Move over son! This skeptic is hopping on the bandwagon!

Are you a book person or a movie person?

The way you answer that is going to make a big difference on how you feel about books being made into movies.

CringingWhen you are a book person, the words “They’re making it into a movie” can be cringe worthy ones.

When I hear that Hollywood is taking on one of my favorite authors, I nearly always cringe. Yes, I might feel a cautious feeble flicker of hope, but the trepidation I feel tends to squelch that tiny flickering flame.

Movies so rarely do justice to a good book.

Yes, I know that there are exceptions, Lord of the Rings being the most obvious one, but more often than not, what the end result is is a butchery of a truly good book.

butcheryTake “City of Bones” for example. Butchery, sheer butchery!

And, if it’s not an outright butchery, it still just falls so very far short of the written work itself. “Memoirs of a Geisha.”  “Gone Girl.” Decent movies, even “good” ones, but such a pale shadow of the written work!

Given this track record, you can understand the anxiety I felt when I heard the “Game of Thrones” was going to be turned into a TV series…

I wanted to be excited. I really did, but experience had taught me that I was likely to be disappointed. Very, very disappointed. The fact that it was HBO taking it on, and not some alphabet network, did give me some hope, the flame did flicker, but…this was my favorite series of all time. My favorite author of all time. Even if it was good, it was unlikely to be good enough.

bandwagonYou have to understand, I am a true fan, not a bandwagon fan. I’ve been with GoT since the beginning.

I remember well when my father told me, my freshman year of college, that if I liked Robert Jordan, he was about to wow me with his new find, a guy named George R. R. Martin. I was skeptical, as at that time I thought that Jordan was the best fantasy writer of all time. Still, as it was my dad giving me the tip, and he’d never done me wrong, I knew I needed to give it a try. With a fair dose of skepticism, I cracked the cover…

And felt into the pages, real world be dammed! Who needs to eat? Work? Sleep? I needed to know what would happen!

I gobbled “Game of Thrones” up in a day and a half, great tome though it was.

I was stunned. Martin had ripped my heart out, chewed it into a pulp, and spit it out right in front of me, the great red, pulpy mass that it now was–and I loved it.

oliverI found myself muttering to myself for several days, “I can’t believe he did that! Did he really just do that?!” It was unconventional. It was brutal. And yet I felt a bit like Oliver holding out my bowl saying, “Mo’ please.”

He changed the way I looked at literature.

I anxiously awaited every new release, and I re-read all the books that came before in anticipation of each new release. I found myself waiting on pins and needles–just what would Martin dare to do next?

I converted all my friends to fandom. We would sit around and cast the TV series for fun– a good decade before HBO decided to take it on.

eddard-starkWe would argue over which actor or actress would best portray what we saw so clearly in our heads. We’d argue and debate until we came to a consensus.

We dreamed that it would happen. For years we talked about what if it happened, but a part of me dreaded the possibility of it truly happening, because how could they possibly do it justice?

Then I heard HBO was taking it on…I followed all the news about casting, very concerned. So many of the choices just didn’t fit my imagination. Sure, you had some that were just perfect like Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), and LittleFinger (Aidan Gillen), but then there was Cersei (Lena Headey) and she just didn’t fit what was in my head…

Despite my fear, I found myself excited, but when it came down to it, fear won out. I couldn’t watch the show. It might spoil the books, and I just couldn’t risk it.

GoT-1024x512But then began the long wait.

And more waiting.

And yet more waiting.

And the waiting became so long and embarrassing, that Martin himself wouldn’t even project dates any more. Heck, he stopped even mentioning the book in his blog!

He’d talk about Comic Con. He’d talk about watching the TV series as it was filmed. He’d talk about going here and going there. He’d talked about his games. And all the little side projects he did. Anything except the book.

And I began to wonder if Martin would ever finish his series at all. And not knowing how it ended…well, that would be truly awful! (After all, my friends and I use to joke and worry about Robert Jordan dying before he could wrap up the “Eye of the World” and, lo! Our fears ended up being quite justified (Though I will say that Brandon Sanderson did a wonderful job of wrapping up that behemoth!))

Then I heard the news that the late comers, the bandwagon hoppers, the new flock of groupies, officially knew more than we, the true and faithful.

Unacceptable. Diabolical! A true outrage!

outrage

The true fans were being left behind!

And I kept hearing how awesome the show was. By everyone. And their brother.

Then even my brother, one of the true and faithful from the beginning, told me I really had to watch it. That I wouldn’t be disappointed…

So, I swallowed my fear, made myself a drink (A nice strong one for the occasion), and curled up on my couch with a good dose of skepticism.

At first, I noticed every difference from the book.

Cersei wasn’t pretty enough. Brienne wasn’t ugly enough. Jamie wasn’t blond enough.

But, I had to grudgingly admit it was good. Maybe not great, but good.

And the further I got, it was more than good.

And as it picked up steam, and increased in budget, it became everything that was in my head–it became amazing.

winterfellIt truly did this brutal world Martin had created justice.

As it went on, I realized that the casting choices that I had questioned were downright inspired. (Lena Headey, I owe you an apology. You are freakin’ amazing and make the absolute perfect Cersei. I can’t help hating you!)

And I mostly stopped questioning the differences from the book (But,why was Caitlyn Stark not brought back by the Lord of Light? Martin, will you please answer where you were going with that story line??).

The truth is, GoT is one of the rare occasions where the screen version actually lives up to the literary work.

David Benioff and Brian Kirk, you set yourselves up for failure when you took on this behemoth, and yet somehow, you more than pulled it off.

This fan humbly thanks you for not butchering my favorite tale. You won over this skeptic, and I am waiting on pins and needles for the last installment…

I know I can’t hope for a happy ending, it is, after all, Martin, but maybe a semi happy ending?? Pretty please? Just this once?

burningWho am I kidding. The world is going to burn, and yet I can’t make myself look away…

I’m once again sticking out my bowl asking “mo’ please.”

I guess we never learn, do we?

 

 

Advertisements

Do I really hate that movie, or was I just told I should? The Power of Suggestion

booksAnyone who knows me, knows how much I like to read. Reading is my greatest hobby. There are many things I like to do–draw, play the piano, tennis, re-purpose furniture–but I give so little time to these others, because the pull of a good book outweighs them all. So, over the course of my (gasp) almost forty years, I have devoured many, many books. I bleed my favorite authors dry, and then must find new ones to take their place. As a result, I am always looking for book recommendations. There is nothing worse than pulling a random book of the shelf because you have no idea what to try next–more often than not, you end up with something mediocre or even down right awful. So, I have made it a practice to have several of my friends and acquaintances who also like to read, pass on their recommendations. Typically, if one of them passes on a book, it’s worth reading.

But, sometimes, what one person thinks is excellent, another finds abysmal. Usually, these differences make sense. Perhaps someone tends to expect something different out of their books and movies. Perhaps they are just very different from yourself. Perhaps their education level, background, etc. is different. All of these things make quantifiable sense.

But sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason to the difference of opinion. Take my brother for example. He and I were raised in the same home, have the same education level, share many similar interests–and yet we consistently disagree on movies. If he tells me I’m going to hate it, I know there is a good chance I’m going to truly enjoy it, and vice versa. It boggles my mind. I don’t understand it, but we just don’t agree.

gracekeepers“The Gracekeepers,” by Kirsty Logan, was just such an example. It came to me highly recommended by a friend who has never steered me wrong, so I was looking forward to something great. Unlike my brother, this friend and myself seem to consistently coincide on our literary opinions, so I felt pretty confident that I was in for something good. Unfortunately, this was one of those other occasions. What she thought was great, I thought was terrible.

Fifty pages into the book, I had to tell myself to hang in there, it was bound to get better…100 pages in, I was still feeling, well, downright bored–but I trusted my friend, so I kept going. By  page 150 I had resigned myself to reading a book that I thought was really, really bad, because I was determined to try to figure out what about the book made my friend highly recommend it , so I plodded along waiting for some redeeming factor to pop out at me–it never did. In my opinion, the book was quite simply, really that bad-an utter disaster.

boringI found myself critiquing the book as I read. Boring. If I had to sum it up in one word, that would be it. The plot itself was weak. There just wasn’t a whole lot going on. This can be forgiven with a well written character driven book, which I would assume was the goal of the author, but her characters weren’t even likable, which makes it hard to succeed as a character driven book. If I don’t like the characters, I don’t have a vested interest in what happens to them–and I didn’t.  Good or bad, I felt myself reacting indifferently to the fates of the characters. The only character I liked in the entire book was Red Gold, and he was a supporting character with a fairly minor role.  Add to this the long descriptions and, well, I’m back to that word again–bored.

One of my other big hang ups was the tendency of the author to bring up an idea and to leave it dangling, undeveloped. This can be seen largely with her idea of the selkie, which, though integral to certain main ideas in the plot, is never explained or developed. The clowns would be another example–intriguing premise–angry, anarchist clowns…so develop them already! Or how about the revival boats–potential for some intrigue and corruption, but barely touched on–what was the point of their introduction at all?! All of these were interesting concepts that were introduced, but the author failed to develop them. Had she, I think my response to the whole book likely would have been different.

bonesAs I finished the book, still looking for what anyone could have seen to praise about this novel, I summed up the problems in this way: this was a good initial draft. It had good bones. Her world had potential. Her characters, with a little bit of work and development, could have been intriguing–I think (she really needed to work on the likability factor). It was a good start to a novel, but not a good novel, not even a mediocre novel, as it stands, it was a downright boring novel that I would not recommend to anyone.

So I went back to my friend (remember, she had never steered me wrong) and asked her what it was about this novel that she felt like made it so good. She told me she had difficulty putting it into words and instead directed me to a book review done by NPR.

I read the review, and disagreed with it on every point that was made. I was left to conclude that the book reviewer was either a) sleeping with the author (quite unlikely) b) very unfamiliar with the dystopian genre and so had nothing to compare this book to (it fell so far below what that genre has to offer) or c) he was told that he was required to make a positive review of the book and so spun the little the book had to offer in the best possible light that he could.

No matter which way I take it, the book review was not an accurate assessment of the book (imop). So, why did my friend like it and recommend it? She could have easily come to the same conclusions I had, so why didn’t she?

Perhaps she really did like the book. Perhaps there was some merit in the tale that I failed to see though I looked so patiently for it. After all, my brother, whom I previously mentioned, I happen to believe is one of the most intelligent fellows out there, and he tends to disagree with me about the merits of so much that we watch/read. I tend to think he’s wrong, but I think he would say the same about me. Sometimes, people just have vastly different opinions. Is that this case here? Very possibly.

However, I can’t help but wonder if there is another possibility, something different. The power of suggestion. My friend loves NPR–she trusts NPR. If NPR said it was good, well it must be good (never mind the fact that I suspect, if she was completely honest with herself she would have admitted that she found it boring). NPR said it was an intelligent read, so it must be.

How often in life do we approach things like this? We respect something or someone, so we simply accept their opinion. We don’t weigh it, consider it, ask ourselves what we think, we just accept it at face value. I know I’ve done it. I’m told a movie is good, so I go in prepared for a good movie. I’m told a movie is horrible, so I don’t watch it. Someone I regard highly tells me a book is compelling, so I go into it, looking to be compelled.  A professor tells me that this is a fact, and I accept it–without checking the facts, without seeing for myself if what he says is true.

There have been many movies that I have dragged my heels to watch because I was told they were horrible, but when I actually watched them myself, I found them to be entertaining…the power of suggestion kept me away from the movie, but when I assessed it myself, my opinion didn’t agree with the review. I think this is pretty common if we’re honest with ourselves.

bigmediaI think as a society we are becoming sloppy. Instead of figuring out what we think, and what we believe, we simply absorb what we are told to believe. It happens with politics (whether it be the ABC channels and NPR or Fox News and talk radio), it happens with religion (all of them–not just some), it happens as we absorb what our parents, teachers, professors, Imams, Pastors, Rabbis, political leaders, professionals, etc. tell us what we should believe. It is easier to just say, “I trust you, therefore I will believe what you tell me to believe.” I call it the sheeple mentality. It is so much easier to be a sheep, so much more comfortable than taking the time to find out the truth for ourselves.

For me, this book was a reminder. I am not going to follow the masses. I will not believe something because I am told it is so. I will weigh and assess, and determine what I believe for myself. I trust my parents, but they are only human. I respect my husband, but he is not always right. I believe my pastor is a good and godly man, but he is still just a man. If I am going to be wrong about something, I want to know that I at least did due diligence–that I did all I could to determine what I believed, what I actually thought about it, so that the fault of wrong belief would indeed be mine, but mine made in honest error–not error out of the laziness of simply parroting what I am told to feel, think, or believe. I know I have done this, many times, and I want to do better, not give into the easy way.

It is an easy trap to fall into, and we all fall into it in the mundane issues of our life as well as the large monumental ones. I want to be mindful of the influence that others wield over me and my beliefs. I want my beliefs to truly be my own. And I know that means that I have to be very mindful of the influence of others on me and my beliefs.

In what areas of your life is this you? Why do you believe what you believe? Do you really know what you believe?

The Sharp Jagged Edges of Reality

“It is strange that absence can feel like a presence. A missing so complete that, if it were to go away, I would turn . . . stunned . . . empty, when before . . . at least [there was] something.” Adapted quote from Crossed by Ally Condie.

I’ve been radio silent for a while. Bad blogging policy, I know. The thing is, August is hard. August is full of memory—the greatest of joys and the sharpest of agonies. August is always a journey of what was, what I wish had been, and a bitter contending with what is. August is the sharp reality that part of myself has died, and the overwhelming acknowledgement of the presence of loss caused by what should have been, but what isn’t.

I’ve been toying with ideas of what I could write for weeks. I’ve had several good ideas, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to wear a brave face or find the silver lining. I wanted to feel the sharp, jagged edges of my pain and remember. I didn’t want to sugar coat, when I was tasting nothing of sugar, but instead the sharp, acridness of bitterness.

The truth is, I have lived for so long with my loss, that I can’t imagine life without its presence. It really is strange that absence can feel more tangible and more real than things I can hold in my hand. That pain can feel more like living than happiness.

One of my favorite songs, even before the loss of Serena, is the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris.” “You bleed just to know you’re alive.” Pain, sadly, is what makes us feel the most agonizingly alive—it’s not just me, it’s the human condition.

When our heart is breaking, when our soul seems to be splintering into shards of brittle glass, the very agony of it seems to leave us wide awake. We are pulled from the monotony, the apathetic, the mundane drudgery of daily living, and we feel mind crushingly alive.

pain

When I was young, the concept of this intrigued me. I recognized the reality that our capacity for joy seemed to be in direct proportion with the extent of our pain . . . aka Great Sorrow=Great Joy.

What I, in my naivety and idealism failed to understand was the great chasm, that black void of numbness that separated those two places. I had no inkling of the “zombie” years that follow intense grief. How could I, never having experienced any real loss? I was blissfully ignorant and so could love the theory, the philosophy of it, without being touched by the reality. The philosophy seemed deep and wise, almost compelling. It had the allure of the bad boy to it–you knew he wasn’t good for you, but there was something so darn seductive about that very darkness . . .

Cathleen Schine puts it so well through the thoughts of one of her characters in her book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

As a girl, she had affected despair and emotional pain in an attempt at depth. Now she had no need of affectations. The despair was real, the pain was real. And depth? It no longer beckoned, that rich, worldly dimension of sophistication, of adulthood. Depth spread itself out before her instead, a hole, a pit, a place of infinite loss.

I’m a fan of “Vampire Diaries” and in one of the first seasons Caroline Forbes, one of the main characters, makes a comment of how she wants to be deep, but she’s coming to the realization that she is anything but deep. She makes the comment: “I’m worse than shallow. I’m a kiddie pool.”

That quote has always resonated with me. When I was young, I desperately wanted to be deep. I thought I was, but the reality is, until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and hurt a lot, you don’t have much capacity for depth.

Now . . . now, however . . . it’s a different story. Now that I am old, my depth spreads out before me like the pit that Schine alludes to and a part of me would give anything to go back to the ignorance that was my kiddie pool self, but that wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be authentic. It wouldn’t be living. It would be pretending, acting, going through the motions without allowing LIFE to touch me, impact me, change me . . . transform me.

We hide our pain because others are uncomfortable with it. We don’t want to be reminded that life has a dark side. We close our eyes to it, until it is undeniable—until it sinks its teeth into us and won’t let us go. Only then do we acknowledge its presence, the very real fact that life is as much pain as it is happiness, as much ugliness as it is beauty.

We want to believe that this is not so—that if we do the right things, we can have all of the happy with none of the sad, but life isn’t a simple mathematic equation where A +B=C (A being-if I work hard, B being, if I treat others kindly, then C, life will be fair and give me good things). Sometimes A plus B is going to equal X or maybe Z. In the words of Dan Allender in his book The Healing Path

        Most of us presume that if we work hard, play fair, and keep on doing what is required, life will work out well. And if it doesn’t, then we simply need to find out what we’re doing wrong, correct it, and presto—life works. But that formula doesn’t always get the predicted results.

I often think of the line in “Princess Bride” where Wesley tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Pain is a part of life. It is the reality. Why do we try to pretend otherwise?

So for today, this is my nod to my own pain, and a nod to your pain. This is me not pretending that I am okay. This is me acknowledging that, though I heal, I will never be complete, for a piece of my heart and soul went with my darling girl when she left me. I will not pretend that that can happen and that I will not be forever changed.

I wish we didn’t have to break. I wish we didn’t have to face betrayal, illness, and death. I wish life could be lived in the happy moments, without the sadness. I wish that the horrors of ISIS, the child sex trade, and abuse were not a reality in our world. I wish that there was no such thing as cancer or SMA.

But that is life. And life, despite the pain, is worth living. And I am glad to be alive—to FEEL alive—and to know, when I hug my son and my daughters, how lucky I am to have them here and healthy, and how incredibly grateful I am that I get to watch them grow.alive

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

Image

Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

Image

Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.

A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.

I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!

Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.

Image

Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I  would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world, Image

or fight and scrape with Arya, proving my spunk and courage to all who knew me. Image

The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.

Image

When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.

But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.

I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.

But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.

When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.

For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!

Image

So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉

Who wants a vortex leading right into the nightmare of your past?

Having three little kids, I often don’t get out much. It usually means that I am terribly behind when it comes to the movie scene. The exceptions being, of course, kid films, and, since I have the coolest friend with the coolest job, occasional movie screenings with the illustrious Christa Banister.

Last week was a red letter week when it comes to me and the movie theater. I went to two movies in one week. The first was “Malificient” which I saw with my family, and the second was a screening for “Fault in our Stars.”

malificient

“Malificient” was good, but not great. Though Jolie was certainly a fabulous Mailificient–she lent the evil queen hidden depths– the plot line of the greedy humans and the fickle and increasingly disturbed King Philip was predictable and sadly unredemptive. There was room for something special, a new understanding, forgiveness, the reality of love itself–not the absence of hurt, but forgiveness in the face of it–but, par usual, Hollywood just can’t seem to quite see it through and, instead, we have an entertaining, but shallow remix borrowing from the greatness of those who have gone before. The one change that is notable was the change made to true love’s kiss, which, instead of coming in the form of a prince that Aurora had known for all of five minutes, instead comes from Malificient, her “fairy god mother”/mentor. Without that change, I fear the movie would have been nothing but a colossal disappointment.

But, I digress. My real purpose in writing this blog is to address “Fault in Our Stars.” I had read the book. I’ve had two years of fourteen year old girls telling me I absolutely HAD to read the book–that it was the best book ever. I have to admit, I dragged my heels. It’s not that I didn’t believe them that the book would be something special, but, well, it hits awful close to home for me. As anyone who has walked through an experience like John Greene’s Hazel (main character from the book) can tell you, there are days you can talk about it, and there are days you can’t. In the same way, I knew that I would have to wait for the right day to read the book–or I would be a total mess. So, I waited for a year and a half before I had the courage to read it, and though I wept, I loved it. John Greene wrote with an authenticity, a rawness, that I found freeing. Yes, I wept. I thought of my beautiful daughter and that horrific journey, but somehow, it felt like the shedding of a skin, not like diving into the great abyss of my memory. He didn’t sugar coat the reality–he let the cynicism, the pain, and the bitterness stand as it was, and for one who has lived it, it was so gratifying to not have to pretend for the space of the few moments between the pages of that book.

fault

Why am I talking about the book, when it is the movie I am supposed to be addressing? Well, it perhaps lends a little context as to why I thought I could handle the movie. When my friend asked me to go to the screening with her, I didn’t hesitate. I knew what I was getting myself into. I could handle it. After all, I had read the book and survived.

I had already had a tough day that particular day, so I was already at a disadvantage, but, that aside, I think my reaction would have been much the same. As Christa and I chatted waiting for the film to start, I watched the theater fill up with broken humanity. There were kids in wheel chairs, people without limbs, ventilators . . . and there was a feeling in the air that this was for them. This was a nod in their direction, that we see your pain, we see–we understand. It was more than just a movie.

I felt guilty somehow, to be sitting their whole and healthy, and yet, the irony was that I am not whole or healthy. I look it. I’m sure the walking wounded looked at me and thought that I was sitting there untouched. Perhaps some shot a bitter look or thought in my direction. But, the reality is, though my limbs are intact and my lungs breathe without help, I am”Hazel’s” mother. I stared that reality in the face, I walked through it, and though physically I came out on the other side, psychologically and emotionally, there is no “wholeness” after a child’s death. There is only a heart with a permanent crater, patched together with the force of will and desperation. The truth is, you are left with only the “before” and “after.” Before the pain, and after it, when you try to pretend that you aren’t permanently damaged from the nightmare that became your life.

I looked around the room and I couldn’t help but wonder how many others, like me, looked to be whole and there simply for a night’s entertainment, but were instead getting ready to take a journey back into their own personal pain. This movie meant something–for those of us who have lived in that darkness–it was something much more important that a movie. It was our past–our present–our future.

Serena

And then it began. I was sucked into a vortex, back into my own personal nightmare. Reading the book, though difficult, could not compare to seeing it. The imagery, those sterile halls of the hospital, Hazel’s oxygen tank, her bypap machine . . . all came straight from the halls of my memory. Mom and dad holding hands in a board room while the doctors talk to them about the fate of their child–mom, running terrified into her daughter’s room in the middle of the night fearing that she will not be able to save her, that she will be too late–mom, dealing with the agony that she will not be a mother anymore . . . these are all pages directly from the story of my past and I was not prepared to re-enter that nightmare. No sane person would be.

The movie was great from a movie standpoint. The actors did a brilliant job, especially Ansel Elgort as Augustus Waters. The dialogue was true to Greene and brilliant, but, if this kind of journey is your own kind of journey, beware. There are times that taking a stroll down memory lane is a lovely, bitter sweet experience, but this walk down memory lane has nothing of sweetness about it. In truth, it is not even bitterness, it is sheer pain.

child hospital

For those of you untouched, go, enjoy the glimpse of the very real pain some of us have had to walk. Glimpse that nightmare and thank the God in heaven that it is not your story.

For those touched by terminal illness, a life and death struggle, or death itself, enjoy the book and its brutal irony, but spare yourself the pain of the movie. Some things should just not be revisited. It’s too real. It’s too raw–and it just plain hurts.

I made a right turn at love, a left turn at happily ever after, and ended up in Oz

Sometimes lately, I feel like I’ve made my way into someone else’s story. There’s nothing wrong with this story; it’s just not my own. It feels like some great cosmic trickster picked me up and dropped me into a life I never planned on living, and yet, here I am–going through the motions.

Have you ever watched a movie and drifted off for a couple of scenes and when you woke up, nothing made sense? You weren’t really sure how the characters got there or what it all meant? That’s what my life feels like. Like I drifted off for a while and when I woke up, I found myself in a world not of my own choosing, one that I never planned to live–an alternate reality of sorts.

It’s kind of surreal. Like I’m on a cosmic caoursel that just keeps moving, turning and turning, never slowing down, never stopping. Around and around I go . . . no chance to get off and to get on the ride I’m supposed to be on. And yet, all my choices led me here. . . Or have they?

carousel

 

We all set out with a destination in mind. When we’re young, the world is wide open, our minds are full of dreams. There are things we know we want–marriage, children–at least sometime down the road. Some things, we think we want–but when it really comes down to it–we don’t really want them at all. Others, we want, we pursue–but then life gets in the way. These are our dreams deferred, delayed, and sometimes, our dreams forgotten and lost forever. They drift into the land of “should have been,” “could have been,” and “if only.”

When I set out on this journey called “life on my own,” adulthood, or whatever you want to call it, I had it all plotted out. I knew what I wanted: where I wanted to go, who I wanted to become, the lifestyle I wanted to live. I saw it all as a story, and I was the heroine. My life was progressing from one logical chapter to the next logical chapter, and it all looked just how I wanted it to be.

outline

But then I met my husband.

He was part of my story, the story I wanted, the one I had planned. He was, but still he changed it–my story veered, turned, took a side road. The destination appeared to be the same, but it took a different route. He rode in with his charm and his own story–and a pile full of plans and dreams of his own, and so, he changed my story forever.

He was one of the characters I wanted, one I dreamed about, but the thing about life that is so different from a story is that it’s not written by the mind of one, but the mind and wishes and plans of many. Even though our dreams seemed to be in alignment, I was no longer making choices based only on myself–and so the story changed.

And after marriage, of course, come the children. That’s when you really start seeing the unfamilar territory. Road blocks, no outlet, detours. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t get rid of a single one of them (well, at least most days!). They are my joy, but, though we know in theory how much those little people are going to change our lives, the reality is so much more than we can understand until we live it. Nothing in our world is ever the same. It’s not the same story–we’re not even the hero anymore. We become a supporting character so that our children can be the hero or heroine in their own story.

The reality is that we can plot out our lives and outline our story, but life doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t follow our plans, and it certainly doesn’t consult us. Life is messy. Chaotic. Life is filled with the unexpected–disappointments, doors closing and doors opening. It is filled with heartbreak and loss, new birth and growth–and change.

life map

We think we choose our paths in life, but, in so many ways, we really don’t. It chooses us. In the past, they attributed it to fate or the cosmos. Today we sometimes say it is God or maybe mere chance–luck or unluckiness. Whichever way you want to term it, the reality is, so often our choices are few, and sometimes, even when we think we are choosing, our choices are really being chosen for us.

I recently read Lauren Oliver’s trilogy because my students are reading her book Delerium for my class. (I loved that book, btw! So much better than I expected!) In her final book  of the trilogy, “Requiem,” she makes a statement that puts it so well.

“They wanted the power to feel, to think, to choose for themselves. They couldn’t have known that even this was a lie–that we never really choose, not entirely. We are always being pushed and squeezed down one road or another. We have no choice but to step forward, and then forward again, and then forward again; suddenly we find ourselves on a road we haven’t chosen at all. But maybe happiness isn’t in the choosing. Maybe it’s in the fiction, in the pretending; that wherever we have ended up is where we intended to be all along.”

We start out choosing, but so often those very choices are dictated by the pushing and squeezing of fate and the cosmos. So few of us really end up where we intended at all. We come to terms with where we are. We might even love where we are, but it is not where we set out to go in the beginning.

narrow

Maybe this is where I was meant to be all along, even though it’s not where I intended to go. Maybe I ended up here because of random chance and a good dose of both luck and unluckiness. Maybe it doesn’t feel like the life I was supposed to live, but it is the life I am living.

Maybe I’m just having an early mid-life crisis and no one else has every felt this way or knows what I am talking about at all . . . 😉

Or maybe, life is about rolling with the punches, accepting the role of fate and making the most of the choices that God–life–fate–the universe–allow us to make.

I think I might be a bit pathological . . .

It would likely not come as any real surprise to any who know me that I tend to be a bit compulsive. I mean, why do anything part way when you can jump off the deep end? If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it right, right? So why buy one new outfit when you can make it a mission and get the whole summer wardrobe updated in one fell swoop. Why tackle one room in your house when you can tackle them all (and drive yourself crazy in the process)? That’s kind of my approach to life and it definitely is a bit pathological!

Most of the time, despite the obvious pathological nature of this “all or nothing” way of life, it doesn’t rock my boat all that much. Sure it means that periodically I find it necessary to hole myself away in my bedroom, feed my family pizza and carry-out while I re-read every single Sookie Stackhouse book before the finale is released (only to be as thoroughly disappointed as I have ever been in any book I have anticipated I might add!),  but hey! Even a mom needs to indulge her pathology once in a while, right?

Most of my life, this has worked without any real negative side effects. Yes, I’m a crazy person until I can mark that task (say decorating my entire house within the first year after moving in) off of my to-do list, but by golly! I get it done! And usually in record time. Lately, however, the boat has started rocking and what once seemed like little more than a quirk, seems like a somewhat bigger problem and often ends up being an impossibility.

So, can I just back off and go about it normally, you know, like just watch the new season of Game of Thrones without having to re-watch every bloody episode (pun intended) that came before first? Nope! It just loses the full affect! So, here I sit, somewhere in the third season unable to jump in and watch tonight’s episode–all because I’m neurotic.

So, I’m wondering how many of you are as crazy as me and have to re-read every book or re-watch the whole series before jumping into the latest installment of your favorite show/book?  Am I alone in this, or are some of you just as nuts as I am?

 

 

In what reality does Flynn Rider end up with Mother Hubbard?

                As most of you know, I have put my career on hold for the last ten years to devote myself to my children and the domestic life. There are days when I doubt the sanity of this choice, but overall, I don’t regret it. Though I like to think of myself as an intelligent, career-minded woman, I feel that my children needed the hands-on, there for the little things, mother and I treasure all the special, tender moments we’ve had along the way. It also helps that, in my most antsy, struggling with a sense of self moments, I have the coolest friend in the world who allows me to live vicariously through her.

                Christa Banister was an old college acquaintance for lack of a better word. We hung out occasionally, so we were more than acquaintances, but we really weren’t close enough to be considered friends. All that changed when she, like myself, decided to transplant herself from the Twin Cities down here to Dallas. All it took was one real conversation for us to realize that we would be friends for life.

                As I mentioned, Christa is not only an amazing person, but she also lives the most amazing life. (Check out her blog to get to know her a bit!) She is a two-time published novelist which is super cool, but not the coolest part actually. She is also a free-lance writer who has a regular gig writing movie reviews. That means, not only does she get to see all the movies before they come out, but she also regularly gets to do press junkets to LA and NYC where she gets to meet and interview the actors. One of my favorite things to do is go through a list of actors and actresses that I’m curious about, find out which ones she’s met and get the skinny on them. Are they really as attractive as they seem? Are they nice or a spoiled diva? You get the picture.

                So, this regular old mom gets to see the reflected glitz through her best friend. After one of her last press junkets (one that she wanted me to go with her btw but I couldn’t swing the airfare at the time!) she stayed at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills and told me later than my crush Ian Somerhalder was staying in the same hotel at the same time she was. Sigh . . .  granted the crush is more about the fictional character Damon than Ian the actor, but still! I couldn’t resist daydreaming about running into him in the hall on a hiatus away from Mommyville!

                Though I have yet to go to one of the junkets with Christa, she has taken me to a few of her movie screenings. I have to admit, it is pretty cool to not only get to see movies before they’re out, but also to get to walk to the front of the line passed the mass of people who have been waiting for a couple of hours and getting to sit in a chair that says “Reserved for Press” even if I’m only there by association and am not the real deal myself!

                Last night was one of those times. She asked me to go to see “Snow White and the Huntsman” with her. It took a little brainstorming since my in-laws are out of town and my husband works late and has a long commute. We decided that I would take the kids with me and that Aaron would swing by on his way home and take them off my hands (we were also trying to avoid the cesspool known as Dallas traffic!).

                The meeting spot was at the North Park mall. I cringed. You see, there are malls, and then there is North Park. Get the image of the traditional, child friendly mall with the standard Gap and Charlotte Russe type stores out of your head. There is no child play area at this mall. Oh, no. North Park would much rather you leave the kids at home!

                North Park is what you would call an elitist mall. You don’t dare go to North Park in jeans (unless they are True Religion) and a t-shirt (unless it is an obviously high end designer one). Hair and makeup had better be up to par and you’d better pull out all the stops. Even if I dress my girls in the latest Gap outfit, I feel a bit cliché at this mall! Better to pull out one of the boutique outfits if you don’t want to feel like a wannabe!

                Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but not by much!

                I didn’t know there were actual stores for Versace and Gucci until I unsuspectingly stumbled into this mall for the first time! The very air smells rich. If ever a mall was pretentious, this one would be it!

                So, you can imagine my tremor of concern at the idea of taking three young, easily bored children into such a place. My kids aren’t bad kids, but they are kids, and being that not one of them is confined by a stroller anymore, well, this Mommy was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the very thought!

                Still, despite the difficulty, a night away from Mommyville with one of my favorite people in the world was too much of a temptation. I just had to brave it!

                I was in for a pleasant surprise. North Park mall might not want kids, but, the Disney Store, of course, feels differently. They’ve had a bit of a renovation since my last adventure to the “Upper East Side” so to speak.  Now they have an actual walk-in castle with three magic mirrors where the little girls can admire themselves with all the princess beauty in the background until Rapunzel magically appears in the mirror before them. They now have a coloring station with a large movie screen where they can program a playlist of all their favorite Disney movie tunes. A bit over the top? Maybe. But this was North Park after all and it was heaven to this stressed out Mama!

                We made the most of it and settled in until Christa and my hubby showed up.

                Lily’s favorite thing was standing before the castle mirrors and waving a wand at it yelling, “Bippity, boppity boo!” in an attempt to make Rapunzel reappear. When she didn’t come on command, Lily would just yell at the mirror which I found hilarious.

                When Christa arrived, we stood nearby, next to a “Tangled” display, chatting.

                Christa glanced at the display, laughed a little, pointed to the doll of Flynn Rider and said, “Look! It’s Aaron!” I laughed. She was right. The doll could have been modeled after Aaron!

                    “Looky there! I married a real Prince Charming!” I couldn’t help thinking to myself. I felt a burst of pride and admiration until that thought was followed by a more sobering one. How in the world did Flynn Rider end up with Mother Hubbard?!

                    One never thinks of Rapunzel turning into Mother Hubbard, but there it is!

                    It is a very sad state of affairs that men get better looking with age (at least mine did!) and women, well, we just age! The most that could be said for me is that I look good for my age or that I look good for having four children. Aaron needs no such qualifiers! It’s enough to put me in a good pout!

                   At least, the movie cheered me up a bit. Kristen Stewart’s youthful attractiveness couldn’t hold a candle to Charlize Theron’s more seasoned beauty. Maybe there’s hope for us yet . . . then again, I’m no Charlize Theron! 😉

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall . . . How Did I Get So Old?!

 

Usually when I see a movie, I identify with the heroine. After all, I think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I put myself in their shoes and I get to live a life other than my own for a little while. Ah . . . wonderful escapism!

The only problem is, it’s getting harder and harder to do that lately especially since so many of the leading ladies would more accurately be described as “leading girls!”

You see, I recently had my 35th birthday. (Yikes!) And though that is not terribly old, it is old enough. When I re-watched the Twilight saga last week, I felt old. How could I identify with Kristen Stewart and her high school character Bella? The same goes for my favorite tv show “Vampire Diaries.” My experience as a high schooler was a decade and a half ago. Trying to put myself in Elena Gilbert’s shoes, again, just makes me feel old.

Then this weekend I took my daughter to see “Mirror, Mirror.” I knew something was wrong when I found myself identifying with Julia Roberts and the evil queen far more than with the lovely young Snow White. I have landed square in the middle of the land of Middle Age, and I don’t like it one bit!

I never thought that growing older would really bother me. I remember when my mom had one of her milestone birthdays she told me how hard it was for her. I remember thinking at the time that I wouldn’t feel the same when my turn came around. It just didn’t seem like a very big deal to me. I mean, I took for granted that I would be where I wanted to be at that age and so long as I was living my dreams, who cared about the odd wrinkle or two?

Silly me! I think I must have tempted fate with that thought!

I was pretty much sideswiped this birthday. I simply didn’t see it coming. It started to hit a full month before the day itself. I seemed hyper aware of every little laugh line and every extra pound that the last ten years have given to me. I caught myself staring in the mirror trying to imagine my youth leaving me behind. What would I look like with wrinkles? When would I start to look seriously old? I found myself cringing at the very idea.

I never considered myself an overly vain woman. I never went through the silly nightly regimes that most girls do: washing your face, facial mask, rinsing, special night time moisturizer, etc., etc.. I never even went to a salon to get my hair highlighted. A simple box kit was fine with me. I found such things silly and frivolous.

But, as that birthday inched closer, I found out just how vain I really am. My looks mattered to me. I had taken them for granted most of my life. I was lucky. I had a clear complexion, great hair and until kids, a figure that I was content with.  I didn’t spare a lot of thought on it, but it did matter.

And now, as I stared at the complexion that was suddenly giving me problems and skin that needed to be babied to keep it looking fresh, as I confronted the reality that the baby weight wasn’t just going to disappear all on its own, and even if I did manage to lose it, the very stark reality that I would never look like I looked at 25, well, I felt sucker punched. It sucked!

What bothered me the most though, was just how much it mattered to me. I wasn’t supposed to care about such superficial things. I was supposed to grow old gracefully, content with a life well lived. I was supposed to live each season of my life to the fullest, not look at the future with dread because I was going to be old someday. Geesh! Out of a world full of worries, how could this be causing such a crisis?!

Sadly, this aging thing is a whole lot harder than I ever would have guessed and I don’t like it one bit. And the fact that it bothers me this much . . . well, I can’t say that I’m proud of myself. I thought I was deeper than that. Instead, all of a sudden I feel like the Evil Queen looking on the Snow Whites of the world with envy. It’s bad enough to be vain at any age, but to be OLD and vain . . . there is something terribly pathetic about that. Sigh. Not quite sure what to do about that!

And to make matters worse, Hollywood seems determined to throw it in our faces over and over again this year. Three Snow White movies in the same year?! Geesh! Okay! Okay already! My Snow White days are over. I get it!

Now if I can only find somewhere in between Snow White and the evil queen .  . . I think we need some more middle aged heroines if you ask me! 🙂

Move Over Red Shirt, and Make Way for the Heroine!

There is so much of being an adult that isn’t what I expected. I’ve always considered myself a fairly rational person (despite my idealism . . . maybe I didn’t have a very real picture of myself after all . . .).

Maybe I should blame it on being such an avid reader. After reading so many stories that follow the same basic principle, maybe my subconscious actually started thinking it would work that way.

You know, the heroine, misunderstood and under estimated, meets the boy who sees her for who she really is, they fall in love and walk merrily into the future hand in hand where everything comes up roses and sugar blossoms. Happily Ever after and all that.

Like I said, I do have a fairly large rational streak, and I certainly never thought that is how it would work, in my head at least, but my subconscious expectations, well . . . maybe they weren’t so rational after all!

I guess, whatever it is I expected, this wasn’t it. The normalcy of life, the hum drum progression of days where each one looks pretty much like the one before, this is NOT what I expected. The endless succession of ordinary tasks . . . getting the kids up for school, getting them out the door, cooking cleaning and cleaning some more only to start over with the same list of “to dos” the next day . . . . I have more in common with a scullery maid than the heroine in a story!

And see, there is the rub. I used to feel like the heroine in my own story. The same feeling I feel at the beginning of a good book, that feeling of potential and anticipation where the unexpected, the magical could be waiting for me just around the corner . . . I lived life in that charged place.

And like a good story, insecure, underestimated girl did indeed meet the boy who helped me believe in me and who swept me off my feet. I heard the swell of Andrea Bocelli in the background and felt the fireworks in his fingertips. I had my story and I was the heroine and it was glorious.

Next comes the happily ever after part, right? Like I said, I was too rational (and too smart!!) to really believe that. I knew that life in the real world was something very different. What I didn’t expect was that I would stop being the heroine of my own story.

These days I feel much more like the red shirt in my story rather than Captain Kirk. Aren’t I supposed to be the protagonist in my own story?  I feel like an insignificant extra. I feel like when I had my children, my story ended and theirs began.

Maybe a good mother would be okay with that. Maybe a selfless person wouldn’t think about it  twice. Certainly June Cleaver never would have spared a second for such selfish thoughts! But, then again, I am no June Cleaver! Though I am a good cook, even Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals are fancier than I tend to cook. Not to mention that when it comes to housework, well, I am simply an abysmal failure. All my extended education did not prepare me for the impossible task of balancing the endless mountains of laundry and the messes left by some of the world’s messiest people! And I always thought that I was so good at multi-tasking! Hmpf!

But I digress. Maybe it is pure selfishness that makes me so crazy about not being the heroine of my own story. Maybe it shouldn’t bother me. Maybe a good mother is content to fade into the back story and live her life through her children.

But I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we all be the heroine of our own story? Should our sense of potential and anticipation disappear just because girl has already met boy? I don’t think so! My story is not over at 35! I won’t allow it to be!

Ah . . . but then there is the guilt. Shouldn’t this be enough? Shouldn’t I be perfectly happy just as I am? My husband is hot and he is my best friend to boot. I have three amazingly beautiful, smart children when genetics should have kept me from having any at all. Shouldn’t this be enough?

My family is my world and I would die for any one of them in a heartbeat. I know I am a good mother. I do put my children first and I suspect I always will, but that doesn’t mean that I need to play the role of martyr either.

I think the modern mother walks a difficult road. We have left the role of June Cleaver behind, but we see the error in the career mom who is an absentee mother. We long for balance. We want to be the heroine in our own story while teaching our children at the same time to be the hero/heroine of their own stories.

Most days it leaves me feeling like there is an internal tug of war being waged inside of me, and sadly, most often, it leaves me feeling like a failure at pretty much everything.

I don’t need to be the center of the universe. I don’t even need to be the center of my little family. But I do need to know that there is more waiting for me around the corner than Saturday’s soccer game. I need to know that I still have a role to play in this crazy story of life and that my role is more than just being the expendable red shirt.

I need to know that I am indeed the heroine of my own story, and that my story is not over, not now at 35, not at 55, not even at 75.

I think we all have a duty to step up and be the hero in our own story, to not sit back and let the story happen, but to find our role, to be an active participant.

Ever hero has to overcome, ever heroine has conflict and crisis that must be met. If you don’t have conflict, if you don’t have crisis, you’re not living your story.

Or, if you’re like me, and have had lots of conflict, always remember, the hero always has a choice; he can rise to the challenge and overcome and live the story he was created to live, or he can sit back and be the forgotten red shirt.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a red shirt! I won’t be a forgettable extra in my own life! I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m going to keep trying to find that line, the line of being the best mother I can be while at the same time being the best me I can be.