Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mignon McLaughlin

"Our strength is often composed of the weakness we're damned if we're going to show."
- Mignon McLaughlin

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) was an American journalist and author. An interesting assortment of quotes from her books The Neurotic's Notebook (1960) and The Second Neurotic's Notebook (1966) can be found here and another page dedicated to her quotations is here. For a woman who has quotes ALL OVER the internet, there is precious little information about Mignon McLaughlin online. If anyone knows where I can find more information about her on the internet, please let me know. In the meantime, I suppose this is a sign that I am overdue for a trip to the library! Perhaps I can find more information the old-fashioned way.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Little Revolution

I've never been the athletic type.

I don't do group sports. I don't like sweat. Athletic clothing freaks me out.

People wearing rainbows of bright colors with stripes and Adidas logos and Nike swooshes everywhere. Gives me hives. Shoes have too many options. Running. Aerobics. Basketball. Twenty different air-pumped arch support side vented streamlined aerodynamic thingamabobbers. I've had the same Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star black high tops for a decade.

Did you know track suits have snaps down the side of the pants so the runner can make a quick change to the shorts they wear underneath? I did not know that. I see pants that unzip, snap or velcro down the side and I think: Stripper. I pass guys from the college track team and am tempted to wave singles at them.

Years ago, I went to the gym 5 times a week, every week. For almost 2 years. Lifted weights, used various cardio machines. They played wierd music in the exercise classes. There were instructions on the right way to do things, the order in which to do them and the dangers of doing anything wrong. I struggled to find appropriate workout clothing and every morning found myself thinking: "Do I really care if this T-shirt matches these yoga pants? ... oh, dear lord. WHY do I care if this T-shirt matches these yoga pants?" I HATED the gym.

We get mixed messages regarding fitness (I talk about it in this post) from magazines, television and our peers. I don't want to know the great new way to tone my thighs using a rubber ball and a dining room chair. I am tired of being told that there is a correct way to do everything. When I was a child, I went outside and ran and climbed trees and scaled the jungle gym and it was exercise. If I was doing something the wrong way, I fell and bonked my head. THAT was my alert.

I am finally realizing that, just because I would rather have my head forcibly shaved than do choreographed routines with 20 other women in chic skin hugging ensembles, does NOT mean I can't be athletic. The exercise industry has tricked my adult self into thinking physical activity is supposed to follow some sort of pattern. The exercise industry can go suck a frog. I know those options work for a lot of people. If you're one of them - cool. Good for you. It's just that the rest of us sometimes feel like these freakish outsiders. Our entire culture has bought into the diet and gym enterprise.

I can do this my own way. Moronic that it took so long to occur to me, but a relief nonetheless. So the nest step is figuring out what exactly my way IS. My rules are simple:

1. I don't care about the right way to do it.

I know that you have to be careful lifting weights - I'm not disagreeing with that. But I'm not lifting weights. I'm going with the basic principle that if it feels like I'm pulling the wrong muscle then I'll stop and do something else.

2. I like my jeans. I'm happy in my jeans. I'm going to jog in my freaking jeans.

3. No diets or meal bars or protein powders or any of that.

Yuck. ew. Never again. That isn't food. Meal. Bar. Those two words do not belong together. And no cutting out an entire food group. Fiber, people. Your body needs it.

4. I can exercise to anything with a strong enough beat.

I get my pulse racing to The Clash. The Ramones. T.Rex. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Cake. The Violent Femmes. Pat Benetar. Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made For Walking" ...What a difference the right music makes.

5. No plan. Just do something. That's "the plan".

I walk. I jog. I hike. I stretch out after or whenever I feel scrunchy. I rollerblade when I can find somewhere flat (It's hilly where I live. I live in terror of careening downhill on teeny rubber wheels. Rollerblading requires a switch from jeans to baggy skater pants, my one concession to "uniform.") I bought some cheap sneakers because I did finally realize that the Chucks just aren't good for a jog. Unless you want flat feet. I DO have an exercise mat at home. Don't ask me what I do on it. Some wierd assortment of crunches or push-ups or leg lifts or kind of whatever pops into my head. In no particular order. Until I'm tired. That's it.

Why all the fuss? I always thought I COULDN'T be a physically active person without buying into the modern machine that industry has become. I was so worried I might not be doing it right that I stopped doing it at all. I can't believe how helpless I started to feel. Now I just try to keep moving. It works.

Eat less. Exercise more. No brainer. I've had to buy new clothes and I'm halfway back to my all time, lowest ever, skinny-jeans-I-still-have-in-the-back-of-the-closet-from-high-school size. You know those jeans. I can't wait to put them on again. I'll have to throw a party. More importantly, I feel great. I'm getting back to that place your body reaches where you can feel your musculature when you move and it increases your appreciation for HOW your body works and WHY your body works. I feel more at home in my own skin. I want to feel like I did when I climbed trees as an 8 year old. My body was a tool I used to get myself up that tree (and onto the garage roof so I could spy on the neighbors and throw things at my friends without them seeing me) and there was no separation between it and me. I felt at home in it and trusted it and pushed it as far as it could go. Because it was FUN.

Three days ago I was on a walk and I just decided to start running. For the first time I can remember since childhood, I ran the way I did when I was 8. I ran as hard as I could until my lungs burned and my heart was thumping like crazy and my legs felt wobbly. It was wonderful. It was fun.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

30 Second Bunnies Theater

Easter is coming up so you can expect a smattering of vaguely Easter-related entries from me. It's not that I particularly celebrate Easter.

It's that I own bunnies.

I have a friend who jokes that it's "Christmas for Bunnies." Which is completely silly but totally works for me. I buy the buns extra treats and they get an Easter dinner that includes a wider variety of fancy expensive veggies and herbs than I normally shell out for. Rabbits are far more clever than people usually realize... but I'm still pretty sure that they don't register the whole "special occasion" thing.

So, as my first nod to the season and what will probably become an annual period of bunny celebration for me and my furry family - I would like to direct you to 30 Second Bunnies Theater. It's been pretty viral, so you have probably seen them before, but if not - definitely worth checking out. Cartoon bunnies act out 30 second versions of popular films. The list includes two of MY all-time favorite movies, The Big Chill and Alien. The other selections include old classics like Casablanca and modern classics like Rocky (the pet turtles have bunny ears!). And funniest of all is a cast of cartoon rabbits acting out The Rocky Horror Picture Show, including the garters, the blood and the dance routines.

In case the film selction didn't make it clear - these aren't really kid friendly. They're more kitsch than homage, so don't be offended when they oversimplfy your fave film. I mean, it's 30 seconds! Which is pretty darn impressive.

Natalie Goldberg

"Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce."
- Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg is a poet, writer, painter, teacher of creative writing and has been a student of Zen Buddhism for 24 years. In her books, she explores writing as a Zen practice. I have been reading her best-seller, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. It was a gift from a friend shortly after I began this blog, a gesture of reassurance that I would, in fact, find something to write about.

"If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you."
- Natalie Goldberg

Monday, March 26, 2007

What I Learned from John Hughes

I have a friend who has a pet theory about John Hughes films. He says that John Hughes is responsible for 75% of all the relationship problems our generation has experienced because he destroyed our ability to realistically assess romantic situations and relationships. My friend may be on to something.

I started thinking about the John Hughes films of my teenage years and the impact they had on my impressionable, puberty muddled brain. For the purposes of this review, I consider THE John Hughes films to be:

Sixteen Candles (1984) JH wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1985) JH wrote, directed and produced
Weird Science (1985) JH wrote and directed
Pretty In Pink (1986) JH wrote and produced
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) JH wrote, directed and produced
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) JH wrote and produced

And, for better or worse, this is what I learned:

Just be yourself.

"Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself."
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Every Hughes film touches on this. Andie is the quirky, weird girl in Pretty in Pink and WE LOVE HER FOR IT. Garry and Wyatt in Wierd Science meet girls who like them as they are. Ferris Bueller dances to his own drummer. He isn't the star quarterback or president of the student counsel. He has his own unique sense of style... and he's the most popular guy in school. Maybe in the city. He's a freaking legend. In Some Kind of Wonderful, Watts never changes. She stays a tomboy who plays drums and works on cars - and eventually Keith realizes how amazing she is JUST AS HERSELF. John Hughes let us in on the secret that being yourself was really where it was at.

"You had to be big shots didn't you. You had to show off. When are you gonna learn that people will like you for who you are, not for what you can give them."
- Kelly LeBrock, Lisa, Wierd Science

Stick to your principles.

"If somebody doesn't believe in me, I can't believe in them."
- Molly Ringwald, Andie, Pretty in Pink

I swear I learned half of my stubborn willingness to sacrifice anything to stick to my principles from my father and half from John Hughes films. From early on, I knew I should never accept anything less than what I deserved. I never let anyone tell me I wasn't good enough. I have always been honest and direct to a fault. A lot of that is my dad. But a lot of that is Andie and Duckie. And Watts and Keith.

"You remember how I said I'd rather be with someone for the wrong reason than alone for the right one? Well, I'd rather be right."
- Lea Thompson, Amanda Jones, Some Kind of Wonderful

Everyone finds love.

Sam and Jake Ryan. The Athlete and the Basket Case. Andie and Blaine. Keith and Watts. Farmer Ted and Caroline. Duckie and Kristy Swanson. Long Duck Dong and that really tall girl. These films taught us that, no matter who you are, there is someone out there for you. I'm not sure that's really a universal truth, but it's a nice message. It's reassuring. No matter how insecure I was in high school, I never doubted for a moment that someday a boy would love me. Someday an incredibly cute boy was going to come along and realize that I was the most amazing girl he had ever met. John Hughes told me so.

... And everyone just wants to be loved.

"I want a serious girlfriend. Somebody I can love, that's gonna love me back. Is that psycho?"
- Michael Schoeffling, Jake Ryan, Sixteen Candles

To me, this was brilliant new insight into the world. Beautiful, popular Jake Ryan wanted to find someone to love him just as much as Sam wanted to find that. Claire kisses John Bender in the closet and suddenly he isn't so tough, after all. Blaine may be rich and popular, but what he really needs is for Andie to love him and forgive him. This was a tremendous equalizer. People made a lot more sense once I understood this.

"I believed in you. I just didn't believe in me. I love you. always."
- Andrew McCarthy, Blaine, Pretty In Pink

We're not really all that different.

"We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that's all."
- Emilio Estevez, Andrew / The Athlete, Breakfast Club

Another popular message from Hughes, and probably the most consistent. All of his films lead you back to the idea that the geek and the jock and the rich girl and the tomboy - they all have insecurities. They all screw up. They all worry. They all want someone to love them. They all have imperfect families. They all had problems in high school. It's nice to know.

"Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place."
- Judd Nelson, John Bender / The Criminal, The Breakfast Club

The best guys are geeks and/or hard-core individualists.

"I feel compelled to mention to you, Jake, that if all you want of the girl is a piece of ass, I mean, I'll either do it myself, or get someone bigger than me to kick your ass. I mean, not many girls in contemporary American society today would give their underwear to help a geek like me."
- Anthony Michael Hall, Farmer Ted, Sixteen Candles

I have JH to thank for a lifetime of falling for the most interesting guy in the room. John Bender. Duckie. Cameron. Keith (I still have SUCH a crush on Eric Stoltz). Pretty boys have their work cut out when it comes to me. Instead, I fall for the rebel, the artist, the geek, the guy who has the guts to wear crazy vintage shoes and knows all the words to "Try A Little Tenderness." Super shy men or men who make me laugh or guys who look like trouble from a mile away. It's never the all-american average joe for me. If something isn't wildly different about him, I'll probably never notice him at all. In a John Hughes film, that character is the most appealing. He taught us to love the oddball.

Oddballs and rebels everywhere owe John Hughes big time.

"I know I'm old enough to be his mother, but when the Duck laid that kiss on me last night, I swear my thighs just went up in flames! He must practice on melons or something."
- Annie Potts, Iona, Pretty in Pink

If you want someone badly enough,
they will love you back.

This is where John Hughes caused a LOT of trouble. Sam pining for Jake Ryan. Garry and Wyatt pining for... well, for ANY actual girl. Andie pining for Blake. Watts pining for Keith. John Hughes taught us that the most unlikely romances can work out, and that WANTING IT seems to be the magic ingredient. As my friend is fond of ranting, this has caused no end of trouble. If wishes were horses then beggars would ride. But they aren't. Crushes don't always work out. Frequently they end in tears instead of candle-lit birthday cakes on top of dining room tables with hunky boys. But Mr. Hughes left that part out.

"That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."
- Paul Dooley, Jim Baker / Sam's Dad, Sixteen Candles

Date and make friends outside your social circle / peer group.

There's just a lot of class line crossover in John Hughes films. The geek boy doesn't fall in love with a geek girl. The criminal doesn't meet a great chick who has a pierced nose and a wicked tattoo. They all find love in the unlikely places. So that's where you're apparently supposed to look. I'm not sure it makes sense to teach teens that Mr. Right is almost never going to be the guy you have everything in common with... but I met a lot of interesting people thanks to it. In the midst of exploring outside my comfort zone for nifty boys, I made many great friends I might never have met otherwise. At least insofar as it applies to making friends (remember Molly Ringwald doing Ally Sheedy's make-up in Breakfast Club? I loved that.), it's sound advice. I just don't think EVERY romance needed to be across class lines. The closest he ever came to bringing two people together who were on the same side of the tracks was Watts and Keith. And I liked them together. But they were the exception to the rule. Which leads me to...

The person you're meant to be with
may be right under your nose.

"Don't go mistaking paradise for a pair of long legs."
- Mary Stuart Masterson, Watts, Some Kind of Wonderful

Sometimes the best relationship is the one you end up having with a friend. Maybe instead of looking for the perfect face, you should be looking for an incredible person. Someone who already likes you for who you are. This is the case for Watts and Keith and it was supposed to be the case for Duckie and Andie (and WAS the case in the original ending, but was booed by audiences and didn't serve the rich man / poor man agenda of the film). Honestly, I always figured that Andie was going to regret that one day. It's nice that she got what she wanted and all, but even on his best day, Blaine was no Duck-man. Duckie was the greatest guy EVER. So Pretty In Pink taught me not to make the mistake Andie did, or that Keith ALMOST did. Pay attention, or you might miss out on someone like Duckie. And men like that come along once in a lifetime. If you're lucky.

A certain lack of respect for authority is healthy.

"Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions."
- Anthony Michael Hall, Brian Johnson / The Brain, The Breakfast Club

Teachers and parents everywhere had John Hughes to thank for low-level rebellion becoming more socially acceptable. Really wild kids were going to act out anyway, but John Hughes taught the tamer kids that questioning authority (and the wisdom of being stuck inside on a perfectly nice sunny day) wasn't really bad. It was just logical. But honestly, John Hughes films are probably the healthiest and safest place for a teen to learn that some rules just need to be broken.

Of course, JH never covered the consequences of rebellion in any detail. He left out the part about how you end up grounded for most of your senior year because your DAD doesn't agree that it's reasonable to skip school to spend the day running around with your beautiful, trouble-maker boyfriend just because it was SUCH a gorgeous day outside...
But I'm not bitter (and, admittedly, don't regret it at all).

"I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I'm going to take a stand. I'm going to defend it. Right or wrong, I'm going to defend it."
- Alan Ruck, Cameron, Ferris Bueller's

Relax. Have fun. Spontaneity is it's own reward.
"Wyatt, you're going to have a heart attack by the time you're forty if you don't learn to relax."
- Kelly LeBrock, Lisa, Weird Science

"It's called a sense of humor - you should get one - they're nice."
- John Cryer, Duckie, Pretty In Pink

Value the moment. Enjoy your youth. Do the thing you are afraid to do. The rewards can be great, and if nothing else at least you lived fully. After all, look at Claire and Bender. He kissed her back. There is a lesson the be learned there.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."
- Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Oh, and almost everything happens in Shermer, Illinois.

John Hughes grew up in Northbrook, Illinois. Which was once known as Shermerville. His high school was located on Shermer Road. Thus the fictitious suburban town of Shermer, Illinois is born. An homage to his own home town, Shermer, Illinois is featured as an imaginary suburb of Chicago in several John Hughes movies, including Weird Science, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and National Lampoon's Vacation. Also, the high schools in The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are all named Shermer High School. There's more on Shermer at The John Hughes Files.

This isn't actually something I learned per se.
I just remember being 14 and wanting to know where Shermer, Illinois was.

For a good read about the Jake Ryan Phenomenon visit this post at The Sheila Variations! Ah, Jake Ryan - eternal symbol of hope.

Addendum 8/6/2009: Click here or simply navigate to the post from today to see this entry preceded and followed by additional notes written after Mr. Hughes' passing.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Being a Statistic

Every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted.

Well over a decade ago, I was assaulted by someone I considered a friend. I don’t talk about it, don’t think of myself as a victim and don’t feel that event has a huge presence in my day-to-day life. I did not report it to the authorities. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that what happened to me was rape.

Honestly, I forget about it. And then I hear a statistic about rape and go through that brief moment of, ”I’m glad that isn’t me...” before I remember... Oh. It IS. I am one of those numbers.

I never talk about it, but not because of the trauma of it. Typically I don’t share personal information freely. Few things feel more personal than the emotional memory of being sexually violated. It tends to make me feel uncomfortably vulnerable. Also, my male friends are so upset by this information in a way that is difficult for me to understand fully and for them to cope with. They feel anger and protectiveness and often seem to experience something akin to guilt for just being male. I prefer to avoid those conversations.

You know when it comes up? When a friend has been the victim of a sexual assault or has had a near-miss. Thankfully, it has come up more often for situations in which someone has attempted to assault a friend that in situations in which they have succeeded (of course, that could just be further evidence that actual rape victims are far less likely to discuss it). I realized today, after having one such conversation, that I am tired of this experience existing only to comfort friends who have been victimized. This information lies dormant in me until the day a friend has been hurt and I come to them and say, “Here. I have been too. It’s ok. You’re not alone.” and that’s good, but it’s not enough.

Two thirds of rape victims are, as I was, assaulted by someone they know. It’s an awful truth. Rape or sexual assault are never the fault of the victim, but we aren’t always as cautious as we could be. We do not realize the threat exists until it happens to us. Vigilance cannot prevent it from happening, but perhaps it would help.

Twelve years ago, I spent all my time with a close male friend who I knew was interested in me. I was alone with him often, particularly when spending time at his house which was somewhat isolated. He was over a foot taller than me, had at least 80 pounds on me, and had a notorious history of a bad temper that I was aware of. I saw signs of his displeasure that I did not return his interest, but it never occurred to me that this would erupt in anger. His increasingly obsessive behavior was a warning sign but like so many people, I had a "That Happens To Other People" mentality.

I want to be clear that, just because this person was interested in me does not change the nature of this crime. It was not about sex. It was about violence. My personal experience reinforces the tenet that rape is a violent crime. This man was punishing me for not returning his overtures. Afterward, he began apologizing. I couldn't bring myself to speak to him. I was badly bruised and shaking uncontrollably. I pulled myself together and he drove me home. I still have this stark memory of the song playing on the radio in his car. I spoke to him once after that day. He showed up somewhere he knew I would be in order to talk to me and I told him never to contact me again.

At the time, I had only ever heard about rape in my Health Education class in school. I didn't know who to talk to. I didn't understand what had happened. Just like the textbooks say, I worried that it was in some way my fault. By the time I realized that I could have reported it, any evidence of the attack was long gone.

I have talked to my teenage niece and younger sister about it. I wanted them to understand that these things happen to people they know, that it is something to take seriously and consider when making choices about who to spend time alone with and whether it is safe to walk to your car alone at night. I worry when I realize how cavalier some of my friends can be. I know several women who have had near-misses with men who had shown signs of obsessive or unhealthy attachment that they never took seriously. One friend let two men she did not know show her an apartment alone in a dangerous neighborhood, only to realize that the situation was becoming increasingly sketchy. Another friend always wants to walk to her car alone after a night out, thinking that having someone walk her makes her look weak. I forget how invincible I felt I was when I was younger. I am not paranoid. I live alone and am unafraid. I just make careful choices and think in terms of protecting myself.

I have this subject on the brain because a friend had a bad experience recently. Her drink was drugged by a man she was out at a bar with. She had a bad reaction to the drug and went into a panic. Fortunately other friends who were there stopped her from leaving with him when they saw how erratically she was behaving. The next day she could not remember the majority of the night. Later on her date made some absurd excuses but admitted to having put something in her drink. While her experience was, thankfully, not as bad as it could have been, she is dealing with a lot of emotions that are familiar to me.

She went through denial, making excuses for the perpetrator, felt guilt over her anger at a "friend" - all the conflicting feelings that are created by having this done by someone she knew well and cared about. She also struggled with a lot of hurt when close friends who knew the man refused to believe her (in spite of his admission). I went through that when I was assaulted. No one wants to think someone they know could commit that crime. For many years, I only told a few close friends. All the same, one of them refused to believe me, which was very damaging. I think people underestimate how vital it is to the healing process for the victim to receive emotional support. I'm glad that my own history serves a purpose in that I can speak to going through that pain and confusion. But every time this happens, I feel a little odd and impotent.

I am always telling someone my story AFTER the fact. I'm not sure what other context in which to discuss it (you can't very well just start walking up to people and saying, "So, I was raped when I was 18. What about you?"), but the extent to which the topic is discussed feels insufficient. We all know these things happen, but knowing someone who has been assaulted can help raise personal awareness. Frankly, if statistics are accurate, everyone in the U.S. knows at least a few people - male or female - who have been the victim of sexual assault or rape. Due to how many rapes go unreported, the statistics are probably far lower than the even more frightening actual figures. I know that being aware can only make so much of a difference, but it would be something. I also think about the fact that realistically, I must know people personally who have been through this and have never talked about it.

Last year I got into a discussion with a group of women about sexual assault and rape. They knew I was performing in the Vagina Monologues at the time, and this led to a discussion of the broad range of subjects covered therein. There were six of us. Half of us had been raped. More than half of us had been assaulted or stalked. One of the women was in the middle of trying to get a restraining order reinstated. A man had drugged her, raped her and left her unconscious, naked and covered in her own menstrual blood in the middle of her living room floor. The last thing she remembered was sitting on her couch eating popcorn, drinking soda and watching a movie with her "friend." You can imagine the trauma she experienced waking up the way she did. Adding insult (and horror) to the experience, she was having difficulty getting the court to extend the restraining order and the man had begun contacting her again. I had been completely unaware that this was happening in her life. She had been unaware that so many women she knew had some sort of related experience.

Conversations like that reinforce my belief that we need talk about this more often. Take it seriously. Raise our children to understand caution and consent. Communicate openly so that more victims are willing to come forward. Make each other less ashamed or afraid to discuss rape and sexual assault. Destroy the illusion of distance from this crime. Let the people in our lives be aware that these statistics aren't just scary numbers - they are people. People we know.

People like me.

If you notice a change in text from the original, I excised a paragraph and then later returned it. Honestly, I found it a little stressful to recount any details that relate directly to my own experience. But I can't very well share other people's stories and not share any of my own, can I? That would really defeat the purpose of this exercise and undermine my desire to (finally) acknowledge my own personal history to a larger audience of women instead of continuing to belatedly tell personal friends one by one after they have their own horror stories to tell.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Art of Danielle Corsetto:

Girls With Slingshots

© Danielle Corsetto

I just came across Danielle Corsetto's BRILLIANT "Girls With Slingshots" online comic strip. Read everything she has up in one sitting.

© Danielle Corsetto

The strip follows the escapades of Hazel and Jamie, and their various buddies / love interests / house plants. LOVE the strip. Comic strip characters I can personally relate to.

© Danielle Corsetto

I love that it's chick centric but guy friendly, only occasionally touches on the issue of weight (because THAT's been done to death), actually addresses work / career stress and completely, unapologetically has sex as a regular topic. Because any two women over the age of 15 who spend all their time together are talking about sex. Seriously. I think we're worse than men about it. So any honest work about 20-30 something women shouldn't neglect that. And she definitely doesn't.

The comic strips here are reproduced with the artist's permission and honestly, I had trouble selecting only a few. Originally I intended to just put one up but I just couldn't make a decision.

So I highly recommend Danielle Corsetto's Girls With Slingshots. Love her drawing style, the wry humor, the distinct characters, and the cyber savvy and socially progressive mindset.

...And the cactus. I freaking LOVE the cactus.

Cloud Nine

I just got an email from a someone I haven't seen in three or four years and it made my day. We'll call him Hot Older Guy. He and I used to see each other through a mutual aquaintance on a pretty regular basis. He's tall with dark hair and really nice eyes and is just generally pretty dreamy. He tends to speak his mind and has a dark, biting sense of humor and always talks with this conspiratorial air that makes you feel like it's just you and him who are "in" on the joke. I'm a sucker for that. He's only 10 or 15 years older than me, but I aways felt like a kid around him. Something about how confident he is. One of those people who are really at home in their own skin and doesn't experience a lot of self-doubt. On days when I knew I'd be seeing him, I would catch myself messing with my hair and putting extra care into my makeup. Just because.

So today Hot Older Guy emailed me. While addressing the news that I had become single again since we last talked (he knew me when I was with my ex) he confided that he had always had a thing for me. From a practical standpoint it's irrelevant because he's taken and he was writing it in a "that guy is crazy" etc. sort of context, but what a good feeling. I'm on top of the world - Hot Older Guy says he had a crush on me and "probably still does."

I think people should just tell each other what they really think and feel when it's positive. I'm forever telling people they look good or that I love something they are wearing. Even complete strangers. I'll just tell someone out of the blue, "You have amazing eyes." or whatever. I tend to tell people I have a thing for pretty much up front. Because NO ONE minds being made to feel good about themselves. Everyone should feel like this every so often.

So I'm just going to go float around on a cloud for a bit now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Susan Sontag

"It's a pleasure to share one's memories. Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious. At least the past is safe /though we didn't know it at the time. We know it now. Because it's in the past; because we have survived."
- Susan Sontag

"Perhaps it is our perennial fate to be surprised by the simultaneity of events, by the sheer extension of the world in time and space. That we are here, prosperous, safe, unlikely to go to bed hungry or be blown to pieces this evening, while elsewhere in the world, right now in Grozny, in Najaf, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Gaza, in the favelas of Rio....

To be a traveler—and novelists are often travelers—is to be constantly reminded of the simultaneity of what is going on in the world, your world and the very different world you have visited and from which you have returned home."
- Susan Sontag

"Guns have metamorphosed into cameras in this earnest comedy, the ecology safari, because nature has ceased to be what it always had been, what people needed protection from. Now nature tamed, endangered, mortal, needs to be protected from people."
- Susan Sontag

"The émigrés from Communist countries we didn't listen to, who found it far easier to get published in the Reader's Digest than in The Nation or the New Statesman, were telling the truth. Now we hear them. Why didn't we hear them before, when they were telling us exactly what they tell us now? We thought we loved justice; many of us did. But we did not love the truth enough."
- Susan Sontag

"The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own."
- Susan Sontag

"I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams."
- Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag (January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004) was a well-known American essayist, novelist, intellectual, filmmaker and activist. Click images or Susan Sontag's name for links to biographies, interviews and the official Susan Sontag website.

Monday, March 19, 2007


© Harry Benson. The Beatles in the George V Hotel, Paris, January 1964. They had just learned that "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was the number one song in the U.S.

I think one of the great losses we suffer when we leave behind childhood is the sleepover party.

It is typically unique unto our youth to know the joy of a party that does not end and the innocence of that party being without sexual agenda but purely for fun and companionship. Then again, a great many things in adulthood are difficult to keep devoid of sexual politics. The best birthday of my life to date was my 17th. My parents let me have 12 people stay over - boys and girls. We watched movies all night and made s'mores and watched the sun come up together and videotaped each other acting like morons. Best night ever.

Thanks to the modern invention of dollar shot specials, I had a sleepover this weekend.

My buddies and I got back to my house and, as only one of us was in any state to drive, transportation was far too complicated. I have lots of room for extra sleeping arrangements at my house. We stayed up to the wee hours of the morning watching cheezy B-movies and eating ice cream, slept in until noon the next day and ate pancakes with maple syrup in front of the TV in the morning. Like being 14 again, but without the angst.

I have a friend in another state who throws a big sleepover party once a year and I think it's brilliant. It warms my heart to think he still knows people who appreciate the simple joy of playing board games, eating junk food and running around in your PJ's (he requires that everyone wear Pajamas instead of jeans etc.) all night with a bunch of platonic friends. As an adult, you realize that it takes special people to understand that "sleepover party" doesn't mean "wild drunken orgy."

My love of sleepovers is probably why I've always said my first action upon winning the lottery would be to buy a huge house for all my friends to live in. Of course, I like my own space, and so do most people, so it would have to be an ENORMOUS house. But I'd love having friends around all the time to stay up late talking to or make big breakfasts for on Saturday mornings.

I like parties that don't end just because everyone needs a few hours of sleep.

Shirley MacLaine

"I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I've written for myself... and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun playing my part."
- Shirley MacLaine

Saturday, March 17, 2007


"May those that love us, love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles
So we will know them by their limping."
- Irish blessing

When I was younger, my father had a National Geographic magazine he had held onto because it contained a large article about Ireland. In that article there was a picture of three young women dancing at some sort of festival - with russet hair, pale skin and flushed pink cheeks. One of them looked like my doppelgänger.

My mother and paternal grandmother are both Australian (my paternal grandfather was from Italy) but a great deal of our Australian ancestry traces back to the Irish convicts that settled Australia. My grandmother was very interested in our Irish heritage and had traced our family tree to Ireland, visited places where her great-great whomever had lived in Ireland, etc. I think her active interest in our heritage is a big part of why I feel such tangible ties to my family history.

I stand out like a beacon on St. Patrick's Day. Not only my bright red hair and ghostly white skin with (perpetually) ruddy cheeks but also my facial features seem to belie my heritage. I look very Irish. Of course the only real impact that has on me every March 17th is that for one night everyone wants to buy me a drink.

Not exactly winning the genetic lottery, but not a bad as perks go.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oh, dear

Naturally the worst thing you can do under the influence of alcohol would be driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery. Everyone knows this. There are, however, a lot of far less serious, but still very stupid, things one can do while snockered.

Dating and/or trying to pick someone up while inebriated is a notoriously bad idea. It’s never a good thing to wake up next to someone you don’t know well. Or don’t like. Or don’t even recognize. Personally I’m not sure how you can drink so much that you make completely different choices about who you would and would not take home, but it’s a commonly reported phenomenon. Usually with the same level of shock and horror one expects from a person reporting an alien abduction. Perhaps people who report being “probed” by an alien are actually experiencing a mental break due to drunken sexcapades they cannot rationalize with anything less than, “Aliens did it.”

Drunk dialing - i.e. making phone calls while intoxicated, usually to an ex or some other person you might not normally call - is also risk prone. It can lead to all sorts of recriminations the next day. Especially if you hit the wrong number on your speedial. Instead of telling your evil ex boyfriend about the new guy you’re having revenge sex with, you may tell your poor, unsuspecting mother. Sound unlikely? I know at least three people who have accidentally called their mother when sloshed. Really.

There are a lot of familiar pitfalls to avoid. I think the risk of conversing while intoxicated gets too little attention, but it is that particular danger that keeps me from drinking often. When imbibing alcohol, I think I need to put duct tape across my mouth with a little hole in the middle for a sippy straw. So I can still consume strong spirits but am unable to communicate.

I am a direct sort of person. I tend to say what I’m really thinking. As a semi-responsible adult, I put limitations on who, when and where I indulge my natural inclination to be completely honest and uninhibited in the subject matter of my conversation.

Last night I talked to a complete stranger about the nature and/or uses of inflatable sheep (see Scotland post for explanation as to how inflatable sheep came up). Somehow a game of describing each person at the table in two words started up and I decided that instead of being funny, it would be a good idea to be accurate. I made ludicrous declarations on a number of subjects but most clearly I remember telling someone that I thought the plan they had for the next two years of their lives was a really bad idea. I told a table of perfectly nice men that size does, in fact, matter.

Late in the night a really funny, attractive guy who I had just met gave me a particularly wonderful compliment and instead of being gracious and saying, “Thank you.” - I think I may have just agreed with him. Really. It was one of those moments where you think, “Oh, god. Did I just SAY that? Out loud? I don’t even THINK that. OHMYGOSH. I DID just say that.”

From here on out, I may either drink OR talk but never do both in the same sitting.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Elizabeth Drew

"We read poetry because the poets, like ourselves, have been haunted by the inescapable tyranny of time and death; have suffered the pain of loss, and the more wearing, continuous pain of frustration and failure; and have had moods of unlooked-for release and peace. They have known and watched in themselves and others."
- Elizabeth Drew

Elizabeth Drew is an American journalist best known for her talent as a political analyst and has written a dozen books relating in some way to the political arena... but I like what she has to say about the written word itself.

"The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it."
- Elizabeth Drew

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Movie Meme

I am powerless to resist the movie related meme. As is SO often the case, got this from Sheila. And I'm sure I'm leaving out oodles of great stuff but these are what popped to mind.

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.
Girlfight • Strictly Ballroom • Under the Tuscan Sun • Der Krieger und Die Kaiserin • The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension • The Breakfast Club • Pretty In Pink • The Big Chill • Grosse Pointe Blank • Moonstruck • Alien • Empire Records • The Chronicles of Riddick • Pride and Prejudice - the 6 hour BBC Miniseries (not exactly a movie but...)

Labyrinth - when I was a preteen, my little sister and I begged my mother to rent this movie EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND. I have easily seen this film more than 50 times.

Dream a Little Dream - laugh all you want but I loved that movie. The main plot line is essentially an existential dilemma on the part of a old man who has switched bodies with a teenage boy who dresses like Michael Jackson. YES! I LOVE that movie.

2. Name a movie that you’ve seen multiple times in the theater.
Big Fish • A few of the Harry Potter Movies, they’re just better in the theater.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.
VINCENT D'ONOFRIO - He’s brilliant. One of the most talented actors working today. I’ve been a huge fan since LONG before his Law and Order days - although I very much enjoy him on L&O. Basically been following his career since he played Thor in Adventures in Babysitting - At the time I was a bit young to be watching Full Metal Jacket which I finally saw a few years later...

... but also Katherine Hepburn • Gene Wilder • Ewan McGregor • Meryl Streep • William H. Macy • Angelina Jolie • Natalie Portman • Peter O’Toole • Hugo Weaving • Jean Reno • Alan Richman • Takeshi Kaneshiro • Liv Tyler • Omar Sharif

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.
Kirstin Dunst

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.
Monty Python and Holy Grail (but then, who doesn’t?) • Army of Darkness • Grosse Pointe Blank • Steel Magnolias • Mirrormask - “I’m a very important man. I’ve got a tower.” • ...Too many to mention.

6. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers • Moulin Rouge • Chicago • Rocky Horror Picture Show • The Sound of Music • Mary Poppins (does this count as a musical?) • West Side Story • A Chorus Line

7. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with
All of the above. Other than musicals? The Legend of Billie Jean. The theme is Pat Benetar’s "Invincible". Cannot watch that movie and not sing along.

8. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.
The Big Chill - If you cannot appreciate the Big Chill then I’m fairly certain there is something wrong with you.

9. Name a movie that you own.
Most of the movies listed here. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Little Voice. Muriel's Wedding. Adam's Rib. Woman of the Year. The House of Yes. A Life Less Ordinary. The Alien Quadrilogy. And I have Chorus Line and Buckaroo Bonzai on VHS in their original oldskool huge plastic packaging.

10. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.
Tom Waits - hmmm... Not sure this counts. I wasn’t ever surprised, really. I’ve always thought of him as a singer/songwriter and actor simultaneously. But he can do anything. I think brilliant creativity bubbles up inside of him and seeps out of his skin like cigarette scented fairy dust.

11. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?
Sleeping With the Enemy - freaked me out

12. Ever made out in a movie?
Yes, but not since I was 17.

13. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven’t yet gotten around to it.
Amores Perros • Thank You For Smoking • Deliverance

14. Ever walked out of a movie?
The Last Kiss - It was so disappointing that I really had to leave or just start screaming, “Decide what kind of movie you are!” and “Why Zach, Why?” and then beat my head against the seat in front of me until I became bloody and unconcious.... So I decided to get up and leave.

15. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.
Most recently? Children of Men. Brilliant. Haunting.

Life As a House - actually made me sob loudly and as soon as it was over I went out the exit door and called my father crying and completely freaked him out. He thought something was wrong and I had great difficulty explaining why a movie made me cry that hard and call him to tell him I loved him.

16. Popcorn?

17. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?
I used to go a few times a month but lately I’m too busy. Rent frequently.

18. What’s the last movie you saw in the theater?
Stranger than Fiction

19. What’s your favorite/preferred genre of movie?
Smart, Absurd Humor / Dark Humor

20. What’s the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

21. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?
The City of Lost Children - LOVE that film.

22. What is the scariest movie you’ve seen?
A.I. - I found it terrifying to sit there watching these atrocities taking place in a fictional future and thinking to myself, “That could happen.”

23. What is the funniest movie you’ve seen?
Happy Texas • Little Miss Sunshine • The Princess Bride

Under My Thumb

When I was a teenager, an adult - I genuinely don't remember who - gave me a lecture on how we don't listen to song lyrics. How people (but I seem to remember the adult implying this was specifically a teenage trait - which it isn't) will listen and sing along to music regardless of the message it is putting out as long as we like how it sounds, therefore mindlessly supporting sentiments we may not even agree with.

I took the lecture to heart. I do agree to a certain point that one should make moral judgements based on one's own values, beliefs, etc. before running out and buying a copy of something based entirely on the ability to dance to it. Unfortunately, the long term weird-ass result of that lecture is that I give a little too much thought to whether or not I am ok with listening to certain songs and examining the reason I respond to different types of music in different ways and, well, it's no end of trouble to have one more thing to overthink. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life can be really exhausting.

So I'm having trouble reconciling something.

I LOVE The Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb". I do. I can't help myself. It must be wrong. It defies all logic that, modern feminist-type woman that I am, I LOVE this song.

"Under my thumb
The girl who once had me down
Under my thumb
The girl who once pushed me around

It's down to me
The difference in the clothes she wears
Down to me, the change has come,
She's under my thumb

Ain't it the truth babe?

Under my thumb
The squirmin' dog who's just had her day
Under my thumb
A girl who has just changed her ways

Its down to me, yes it is
The way she does just what she's told
Down to me, the change has come
She's under my thumb..."

It goes on in the same vein.

I have sort of decided that the song is REALLY, ESSENTIALLY from the perspective of anyone in a relationship who has gone from being controlled to being the one in control. It is this unapologetic, gleeful crowing about the victory over a tyrannical lover. It's not pretty but it's visceral and cocky and has this rough appeal. If it was a woman singing about a man, I probably wouldn't be worrying about it, would I? (Then again, I was raised Catholic, so I would probably decide to feel massively guilty for enjoying it in that case.)

On the other side of the coin, I really like the incredibly catchy tune of Mungo Jerry's well known "In The Summertime" but I CANNOT listen to it. The lyrics make my skin crawl. I get a nervous twitch when it comes on. People start asking me if I have a history of seizures and begin edging away from me.

The first two verses of "In The Summertime" are:

"In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky
When the weather's fine
You got women, you got women on your mind
Have a drink, have a drive
Go out and see what you can find

If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal
If her daddy's poor just do what you feel
Speed along the lane
Do a ton or a ton an' twenty-five
When the sun goes down
You can make it, make it good in a lay-by..."

"If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal / If her daddy's poor just do what you feel." That's what they're singing. And my objection to this isn't an issue of sexism, really. The lyrics imply the abuse of a date being acceptable if that person is in a lower socio-economic class and therefore unlikely to have the resources to protect him or herself. Just really one of the most despicable messages I can imagine. It bothers me so much that I would have to say my response borders on the irrational.

Sometimes I just can't even make sense of what passes muster and what hits me like fingernails on a chalkboard. I get queasy envisioning 10 year old girls singing along to Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby, One More Time" (for many reasons, but primarily because - literal or no - little girls cannot be expected to discern that she's not actually asking to be hit). I find Joannie Sommer's 60's single "Johnny Get Angry" to be funny. "Johnny get angry / Johnny get mad / give me the biggest lecture I ever had / I want a brave man / I want a cave man" - you get the idea. In spite of the fact that the lyrics have her practically asking to be smacked around a bit - I can't bring myself to be offended by it. I have this invisible internal barometer that dictates what it and isn't "ok" by me and it can seem pretty arbitrary at times.

But I guess the important thing is that I can rationalize listening to The Stones.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I'm Not Much of a TV Watcher but...

My new guilty pleasure, which I'm really not feeling so guilty about (I'll get to that in a minute), is the new Canadian-produced show Blood Ties, based on the Blood novels of Tanya Huff. It comes on Lifetime at 10pm Sundays (ME. Watching Lifetime television. Seriously. Hell has frozen over. They are passing out the ice water down there. Pigs are flying overhead. You get the idea.) and you can download the first hour of the show for free on itunes.

Vampire TV is pretty much always a "guilty pleasure" in that reviewers typically feel the need to excuse the fact that it is hocus pocus TV before even discussing the show itself. Buffy fans the world over have been trying to get the general public to understand just how good the dialog really was for, well, roughly a decade now (and Joss Whedon can write. End of story. I'm no goth-vamp fangirl. I made jokes about that show for years until my roommate sat me down and made me watch an episode where a vampire is having difficulty biting a woman and the scene is written with a brilliant, hilarious parallel to male impotence. I was impressed. Never made fun of it again. It was hocus pocus tv AND an intricate human dramedy AND one of the smartest things on television.)

Incidentally, I have this theory about the appeal of the male vampire character. It's the mythical beast every woman is looking for - a man with the body and face of a 20 year old who has the experience and emotional maturity of a much, MUCH older man. Sadly, we're about as likely to find a man like this as we are to locate a unicorn. But that doesn't stop it from being womankind's holy grail. Thus the popularity of the vampire myth with the female audience.

I'm not inclined to go so far as to say that Blood Ties is clever. It's too early to tell and the premier episode did have a few goofy plot devices, but to be fair I think any show needs a few episodes to start to hit it's stride. Online buzz seems to imply that the show will get more complex and dynamic with time. Either way, I don't feel guilty about liking it. It's character driven and I'm a big supporter of role reversal in mass media. Parts written for women that could just have easily been men. It's vital to changing the way we think about gender roles in our society. And here's an interesting, sexy show with a touch of vamp camp that has a very important element - a strong female lead. A strong female lead who is an adult. Her character is an independent, somewhat prickly ex-cop turned private investigator. Which is a classic male tv role. It's been done a million times - by men.

The character even has angst and insecurity about performance based on a physical problem (a degenerative eye condition) that made her quit the police force. She has trust issues and seems to be the avoids-getting-close type. She has sexual tension and a complicated history with her ex-partner (played by the uber masculine Dylan Neal). She's a classic male gumshoe detective. But it's a 30 year old woman. Who is being played by Christina Cox, a 36 year old woman who appears to do some of her own stunts thanks to a background in martial arts. She has a resume that includes the Better Than Chocolate, sort of a modern classic in terms of gay and lesbian film, and - oddly enough - The Chronicles of Riddick. A bit incongruous but evidence that she's an interesting actor. Cox has a very multi-ethnic appearance which is a nice change for a female lead and something I hope we will be seeing more of in television.

On top of everything else, instead of having the May-December (ok, maybe more like May-August) romance be between an older man and a younger woman - the "younger" man is being played by the talented and very attractive 22 year old Kyle Schmid. Sure, his character is supposed to be 450 years old. But this show features an intelligent, independent female character who has two men in her life (both having convincing onscreen chemistry with her), and one of them is being played by a young man more than ten years her junior.

It's about damn time.

Seriously. Worth tuning in for.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin

I am somewhat obsessed with the German film, Der Krieger und die Kaiserin. Literally translated it means, "The Warrior and The Empress" but the writer/director Tom Twyker (who also directed the female lead Franka Potente in Run Lola Run) chose to have it distributed under the name "The Princess and The Warrior" in the States - which I think suits it far better.

Franka Potente as Sissi
Franka Potente (who U.S. audiences will better recognize from her role as Marie in The Bourne Identity) plays Sissi, a quiet woman-child who has lived and worked as a nurse in a mental institution her entire life. Everything about her is colored by this strange and limited world in which she has lived. Horrible but familiar, not exactly safe but certainly sheltered.

Benno Fürmann as Bodo
Benno Fürmann (who U.S. audiences know as the sin eater in the Heath Ledger film The Order) is the ex-soldier Bodo who has presumably seen a certain amount of horror in his past but more recently has suffered a terrible personal loss. He is lost and searching and his older brother (played brilliantly by Joachim Król) struggles helplessly to try to protect him, to offer him the peace that he needs but can't find.

This film, for me, is a work of art. It has only as much dialog as is necessary, the cinematography is gorgeous, the colors vary from muted to hyper saturated, depending on the needs of the scene. Reading online, I see a lot of people focus on it as a love story - a story of doing whatever is necessary for love - and because of that they draw a comparison to Run Lola Run in which Potente's character is literally running to save the life of the man she loves. It's not so cut and dry for me. I see it as a fairy tale of sorts, adapted for our modern world.

These two people, in completely different ways, are lost and damaged. They meet by chance and only for a moment, early in the film, when Sissi is in an accident and Bodo just happens to be there. He saves her life, and although she knows nothing about him and has no connection to him other than a button she tears from his shirt, she is haunted by him. She cannot stop thinking about him and finds that she cannot go back to her life working in the asylum. For her, that accident changes everything. She has to find him.

As the story plays out, we learn more about the each of their complex histories. Why they are the way they are. Twyker does not resort to any simple solutions. He refuses to make this easy for his protagonists. Instead of giving them the tearful or joyous reunion you might expect when Sissi first finds Bodo, he creates more obstacles. And while the story begins with Bodo literally saving Sissi's life, in the end it is he who must be saved by her.

The supporting cast consists primarily of the patients in Sisi's ward. The detailed performances these supporting actors gave helps create a fully fleshed world. The backdrop created by these intricate little portrayals and the vivid locations makes the story more full of life but also more like a fairy tale; surreal in the characters with which it is populated and in the extremes of the city's grey and the technicolor beauty of the country.

Joachim Król as Walter

There is a gorgeous shot in which the camera follows the monorail system across the city, swooping over the landscape with thrumming music behind it. Then there is a scene where Sissi sits down on a starry night in the middle of a lush green field with rain pouring down on her and then suddenly the rain stops... It's just brilliant and beautiful at every turn.

Sissi is an amazing character. She is so sweet and giving and innocent and yet also strong and determined and willing to take risks in ways that are unexpected and yet never seem out of character. That unique and somewhat feminine quality of tremendous strength and fagility coexisting - the seemingly unlikely presence of such tremendous fortitude dwelling within a person who has been so run over by life - is brought to brilliant life in Potente's portrayal of Sissi. As Bodo, Benno Fürmann breaks your heart. He is so desolate. He spends a huge portion of the film sad and removed and almost hardened but manages to make you feel throughout it that his character has this underlying capacity for warmth that just isn't being shown. He has brilliantly expressive eyes, which is so important considering that Bodo talks so very little.

All three main characters, Sissi, Bodo and Bodo's brother Walter, are complex and fully fleshed out and struggling with this world that to me, in some ways, felt almost underwater in the sense that it feels like they are drowning in life. They are quietly struggling and looking for hope and looking for a way out. And I love that Sissi and Bodo are balanced. They are both grieving and lost, they are both strong and have something to offer the other. The second to last scene just takes my breath away, it is brilliant and quiet and it has the most perfect ending.

This is a story of two people finding themselves and each other. It is the story of sleeping beauty, but they both have to be awakened. It IS about love, but it is about more than that. It is about life and living it and taking risks and finding where you belong. ...and I can't stop thinking about it and I've rented it at least 6 times from my local video store in the past year so I think it's time to run out and buy that copy I saw in the foreign film section of Borders bookstore.

Addendum: I rewatched this film last night - for what was probably the dozenth time - and realized that it is NOT muted, but that I always walk away with the impression that the colors are more muted and everything more subdued before Bodo and Sissi are united. Very odd to realize that somehow I am walking away with an impression THAT strong based entirely on the story taking place on screen. I also realized that one thing I did not really discuss in my assesment of the film is that Twyker focuses a great deal on the idea of coincidence versus fate. Part of the fairy tale feeling for me, I think, is just how layered the film is with details that tie together and a lot of unlikely but beautiful cause and effect action. I think that it rings true in part because of that, however. Because in life, we find ourselves constantly surprised by the little accidents of fate that change our lives. Or at least I do.

God, I love this film.


view of Edinburgh from Edinburgh castle

I watch a lot of films. I watch a silly number of films from the UK and therefore I found that some things in Scotland were oddly recognizable. It's strange, knowing I have never been somewhere before and yet being surprised to turn a corner and see something that feels innately familiar.

And yet..

I am fascinated by the unexpected dfferences. Things no one ever thought to mention. The odd bits.

The toilets are unusually deep. This is in no way important, so it doesn't exactly come up in popular culture. But they are formed differently than toilets in the U.S. And the shower is in a whole separate room. It makes sense in some ways and I love the shower room at my friend's home which is small and cozy and has wood floors and ceiling. I just didn't know.

handy dandy toy dispenser

I went into the ladies room at a pub and instead of a condom dispenser - which is fairly familiar in the States - there was a sex toy dispenser. Vibrators and flavored condoms and... wait for it.... wait for it... inflatable sheep. That's right. Inflatable sheep. I assume that they are purchased by drunk tourists who think they are funny (I mean, I was sober and I found it funny), but I really can't - and won't - imagine what a woman wants with an inflatable sheep. Maybe it's for gift giving.

another view of Edinburgh from Edinburgh castle

I was surrounded by massive buildings of grey stone. Varying shades of grey, all cool massive stone, making the city almost otherworldly. Yes, there are also greys that verge on beige and black and there are colorful signs in the windows. I WAS expecting a lot of grey and a lot of stone but had no idea that it would be everywhere. It's fascinating. Some storefronts have a facade on the bottom floor shop that has been painted bright fire engine red or rich mossy green - usually with gold block letters to tell you the name of the pub or shop housed therin - and they stand out like bright splashes amongst the old stone. NONE of the buildings I saw were wood and I didn't know how different this would feel to the eye, but it really does. It made me feel like I had stepped into a book, the uniform of stone the city wears.

The wind whips through the streets (I am told Edinburgh was designed originally to have the wind flow through the streets in just such a way to remove the odors once associated with city life) and makes me wobble on my feet. I have never felt wind like this. I knew to expect rain and some grey skies and mist, but the wind is pervasive and presses against you and makes my hair snap in the air behind me. It leaves you with this sense of being surrounded by nature and weather no matter how ensconsed in the city you may be.

And I didn't expect Edinburgh to be so culturally diverse. It was SO diverse that I met Americans and Brits and a Welshman and Germans and an Austrian... and other than chatting to a few people in shops I really didn't meet any Scots. Which was odd. But everywhere you turn, you hear a different language. Edinburgh has a big time melting pot thing going on. I swear I saw a wider diversity of nationalities in Edinburgh than when visiting New York. I didn't spend ALL my time in Edinburgh, mind. I also saw Glasgow and spend a night in a little town on the lower part of the Highlands. But I spend a lot of time just puttering around Edinburgh, hopping busses and shopping and drinking in pubs and watching people through the window while I ate in a cafe. I am inclined to think puttering about is the best way to get to know a place.

Oh, and I had NO IDEA that Dolly the cloned sheep's body had been stuffed and placed on display. But it has been. It can be viewed at the Royal Museum in Edinburgh. It's bizarre.

Dolly's body spins around on a motorized pedestal.

I expected a lot of the other differences. Tea. Lots of tea. And now I'm craving tea all the time. They have crap selection of cold cereal but 50 flavors of "crisps" (potato chips) and more variety of biscuits (cookies) than you can imagine. The traditional Scottish breakfast was huge and included baked beans (which I did expect) and blood pudding which, to my mind, is the UK answer to grits (which I didn't expect). It's like grits in a sausage shape mixed with blood and pepper... if that makes any sense. It's not as horrific as it might sound to my fellow Americans, but not necessarily something I intend to start adding to my breakfast menu all the same.

And while the numbers of brightly coiffed and multi-pierced Punk afficionados in the States seems to be dwindling, I am pleased to report that the practice is alive and well in Scotland. I saw more pink and green hair than I have since... well, since my little sister was in high school and doing her infamous impression of the Horse of a Different Color.

All of this being the very long way about saying that I am back, I am well, I will get back to the normal business of blogging and I absolutely loved Scotland.

I'm going back as soon as I possibly can.

Hollyrood Abbey... in this photo Wonder Woman is taking the place of The Dame, thus preserving her anonymity

Monday, March 05, 2007


I will be blogging a bit this week, but suffice it to say that I am finally in Scotland. There are lots of castles, they will put anything in a pastry, everything is made of stone (well, ok, all the buildings.), their grass looks somehow greener and at least half the men look far more rugged and masculine than I am accustomed to - which I find refreshing.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Velveteen Rabbit

I thought of another book this morning and am hard pressed to say if this classic children’s story would replace any of the books on my previous list.

The Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams was my first introduction to tragedy in stories. The entire synopsis of the story is in the link - on Wikipedia - but it is a classic “toy becomes real” story. I don’t know what exactly we likened "becoming real” to as children but I remember understanding it so well on an emotional level. Pinocchio wanted to become a REAL boy. The Nutcracker becomes a REAL soldier and saves Clara from the evil Mouse King. The Velveteen Rabbit is rewarded by becoming a REAL rabbit. And this is so important and what every toy wants and as children we instinctually know this.

In the story, The boy must leave behind his beloved toy when he goes to the seaside to recover and he forgets the Velveteen Rabbit when he is given a new plush rabbit. I was so heartbroken that the boy would forsake his favorite toy. The Rabbit is left to be burned in a bonfire with every other contaminated item from the boy’s sickness. I was horrified. The Rabbit was so alive to me. The Rabbit’s sadness is so great that he cries a real tear and a Magic fairy comes and saves him and takes him to the forest and makes him a real rabbit. Later the boy sees him and thinks that real bunny looks like his Velveteen Rabbit, but never knows that it really IS the same rabbit.

I can examine the content ten different ways from an adult perspective but, more importantly, I know what I took away from it as a child. I learned about unconditional love. I learned that the rabbit was rewarded for being such a good and well-loved and faithful toy - even if the boy would never know or understand what had happened to the rabbit. For me, it was a precursor to the romantic tragedies I read as a teenager. The concept of unrequited or abandoned love written in a language that a small child could understand.

I KNEW the Velveteen Rabbit was a wholly wonderful toy with a good heart and it was abandoned to be burned ANYWAY. But in the end, the rabbit was saved by the fairy and ran in the woods near the house of the boy he was once loved by. I took this to mean that love - love for the sake of love and not for reward or recognition - was in itself something magical.

In retrospect I am remembering that I was a somewhat melodramatic child.