Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Get enough sleep, people! Sleep problems can make you sick.

March 16, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Science

If you caught the first episode of Trippies (Thank you! Replays on CNN Philippines today at 1230pm and Saturday at 11am), you may recall how Pepe and I, two non-athletic people, wondered what Olympic-level skills we have. Mine is sleeping. I can sleep through anything. Sometimes on long-haul flights I’m asleep before take-off. I seriously believe that writing gets done during sleep, when the brain is resting and free to work out the details.

Given today’s 24-hour work schedules and omnipresent gadgetry, more and more people are having trouble sleeping. I’ve noticed that the rare occasions I cannot fall asleep are when my brain won’t shut up (After I’ve seen an excellent movie and cannot stop thinking about it, or after I’ve finished a piece of writing and cannot stop criticizing it). Sleep experts tell us to turn off our screens, but I find that playing videos I’ve already seen helps me to zone out and eventually lose consciousness. Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Seinfeld, which by now I have memorized, help me to fall asleep. Also BBC documentaries.

Sometimes I really cannot fall asleep, so I accept that sleep has eluded me, pick up a book, and resolve to go to bed early the following day.

Clinicians have long known that there is a strong link between sleep, sunlight and mood. Problems sleeping are often a warning sign or a cause of impending depression, and can make people with bipolar disorder manic. Some 15 years ago, Dr. Francesco Benedetti, a psychiatrist in Milan, and colleagues noticed that hospitalized bipolar patients who were assigned to rooms with views of the east were discharged earlier than those with rooms facing the west — presumably because the early morning light had an antidepressant effect.

The notion that we can manipulate sleep to treat mental illness has also been around for many years. Back in the late 1960s, a German psychiatrist heard about a woman in Tübingen who was hospitalized for depression and claimed that she normally kept her symptoms in check by taking all-night bike rides. He subsequently demonstrated in a group of depressed patients that a night of complete sleep deprivation produced an immediate, significant improvement in mood in about 60 percent of the group.

Read Yes, Your Sleep Schedule Is Making You Sick

Weekly Report Card 9: True story movies and The Smiths of contemporary lit, Zadie and Ali

March 13, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

Natalie Portman in Jackie

Movies I’ve seen in the past month

Logan – A (See review)

American Pastoral – D. For his directorial debut Ewan McGregor had the nerve to adapt a Philip Roth novel, but not the grasp of Roth’s fury or the chops to do the material justice. Devoid of Roth-ness, American Pastoral is a family melodrama that could’ve happened anywhere at anytime. The usually luminous Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning come off as shrill, and Ewan is his charming self, but empty.

Denial – C. The real-life case of an American historian (Rachel Weisz) who takes on a Holocaust denier (Timothy Spall, who can go from repulsive to almost sympathetic in a snap) is rendered as an earnest TV movie of the week, and by TV I mean pre-21st century television, before TV took over from movies as the primary medium of the visual storyteller. Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott are the lawyers who counsel the historian not to speak at her own trial as it would legitimize the denier’s lies. Or as they are called today by the White House, alternative facts.

Loving – B. Another factual case: In the 1960s the interracial Mr and Mrs Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) break the state of Virginia’s law against mixed marriages and their case goes all the way to the Supreme Court. Like Hidden Figures, Loving reminds us of how recently the civil rights movement happened, and how quickly its gains might be undone by a lunatic on Twitter.

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in Loving.

Jackie – A-. When Natalie Portman opens her mouth and that breathy baby voice with the strange enunciation comes out it’s unnerving, but a quick trip to YouTube will show that that is exactly how Jackie Kennedy spoke. Driven by Portman’s awesome technical achievement, Pablo Larrain’s Jackie is the story of a woman underestimated by everyone, who at the worst time of her life demonstrates that she understands better than anyone how history is made.

Book: Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Like her more experimental previous novel NW, Zadie Smith’s Swing Time follows kids who grow up on a council estate in London and make their way in the world. This time the kids are two girls who meet in dance class. One can really dance and makes it to the chorus line; the other becomes a personal assistant to a hysterically famous pop diva who decides to use her money and influence to do good in Africa. Swing Time is a riveting, insightful and often moving study of female friendship through the lenses of race, education and money. It hits all the hot topics of the moment: feminism, cultural appropriation, pop stars trying to change the world, and makes them intimate and personal. If literature’s job is to explain us to ourselves, Smith does it beautifully.

This week’s reading: Autumn by Ali Smith

20 years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered and told us that nothing is as scary as real life.

March 11, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Television

Fourteen years after its final episode, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still my favorite TV series and essential viewing in times of dread and distress (I’m watching it again).

My top 5 episodes:
1. Once More With Feeling (The Musical)
2. The Body (Joyce Summers died)
3. Hush (The one that was totally silent)
4. Becoming, parts 1 and 2 (Where she had to dispatch Angel)
5. Fool for Love (Spike-centric)

Trivia: The name Buffy Anne Summers paid homage to Scott Summers of the X-Men.

If Joss Whedon had retired after Buffy he would already be in our pantheon but he went on to do Firefly, Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing, and is nowhere near done yet.

Writers Marlon James, Kelly Link, Susanna Clarke and others on why they love Buffy.

10 Vital Storytelling Lessons from BtVS.

Our travel show, Trippies, premieres on Sunday, 12 March at 7:30pm on CNN Ph. Watch it!

March 10, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Television, Traveling

Photo by Royd Santiago

Filmmaker Pepe Diokno and I talk our way around the world in a weekly half-hour show. TRIPPIES premieres on Sunday, 12 March at 7:30pm on CNN Philippines. Replays air on Tuesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays at 12:30pm, and Saturdays at 11am.

Trippies has conversation, food, history, and an international cast of dogs and cats.

Help us spread the word!

Got a question about the show or about travel in general? Post it in Comments or email me at

Logan is Wolverine unleashed on the big screen for real, for the first time

March 06, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

The more I read about how bleak and wonderful Logan is, the more I put off watching it. Was I ready to see an old, weakened, weary Wolverine scraping by as a limo driver? Or worse, an old, fragile Professor Xavier with dementia? Or a broken-down world of the near future where the other X-Men are dead and institutions are at the beck and call of evil corporations? Dammit, why is pop culture so political now that even popcorn movies remind us of the mess we’re in? Whatever happened to escapist feelgood movies where all we had to worry about was whether A would get together with B—oh right, we don’t want to watch those because most of them are idiotic.

But I couldn’t not see Logan. And as I sat there watching Hugh Jackman, even ropier than usual, in the role that he has embodied so well in ten movies, many of which did not deserve him; the great Patrick Stewart as King Lear as Prof. X; Stephen Merchant as Caliban, illustrating my belief that if you want to get the job done exactly right, cast a comedian; and the mostly silent but brilliantly expressive Dafne Keen as young Laura, I thought: Why should we be so upset that our superheroes have grown old? We’re older—it’s seventeen years since the first X-Men movie with Stewart and Jackman. Everybody grows old. Age and death will get us all, but as Logan demonstrates we can tell age and death to go fuck themselves.

Logan is Wolverine unleashed onscreen for the first time, the Wolverine of the best timelines in the comics—ill-tempered, brutal, unwilling to join the fight but doing the right thing anyway. And paying for it—he may regenerate, but he feels all the pain. James Mangold’s superhero western, with its homage to Shane, left me exhausted but exhilarated. The good guys may be in hiding, on the run, isolated and mocked, but they’re around and they will do what they must.

Plus I really like the explanation of how the mutation is manifested in the female.

Don’t take your kids to see Logan, no matter how they insist. This X-Men movie is for you. If you grew up in the peak Chris Claremont era of X-Men, it may feel like the end of your (over-long) childhood. You are your own mutant now.

Weekly Report Card 8: Hidden Figures remembers, Modiano forgets (again)

March 05, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

Movie: Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi

Hidden Figures is the rousing true story of three African-American women (played with maximum warmth and badassery by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) who were vital to the success of NASA’s programs at the height of the space race, who did their jobs at a time when racism was the law in the United States. At a time when reality has come to mirror dystopian YA narratives, I think Hidden Figures should be shown to all schoolchildren. The future is full of possibilities, kids, no matter what the grown-ups say.

This is the kind of movie that makes you regret not paying attention to your math teachers. “If only I’d put in the effort instead of having out of body experiences in pre-calculus,” I heard myself say. And then I remembered that I am mediocre in math, unlike my classmates who were snoring in their seats when they were called on by the teacher, and then went to the board, derived the formula, and solved the problem correctly. I can grasp the concepts well enough if they are explained to me in words, and sometimes I can intuit the answer but I could not tell you how I arrived there to save my life. But there’s always a need for popularizers, and if you have to make science sound romantic, email me.

Book: So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano

I thought I’d read Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence before watching the movie by Martin Scorsese, but gave it up at page 40 because I have no appetite for suffering right now, esp. suffering for one’s beliefs. Someday I’ll pick it up again—it took me several attempts to get through Jane Eyre (because I could not see why she’d go for that).

So I ended up reading another short novel about remembering stuff you forgot and then wondering if you are yourself: So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano. It reads like his other novels, so I started wondering if I’d already read it and just forgot. It starts with the narrator, a writer, getting a phone call from a stranger who says he found the writer’s address book. The writer didn’t even notice he’d lost the address book, and he doesn’t need it, but he agrees to meet the stranger and get it back. The stranger is very curious about one of the names in the address book, but the writer cannot remember who that person is and why he has his number. The thick plottens, the stranger’s associate insinuates herself into the writer’s life, and then the writer starts remembering the individual in question…It’s melancholy, and haunting, and you are transported to some grotty little café in Pigalle where it’s always raining and everyone looks like they’re pondering the meaning of existence even if they’re just trying to split the tab. France, your elections are coming up, in the words of Princess Leia, you’re my only hope.

I’ve been steeling myself for days, and tomorrow I’m going to watch Logan.