I watched first. I’m going from memory, so I may have something slightly off. So we know Jill is a runner in high school and her boyfriend kissed her best friend and she has another friend and they’re all going to a bonfire but she can’t because she went over on her cell phone minutes and so her parents are making her babysit to get money to pay them back. Phew.

Once she’s at the house, she gets the tour and the parents leave. She then sort of sits on the couch for awhile, for some reason their fancy hidden in the wall tv is all staticky and making a lot of noise when she turns it on and so she immediately turns it off to avoid waking the kids. That prompts her to instead start snooping around in their bedroom, bathroom, closets, etc and put on some of the mother’s perfume and jewelry. Then she’s about to try on her clothes when – NOISE.

She goes looking around, and eventually finds the housekeeper, Rosa. No problem. Then she makes her way back to the couch and there’s phone calls. Some from creepy breathing guy. One from other friend, who Jill tells to give boyfriend the number to reach her there. One from some guy at bonfire prancing her. More from creepy breathing guy. One from boyfriend. Now I don’t really recall the order of all of those, or how they intersperse with other events, but… yeah. So at some point fairly early on the house alarm goes off for some reason. She enters the code to turn it off, alarm company calls. Oh I’m the babysitter, blah, blah. They call the parents to confirm. No worries. Why did the alarm go off? Meh, who cares. Maybe it was Rosa The mom calls, says something about the alarm always going off. Seems like a useful alarm. I believe it’s at this point she starts looking for Rosa again but she’s gone. Oh well.

Best friend who kissed her boyfriend shows up and demonstrates she’s a bad person for the audience. Also she tells us the garage door is open. After a sort of reconciliation she leaves, and after she’s very scared of wind and trees drops her keys, but eventually gets into her car until a branch blocks her path and she gets out of the car to move it. She then off-camera gets murdered (we presume). Oh right, and around this time there’s a bunch of banging at the front door and Jill opens it but there’s nothing there.

Jill decides to call Rosa’s cell and follows the rings down a hallway that for some reason the family didn’t put motion sensing lights in. Eventually she finds Rosa’s purse in a closet and behind the closet door is for some reason a jacket and hat stuck to the wall at human height for a “scare”.

At some point she gets another call and realizes the guy can see her so she closes the blinds on the massive windows of the house. It’s here where she calls the police, they suggest she needs to keep him on the line for awhile so they can trace the call. She calls over to the phone in the guest house in case the guy who rents it is home. No answer. But what’s this, a light is on over there, and movement. So of course she decides to go over there.

This is where the RUNNING comes in. She runs over there and gets inside with no problem. Then she gets a call on the guest house phone. It’s creepy guy. She keeps him on the phone for awhile, but oh no! That’s not the phone the police are tracing. Lights on upstairs in the main house. Rosa? She RUNS back over there. This time she drops her flashlight.

Creepy guy calls the house phone again and she keeps him talking while she goes up the stairs toward Rosa’s room. I think this is when police trace the call, and they call her and tell her the call is from INSIDE THE HOUSE. When she gets to Rosa’s room there’s a shower running and she goes in there but no one is in it. Then her best friend is DEAD behind the bathroom door. What a shock.

She makes her way to the kids who are alive and hiding in a toy chest, and there’s a bunch of chase stuff where the killer comes after them, they hide in this fish pond where the housekeeper was last seen, and when Jill goes underwater she see’s dead Rosa.

More chase, eventually she makes it to the front door and opens it and runs into the arms of Roy from The Office (seriously, David Denman plays the cop). The kids survive. Creepy guy is arrested. Over? Not quite.

Jill wakes up in a hospital, hits nurse call button. Nothing happens. She gets up and goes outside, no one is there. The phone starts ringing. She answers. It’s creepy guy. She wakes up in the hospital with her parents and doctors and stuff screaming. She’s apparently been driven completely mad by the events. Scary.

So how does the original differ?

Like I said, the remake is the first 23 minutes stretched out. The first shot of the movie is Jill at the door of the couple’s house. They quite quickly explain kids are sick, just chill until we get back. There’s no housekeeper, there’s no alarm system, there’s no bonfire. Parents leave, Jill is talking to a friend on the phone, who she does ask to give her boyfriend the number to reach her. Then it quickly goes to the creepy calls, but this time it’s much more focused on the whole urban legend thing. Instead of lots of creepy breathing, it’s the insistent “have you checked on the children” stuff. That said, it does get into conversation when she tries to keep him on the phone longer for the phone trace. Her conversations with the police and the killer are pretty much the same. Then she runs out of the house when we can see from the killer’s shadow he’s about to come down the stairs, and she runs into the arms of a police officer. However, the kids were murdered upstairs. I think the reason for the opening scene in the remake is they wanted to have a scene with police carrying body bags out and also to say the thing about there not being a murder weapon.

At this point, the movie is far from over. That was just a setup. It’s almost like they knew the bare bones of this urban legend wasn’t enough to carry an entire movie. It turns out that after spending 7 years in a mental institution, the killer escaped. He starts stalking this woman while the cop has become a private investigator and was hired to track him down. Eventually it winds its way back to Jill’s life. She’s married with 2 children now, and they’re going out to dinner and hire a babysitter. While they’re at dinner, someone calls for them. It’s creepy guy. She gets hysterical, and this is presumably why they felt they needed that hospital scene. But no worries, the babysitter is OK, kids are OK. That night, creepy guy has managed to get into her house though, and while she’s up unable to sleep in the middle of the night, he knocks her husband unconscious and gets into bed in his place, and so it’s actually a surprise when she goes to wake her husband and finds him.

What I Still Want To Know

For the original I really only have one question, which is how did the killer know what restaurant they were at so that he could call them. And I guess it’s a little convenient he happened to decide to go after her kids on the night her husband got that promotion and decided to take her out to dinner. But I can look past that I guess.

For the remake…

How does the killer know Jill will be babysitting there that night (the movie makes it clear it was last minute)? Why does he insist on killing her? The other people just seem to get killed because they’re in the way. What caused the banging on the front door? I mean the killer is just a guy, not some supernatural entity. Why was the garage door open? Has this guy just been spending his life going around killing random babysitters? I’m sure I could go on.

Judgment (No more spoilers)

So there’s definitely some lulls in the original movie, but it’s WAY better than the remake. It doesn’t go for horror scares, it’s more of a suspense thriller. It has an actual fleshed out plot, etc.

The remake? It’s kind of boring. It’s not a painfully bad movie, it’s just kind of a… “why did they make this” movie. Just sticking to the original script with some minor updates would have been a much better idea. If you’re going to watch one, watch the one from 1979.

Also there’s a sequel to the original, and there’s a Rifftrax for it too! I’ll probably watch that tomorrow… but I don’t think I’ll be writing about it.

Ascetic

“If there is no element of asceticism in our lives, if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.” 

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I converted to Orthodoxy just a few months prior to the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Of course, I had been inquiring for about a year before that, and in that time had given thought to the idea of asceticism. Coming from a Protestant Christian background it is somewhat of a foreign idea. Not completely so, but, still, there is not much emphasis placed upon it in Protestantism. It’s mostly something you see your “overzealous” friends do.

In the Protestant world it looks something like… giving up TV for a month. Or going on a juice fast for some period of time. Or maybe just skipping a meal. Now, I’m not knocking those things. That thing I said about overzealous friends? That’s how I felt about it years ago. I think those people were onto something. But, there’s no structure of asceticism in the Protestant world. There’s nothing like: Fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, unless it’s during a feast week. No one expects you to do it, I guess is what I’m really getting at here.

So, obviously, as I just mentioned, in Orthodoxy you have that basic weekly fast, where MOST weeks of the year, the “rule” is that you should fast on Wednesday and Friday. No, Protestant friends, it’s not a rule in the sense of.. if you don’t fast those days you are definitely going straight to Hell. But, it’s a rule because it is for the benefit of your soul.

I had some starts and stops with fasting early on, and more recently I just haven’t really tried at all, until today. Today I kept the fast. And I intend to do it again on Friday. I want to get to a point where I’ll be able to make a real go of keeping it for all of Advent.

Why the sudden interest in doing so? Well, because I recently started seeing mentioned in various places the idea of being better than you were the day before. I think in at least one place it was a clip of Jordan Petersen, suggesting that you should never compare yourself to other people, because you have no idea what their situation is, but you CAN compare yourself to yourself. So just be a little better tomorrow than you were today. That’s the thought I really needed to hear.

Lately I’ve gotten pretty lazy about things. And if I’m honest, being lazy has been a big problem for me much of my life. It’s not that I’m ALWAYS lazy, or that I’m lazy about everything… but I can be lazy about a lot of things. So that’s meant I’ve not really been exercising for the last several months, I haven’t been eating well the last several months, I haven’t really been praying or reading the Bible as much as I should the last several months… and also I haven’t been writing like I should. I’ve NEVER written like I should. I like it, but as soon as I start to feel like I’ve got a bit of writer’s block, I just stop trying. But I want to break through that. That’s why the new blogs lately. If I don’t keep up with them then you’ll know that I failed.

I feel like a modern secular asceticism is the idea of a diet. Limiting your food choices so as to lose weight instead of just eating whatever you fancy at the time. It may not perfectly meet the requirements, but it’s something close. When I started out with the idea of fasting I thought something like… “But my food is already limited by my diet, and then this is going to cut out the primary thing I’m allowed to eat: meat.” While that’s true, it’s not like it’s impossible to do both. After all, there are people who do vegan keto as their whole lifestyle, and they manage to survive. While I only need to fast on Wednesday and Friday I think I’ll be able to get by just figuring things out on my own, but by the time Advent rolls around, I will for sure be checking out some vegan keto recipes.

I’ve also started using a stupid little iPhone app I bought years ago that lets you earn “experience points” for doing tasks that you define for yourself. Strangely it is a little bit motivating to be able to go in there and knock them out after I finish something.

So a few days in, things are going pretty well. I’m not much better than I was a few days ago, but I think maybe marginally so.

Truth Superiority

Those likewise are to be detested who deny that our Lord Jesus Christ had Mary as his mother on earth. That dispensation did honor to both sexes male and female, and showed that both had a part in God’s care; not only that which he assumed, but that also through which he assumed it, being a man born of a woman.

-St. Augustine

Before I start, if you aren’t familiar with 1 Esdras (AKA Greek Ezra, or 3 Esdras), then before you continue on with this post I am going to suggest you read this passage: 1 Esdras 4:14-41. Feel free to read the rest of it as well if you like, but that’s the bit I’d like to talk about here. Now, if you’re not at least familiar with it, chances are you are a Protestant (or non-Christian), so let me give you just a bit of context. This is a book that deals with deals with the same historical events as in 2 Chronicles 35-36, Ezra (AKA 2 Esdras), and Nehemiah. It is contained in the Greek Septuagint (LXX), which was widely used among early Christians. Now, for my purposes I don’t think it much matters whether you consider it canonical or not. I think we can both agree that regardless of that, it could tell us something helpful (why do we read any books at all, after all?) Anyway, go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

Done? Ok, let’s continue.

I found this passage to be very interesting in light of the present world we live in. Today’s notion of Feminism is one that demands equality, and I think that equality is meant in a very specific way. It’s meant in a way so as to essentially equate man and woman to one and the same thing. So, if it’s a thing a man can do, a woman must also be able to do it, and equally as well. So you end up with movie reboots that take out all the men and replace them with women. Beyond that, there is also a frequent desire to somehow “make up for” women not having that equality for so long, and portraying them as better than men. That’s how you end up with Star Trek: Discovery (or as I’ve come to think of it, the Michael Burnham Power Hour). There are plenty of examples of both of these things. A female character has no apparent struggles or flaws, she is just shown to somehow being kept down by men who are always constantly wrong. If you can’t tell, I find that annoying.

Yet, this passage from 1 Esdras I find compelling. This statement from Zerubbabel, the man speaking in this passage, seems wise: “Women are superior, but truth conquers all.” Now what you don’t know if you only read the passage I linked you to, is that these words are part of a contest between 3 of the king’s bodyguards to offer what they think is the MOST superior thing in the world, and the king will judge whose words are the most wise. He says women. And as evidence, he gives womanly attributes. They give birth to all men. They give men honor. They make clothes. They make the mere existence of men possible. Men will do anything for them. Even the king will let the woman he loves slap him, and he will try to make amends when she is angry with him. These are the things that make women the MOST superior.

In fact, he only gives one thing that is greater than a woman: That which made a woman. That is to say, the Truth, the Logos, ie, God.

We all want to be treated fairly and equally. The truth is, we are all born with different attributes and qualities that are simply beyond our control. For example, some men are handsome, some are ugly. I’m not saying you can’t do things to increase your attractiveness, but not every man is capable of being as attractive as say, Brad Pitt.

I just think it’s another way to look at the relationship between the sexes. One that esteems women higher than men while at the same time preserving our obvious differences.