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Sunday, December 29, 2013

WHY I WISH YOU A DIFFICULT NEW YEAR

We don’t like difficult things, do we?  Not difficult people, places, chores or recipes.  We love things to be easy, right?  Is there higher praise for a family get together than the phrase “It was easy”?  Ditto for a shopping trip, good meal or any kind of task we had been dreading.  We believe that “easy” makes us happy and “difficult” makes us unhappy.  Have a difficult time finding a parking space and you probably get a little tweaked.  Having to wait in a long line behind people who still insist on paying by check will undoubtedly make you exasperated.  Getting halfway through a complicated recipe only to realize you don’t have enough of this or added too much of that can ruin your whole day.  Why do things have to be so difficult?  If only life were easier, we could all be happy, right?  But hold that thought for just a minute…

When you were a kid, was there any greater put down than “It was easy”?  A puzzle, a game, an assignment at school…you know the gesture, the lazy shrug that is a little like the ultimate eye-roll, followed by the phrase “It was easy” sliding out of one side of your mouth, as if it were not even worth engaging your full set of lips over.  Kids are not impressed with “easy”.  Kids are not satisfied with “easy”.  “Easy” is BORING, plain and simple, and what in the world is more aggravating to the under-18 set than BEING BORED?  Being challenged, accomplishing something that took a little doing, being fully engaged were priorities when we were young.  When does that change?  Whenever I watch children running through sprinklers or playing with water balloons or doing any activity that involves getting soaked to the skin, I privately shudder and think, “At what point does the hassle of getting wet outstrip the joy of it?”  When, exactly, do we fall in love with the idea of having an easy life?

It is “easy” to make the argument that this starts to change once we are paying our own bills and making our own way.  And perhaps we can further conclude that the metamorphosis completes when we have children of our own and really learn the definition of the word “difficult”.   Maybe it is because we allow so many of the unexpected twists and turns along the way to shake our confidence instead of building it.  Lack of sleep, lack of support and lack of funds are real buzz killers to be sure, and we experience all of them at one point or another, and sometimes even all three at once.  I, for one, am rarely in the right frame of mind for a water balloon fight.  Or even for tackling a particularly challenging recipe.   And there is nothing I love more than getting a good parking spot at the store, waltzing in and finding everything on my list and then walking right up to the checkout stand, no wait.  Woo-hoo!  It’s exhilarating!

But that temporary high is not a platform to build on.  It is transient; it comes and goes with no residual gain.  The difficulties I have faced in my life, however…here is where I learned I am a warrior.  Here is where I learned to trust myself.  Here is where I realized the true meaning of friendship.  Here is the solid ground upon which I can build a life.  When life challenges you, you have been given a great opportunity to grow.  The things you learn in any dark parts of your journey will ultimately be the most valuable, not only to yourself but also to the people whose lives you touch.   Pain is inevitable in this world, but as we make our way through it, we learn to survive; and as we survive we teach others about endurance.  We begin to understand that the emotional hoops we jump through in our relationships are so often just an exercise in guilt or just plain confusion; we learn to stand our ground and not engage in melodrama.  Being present is the most important gift we can give to each other.  And although it is in many ways more difficult than running around like a chicken without a head, it is also much more rewarding.
 
In this upcoming new year, I am blessing you with the gift of difficulties.  I am bestowing on you the reward of challenges.  That is where you truly find yourself and that is how you grow great and strong.  Ask any kid, they know.  And so do you.  When life is difficult, you are at your best.  Your best is a marvel to behold and an incomparable fortress.  The easy days blow through the windows and flutter the curtains prettily with a breath of fresh air, but the difficult ones provide the foundation and the strength of your walls.  And the stronger your fortress, the less the challenging days will bother you.  You welcome them as a friend and teacher and you move past them often exhausted but never defeated.  They are coming, whether you want them to or not, so why not greet them willingly and be open to the good they have to bring you?
 
 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why The Island of Misfit Toys is Total Crap

If you have never seen Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, you might be better off for it. I hate to admit that, as I am a well known super-fan of all things Christmas, perhaps most especially these so-called Christmas specials that bring me right back to the magical holidays of my childhood. My parents really did Christmas right, and no matter how hard I try I will never be able to recapture that wonder I felt on Christmas morning, or the deeply comforting energy of a house full of three generations of family. Those were good years, a time never to be duplicated in this new world of scattered families and virtual friends.

But that’s a topic for another day. Today I would like to explain why the Island of Misfit Toys is so totally messed up!  Santa’s atrocious behavior on this particular program has been brilliantly dissected…honestly, who would want that difficult, cantankerous, ungrateful old coot coming to visit, even with free toys? When he tells Rudolph’s father that “he should be ashamed of himself” when the red nose is finally exposed to the herd at large, we have no idea if he means he should be ashamed of his son’s “defect” or he should be ashamed for hiding it. This is not a good thing to be confused about, especially if you have any “defects” of your own.

Which leads me to these so-called “misfit” toys. By what or who’s standards are they misfits? Have they been rejected by the obviously at-fault toymakers or by actual children? Because most kids I know would KILL for a water pistol that shoots jelly, you dig? I’m amazed this fun snacking device has not been manufactured en masse to this day. Pure marketing gold, I’ll tell you! Also, obviously once the jelly is gone you could, if you lack imagination and wit, just fill the damned thing with water. Seriously, this is hardly an insurmountable obstacle.

And as for the Jack-in the-Box named Charlie…huh?   If you hadn’t gone on national TV crying about it, I’d be none the wiser, pal!  And if you are so despondent at your fate, exiled to a frigid island by some mysterious tyrant, why are you being so stubborn about the name Charlie?  Would it kill you to go by “Jack” for professional reasons,  really? I think the problem may be more your attitude than your name. Same for the cowboy riding an ostrich. His unfortunate voice notwithstanding, I’m sure he could find himself a nice toy horse if he really looked around, rather than moping on the frozen tundra. And while I understand the difficulties faced by the train with square wheels on the caboose, I would venture to make a rather cutthroat suggestion: lose the caboose. Most kids are only interested in the engines, anyhow. Maybe the ostrich can pull the caboose around?  Let's think outside the box, Jack.

Finally, about those toys with no apparent defect who still choose to hang out with the misfits (I’m talking about YOU, dolly named Sue…) This may be an esteem issue. If we are to take a positive message from this otherwise disturbing biopic of the red-nosed reindeer, it would be to not only respect our differences, but embrace them. It did not appear at first that a red-nosed reindeer would be terribly useful, but then look how that all turned out! Unfortunately, by lumping in a perfectly good doll (and a polka dot elephant?) with all the rejects, a far less uplifting message might be heard…you may not know what is wrong with you, but WE DO. And we are willing to exile you at a moment's notice without warning or provocation. It’s a losing battle, Sue. You’ll never be pretty enough, sweet enough, good enough. You are a misfit because WE SAID SO.

And that’s why the island of misfit toys sends a crap message.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

WHY I'D LIKE YOU TO BE INCONVENIENT


Do you have one of those friends who is late all the time?  Someone you are tempted to lie to about the start time of events because you know this is the only way they will possibly be there when you want them to be there?  Does this make you CRAZY or what???  Do you hate sitting in restaurants tapping your fingers and sipping your water and looking at your watch (likely your smartphone) like an idiot?  Do you hate that pit in your stomach that makes you feel like a girl who has just been left at the altar? 

So why the hell are you still friends with this person?  Let me guess…probably because they always do show up (eventually) and they have many other, wonderful qualities that offset your moments of jilted-bride angst.  So let this be a lesson to you…actually, two lessons.  1)  Why get all worked up when you know they will be there eventually? and 2) Why do you think YOU have to be perfect in order for people to love you?
Life is full of inconveniences, many of them caused by the people we care about.  Our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our kids and our friends are all terribly inconvenient a lot of the time.  In fact, children (and pets) are pretty much the definition of inconvenient!  Look it up sometime, if that won’t inconvenience you.  The fact of the matter is, we think of the things we DON'T love in terms of the inconveniences they cause—jobs and nasty co-workers and bosses, traffic and chores and obligations—but we don’t really process the people and events we enjoy as “inconvenient”.  Even though they so totally are. 

Weddings?  Often inconvenient and always inconveniently expensive.  Ditto baby showers, family vacations and any kind of event that takes place in a stadium.  Seriously, what a complete and total hassle most things are, when you think about it!  But unless you are channeling J.D. Salinger, you probably get out of bed and make it all happen anyway.  And even occasionally have a good time!

The truth is, convenience has perhaps unfairly gotten a good rap.  Just because something is convenient doesn’t make it good, McDonald’s.  Acknowledging the fact that life and people can be tricky, time-consuming, resource wasting albatrosses may not sound like a step in the right direction, but believe me it is.  You have to laugh at yourself for all the chicken-with-head-cut-off running around you do to make sure you have color coordinated napkins for a friend’s party or that impossible-to-find item your mother loves. 

Virtually every job on the planet is rife with pulse pounding but ultimately fake deadlines.  All the cooking we do (it’s immediately eaten) all the cleaning we do (BAM!  A pigsty in seconds) all the errand running, gift buying, church contributing and school participating…exhausting, hamster in the wheel stuff.  Being a human and creating a life is really an endless cycle of build and destroy, deplete and restock, fail and try again, succeed and try to top that.  Ever watch ants building an anthill, a grain of sand at a time?  Smash that thing to the ground (you don’t want ants taking over the yard) and watch them begin again.
Whew, sounds sooooo depressing, I know.  But when you think about it, it is really a key to your freedom.  When you realize that pretty much everything is an inconvenience, it makes it okay for you to be one too.  If you are late, you will still experience love.  If you pester someone for help they don’t want to give, you may actually get the help you need.  If a wedding is missed, a baby shower is right around the corner.  If an attempt fails, tomorrow is a whole new day in which you can cook another meal, dry another tear, do another dance and yes, try again.  

You are living your life and life is inconvenient.  You are loving your people and people are so damned inconvenient.  You are giving it a try and trying is tiring and inconvenient too but if there is something you want, you need to go for it, no matter how much it inconveniences you or the people you care about.  Jump off the wheel now and then and do something totally for yourself and see if the world falls apart.  If you don’t carry your grain of sand to the anthill today, there will be plenty of chances in the future.  So go ahead and dare to be inconvenient today.  See if you can’t stir up a little happiness for yourself along the way, okay?

Friday, November 1, 2013

WHY YOU NEED TO STOP BUILDING A CASE AGAINST YOURSELF


I AM BEGGING YOU TO STOP DOING THIS.  But chances are, you don’t even realize you are doing it.  I have spent too many hours listening to people I care about talk themselves out of their own awesomeness to remain silent a second longer.  Why do you keep making excuses for yourself instead of proudly owning the fact that you are a warrior, and all is fair in love and war?  What is it that you want desperately that you have effectively talked yourself out of?...Is it a new career?  A new relationship?  A different weight or state of fitness?  A different (lesser) sense of responsibility for OTHER people’s happiness?  What do you stand to gain (or lose) if you stop building the case against yourself???

Years ago there was a bizarre study published that announced something to the effect that a woman over forty had a better chance of being involved in a terrorist attack than finding a new relationship.  Excuse me?  I don’t know who-the-jack they interviewed or tracked on this particular “scientific” venture, but holy God in Heaven, that is the sickest, most twisted piece of information ever delivered to people with hope.  If you have hope, you can get out of bed in the morning and try again.  If you have hope, you can forgive and maybe eventually forget.   If you have hope you know that your past does NOT determine your future and you would never make choices based on the false premise that it does.  If you have hope, you are still alive.

Why in the world would we ever say or do anything ever to kill another person’s sense of hope and personal optimism?  Does it make sense on any level when not dealing with someone who hopes to jump off the Chrysler building and fly?  I say if you have a dream, you should be audacious in your pursuit of it.  No excuses and no tiptoeing around other people’s insecurities.  Why should you be less so that other people can convince themselves that they are more?  When your friend says, “I feel so fat”, do you jump on that bandwagon and agree that you are fat too?  Or do you say, “What is this “fat” you speak of, and how does it impact your effectiveness and value in the world?”  Are you supporting the people you love or subtly undermining yourself and them in a process you both interpret as comfort?  Is it comfortable to embrace mediocrity?

I challenge you and say it is not.  It is not comfortable and it is not true.  Otherwise, you would be the happiest damn person on the planet right now.  If you are happy, stop reading right now.  But if you are not happy, consider the fact that you are building a case against yourself and the people you love with all the good intentions in the world.  Are you, or do you have a friend who is unhappily single?  If so, I want you to consider the dialogue you have with your friend (or yourself) on this subject.  Are you single because “there are no good men/women out there?”  Are you single because you haven’t hit your target weight/fitness/ success/personality/life?  Are you single because you are just sick and tired and can’t be bothered to make an effort anymore?  Then you are building a case against yourself and it is total horseshit.  Let me explain why.

Really unconventional looking people are married.  Really unhealthy people are married.  Mean people are married.  Unsuccessful people are married.  Unevolved people are married.  Psychotic people are married.  Sociopathic people are married.  Unfaithful people are married.  Emotionally stunted people are married.  People with a really bad fashion sense are married.  Do I need to go on?  You are single NOT because of a deficit in you.  You are (probably, most likely) fine.  You are single because you have built a case against yourself or any potential partner you meet.  You have a headset that says, “I am too damn sexy/old/poor/picky/ successful/strong/smart/ugly/fat/boring/ challenging/generous/ stingy/dumb/unmotivated/or just plain clueless to have a partner.”  Or get a new job.  Or attain any goal or dream you are harboring.  But even though I have possibly never met you, I disagree quite emphatically.

What you believe is who you are.  Nothing more and nothing less.  You believe and therefore you experience.  I know that may sound like New Age mumbo jumbo but I guarantee it is actually your Divine truth.  You are so much more than you ever imagined and so far removed from your mistakes and your past it is laughable that you even consider them.  You are whole and you are worthy and you are imperfect and you are Holy.  There is nothing that stops you from being the person you are meant to be but you.  And you know, deep, deep down in your core, who you are meant to be and you always have.  So STOP building a case against your magnificence and accept it.  Accept that you are the person that you always dreamed of being.  And then look in the mirror and realize it has always been true.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

WHY THE WALKING DEAD IS A GOOD METAPHOR FOR MODERN LIFE

Wow, it is a relief to have The Walking Dead back!  In the midst of an election cycle that seems to suggest that DONALD TRUMP may very well soon be the leader of the free world, it is good to be reminded that actually, things could be worse.  Like if an incurable virus swept the planet turning it into a barren, doomed, zombie-infested wasteland.  That would be worse, right?  Right???  Oh, how I love The Walking Dead.   Loooove it!!!  I do realize this genre is not exactly everybody’s cup of tea, but it has profound (albeit blood-soaked) wisdom to share about our modern world, so bear with me, nonbelievers.   This show employs a lot of good old-fashioned storytelling that appeals to a broad audience…man vs. nature, man vs. invader, man vs. man, man vs. self.  Some of what I’ve learned in 6 seasons is that a zombie apocalypse is no time for arrogance, laziness, distracted living or abstinence (way to go, Rick and Michonne!!!)...  Seriously, if you can get some, hit that RIGHT NOW.  It may be your final and only chance.  That last lesson may not be such good advice in modern society, but maybe it is?  What do I know, I’m married.  But the rest of it is pretty poignant stuff in light of our contemporary environment.  We all need to get a little humility, step up to the bar and pull our heads out of our smartphones.  It’s time, people.

The Walking Dead is a dramatic gift that keeps on giving…and taking.  Because obviously a lot of people die on that show.   And like in real life, death seems indiscriminate.  It doesn’t care how old you are, how intelligent you are, how well-intentioned you are; death comes for “good guys” and “bad guys” in equal measure.  Often I mourn the death (I’m still not over losing Dale) but just as frequently I cheer (wasn’t all that nice knowing you, Shane, Merle et al).    We are constantly asked to grapple with the notion that one man’s hero is another man’s villain: this speaks directly to our current political environment.  On Walking Dead, tribes of survivors become a stand-in for modern day political movements.  Some tribes want to make the world a viable place for all; others only have concern for their own.  One of the most interesting things addressed on the show is that in spite of the stalwart nature of character in general, there is, by necessity, a more fluid nature to behavior.  In other words, “good” people do “bad” things and vice versa.  And again, as in life, there are enemies both within the walls and without.

 I am not going to steal anybody’s material here, but if you have not seen Louis C.K. explain why releasing lions into the streets would be a good antidote to the problems we are facing, I give you permission to go to YouTube right now and look that up.  The man is a genius, seriously.  And substitute the word “zombie” for “lion” and it all works just as well.  You can keep that one, Louis!  You the man!!!   In early seasons, the zombie-plague DID seem to represent a divine “culling of the herd”; only the strong (and those the strong chose to protect) survived.  But now survival has morphed into a more allegorical and metaphysical challenge.  The first half of this season we were treated to an absolutely brilliant treatise on the nature of humanity in “He’s Not Here”, where we learned about Morgan’s journey from protective Dad and heartbroken husband to fractured loner to Zen warrior.  We all start life from the perspective of wanting comfort and family and if those dreams aren’t realized (or get taken away by circumstance) the instinct IS to go rogue; dismiss the importance of connection and focus on the undoing of our “enemies”.  Based on the amount of violence we have been seeing in the real world, I would say there are a lot of people in this space.  But Morgan’s life lesson came in the form of a teacher who had lost even bigger than he did, enacted revenge more horribly and learned the hard way that cruelty and violence against others is no succor for the soul.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

One of the most fascinating things the show reminds us of is that those decisions between self-interest and global interests are frequently made minute-to-minute.  We see the better instincts of our “tribe” constantly being challenged, by both the environment and the divisive behaviors of others.  Our expectations are continually tested; we root for the survival of the people we identify with at ANY cost.  At the same time we are confronted with the reality that even the most bleak and desperate situation retains an element of hope.  Morgan’s moral mandate to respect life was recently questioned not only by a seemingly amoral prisoner, but also his own comrade-in-arms, Carol.  Again, the enemies are both within the walls and without, which is an excellent lesson for people who think walls solve problems, btw. Morgan wanted to break the grip that moral apathy had taken on the prisoner’s mind; Carol saw Morgan’s behavior as dangerous to their tribe.  So who was right?  At first it appeared that Carol had called it, when the captive escaped, taking a hostage of his own…who he subsequently died trying to save.  His motives were deliberately left cloudy, but the message was delivered:  sometimes “why” is not the important question.  Our ability to overcome our indifference to the plight of others and take action on their behalf should never be impugned.  Because indifference to the plight of others IS the epidemic of our time.

The point that The Walking Dead (and I) are making is this…we need to wake up and start identifying with the other “survivors” to work together for the greater good.  We are living in a time of scary climate change and escalating natural disasters, partisan division and vitriol unparalled in our history except during the civil war and chaotic, distracted, abstract, “viral” contact with even our nearest and dearest.  Yes, there is an epidemic in our country, and while it may not cause us to eat each other’s brains just yet, we are inching dangerously closer every day.  The callous disregard displayed in the refugee crisis, the targeting of Muslims and yes, the talk of building “walls” all speaks to an unsettling detachment from the well-being of the brotherhood of man.  We need to look each other in the eye and hear each other's voices so as to not be “infected” by moral apathy.  Our technology apocalypse has removed us from our inner compass as we abdicate more and more of our human  experience to perfected sound bites. Technology allows us to voyeuristically observe both the victimization and “zombification” of our fellow man with more and more detachment.  Do we leave our brothers behind and save ourselves?  Or do we band together to try to create a more beautiful sense of communion against insurmountable odds?  Tune in to AMC, Sundays at 9 to find the answer.
 
 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why I am No Longer Bewitched

When I was a kid, I loved the show “Bewitched”.   Actually, when I was a kid I loved TV, period.  Too many shows captured my attention to name, and the fantasy of living on an island making coconut cream pies seamlessly merged with my desire to wear harem pants and turn into a puff of pink smoke at the blink of an eye.  But “Bewitched” was a very particular favorite, mainly because I wanted to be Samantha, at least as played by Elizabeth Montgomery, when I grew up.  Samantha was beautiful, smart and had excellent values and priorities, especially considering the fact that she was a witch.  A devoted wife and mother with nary a hair out of place (unless it would be very funny for her hair to be out of place, then Samantha might comically blow air up at her messy bangs, as if that would solve the problem), Sam never came up short.  Samantha Stephens could and would solve any problem, and much of the time she’d solve it without the use of her magical powers.   Just a regular problem solving machine she was, and always with dinner on the table for her man!  A gorgeous, competent, devoted wife and mother, I absolutely adored her and wanted to be just like her.

Samantha was married to a mere mortal named Darrin Stephens, at first played as an angry and frazzled man by Dick York.  What Darrin had to be angry or frazzled about I’ll never know, but he had an avuncular yet overbearing boss and Samantha’s magically interfering relatives to deal with, much to his ire.  Samantha’s mother, a fabulous creature named Endora, distained Darrin and his churlishness, telegraphing her disrespect with every new mispronunciation of his name.   The essential war between them was one for control…control of Samantha and dominion over her magic.  As played by York, Darrin was a fumbling and crude Frankenstein of fury, often rendered speechless by the shenanigans of his enchanted extended family; but always, Samantha was able to smooth over his rough edges and soothe his wounded pride, and in the end all was well between them.  A problem solver, that Sam!  Later, Darrin was recast and Dick Sargent took over the role, providing a more urbane and sarcastic foil to Endora and her various cohorts (my first clue that gay men are better company than straight ones!), but the theme remained the same…in order to retain Darrin’s love and provide a stable and “normal” home environment for their children, Samantha had to give up her magical powers.  Never minding the fact that it was eventually revealed both of their children had inherited supernatural abilities as well!  Sam kept the ship on course, no matter what the obstacle.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!  THIS was my “role model”???  THIS was the woman I hoped to be when I grew up???  A woman who was born to a culture of unlimited mystical powers and complete authority over the elements, but GAVE IT UP in order to be a proper wife and mother???  Holy CRAP!  Sol Saks, what kind of devil ARE you?  Come to think of it, Sidney Sheldon, what is UP with Major Nelson keeping Jeannie in her bottle all the time so she doesn’t annoy him with her desire to fulfill his wishes???   And HEY, Hans Christian Anderson!!!  Why should the Little Mermaid give up her voice and walk on knives for the rest of her life for a DUDE???  Notice when the proverbial shoe is on the other foot—say, Samson and Delilah—the woman who convinces the man to give up his special powers is branded as E-V-I-L.  In fact, the name Delilah means “she who weakened or impoverished” (fun fact for anyone who has ever considered that name for a girl).  So from a very young age, I prepped to believe that in order to be a good and valuable woman, I had to give up my powers (Samantha), my freedom (Jeannie) and my voice (the little mermaid)…but if I asked a man to give up anything for me, I was a real bitch.  Huh.   Huh, really?  Sometimes there is nothing to say, right Ariel?  Nothing to say at all.

Except I’d still like to look like Elizabeth Montgomery.  Damn, she was a beautiful lady.
And you know what?  I actually have PLENTY to say about this.  One thing that strikes me as an adult is that Samantha’s relatives, who were constantly cajoling her to return to her essence and power, were painted as “the bad guys”.  True love was the epitome of accomplishment for a girl like Sam, birthright be damned!  Sacrifice is the order of the day, sacrifice your power, and subjugate who you are or you are not loveable!  You are not worthy of the peak experience of approval.  A powerful woman is an aberration that needs to be brought into line, stat.  And do you think I am the only girl who heard this message?   I certainly look around and see Jeannie’s aplenty, woman who are caught in the “bottle” of their own sexuality and body image, women who vamp and preen like porn stars at a Mardi Gras parade, because they believe that their beauty is their power.  But it is a power that is handed over to men to judge as worthy, and a power with a shelf life that does not encompass a healthy life span (R.I.P. Marilyn Monroe).   We all know Ariel, the friend who would “never say that” to her Mother or “never ask that” of her husband, the woman who believes that voicing her opinions and desires is the death of acceptance.  But the larger question remains:  how many Samanthas are out there?  How many women gave up their power for convention?  How many times has the call to return to power been ignored, or worse yet, vilified?  Interesting to consider:  when Superman gave up his powers for Lois Lane, they both quickly realized that Lois wasn’t in love with Clark Kent.  She was in love with Superman, and all the magic and mayhem his abilities brought with them.  Can a man love a woman, not in spite of the fact that she is a witch, but because of it?  Can a woman love herself, while accepting with grace that she is a creature with power, freedom and a voice?  Or will we always be bewitched?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why The Sound of Music is My Favorite Film (and should be yours too)

If you are reading this, but for some reason have not yet seen The Sound of Music, stop.  Stop what you are doing right now and go to your Netflix account, or Red Box, or your local library, or wherever it is you go when it is time to see a movie.  Because it is time to see a movie, my friend.  It is way past time you see The Sound of Music.  Not because it won an Academy Award for best picture.  Lots of awful movies have won the Academy Award for best picture, Forrest Gump.  Not because it is considered a “classic”.  Lots of boring movies are considered classics, Jazz Singer.  No, you should drop everything you are doing right now (which is reading a blog, so you obviously have some time on your hands) and watch The Sound of Music immediately because it is simply the best movie ever made. 

Do you doubt this?  Perhaps you do, because who am I to be making such a sweeping pronouncement anyhow?  But I can back up my pronouncement with FACTS, not opinions, which may allow you to see the irrefutable truth about this film.  Starting with 1) Julie Andrews sings in it.  JACKPOT, am I right?  Any film that features Julie Andrews singing is instantly elevated to top contender status, because when Julie Andrews sings, you are listening to the voice of God.  The Heavenly Host.  The entire Choir of Angels, in one person.  She is just that good.  If you question this, you have obviously never heard Julie Andrews sing, or else you are insane.  So there could be that.  But also, the songs she sings in this film are just 100% suited to her voice.  If ever Julie Andrews voice has been married so perfectly with the tunes she is singing, I would like to hear about it.  I have a soft spot for the vocal gymnastics of “The Lonely Goatherd”, but ALL of the songs showcase her perfect voice perfectly.
2)  Christopher Plummer is smoking hot.  SMOKING hot.  This is empirical and cannot be denied by any human with eyes that see.  However, as an aside, and this is just my opinion, The Sound of Music represents the pinnacle of his hotness.  Now, this man has been in so many movies it would be difficult to track the exact peak of his empirical gorgeousness, but I defy you to find a movie where he is any more beautimus than he is here.  I think it’s the high boots and the short jackets.  And the whistle.  And the way he falls madly, smolderingly in love with Julie Andrews even though she dresses like a dork and wears her hair in a Peter Pan haircut.  Also, he sings!  Not Julie Andrews caliber singing, but well enough to make his case complete.  Yowza, he BURNS it up.

3)  The plot of the movie is so crammed with story gold, there is actually enough material for TWO great movies, not just one.  You heard that right.  The thing that actually makes The Sound of Music better than any movie ever made is the fact that it is the gift that just keeps on giving, long after all other movies have petered out.  This is not a function of length.  There are plenty of great movies that are longer (hi there, Gone With the Wind!) and plenty of stupid, boring ass movies that are longer (sorry, Titanic).  This is a function of the fact that just when this movie has come to an absolutely beautiful and satisfying conclusion, a second plot string begins that is equally as interesting and captivating as the first.  You would think that a free spirited nun who is essentially ejected from the abbey into the arms of a lonely widower with seven (!!!!!!!) children is enough of a movie, and you would be right.  With the gorgeous, scheming baroness as foe, Maria not only wins over the difficult and prickly brood from preschooler to teen, but woos this impossibly sexy man right out from under the nose of her wealthy competition.  Did not see that coming, right?  Plus there’s singing!  And dancing!  And a big wedding finale!  SWOON!
But The Sound of Music doesn’t stop there, where any ordinary movie would be over and out.  An ordinary movie would think, “I’ve given you singing, dancing, romance, marionettes, disapproving nuns, adorable children and clothing made out of drapes…you have had enough fun for a lifetime!”  And the ordinary movie would be right.  You got your money’s worth and can go to bed happy.  So realize: this is NO ORDINARY MOVIE.  Just when you think it has no more to give, it rolls out the NAZIS.  And the SINGING COMPETITION.  And more NUNS, this time fully approving and behaving badly themselves.  And a heartbreaking BETRAYAL.  And finally, a daring ESCAPE.  Another ENTIRE movie worth of goodness, people!!!  It’s two, two, two treats in one!  It simply doesn’t get any better than this.

For these reasons, and many, many more that are just a product of my opinion and not the cold hard facts I have presented you with here, The Sound of Music is my very favorite film of all time.  My “desert island movie”.  A movie I have watched at least once for every year of my life on this planet and will continue to watch for every year God blesses me with in the future.  But, even the best movie ever made cannot be 100% perfect.  Just to prove to you that I have perspective and am not being swayed by the slightest hint of sentimentality, there is a flaw in this film.  A flaw with a silver lining, but a flaw nevertheless.  Here it is, haters:  Mother Superior singing “Climb Every Mountain”.  Yeah, it stops the perfection dead in its tracks.  Just long enough, however, for you to go to the bathroom and get a snack.  So you can watch the rest of the glory with a full stomach and an empty bladder.  Ah, bliss!
 

 

Monday, September 30, 2013

WHY YOU THINK I MIGHT BE DRUNK

I recently attended a neighborhood block party and had a really good time…such a good time that I ended up out in the street until midnight, after visiting and chatting with a group of people who live, for all intents and purposes, RIGHT NEXT DOOR as if I hadn’t seen them in years and would not have a chance to see them again anytime soon.   The reason we had so much to say to each other was that many of them were drunk.  Ordinarily I am lucky to get more than a hello wave.

Make no mistake, these are good people.  NICE people.  People who, when the occasion arises, are extremely helpful and neighborly.  But they are not my friends.  I don’t kid myself about that.  They don’t call to share their latest trials or triumphs and probably would never mention them unless asked a direct question.  They have their own people, their own confidants, their own world and I am a very peripheral part of it.  So this is where alcohol comes in.  This block party is my one opportunity a year to have actual, honest conversations to determine if there is even the remote possibility that any of them could ever become real friends.  Alcohol loosens them up, puts them in a good mood and hey, we are all already standing in the street, so we may as well chat.
So what does this have to do with ME being drunk?  Nothing, except…this party made me realize that I act on a daily basis the way most people act only when they are drunk.  For example:  drunk people are loud.  I’M LOUD.  Almost all of the time, unless I am in a library or at a funeral or something.  So volume is an indicator that might lead you to suspect I enjoyed a glass of chardonnay before attending the back to school picnic.  At 10:30.  On a Tuesday.  I can see how it might be a little off-putting.

Another thing:  drunk people are aggressive.  I’M AGGRESSIVE.  Not like I’m going to punch you in the face but the LOUD thing goes hand in hand with a teensy bit of overbearing presentation of opinions, emotions and even just facts.  If you are not holding up your end of the conversation, I will bulldoze right in and hold up both sides, just like a drunk person.  I will approach you with confidence, even if we barely know each other, just like a drunk person.  I will ask highly personal questions and kind of put you on the spot about answering them, just like a drunk person.  I will overshare, just like a…well you get it.
There are all kinds of things that drunk people do that you will not catch a sober person doing unless they have been diagnosed with Tourette’s or have recently suffered a brain hemorrhage, like using inappropriate profanity, yammering on and on about a micro-subject no one else has any interest in or talking in non-sequiturs.  I DO ALL OF THESE THINGS.  So you can see how having the people that I am speaking with actually be drunk substantially greases the wheels of our conversation.  It is amazing how the exact same phrase that gets me shamed at a book club meeting is greeted with roars of approval when spoken to drunken people.  On a related topic, I have introduced the idea of having wine at my book club meetings.

In short, you might think I am drunk when I am in fact not.  But most of the time I wish you were!  We would get along so much better then, don’t you think?
 
 
 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Why "Sleepless in Seattle" Bugs Me

You know you’ve seen it.  Probably a dozen times if once.  It has become a "holiday classic" and especially in December it is on all-the-freakin'-time.  Like Google, Sleepless in Seattle is ubiquitous.  And chances are, like Google, you know it is bad for you but you LOVE it.  You know the people at Google are laughing at you because you volunteer such personal information and sacrifice your privacy and every last shred of dignity you have because Google is just that irresistible; from beyond the grave, Nora Ephron is laughing at you too.  She knows what you like and she gave you a big heaping serving of it every time you came a-calling.  And truthfully, When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies of all time.  I love the idea that the answer is right there in front of you if only you will look and see.  This leads me to my problem with Sleepless.
What the hell is the matter with Walter?  I really need to know this.  Because I’ve seen the movie, as I said, a dozen times if once and I still can’t figure it out.  It eats at me.  Let’s break it down, shall we?  First of all, Walter LOOKS like Bill Pullman.  This is because he is played by Bill Pullman.  I have no idea if Bill Pullman is a nice man or not, but he looks very nice.  That head of hair alone is justification for wanting to bear his children.  Seriously, check out his hair, it is unbelievable.  But whether or not he is nice is meaningless because WALTER is the man we are talking about.  And Walter is probably the nicest man ever committed to celluloid.  He absolutely dotes on Meg Ryan (I mean, Annie), is clean, polite, thoughtful and obviously has a good job.  Check out the weird arrangements they have made for visiting family over the holidays and notice how flexible, kind and even tempered he is about it.  The man is an absolute dream.
He and Meg Ryan (I mean, Annie) are also quite obviously birds-of-a-feather.  The scene where they are registering at Tiffany’s is enough to break my heart into a million little pieces for the man.  They can read each other’s thoughts, finish each other’s sentences. ..he is also a hopeless romantic!  He arranges that special dinner for the two of them on Valentine’s Day in NYC; a window seat with a view of the Empire State Building and Dom Perignon!!!  Catch me, I am swooning!  If such a man exists outside of Nora Ephron’s obviously fertile imagination, I would pay to meet him.  Because my sister is still single, I mean.  So tell me, if you can, WHAT the HELL is WRONG with WALTER that Meg Ryan (I mean, Annie) DUMPS him for a VOICE on the RADIO???  Did I mention he looks like Bill Pullman?
Don’t get me wrong, everybody loves Tom Hanks, and for a good reason.  He seems genuinely lovely.  But the idea that Tom Hanks is so inherently superior to Bill Pullman that we should accept it as de facto really confuses me.   His character Sam is actually a bit of a sad-sack, mooning over his dead wife and ignoring his son’s obvious moods and preferences.  Yes, he has a good job and a cool house; he looks clean enough but that hair can NOT hold a candle to Walter’s mane.  I just don’t understand why we are supposed to believe he is better than Walter.  He dates a very pretty lady at one point who obviously adores him, but she has a weird laugh.  Ultimately, a weird laugh is enough to do her in.  Also, Sam’s dead wife is played by a super-model, and that is pretty hard to compete with.
So maybe this is it.  Victoria, Sam’s girlfriend, has a weird laugh.  Walter’s only flaws, as far as we can see, are a propensity to allergies and a sweet-but-corny sense of humor.  I suppose the question is, are you the kind of person who considers such minor infractions as deal breakers?   Because Sam and Annie sure are!  I guess this is what they have in common:  they are both unbelievably shallow and judgmental.  Soul mates in disapproval of minutia, if you will.   It bothers me so deeply that this is considered romantic.  How romantic that Annie walks out of that Valentine’s dinner so lovingly planned by her fiancĂ© to meet a man for the first time atop the Empire State Building!  Hey, she should leave some binoculars for Walter, he can watch!  And undoubtedly think to himself, “That guy???  But look at his HAIR!!!”
 I realize Nora Ephron was simply being whimsical, spinning a confection that would melt in our mouths and go down easy time and time again.  So why has it been stuck in my throat for so many years?  Because it teaches us that being nit-picky and fickle and impossible to please are virtues; it indicates that what we already have is undoubtedly not good enough, especially if TOM HANKS happens to be available.  Look, you may be in a bad relationship and have perfectly valid reasons for leaving and I would support you in that.  But Annie wasn’t.  Annie had a jewel in her hands and she just tossed it away, like good people are easy-come-easy-go.  I knew that wasn’t true 20 years ago, when I first saw the movie.  Now I really, really, really, really know it.  You don’t discard something good on the off chance that something better is out there, because your lack of appreciation of the good you already have would prevent you from seeing the good you think you deserve anyhow.  Plus, Walter looks like Bill Pullman!  Did I mention that?