If you aren't fascinated by history, especially military history, this isn't the book for you. But I'm enjoying it. And when I stop being irritated by the way the authors give citations for their written, colloquialized dialogue (no, I'm not kidding), I'll enjoy it all the more.
All that I'm asking of this book is Inspiration. It's working! And that's what excites me most of all.
As penance for failing to post anything for more than two months, I thought I'd go ahead and post a very brief bit of fiction I wrote today as a direct result of my time spent with this book. Please tell me what you think of it.
In his last moments, curled in the corner of a blank, concrete room on a blood-stained litter, his left leg cracked and swollen to bursting just below the knee, a deep, terrifying wound in his belly that exposed his glistening organs to the air, as his breaths became more shallow and rattled in the depths of his chest, and the copper tang of blood coated his teeth and tongue, in those moments, the soldier wanted love.
He wanted a warm hand to hold, soft hair falling against his cheek, someone to clutch and cling to. He wanted an American girl, freckled nose and big, blue eyes, a girl who knew the exquisite, wholesome flavor of the perfect ice cream sundae, someone who had caught lightning bugs on July nights and pondered the glow between her cupped palms. He wanted a heartbeat that was stronger than his own, imagining that the perpetually pounding sound of it deep beneath her canvas coveralls and soft skin would keep him alive, or at least that its continuity would soothe him with the promise of eternity.
He wanted to apologize to her for everything he'd ever done which was less than the best he had to offer, and he wanted her to stop him and tell him he'd lived well, that his death was a great sacrifice, and that he would not be forgotten, least of all by her.
And then, as his pulse slowed and the light in his eyes waned and he began to imagine that he was a child, climbing trees, hand over hand, hauling his lank, young body up between branches, higher and higher, pushing face first through the leaves, and watching the sunset over the warmest, most familiar Iowa field of earnest, golden-green corn, hearing his mother call his name from a front porch he'd never see again, then the soldier only wanted one thing: a lie.
You're going to be okay, Rose said.
She knew she could not pull the soldier up from his current position without causing him great agony, and so she bent lower, allowing her limp, damp curls to swing forward and mingle with his own mat of bloody blond hair. She embraced him gently at first, mindful of the holes and slashes in his clothes and skin, his terribly mangled left leg, but as the moist, low sounds of his breath against her earlobe dissipated, she grasped him tighter, forcefully. Her own tears began to fall, and she pulled his chest to hers, pressing to him hard, and praying for his heartbeat.
He was gone.
She pulled back to look at his face. His eyes were closed, and she imagined, beneath the dirt and blood spatter, that his cheeks and forehead were serene. She took his hand in hers and held it to her chest. In that moment, she was his mother, his sister, his girl, his lover, his wife, his daughter, every woman he had ever known and would mourn him when he didn't return.
This excerpt is not necessarily exemplary of the overall tone of my work. The tale I'm crafting is one of courage and desperation, the human spirit, and an honest look at a moment (a major loss) in America's military history which is misunderstood, mistaught, tucked away and forgotten in favor of our victories.
It is not an ode to the heroism and perceived spotlessness of our WWII soldiers and nurses, necessarily, because I believe that Tim O'Brien (author of The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods) is correct when he says that a true war story cannot have a moral. But it is a reminder of what some people, thrown onto the wrong cluster of jungle islands by chance, faced and fought between December 1941 and May 1942. It is a hope that remembering the full picture and unabridged history of our country will better us as a people, and that we'll learn our lesson and refuse to suffocate the testimonies of survivors for the sake of positive PR and propaganda.
If my excerpt doesn't make sense, it's because I've either done my job too well, having woven all the bits together so that they require the living fiber of one another in order to be understood, or I've failed. It's possibly cheesy, possibly fluffy. I hope not. Your honesty is appreciated.
The sponge streaked over my kitchen counter removing all loose residue, but failed to budge a droplet of what looked like concrete which had adhered itself to the tiles. I flipped the sponge to its rougher side and took a few more passes over the splotch. No effect. It remained like an ancient ruin. I could tell it planned to outlast the ages, come rain or snow or sleet or me.
But I'm no quitter. So, I found a scraping tool and braced myself, taking a wide stance and flexing my triceps. The thing gave me naught but a stony glare. I scraped and scraped and scraped, but it was useless. I was attacking an ocean with a teaspoon.
This ridiculous battle should have been funny, but suddenly I found myself in tears.
I was frustrated, but what's worse, I was defeated. Not by the spot on my counter, but by a calendar, commitments and deadlines. Everywhere I turn there seems to be something which I've promised, someone I've committed to meet, a homework assignment due, a departure time for a trip. It's endless and it's all my fault.
You see, I like my life full. Living is fun and beautiful and full of emotion. I wake up every day happy to see the dawn, my husband, and a set of tasks which I'm entirely capable of doing. However, on some days, the worst days, it is daunting.
Losing my grip in my empty kitchen was not the plan last night. I should have been sitting at a long table in a library classroom at the local community college conjugating verbs and answering questions about a little boy named Marcel... all in French, of course. But I'd discovered earlier in the day that I'd racked up too many absences via travels and long work days, etc., to maintain a good grade.
Faced with the prospect of a shabby report card versus a lightening of my overall load for the rest of the year, I swallowed the horrible lump in my throat and opted to drop my French class.
Giant patches of sunlight floated across the grass and then were swallowed up by the thick, gloomy clouds. Still, it was definitely Summer. I could feel Summer in the buzz of electricity coursing through the veins of the students around me as the strained in their seats and called for a hit. I could hear Summer in the muffled, moist whistle of the boy beside me as he pursed his lips and blew around a plucked blade of grass squeezed between his fingers. I could hear Summer in the crack of Mr. P's aluminum bat as it connected with the softball.
Mom and I cheered. Mr. P rounded the bases at a healthy trot, knowing he was being watched closely by the two women who have the right to lambaste him when he exerts himself. Mr. P, beloved by his students and his fellow teachers, is my dad, and I'm never prouder of him than when I see him in front of his kids.
But the whopping smile on Mr. P's face as he "stole" home was due to more than the impending Teacher win. He was smiling because he was within a day of his Summer vacation. Lucky teacher!
I was smiling, too. Summer is fun! It means BBQs, fireworks, the Alameda Country Fair (starts July 1), and, perhaps best of all, the Summer schedule at The Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto!
There they learn about Jesus as Lord, His death and resurrection, the salvation of mankind... all things I believe, too. But the intense speakers, the comparison to preparation for war, the graphic visual aides... all of these smack of something different, something cult-like.
The tear streaked faces of guilt-ridden seven-year-olds filled the screen as each of the children dropped to his or her knees and asked for forgiveness, accepted the cleansing of water splashed upon them from a Nestle water bottle brandished by the "minister."
When this movie was released in 2006, the trailer was all I needed to remind me (and, I hoped, my fellow Christians) about the power of negative imagery involving the church and about our responsibility as Christians to portray the positive, loving side of our faith all the more to counteract such obvious exceptions to the rule. But now having viewed the movie in it's entirety, I am struck by something else.
Early in the 1930s, young Adolph Hitler was a gem in the sunken crown of Germany's government. His voice was the first commanding, positive sound the impecunious, hungry, pessimistic people had heard since their defeat more than a decade prior. And as the energetic, ambitious leader took control of more and more power, the contagion that was his message took hold on the weak populace.
A world away, Americans could barely hear the far off echoes of tiny avalanches on The Continent. Rumors came by way of radio, newspapers and, above all, letters from friends and family overseas. Being a country of immigrants, almost everyone located in the United States in the 1930s had some relatives in Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Russia.
In the beginning, when news was slowest, people were loathe to condemn a move by the heretofore isolated German people to reclaim their former place among the world's great nations. Hitler was just another politician with a dream. The Great Depression had Americans, as well as peoples worldwide, in a death grip. Our President was distracted by the poverty and the public outcries for support. After all, the Germans had no money, no military, no allies. How much trouble could this fallen country really cause?
If I haven't already established myself as one of THE premier Hopeless Romantics of all time, let this be my moment.
Early this year, a movie was released called Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It is the story of an unemployed governess named Guinevere Pettigrew (played brilliantly by Frances McDormand of Fargo and Friends With Money) who finds herself stooping to less-than-ethical measures to secure a job in 1930s England.
By a twist of fate, she finds herself suddenly at the beck and call of the glamorous and guileful Delysia LaFosse (the ever enchanting Amy Adams), a bewitching American actress with ambitions of stardom who is willing to utilize every one of her natural resources, from talent to sex to trickery, in order to succeed.
Private Detective Nick Charles is lying in bed after surviving a mugging the night before. Both Nick and his wife, Nora, are reading the morning papers.
Nora: Why, Nicky! It says here that the intruder shot you. That's not true.
Nick: Hah. I'm a hero. The Tribune says I was shot twice.
Nora: And I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
Nick: Now, THAT'S not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids!
If you've never had the chance to watch any of the "Thin Man" movies, a collection of 1930s films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, you're in for a treat. The plotlines are less contrived than many of the mobster-related movies of the era. The dialogue sparkles, even at cheesier moments, aided by natural chemistry between the affable Powell and spunky Loy. Alcohol consumption abounds, Asta, the loveable terrier, saves the day, and often times there are excellent cameo appearances by the likes of Jimmy Stewart to round out the show.
Fun fun fun!
It Happened One Night, 1934
When you've got somewhere to go, but you ain't got money for a bus fare (or you've been kicked off the bus after threatening to kill somebody... intrigued?), you must hitch hike. If only there was a guide to hitchhiking. Let's ask Clark Gable what to do! Or, better yet, ask Claudette Colbert...
The Best Years of Our Lives
Probably No. 1 on my personal list, though No. 37 on the AFI's list. After the end of WWII, the saga of American GIs and their return to civilianhood was part of everyday life. This phenomenal film follows three men, each from a different military branch, each returning to a different moment on life's timeline. This moment, the 'First Stop' for the men coming home, is one of my favorite parts.
There are many others on the list which I would LOVE to highlight here, but YouTube is sorely lacking clips for some of the better films... Bringing Up Baby, Sullivan's Travels, Yankee Doodle Dandy, All About Eve, etc. But you can find the full version of John Ford's masterpiece The Searchers (probably one of John Wayne's best movies) divided into 13 parts.
Oh, wait, I should add a clip from a movie that may top the Worst 100 Movies of all time, one I should watched again the other night and prompted Jonathan to inquire, "What is the difference, exactly, between this movie and an episode of Scooby Doo?"
Ladies and Gentlemen... and my friends, too... I am excited to present Muscle Beach Party, a spicy 1964 tidbit starring the incomparable Frankie Avalon alongside the voluptuous Annette Funicello. (Beware: It is completely devoid of plot... and the only saving grace is that this film introduced "Little Stevie Wonder.")
To close, I'll leave you with this Frankie Avalon quote:
"I was not a trained actor."
(No kidding. How positively kooky!)
Right. Millions of Cats.
The premise: An elderly couple, slightly lonely, wants to adopt of kitten. Who doesn't? So, the old man goes to pick out a cat from the valley of cats (apparently). And every cat he sees is so cute, just too cute to leave behind. Eventually has has ALL of them following him home. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats. The gray one and the black one and the big one and the spotted one. You get the idea.
Anyway, that's how I am with books. I am a shameless book hussy. I'll read almost anything (as long as it hasn't been recommended by Dr. Hill... haha).
For example, consider my bedside table. I'm fairly certain that there is or was a lamp on it at some point, but it's long been blocked from my view by piles of books. Each one with a different makeshift bookmark or a bent page at some mid-point. Most have scribbled thoughts or smileys or underlines in them, all shades of ink, all impressions of my reading. And I love them all.
It's that time again to shed my shoes and lounge in the grass, languishing in the evening heat and loving Summer. It is a time of festival and freedom and fireworks and friendship.
This weekend, the Livermore Rodeo is in town (indeed, the fastest rodeo on earth!). The Alameda County Fair will begin its three-week run on June 20. Before we know it, Independence Day will dawn, and with that comes the Cedar Grove Community Church BBQ (not to be missed) and the incomparable athletic antics of the Pancoast Family & Friends at the Fourth Annual FOJSBO (Fourth of July Scar-Belly Open).
Pssssst. Hey Dad, don't feel bad that you lost last year. You're old. It's okay. And yes, Jonathan and I will be hoisting our giant 2007 FOJSBO Champions trophy and flaunting it that day. I am the master.
Of course, summer is a terrific time to travel. Along with the inevitable and exciting camping trips to Yosemite, Jon has a conference in Las Vegas in August, and I'll be joining him to party down on the weekend. We're also hoping to hit the Bear Valley Outdoor Adventure Camp in August for the second time. Last year we had so much fun! And, of course, Jon and I will be celebrating our 4th anniversary in August with a trip to Disneyland.
But along with these sentimental rituals, summertime brings a brand new 13-week classic film festival at my mecca: The Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto, CA.
I highly recommend it as a destination for friends, lovers, families, all. And this Summer Fesitval, running from June 7 to September 2, promises some of the best classic movies of all time!
Notorious - Ingrid Bergman sizzles as a woman conflicted. After she is approached by her government and asked to spy on her Nazi friends for the good of mankind, Bergman must weigh her loyalty to her loved ones against her patriotism and, ultimately, her interest in her handler, the dark and dashing Cary Grant. Claude Rains (probably best known as Police Commissioner Louis in Casablanca) is the objective and he commands the audience in each of his scenes. (Tom's Cruise's Mission Impossible: 2 includes scenes which are very similar to those in Notorious, especially the scene at the racetrack.)
Cameo: At the party in Claude Rains' mansion, drinking chapagne.
MacGuffin: The Uranium which is being gathered to be transported.
Remember when stories were easy? Characters could be two-dimensional as long as each had a quirky, unique trait, like a label or a Hi, My Name Is... sign. You know, an obnoxious cough, steely eyes, a hunch, an odd twitch. It didn't matter, so long as it was pointed out early on and then kept up like a running joke to remind the reader who "Bernadette" was, exactly. Oh right, the curvy red-head who wants to be an actress.
When I was little, very little, long before I began to understand (or perhaps became tainted by the knowledge of) what good literature is, I appreciated a children's book called Ben Bear's Pot of Gold. Like all the faithful stand-bys in the children's lit category, Ben Bear's Pot of Gold included talking animal characters, a journey, a model of friendship and, of course, a Moral.
Synopsis (SPOILER ALERT):
Ben Bear, a curious, growing cub, sees his first rainbow. His mom tells him that rainbows are special because a pot of gold can be found at the end of each one. Ben, still curious (and maybe a tad greedy?), decides to head out in search of the gold. Along the way he meets a series of friends, each of whom he informs about the pot of gold. And to each he extends an invitation to join the party. Naturally, one by one they join, and they journey through the forest together, talking and laughing all the way. At the end of the rainbow, they are crestfallen when they don't find gold. But wait! They see one another in that clearing where the rainbow ends. Maybe the legend isn't wrong, they decide. The rainbow inspired them to seek one another out and spend time together. Maybe friendship is the pot of gold.
It was an eloquent adventure from start to finish; the trends in Pam Houston's able writing are often analogous to the exact trips she's writing about. What I loved most was the genuine spirit behind the words. Everything in this book was done by a woman who, by her own contention, was born with 'not one ounce of natural [athletic] ability'. (For this lie, by the way, I forgive her.)
It all began for me in a used book store in Santa Cruz. My fiction writing teacher had recommended Houston to me as a Davis author. Her name came to mind as I perused the fiction section, and the cover of Houston's 'Cowboys Are My Weakness' appealed to me. By the time I'd turned the first page, I found myself completely seduced. Her confident style swept me right off my girlish feet. There I was in my own living room with grass in my hair, my ten-gallon on cockeyed and a silly-wide smile on my face. What a roll in the hay!
That collection of short stories is well worth picking up. I couldn't put it down. As it turns out, the art mimics life. Many of those anecdotes were pulled from her journeys all over the world with intriguing, dangerous men. In non-fiction, she continues to be a powerhouse of insight and stamina. Her words stride across the page, bold and even masculine.
When I happened upon the chapter entitled 'In Pursuit of What I Don't Do Well,' I almost stopped. Granted this was a book of non-fiction, titled unmistakably as a very introspective, self-centered memoir. But the arrogance of that title nearly turned me away. It took a great deal of trust to plunge in. After all, I can't help feeling envious of this woman who can do anything, and has already tried most things. Mock humility bothers me.
As it turns out, that chapter spoke closest to me. I felt as if she was whispering her story across a table in the dim light of a restaurant, hands wrapped around her coffee mug, confiding. Like so many girls, she wanted to find her purpose, but could only dream of being justified through the acceptance and pride of her parents. That's the way it is with children, I suppose. A child is blessed if she has folks who care enough to involve her in after school activities, help her with her homework, drive her to practice, cheer her on at games. Houston wanted to be worthy in the eyes of her father. She wanted to be told she was beautiful and athletic. It didn't happen, and when she couldn't find the pinnacle of that pursuit, she turned away from her family. The desire didn't leave her; she merely repositioned it. The chapter closed with this supposition; it is one, as the wife of a mountain climber and outdoor enthusiast, I can absolutely identify with:
'One day, if I try hard enough, I'll look like a woman on the cover of Outside magazine... I will be frozen there in the motion of someone's memory, and that someone (a man, my father, myself) will say, 'That was beautiful!''
The only thing I have to say about the chapter 'The Morality of Fat', is that if a woman like Pam Houston, articulate, educated, windblown and strong, can feel insecure about her weight, what chance do the rest of us have?
This summer I will take my husband on a trip. We have it all planned. For the first time in our marriage, I will be leading him on a journey to a place that remains to be the Eden of my childhood, a place that is a kind of Mecca to someone as summit-hungry as Jonathan, and I will be revealing it to him for the first time. I will be the expert, and he will be the one standing agape. 'They rise out of the Snake River Valley like a rich dark promise. Taller than the Grand Canyon is deep, sharper than the blade of a bread knife, the Tetons' are part of my history. My family went there in the summers, and my dad saw to it that my brothers and I respected the magnificence of those peaks as we should. Learning that Pam Houston was not able to climb the face of the Grand Teton gave me a small twinge of vindictive pleasure. That's probably not very nice to admit, but I'm trying to be as honest about my feelings as she tries to be.
Besides, the moment doesn't last long. She has the freedom to forge lasting love affairs with big, beautiful, bounding dogs. The kinds of dogs I long to have myself. She owns land in a remote corner of Colorado, surrounded by the mountains she has conquered on skis. And she has known, loved and owned horses. I am new to riding, but I agree that 'horses know the truth about what you are feeling faster than you have time to think it.' The insight in her first chapter gave me a leg up on my next few riding lessons. There are no problem horses.
But the power of this book lies not in the sheer number of adventures, but rather in the living and learning that went on in the meantime. 'Breaking The Ice' was the telling of two stories in parallel. A dead friend and a living friend being indirectly compared by a woman who is learning that it is important to have friends to be silent with. Tonight, for instance, I spent talking to a friend in front of my fireplace. Tonight we needed to talk (though I probably should have listened more). But sometimes we have the capacity just to be quiet. And I knew what she was going to say tonight long before she said it. That is beauty. That is friendship.
While I reveled in all of the Dispatches From Five Continents (and read most of them aloud to Jon), it was Houston's stories of home that appealed to me most. She may have visited every corner of the earth, but she is an American girl at heart. I can see the prairie in her hair, the big sky in her eyes. I love all that she is, an incomplete version of the success I hope to achieve someday. Yet what she has is more than enough. She has redefined success:
'...success has less to do with the accumulation of things, and more to do with the accumulation of moments... creating a successful life might be as simple as determining which moments are the most valuable, and seeing how many of those moments I can string together in a line.'
Her definition will do for me for now. I luxuriated in her writing, just the frank, lovely word choices and the capable rhythm of an author confident in her own shoes. My admiration stems from her ability to be both vulnerable and absolutely capable in her life pursuits. She owns big dogs, but admits to loving them as she has loved people, to wrapping herself around them and entwining her fingers in their fur in order to sleep alone at night. But this time it was the insight of a woman who took a trip around the world just to find that 'home is where your dogs are,' and is able to sit down and spill her guts onto paper for people like me, her insight is what made me love it.
When Marilyn Monroe sashayed in pink satin, pushing herself through a crowd of be-tuxed men and singing, 'Diamonds are a girl's best friend!', she ended up as an icon of sex appeal and fashion. Tonight I watched Kirsten Dunst attempt such a move, but her sashay looked too much like the tripping gait of a giggling, drunk sorority chick. Her philandering was not the product of passion, but rather that of a truly bad script. And while she dazzled in a wardrobe of gowns so very silk, so very rich, so very dripping with jewels, all I could do was yawn.
Marie Antoinette is a bad movie. It's important to note that this film, done so decadently, doesn't even warrant a more impassioned critical review. Had Sophia Coppola chosen to isolate still frames of the palace at Versailles, the gardens, the fireworks displays, the interiors all slathered in gold and blue tapestries, even of Kirsten Dunst made up like a saucy, greedy version of Little Miss Muffet, the collection might have ended up as a terrific coffee table book. I'm even the type of girl who would go to a museum display of replicated 18th Century French fans. But all the gold gilding in the world couldn't disguise the aimless plot, the pointless amusement of the film itself.
There was a single magnificently tusked elephant in the movie. He was wonderful.
I had high hopes as I took my seat next to a good friend and waited for the credits to roll. A modern soundtrack and fuchsia titles revved me up for a unique look at one of the most intriguing moments in history: a time when the common people got so fed up with the wonton gluttony and idleness of their monarchy that they went vehemently vigilante and literally cut off the problem at its source. Oh, the energy of the French revolution, the same energy that makes Les Miserables touching and tragic, was sugared down, washed away by champagne, and kept just on the outside of the palace walls.
Point of view is important in a film, especially one that seeks to give an audience a fresh perspective. I wanted to empathize with the child bride, the virgin queen, the isolated girl, the flibbertigibbet with a good heart. I wanted to bathe my senses in a culture based on a rigid (albeit ridiculous) code of status and political alliance, a code that blossoms in patterns of conduct, presentation of food, ceremonies for everything. When the young betrothed princess is guided across the Austrian border through a series of lavish tents, stripped of everything she has (including her precious squirming puppy), and stands naked at the entrance to France, I felt it. A twinge of sympathy as she was redressed in the clothes of her new court. But it was over before it began.
The point of view was lost in a shuffle of pink feathers and pink diamonds and pink champagne, and all the while Kirsten Dunst giggled through her plump, pink fingers, front and center.
While the plot had much potential, it petered out early. A poorly picked soundtrack was partially to blame. The audience never knew whether to yawn and lick the pink frosting off their fingers in the long silent scenes, or to get their groove on to Bow Wow Wow's 'I Want Candy'! And then there were those awkward moments when the consistently bubbleheaded queen would pause, gaze sagely at her husband and then, disregarding the approach of a murderous mob, she'd murmur, 'My place is here with my husband, the king.' What??!! Since when does she understand her rank on a level so deep she's willing to sacrifice her life, the lives of her children?
Oh yes, she does have children, by the way. Two darling platinum blonde children. They're lovely. It's unnecessary.
I'd love to stop here because I don't think this movie is worth the paper my $10.50 ticket was printed on, but I can't. The ending of the film must be mentioned. Mostly because it took forever to get there. Running time of this pepto bismol colored drivel? Two hours and three minutes. I was so sick of Kirsten Dunst, I was ready to light my own torch and shout along with the crowd, 'Off with her head!' But we didn't get to see that. Nope. The journey ended as it began, in a gilded carriage with the little girl queen bobbing along with the beat of the horses' hoofs, just saying goodbye to another palace.
We didn't even get to watch her die.
Perhaps the ending was cut because no one could explain the reason Coppola decided to make the queen's blood pink...
I was just glad to go, and to have a friend with whom to moan about the whole thing. (Jen, really sorry about this movie. We'll pick a much better one next time!) And now I've released this nausea from within myself. Too much cotton candy will do that to a person.
For weeks during my junior year of high school, my friend Jennie and I would hang out during the final period of the day in an empty classroom and watch movies while waiting for her brother to drive us home. We'd laugh continuously at 'Liar, Liar' and daydream about Wesley in 'The Princess Bride'. But our absolute favorite movie, the one we repeated more than all the others, was 1986's 'Crocodile Dundee'.
Paul Hogan may have been ancient, but is dark,wrinkled, leathery skin didn't deter us. We lived for his smile, sat on the edge of our seats during the scene in which he saves the lady reporter's life. In fact, when he stabbed his bowie knife into the crown of the giant croc's head and twisted it to unleash a sickening sound effect, we almost cheered.
To say the least, I remember this movie fondly. Naturally I Netflixed it. Jon, you see, had never been fortunate enough to watch the film on his own. As with everything else in our lives, I wanted to share the experience of 'Crocodile Dundee' with him. I wanted him to feel the nostalgia of the mid-eighties haircuts and flashy clothing styles. I wanted him to be mesmerized by Dundee's Aboriginal tricks.
You cannot imagine my disappointment. The dialog was terrible (perhaps because Paul Hogan helped to write the screenplay?) and the plotline was contrived. The love scenes I had sighed over, both in the outback and in the New York subway station, were the ultimate in cheese. Jon, bless him, didn't even roll his eyes. I was writhing with embarrassment at the poor acting and the ridiculous jokes and the unnecessary sexuality.
Only one familiar element rang true to me. Dundee is a man. He is strong and focused and unyielding and capable. He wrestles crocodiles and strangles snakes and defends helpless kangaroos. He beats up bullies and dances with ladies and treats everyone as his close friend. I think the woman in me was just awakening when I watched 'Crocodile Dundee' for the first time. While I'd been playing with boys all my life, and then progressed to playing the game of pre-love for the boys, I'd never known attraction to anything more than a sense of humor, an athletic streak, a floppy hairstyle and a torn pair of jeans.
At one point, the terrible actress in the movie has survived a mugging after Dundee comes to the rescue with (again) his knife. She crosses her arms over her chest, supposedly the picture of modern feminism, and says, 'I always feel safe when I'm with you, Dundee. Why do you always make me feel like Jane in a Tarzan movie?' He doesn't answer. It is the only way he knows. Of course they kiss then. The music ruins it.
But I understand what she means. There's something to feeling like Jane, even in a world where young women are told they need to be the Tarzan for themselves. Climb mountains, girls. Be the CEO of a major, multi-national corporation. Win the Nobel prize. Ask guys for their phone numbers. Forget to call. Opt to drive. Open your own door and pull on your own coat. Hire someone to clean and cook and watch your children; you have more important things to do. But do I really?
When Jon and I hiked Half Dome together for the first time, I crawled to the top of that blasted rock with my legs vibrating with fear and my sweaty palms sliding down the steel cables. I dragged myself up to impress Jonathan and to prove I could do it myself. He put his arm around me, proud, and took a picture. But I could barely stand up, and the wind was whistling morbidly all around me. Everything I knew and had known was telling me to excuse myself politely and descend on my own, just the way I'd come up, guts and pride and ability. Thankfully, my body went on strike and I had to tell my brain to take a hike. Jonathan stood behind me on mountainside, strong arms wrapped around me, and held me up. I took one step at a time, using his feet to steady my own. It took ages, but we made it down. Just Tarzan and Jane in Yosemite.
There really is something to it. And that's what called out to me from behind the veneer of the lousy 80s flick. Biceps and a big smile, a bowie knife in the backcountry. Just a man who knows what he wants. Even the terrible dialog was redeemed slightly be the always-invigorating Aussie accent.
I'll probably never watch it again (and I know Jon won't), but I've decided not to be humiliated about sharing this blight on the world of film with my husband. My status as a movie snob took quite a hit. Rather, I took the time to explore my memories and I came to a conclusion about myself and the growing process I'm still working on. Even as I chase my dreams and try to measure up to the standards set by society (be skinny, be strong, be sensitive, be selfish, be successful), at the end of the day there is absolutely nothing wrong with being, as Dundee would say, a real 'Sheila.'
Adding to the list of my guilty pleasures (that I am apparently unafraid of sharing with anyone who reads my blog) is one of the worst movies ever made... Blue Crush. Starring the gorgeous Kate Bosworth, one blue eye and one brown eye twinkling, as the surfer girl of all surfer girls. She lives with her sister and two best friends in a beach shack in Hawaii, works as a maid because school wasn't her "thang", and lives off of rice crispy treats when she's broke.
Could this sound less awesome?
Well, the secret truth is that I once wanted to be a beach bum. No joke. Me, the girl who is deathly afraid of the ocean, wanted to surf. I understood the athlete mentality anyway. I know that urge to conquer something bigger than myself, bigger and stronger than anything or anyone I know.
Why didn't I do it? To begin with, I was way too white to be a surfer. And my family didn't approve of tattoos. Granted, these are only parts of the surfer image. Still, there was a darn good chance I'd be terrible at the actual surfing part.
Because of that obscene beast called the Ocean. It's not even that the water frightens me. I happen to be a very strong swimmer. Or, I was. And I don't mind the stinging, clogged-up pain of getting water up my nose (too much). Mostly it's the sharks.
(((Insert scary, impending-doom, Jaws music here)))
It would be hypocritical of me to want to look the part, a tasty, kick-butt, surfer chick dominating the waves... and at the same time be upset with the sharks who agree with the "tasty" part.
Anyway, back to this terrible flick of a movie. Ignoring the love story... ignoring the predictible Mom-ditched-me-so-I-run-from-my-problems-too angle... ignoring everything, in fact, except the surfing... I feel good after it all. Watching someone, an underdog, get back up, swim back up after getting absolutely owned, is inspiring.
And I admire the fact that the best women surfers in the world advised the director as he undertook a film like this. It's tough to make an audience sitting in a movie theater or nestled into one comfy corner of a couch to feel the waves, to be splashed and crushed and wiped out. Somehow I feel it, though. They did something right. When the girls are sucked under and are struggling to find their way up, my lungs burn, too.
Plus, there aren't any sharks.
Now I work 8 to 5 every day. I do not have any tattoos (which is something I've considered changing, but old taboos die hard). I remain whiter than white. And my shark-phobia has not subsided. But I admire my best friend and Ya-Ya, Amy, because she throws it all to the wind and does this sport that I am so impressed by. I've been tamed, but she hasn't.
Jon and I are planning a trip to Hawaii within the next six months or so, but I don't think I'll attempt surfing even then. No, I'm more suited for beach volleyball, beach horseshoes, reading on the beach. We all have to find our niche. Mine is just obviously going to be found on dry land.
Thankfully, Netflix allows me access to terrible movies with zero plot and fantastic sporty-chick appeal... without forcing me into the embarrassing position of owning the darn thing.
Last night, Jon and I met our friends for dinner and a movie, specifically Mexican food, martinis and V for Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman. We really enjoyed it.
Evey, a young woman suffering under the rigid controls of futuristic totalitarian society (in Great Britain), is rescued by a masked vigilante who goes by the name "V". It is his intention to educate the oppressed people of Britain, all of whom have forgotten the beauties of freedom, to give them back the idea of individualism.
"Ideas," he says, "are bulletproof."
The movie is violent and dark, but there is an element of much-needed dry comedy added through the wit of the police inspector. Portman handles her character with poise, and she earns the sympathy of the audience, more and more at each turn.
Some of the plot twists are unfortunately predictable, but the predominately intelligent dialog makes up for it. And this movie is full of explosions. Definately not a chick flick.
I don't think I'd call it escapist, exactly, because no one wants the world to end up like this. Some have even suggested that this movie promotes terrorism. (The "hero" is based on an historical character, Guy Fawkes, a man who attempted to blow up the houses of parliament.) However, Americans can best enjoy this movie as citizens of a country that was also forced to fight for her freedom.
Like I said, if you want explosions, detective work, revolution and alliteration... Jon and I both recommend this film.
There are many pros to being an avid participant in the Netflix system. Oh, the convenience! This weekend Jon and I watched Top Gun, Born Yesterday and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. All excellent movies! On DVD. And the best part is that, had we not watched them this weekend, had we waited until next weekend or the weekend after... nobody would be calling our house leaving obnoxious messages like:
Hello. This is your neighborhood Blockbuster. We are calling to inform Audrey Pancoast that her most recent rental is overdue.
Blah. Blah. Blah. Who's Audrey Pancoast? Anyway, we enjoy the freedom of Netflix. But beyond that, I get to rate all the movies that I've ever seen. Quite a few. And I have excellent taste in movies (don't bother arguing...). Because I have some time, and because Netflix allows me the luxury of extensive browsing and rating and recommending, I've come up with some Top 10 lists. Hope you have your popcorn ready.
1. Roman Holiday
2. Best Years of Our Lives
3. It's a Wonderful Life
4. The Philadelphia Story
5. Mrs. Miniver
6. The Women
7. Born Yesterday
8. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
9. Breakfast at Tiffany's
10. Adam's Rib
(and there are so many more than this!)
1. Notting Hill
2. When Harry Met Sally
3. Sleepless in Seattle
4. Runaway Bride
5. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
6. Barefoot in the Park
7. Miss Congeniality
8. That Thing You Do!
10. My Best Friend's Wedding
2. Remember the Titans
4. A League of Their Own
6. Pride of the Yankees
7. Field of Dreams
8. The Natural
9. Bend it Like Beckham
10. Pat and Mike
1. A Few Good Men
2. A Beautiful Mind
3. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
4. Erin Brokovich
5. All the President's Men
6. Steel Magnolias
7. Les Miserables
9. To Kill a Mockingbird
10. Runaway Jury
1. The Emporer's Club
2. Anne of Green Gables (and Anne of Avonlea)
3. Dead Poets Society
4. Under the Tuscan Sun
5. Forrest Gump
6. Mona Lisa Smile
7. Finding Neverland
8. The Diary of Anne Frank
9. A River Runs Through It
10. The Miracle Worker
1. Indiana Jones: Lost Arc
2. The Matrix
3. The Right Stuff
4. Jurassic Park I
5. Mission: Impossible
6. The Patriot
7. Air Force One
8. The Recruit
10. Independence Day
1. The Big Chill
2. The Breakfast Club
3. Rain Man
4. Dirty Dancing
5. On Golden Pond
6. The Princess Bride
7. Fried Green Tomatos
8. Little Darlings
10. Crocodile Dundee I
Originals and Almost-as-Good Remakes
1. Father of the Bride (1950 and 1991)
2. Father's Little Dividend (1951)/Father of the Bride Part II (1995)
3. Pride and Prejudice (1940 and 2005)
4. The Lady Vanishes (1938)/Flightplan (2005)
5. The Manchurian Candidate (1962 and 2004)
6. Ocean's Eleven (1960 and 2001) ((Remake is better))
1. Roman Holiday
3. My Fair Lady
4. How to Steal a Million
5. Breakfast at Tiffany's
6. Wait Until Dark
7. Funny Face
8. Two For the Road
9. War and Peace
10. Love in the Afternoon
1. Dial M For Murder (1954)
2. Rear Window (1954)
3. Lifeboat (1944)
4. Saboteur (1942)
5. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
6. North by Northwest (1959)
7. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
8. Rebecca (1940)
9. To Catch a Thief (1955)
10. The Wrong Man (1956)
1. The Ghost Breakers
2. Road to Morocco
3. Road to Singapore
4. Road to Utopia
5. Casanova's Big Night
6. My Favorite Blonde
7. The Princess and the Pirate
8. Seven Little Foys
9. The Big Broadcast of 1938
10. Road to Zanzibar
"Jesus was soft on crime. He'd never have been elected to anything." (183)
When I can hear a writer's speaking voice in their text, easy and authentic in tone and humanity, I more easily appreciate the point behind the writing. So many people can write, but so few can convey a conspiratorial wink or a bashful smile on paper merely through tone. Anne Lamott can do all of these things. Thus, I appreciate what she has to offer as a fellow creative spirit. I have loved her other books, partly because of their uniqueness and partly because I found Bird By Bird especially useful. I owe Lamott my return to writing regularly, because in that book she excused my cliches and my bad habits and my 'sh---y first drafts'. She told me that I absolutely was not alone in my exasperation or boredom as a writer. But we're not talking about Bird By Bird.
Let's get the elephant out of the room... George W. Bush is not eloquent, nor has he made stellar decisions in the last several years. He does not make me, a hard-core rightwing Californian, feel terribly safe. He bumbles and mumbles and laughs funny and undoubtedly finds poo-humor entertaining. But he is a good, kind man. And, best of all, he doesn't give a flying leap what Anne Lamott or any other crazy, leftist, hippy-elite, Marin resident thinks about him. Lamott is allowed her opinion, but talk about overkill. She should stick to truth and beauty, faith and humor. Criticism of anyone besides herself does not suit her.
That aside, I enjoyed Plan B. Lamott is wise in a cute way, but she can overstretch her limits, and she does too often in this book. Her inspiring moments were fewer and further between than in previous works, but each time a swell came my way I leapt for it. Her struggles as a liberal Christian, the single mother of an adolescent male, a former addict, an acclaimed writer under pressure to deliver a book that critics will feel is up to par... are honest. She takes unabashed digs at herself, even at her most flawed moments. Really brave authors strip themselves naked in front of their readers and then, rather than demurely covering themselves with the closest leaves or an awkwardly positioned arm and hand, they invite inspection. Lamott redeems herself in my eyes by admitting her own childishness:
'Others, of every race, came forward to support us, although they did not offer to help teach. I heard that people were talking behind our backs, and I wanted to call Veronica and tell on them'Pastor, Pastor, so-and-so was bearing false witness against us!' (74).
Not beautiful writing, to be sure. But that's part of Lamott's mastery. Her tone is reinforced by her style, and it changes periodically to really make a specific point. In this case she writes like a child, foregoing her usual flowery prose and mature rhythm in order to give the most accurate interpretation of her emotion at the time. Anne Lamott, a brilliant writer and an intelligent woman, will attend her own pity parties as the guest of honor, and she isn't afraid to admit it.
In between her admissions of childishness, egocentrism, confusion and envy, Lamott's material sweeps me away like a familiar river. Like me, she does not 'have the right personality for Good Friday, for the crucifixion: [she'd] like to skip ahead to the resurrection. In fact, [she'd] like to skip ahead to the resurrection vision of one of the kids in [her] Sunday school, who drew a picture of the Easter Bunny outside the tomb: everlasting life, and a basket full of chocolates. Now you're talking.' For just a moment 'Octopus Head' and I see eye to eye.
That's why I eat up her writing, because I want to understand her better, but I have to be careful not to let the current carry me too far from home. The woman is wild, crazy, not always my cup of tea. There are times when I merely tolerate what she has to say, as I would tolerate the views of any person to whom I must defer as my elder or my intellectual superior. While I loved the chapter about her time working with inmates at San Quentin, and while I was unsurprised by her protests at the prison's gates when a death row inmate's time had run out, I so violently disagree with her stand on the issue of capital punishment that I had to take time off from the reading in order to give the chapter its deserved equal consideration.
Educating convicts is important, even noble. I would love to admire her father's work with prisoners as she does. But the fact that he 'did not bog down in complex moral and ethical matters'victims' rights, recidivism' actually negates his usefulness in that capacity, at least in my own mind. That she thinks of that standpoint as positive diminishes her contribution for me, as well.
The chapter entitled 'Hard Rain' caught my imagination in a choke hold. First, it threw me. For some reason her rhythm got lost in the shuffle. I hate that, because I have no rhythm anyway. Finding a groove isn't easy for me. (Just ask Jon; I clap on the off beat. Whatever that means.) I read the chapter again. Little things like her references to being a 'crabby optimist' gave me hope, the incentive to find the value hidden in the text. For an entire paragraph she really talks herself up. I am not used to Lamott being excessively arrogant. Any published writer is allowed a little arrogance, but the paragraph that starts on 128 and continues, listing every anti-war move she made, crossed the line. I was rolling my eyes.
'God,' she said, 'has extremely low standards.'
Then the rains came. In the book the rain 'suggests that you should go inside, rest, try to stay dry. The scent of rain is fresh and earthy, clean and woolly, of leaves and dirt, wet dogs. We get whiffs of our animal smells, of feet, sweat, and the secret smells of the earth, which she often keeps to herself. Rain gives us back something that has been stolen, a dimension we've been missing'our body, and our soul' (129). That same rain washed away my irritation with Ms. Lamott and her super-sized, Demo-crap ego. And the bulbs she planted as a form of prayer blossomed. As it turns out, this chapter is not about rain at all. It is about remaining vigilant, not only regarding the political administration or whether your teenage son is doing his homework, but keeping a close eye on your own tendencies when it comes to people. Don't hide inside. 'Get out of the damn car already' (132). Be of service; serve the community; be kind.
There, like the creamy center in a Hostess Cupcake, was the value, the moral. Lamott walks away from Plan B succeeding in providing her readers with further thoughts on faith, but I walked away slightly bored. I'll read her again, and I'll recommend her other books first, and I'll even recommend this book to a very patient, optimistic friend. The fact that I compared Plan B to a Hostess Cupcake really ought to speak volumes, though. I do love a good cupcake.
Ginger Rogers. Jean Arthur. Maureen O'Hara. Ronald Reagan. I have read their life stories, and I have been dazzled by them all. Granted, these are figures of Hollywood and, with the exception of Reagan, none of them contributed anything to science or technology or even solid, meaningful history. Instead they entertained. I find that their recollections of time spent in Hollywood's golden age are extremely fun and romantic to read.
But there is no real purpose to their stories. Each autobiography is different, of course, and filled with exciting anecdotes and famous people. In the end, though, it is the title character who remains as the sun to the universe of the book, and I learn very little about history or its making.
Contrast that with the many memoirs I've read over the years by people like Rick Bragg and Fredrick Douglass and, most recently, Primo Levi. A memoir is a life story which is dedicated not to the man who lived it, but to the world that served as plot rather than backdrop to that story.
In All Over But The Shoutin', Bragg writes about his life as the poor white son of a single mother in the rural south during the civil rights crisis and beyond. He grew up to be a New York Times reporter who often wrote compelling articles about other people and their trials.
But his own story is fascinating in its everyday brutality. It is a dedication to his mother, a woman who "picked cotton in other people's fields and ironed other people's clothes and cleaned the mess in other people's houses, so that her children didn't have to live on welfare alone, so that one of them could climb up her backbone and escape the poverty and hopelessness that ringed them, free and clean".
Fredrick Douglass' essays can be found in a book called The Classic Slave Narratives. He suffered as a slave, to be sure. But there is nothing typical about his relating of events. The point of his writing is the writing. It is a song in praise of literacy and the innate freedom it gives. Douglass was able to communicate, to rally, to ask for help, to give advice, to organize, to give voices to the many, many slaves who were deprived of the language. If you give a man the words, there is nothing in this world that can stop him from achieving. No story proves that better than Douglass'.
This quarter I am taking a class that studies the genre of memoir. Already I am fascinated. To begin we have been assigned three holocaust memoirs by people in very different situations. Having completed Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz, I am almost speechless. BAM! Truth. The truth is not that the Holocaust was terrible; it IS terrible. No amount of time will quell the ache of our world lacking countless millions of men and women.
Levi survived. Technically he lived long past his release from the prison, and he wrote long and hard about his time there. But for his time in the death camp he was kicked into depravity, forced into the worst behaviors and humiliations of men.
And yet his story is not a whining tale. He does not preach. In simply beautiful language and painfully honest metphors Levi paints a picture of the world of Auschwitz, the hell of Auschwitz. He is in the picture, front and center, prone on the ground and naked. The guards are not demons; they are humans lacking humanity or compassion. And time is standing still. Because for Levi the nightmare never ended, and he took his own life years later because he could not dredge out the shrapnel of these memories embedded in his heart.
It is Levi's use of language in his memoir that strikes a sharp chord within me. His bare-bones style leaves nothing to the reader's imagination, but that is his point, because in the end we are still horrified by what we see, and more horrified by the reality of it all. Even his metaphors, likening the sun to a betrayer or the prisoners marching to a 'dance of dead men', are perfect.
In a book that describes and relates everything that was worst about the world, I find beauty in Levi's storytelling. The beauty shocks me. When, after his first winter, he and his comrades see and feel the sun for the first time, he explains that even the simple pleasure of warmth leads him to 'understand how men can worship the sun'. I love that. Levi admits that he loses faith, but there is always a solid quest to regain it. The sun is not Levi's sworn enemy; it could be God.
In the faces and stories of the few good, strong men he meets while in the camp, the author sees what form survival really takes. These men are generous even when they have had everything stripped from them. Levi tears himself down throughout the story, allowing that he is weak and selfish. But I doubt these descriptions would have even been relevant had he not seen first-hand the survival of the human spirit in some of his fellow inmates.
Early on he realizes that he no longer cares to keep himself clean, and he is reprimanded by an older gentleman whom he has great respect for. That man teaches Levi that even in Auschwitz one can survive. In order to succeed, though, 'one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness'. The men in the camp must force themselves 'to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization'.
I am greatly moved by that conviction and, though I am sure that Levi lost it from time to time over those harsh months, he certainly fulfills his purpose in the end. He bears severe witness in his memoir. And, as I have always believed that memoirs are autobiographies written with deep purpose, I have to say that Survival in Auschwitz is a defining work for the entire genre of memoir.
At this moment I'm supposed to be thinking about my paper. In Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" a jealous king falsely accuses his wife of adultery, she dies before he can ask for forgiveness, their child is abandoned in the wilderness and adopted by a shepherd, she grows up to be beautiful and catches the heart of a young prince, who turns out to be the son of a rival king... they marry, and it turns out the queen didn't really die! All is forgiven and people get married. But I don't care.
My mind is wandering.
Tales of Winter are on my mind. There's an image in my mind of a gorge, deep in the frozen heart of the wilderness. A campfire's slim strand of smoke slices into the thin mountain air, like a ghost.
When I daydream about camping, it means I'm missing my husband. My nature-loving, mountain-climbing, rugged husband.
In the background I'm watching The River Wild. It's a favorite of mine. The suspense gets to me every time. Kevin Bacon is pure evil. I've always found him attractive, but his cold eyes pierce right through me in this one. And I love Meryl Streep as the strong, capable mother and wife. But mostly, it is David Strathairn, the father, who makes me so proud. When his family is threatened and held hostage, he rises to the challenge, relying on his instincts to save their lives.
I want to turn and see Jonathan sitting beside me, a shadow on his cheeks. I want him to hold my hand and tuck a blanket around me, tell me I'll be all right... even if I know so on my own, it sounds wonderful coming from the one who takes such good care of me.
He'll be home on Friday night. Between now and then I have to get better. My paper is due tomorrow, and I have a day of work on Friday. Let's just hope that time flies.
On Friday the Ya-Yas and I joined the crazy mobs and went shopping at Union Square, a tradition. Lots of laughing and catching up, enjoying the cold, merry speed of a holiday in the city. For dinner we worked very hard to secure a great table on the terrace of the Cheesecake Factory, at the top of Macy's. Some Ya-Ya magic must'ave helped as we finished dinner in perfect sync with the countdown to the lighting of the Union Square Christmas tree.
Thus, the season has begun.
And today I joined my mom and her two girlfriends on another trip to the city. We had lunch at the cafe in Nordstrom's before heading to the Orpheum Theater. I'd suggested that we take in a showing of the new broadway rendition of White Christmas.
In a word: magical. As a huge fan of the original White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, I was skeptical when I went to the theater with Jon's folks last year at this time. But even with the changes made to adapt the show to the stage, I was enchanted. This time was no different.
Inspired by one of the most famous Christmas carols of all time, written by Irving Berlin and shot to the top of the charts by the vocal stylings of Bing Crosby, White Christmas is the story of two GIs ten years after the end of World War II who are successful on Broadway. They fall in love, give generously to their former general when he falls on hard times, and sing and dance up a storm in the process. Oh, the joy of fifties musicals!
The dazzling young cast gave an all-around beautiful performance. Especially the young woman who played Betty Haines. Goreous voice! Mom, Denise, Gigi and I allowed ourselves to be transported back to a simpler time, and we were practically tap dancing out the door at the end of the day.
I'm ready for this season. Thanksgiving was wonderful, bring on Christmas!
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
just like the ones I used to know,
where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
with every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
and may all your Christmases be white.
Our home is lovely and cozy. Not elegant, of course. The kitchen is consistantly and prettily red. The loft is the most finished, with the big movie posters on the walls. The bedroom is, well... a mess. That leaves the living room. Empty.
What to do?
First we got bookshelves, then a couple hand-me-down end tables from my folks, a stereo. Still, there's this massive space in the middle. It looks like such a lonely room. But you'd be surprised.
In the living room we unpack, regroup, play with the cat, dance, inventory Christmas decorations, pile stuff... and tonight we found a new activity. Badminton.
Honest. We went out tonight specifically to get a badminton set, for tomorrow. Thanksgiving with my folks usually incorporates some kind of sport. And, since Dad has torn his achilles and had his gall bladder removed in just the last 18 months, he's not really up for basketball or football anymore (despite everything he says to the contrary). Jon and I figured that, next to walking around the block, a rousing match of badminton might be just the thing.
Then we had pizza and went to see the new Harry Potter movie. Too long, too slow to start, amazing special effects.
Once home you'd think that we'd be exhausted, and ready to go to sleep and start the holiday off immediately. Instead we both had the same idea. And within minutes the game was unpacked, a line was traced in the carpet to symbolize a net, rules were sketched out, and play began.
We rallied back and forth, laughing at our own clumsiness. I told stories about the badminton team at Newark Memorial High School. Jon thinks that badminton isn't enough of a sport to deserve a spot at the Olympics. But the little booklet that came with the game gave a short bit of history on the game, including the fact that Bette Davis and James Cagney were avid players! (If you don't know who those people are, then I don't know you.)
Anyway, we played badminton in our living room. Our wonderful, all-but-empty living room. Isn't it fun to be young and couchless?
I love Disney's Tarzan. When it came out in the theater back in 1999, my friends and I saw it three times! There was something about the swinging, intense hero... searching for himself by finding others just like him.
After a series of less-than-Disney calliber flicks, it was refreshing to see a romance that had to do with two people separately seeking their own kind of truth, and then finding it in one another.
Besides the all-Phil Collins score, which I love, Tarzan is colorful and energetic. Sub-plots involve the bond between mother and son, father and son, reaching for your dreams, never letting people tell you "it" cannot be done, how to be a good friend, siezing the day... the list goes on.
My favorite part, of course, is the scene where Tarzan takes Jane up into the treetops to see dozens of beautiful birds... and it's also the moment that he realizes he never wants her to leave. Jane's voice is perfect...
Oh, and I'm writing about this because Jon and I just watched it while playing the worst game of Scrabble ever. In fact, we abandoned the game because it was soooooo boring! And the word choices we rotten! And there was nowhere to play! Anyway, we watched Tarzan. When the falling-in-love moment came, I got teary eyed. Not because the romance between two animated characters is overly emotional for me, but because that moment reminds me of our honeymoon.
"Go get the book, honey." Jon wisely thought to suggest that we look at the honeymoon scrapbook I made. As long as I was gonna cry, why not make it over something understandable. (And no, I didn't weep. Just happy, reminiscent tears... graceful, understated...)
We paged through the twelve lovely, loving, Disney-filled days and laughed to the tune of our memories there. Never has a trip been so much fun! And relaxing. We ate delicious meals, stayed at the best hotels, played and played and played, saw the sights, lazed in our room, drank ice-cold lemonade, took pictures with Minnie... we were newly married and loving every second of it!
Jon and I have been to Disneyland many times. In a month or so we'll be going back after my finals are over. No matter how many times we go, though, the magic and romance are still floating in the air. Music, lights, smiles, love. It truly is a land of fairy tales. Thank goodness the people at Disney have the good sense to make movies like Tarzan.
(On a side note, we went to see Chicken Little the other night. Aside from the many amusing references to other movies including Star Wars, Indiana Jones and King Kong, it didn't rate terribly high in my book. There's a dancing fish in a scuba helmet... worth seeing on DVD if you're trying to get in touch with your inner child. Do NOT spend more than $5.)
I have an author recommendation. And no, she's not one the authors I am assigned to read in my "boring" English classes at school. Amanda Eyre Ward was someone I'd never heard of until I walked into Barnes and Noble intending to buy another quick read late this summer. Her latest novel, How To Be Lost, caught my eye, and buying it was an impulse. But I couldn't put it down. In a little more than two days I'd dusted it off between the rest of my busy schedule.
When I'd finished the book, I was left wanting more. Something about Ward's prose is soothing; even if the content is also disturbing or graphic, the metaphors she draws are easy to see in your mind's eye. I appreciate her logic.
She also uses all five senses in her descriptions, often detailing the scent of a person or the texture of an item in the scene in order to most accurately get her point across. It always works, bringing characters vividly to life. They stand in front of you, breathing, wearing flannel and smelling faintly of cloves and cigarette smoke. Ward knows that her readers will attach themselves to characters they are allowed to know more intimately than usual.
Today I picked up an earlier book by Ward entitled Sleep Toward Heaven, and I didn't put it down until I'd finished it. Literally in the span of just a few hours I gulped down every ounce of the story. She amazes me.
Not only is her voice as real as a friend's or a neighbor's, but she refuses to write in a stale, linear fashion. Rather, she chooses several plot lines and alternates between them, giving each protagonist his or her own distinct expression so as to make the reader's journey with each very easy, and then she braids them together. At the beginning the three sides of the story are so disparate that one wonders how they'll ever come close to one another... and in the end Ward wraps them up, tightly unified, so they can't exist without each other. The movements are subtle and surprising. I love it.
But I think Ward's most important talent is her staunch, balanced point of view. Even in Sleep Toward Heaven, a story about women on death row in Texas, I could not feel Ward's own stand on the issue of corporal punishment. The tale itself is told through the life of an inmate, the life of a victim's widow, the life of a young doctor... and minor characters influence each segment with stories and experiences of their own.
Yet, Ward doesn't enter her own plotline. There is no ringing endorsement for the needle at the end... there is no proof of innocence after punishment is inflicted. Nothing. Her poker face is admirable, and it makes her work that much more valuable.
"I'd won a bet- my husband had bet me that he could make Priscilla sit still with a biscuit on her nose, but he couldn't. Priscilla kept snapping her head around and eating the biscuit. I won the bet, so he had to go buy the beer. 'Get something good,' I yelled, as he pulled the truck out of the driveway. 'None of that Miller Lite crap!' And that was the last word he heard from me: crap. I'm sure he heard some other words afterward, maybe a song on the radio, the price of the beer from the cashier. I can watch the tape if I want to find out exactly what Karen Lowens had said. But the last word he heard from me, his beloved wife, was 'crap.'"
To sum up, she's great. If you've got a few hours to spare... check her out. Rest assured I plan to track the rest of her writing down and read it diligently.
Anne Lamott is a wonderful author. Her book "Bird By Bird" has been a blessing and a relief to read more than once. And she inspires me. Which is her point in that book. She's out to make us who claim to be writers... write!
I made all sorts of excuses the last time. I couldn't be too inspired because I was in the midst of my broker's class (which, as any reader of mine can attest to, isn't great for getting the creative juices a-flowing). Now, however, my summer is ending. I'm coming away with many new experiences and qualifications as a person, an adult, a wife, a friend and a daughter. As a writer it's time to get my butt in gear.
One strategy Lamott suggests for those of us who are prone to "dry spells" is the idea of Inches. Sit down and write just an inch. Or three inches if you're feeling slightly less than completely empty. Surprisingly, an inch or two can become a page in no time. It's a jump start. I've tried it before, and it always works for me. Not that I'm penning novels here. But my time isn't wasted when the product of an hour is a memory made tangible and set down for posterity, or a plot begun, or a character born. Tonight's harvest wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but I thought I'd cheat a little and place it here.
These inches lack purpose, commitmet, resolution... every key element of good writing. But I focused on the language, and it felt great! Like a workout for the brain. Let's hope I remember this when I feel plum tuckered mid-quarter.
When I first sit down my memories come too fast to me, choking my brain with images and sounds: a loud girl's voice, a black bruise on my hand from punching a tetherball like a maniac at recess, the pool water sloshing up over the edge after a perfect cannonball, someone touching me when I wasn't ready for it, the horrible tug in my mouth when the dentist had to extract the countless, stubborn baby teeth that clogged my smile, the smell of pipe tobacco floating to me as I passed an old man taking his daily constitutional, the flapping and buzzing of a baseball card fastened to a bike frame with a clothespin...
Childhood? Mine? Perhaps. Or are they all braided in with the stories I've heard and the books I've read, the movies I've seen, my imaginings? I can't tell sometimes.
It's the possibility of fiction that allows me to consider this past. I don't fear it. Not like those unfortunate people who were starved of affection or lied to or beaten or humiliated or rendered impossibly ill. What shall I do with all my material?
On the edge of my bed sits my mother. She smiles at me and listens to my wild stories about school and my friends. Her long, warm fingers play absently with the laced edge of my violet comforter, worn with age and infinite washings. I watch her fingers move like a happy, nimble spider, catching the white threads and pulling, twisting, smoothing, stretching.
There is no scent or sound other than her breathing, always deeper and more calm than my own. When she rocked me to sleep I would try and match her breaths, the slow intake and pause. But I could never quite achieve that match. I'd give up.
And then she'd sing to me. I loved the songs she chose, favorites from her own childhood, sung by her own mother, a grandmother I'd never had the chance to meet. Deep maternal tones ran beneath the silly, meaningless words. My child heart was soothed into sleep.
Years later, when I was away at college and jerked from sleep by a nightmare, I sometimes wished I could call and hear my mother's lullaby again.
Water snagged my clothes and sucked me down to the sandy bottom of the lake. I was caught in the undertow I'd been warned about by my uncle, just before I swam too deep. In the murky darkness I couldn't see the terrors I were sure were all around me; I could not breathe; I could not find up.
But if my life flashed before my eyes, I didn't see it. Seven years would probably just be a blip rather than a flash anyway. And as my lungs burned for air, wooziness overtook me and I released myself. It was after the struggle stopped that I floated to the surface, a mile down shore from my family having a picnic on the beach.
When I dragged myself onto the dry dune to catch my breath, I had to think. Did I almost drown? Was that what 'almost drowning' was like? Or would this be another exaggeration on my part? Discreetly I attempted to empty my magenta bathing suit of the sand that it had collected during my escapade. How embarrassing.
I decided that I was simply a lousy swimmer. No need to hear my parents explain again how outrageous my imagination could be sometimes.
A Sad Shell
There was a lovely, normal woman who lived across the street from my family when I was growing up. Her hair was especially curly and honey blonde, and her smile was a bit pearly. I thought she was beautiful.
And she was raising two beautiful children. Even if her son was a tad arrogant and her daughter a little spoiled. She doted on her husband, always smiling at him. It was always the same smile, it seemed. Practiced, measured so that she'd have the energy to do it all day long.
We watched her homeschool the kids, be the perfect 'team mom' at little league games, style her daughter's hair every morning like a little doll, cook oodles of goodies for the neighborhood bake sale, do aerobics at the community center... the list went on.
She was religious, too, a devout Mormon. But any and all discipline was deferred to her husband, the man of the house. After a while she seemed to me a shell of person, a sad shell of a person.
It still shocked everyone when the family woke up one day to find her gone completely. No word. Just gone. And there was nothing lovely or normal about it.
Rumors abounded, of course. If they were true she was living in Seattle with a photographer who went by only his first name; she was his model, his muse. Or she'd gone back to school and was studying dentistry. Or there'd been a secret intervention and she was currently in a very high security rehabilitation facility on the west coast, where her roommate had once starred on Beverly Hills 90210.
Whatever the case, her family didn't appear to miss her too much, though her son barely made it through high school and her daughter developed a call-for-a-good-time reputation.
I remember watching the woman's husband after she'd gone. He'd been distant before, more assured. In her absence he reached out to anyone and everyone. I was proud to see that he was answered.
My dream began on a hilltop and ended in a gritty alley behind a grocery store where my family shopped weekly for many years. It was never me in the dream, though, just a girl's body detached from my urgent thoughts.
She walked down the steep side of the hill, stomping to break the momentum, but her feet would begin to wheel too fast and she was swept downward out of control. I never noticed the view from the hilltop, just that she was above something and I was too busy trying to get my thoughts through to her and protect her.
Exhausted she would wander at the bottom of the hill through a phony looking town. Bright storefronts and empty windows, like a set for a play that someone had wheeled onstage just moments before the curtain shot up. No curtain, though, just a straight, narrow road to nothing.
She stopped abruptly and turned left into an alley I hadn't seen before. In the alley she died. I felt the death, but not the pain. There was no watching or seeing or hearing. It felt like a tightness was unbound in my chest, but I don't believe I was her soul, because I didn't float away. It was just the body and me, which was no different except that something was missing. Life probably.
I studied the way she lay crooked on the ground, like a broken bird fallen from her nest. Long, red scratches had appeared on her wrists, but I could never decide how they had been inflicted on this girl who was not me.
She could not have been me. Mostly I think this because I felt no sadness when she died. Until I tried to leave the body, I wasn't afraid either.
But then I was stuck. I only tried to leave once, I could see the brightness of the street at the end of the alley, but it was no use. In fact, the certainty with which I knew that leaving the body was impossible kept me from fighting. That's when the fear set it. The alley was darker, the street further away, and the body distorted into everything horrible.
My insubstantial being yearned to wake up.
His breathing is soft, like the skin at the nape of his neck, covered with a curl of dark, soft hair. I count his rhythm and think about eternity and what he might want for breakfast when he does wake up, which is always after I do. Never, in this early morning moment of study, do I move unless absolutely necessary. His waking is inevitable, but when he sleeps he is a little boy angel, fearless and undaunted by the world, hopeful, trusting, unblemished. For that second his history is suspended and I see nothing but the beauty of a good man who is mine. I love him. Then I notice that his eyes aren't entirely closed. I can see them, blue and sleepy beneath his lashes, but definitely seeing. I blush. I've been caught. But, in fact, he is studying me, too. Quickly he shuts them again, as if I might not have seen him peeking at me, and allows me to continue my contemplation uninterrupted. Why not? This game continues until it becomes absurd, the sincerity of my study is lost when I begin making funny faces at him when he peeks again. His eyes open and, unbelievably, I love him more.
Today I finished two books. One was a fluffy, entertaining novel called "Little White Lies". The other was Girl Meets God. It's a memoir by a young, very well educated woman who chooses to convert from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. Her story winds its way through her past, her present and her future, describing and analyzing her relationship with God, its evolution and depth. But along the way she meets and is affected by strangers, family and friends.
I love the way Lauren F. Winner writes. She might as well be sitting across from me on my couch, legs tucked underneath her, holding a half-finished cup of some trendy iced coffee drink and talking animatedly about her days and years. Far too smart for me; I'd never have a prayer of keeping up. But she is as intriguing as she is intelligent.
Over the course of this read I've enjoyed many specific parts, memorized different sentences, laughed out loud at her sheer wit. And, of course, I've marveled at how much I seem to understand about her heart and her faith, her dealings with people she loves.
My favorite part goes like this:
"There are a few people out there with whom you fit just so, and, amazingly, you keep fitting just so even after you have growth spurts or lose weight or stop wearing heels. You keep fitting even after you have children or change religions or stop dyeing your hair or quit your job at Goldman Sachs and take up farming. Somehow God is gracious enough to give us a few of those people, people you can stretch into, people who don't go away, and whom you wouldn't want to go away, even if they offered to." -- Lauren F. Winner, Girl Meets God.
A while ago I got a phone call. Well, a message actually, because I so rarely actually answer my cell. Anyway, it went something like this:
"Aud, it's Cin, and I called because I just read a part in [Girl Meets God] that totally made my think of you! And it is going to make you think of me. So, when you read it, call me."
Scary, isn't it? That she didn't tell me a thing about the passage she was talking about, the one that had inspired her to call me, the one that made her think of two people and two people only. Yet when I read on in the book and happened upon the paragraph above, everything clicked into place in my brain. I too could only think of two people. My best friends. My Ya-Yas.
Lauren is right on the money. If you took her words and braided them with my life, it would read something like this:
"There are a few people out there with whom you fit just so, and, amazingly, you keep fitting just so even after you have growth spurts or gain weight or start wearing heels. You keep fitting even after you get married or move to San Diego or dye your hair blonde or quit your job at the coffee shop/Banana Republic/Macy's and take up a different coffee shop job/insurance brokering/work at a print shop. Somehow God is gracious enough to give us a few of those people, people you can stretch into, people who don't go away, and whom you wouldn't want to go away, even if they offered to."
I was in Yosemite with Jon when I did read that part and knew without a doubt that I was feeling what Cindy had felt. Of course, there's no cell phone reception in Yosemite. But once at home again we talked and laughed as hard as only sister-close friends can laugh at something so amazing.
Someday I'll write a book, too. Probably not a memoir. I doubt I'll go on to achieve an advanced degree in anything and, without insulting the career I'm embarking on at the moment, there is so little about insurance that begs to be written about in an entertaining fashion. But I'll write one nonetheless. Let's just hope I sound as smart and insightful and funny as Lauren Winner.
Whether I do or not, though, there is another great thing about having friends like the Ya-Yas: I'm guaranteed to sell at least two books.
Ladies and gentlemen... let's play NAME THAT MOVIE! I provide the quote, you get all excited... jump up and down... "I know this one! It's right on the tip of my tongue!" And I'm sure you'll get a lot of them.
I promise not to stump you with my old movies... much... and yes, I'll supply the answers at the end. Don't you dare google! Have fun!
1)I hate you I hate the way you talk to me and the way you cut your hair. I hate the way you drive my car. I hate it when you stare. I hate your big dumb combat boots and the way you read my mind. I hate you so much it makes me sick -- it even makes me rhyme. I hate the way you're always right. I hate it when you lie. I hate it when you make me laugh ' even worse when you make me cry. I hate it that you're not around and the fact that you didn't call. But mostly I hate the way I don't hate you ' not even close, not even a little bit, not any at all.
2) Get off my plane!
3) Rule number one: I can't kill anybody. So don't ask. Rule number two: I can't make anybody fall in love with anybody else. (smack) You little puddum there. Rule number three! I can't bring the people back from the dead. It's not a pretty picture, I don't like doing it! Other than that, you got it.
4) Of course! From a group of Libyan nationalists. They wanted me to build them a bomb, so I took their plutonium and instead gave them a shoddy bomb casing filled with used pinball machine parts!
5) I won't kill you... but I don't have to save you.
6) I think it's T double-E double-R double-R double-I double-F double-I double-C, C, C.
7) Now what we have here is failure to communicate.
8) Sucking all the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone.
9) Why am I calling you by your first names? I don't even know you. I still call my boss "Mister", and I've been working for him for seven years, but all of a sudden I walk in here and I'm calling you Rick and Sheila like we're in some kind of AA meeting. . .I don't want to be your buddy, Rick. I just want some breakfast.
10) If you build what, who will come?
11) The best thing about visiting the President is the food! Now, since it was all free, and I wasn't hungry but thirsty, I must've drank me fifteen Dr. Peppers.
12) No, I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.
13) What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.
14) I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be there in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be there in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they built - I'll be there, too.
15) Y'know, this was supposed to be my weekend off, but noooo. You got me out here, draggin' your heavy ass, through the burnin' desert, with your dreadlocks sticking out the back of my parachute. You gotta come down here with an attitude, actin' all big and bad... and what the hell is that smell? (kicks alien) I could've been at a barbecue! ...but I ain't mad.
16) You wanna talk to God? (reaching for his revolver) Let's go see him together; I've got nothing better to do.
17) I know what I'm gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long...
18) You're gonna need a bigger boat.
19) God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs...
20) Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.
21) Here it goes: I sped, I followed too closely, I ran a stop sign, I almost hit a Chevy, I sped some more, I failed to yield at a crosswalk, I changed lanes in an intersection, I changed lanes without signaling while running a red light, and speeding!
22) You know, nasty little fellows such as yourself always get their comeuppance.
23) I only lied about being a thief.
24) Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
25) But why is the rum gone?
26) Yeah. Veg out. Be still like vegetables. Lay like broccoli.
27) You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is, "Never get involved in a land war in Asia", but only slightly less well-known is this: "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line"!
28) Every man's ready for marriage when the right girl comes along, and Lisa Fremont is the right girl for any man with half a brain who can get one eye open.
29) You're killing me, Smalls!
30) He better be worth it. He better go home and cure a disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb.
31) You mighta seen a house fly, maybe even a superfly, but you ain't never seen a donkey fly.
32) Don't ever risk your life for an asset. If it comes down to you or them... send flowers.
33) The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid.
34) I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!
35) Do you know what the most suprising thing about divorce is? -It doesn't actually kill you, like a bullet to the heart, or a head-on car wreck. It should. When... someone you've promised to cherish... "'til death do you part"... says they never loved you... it should kill you instantly. You shouldn't have to wake up day after day after that trying to understand how in the world you didn't know.
36) Well, if you must know, it was because he was very jealous, and I had these days of the week underpants.
37) This certainly is a big, round room...
38) Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA? IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE TELLING ME?
39) Are you telling me that my children have been running around in nothing but these old drapes?!
40) And by the way, there's a name for you ladies. But it isn't used in high society... outside of a kennel.
41) What would you do with a brain if you had one?
42) It's light beer, and she's gonna throw it up anyway!
43) I could swear that she was padded from her shoulders to her heels, but then she started dancing and her dancing made me feel like every single thing she had was absolutely real!
44) Daddy, I met a man in Rome! And he's wonderful and brilliant and we're getting maaaaaarrieeeeed!
45) Oh Jerry, let's not ask for the moon. We still have the stars!
46) What kind of a name is Bug? What's his last name? Spray?
47) And, Daddy, he took my boot!
48) Mathematicians won the war; mathematicians broke the Japanese codes and built the A-bomb.
49) Here's looking at you, kid.
50) Let me get this straight. You know her; she knows you; but she wants to eat him... and everybody's okay with this? Did I miss something?!
1) 10 Things I Hate About You
2) Airforce One
4) Back to the Future (the good one)
5) Batman Begins
6) Charlotte's Web
7) Cool Hand Luke
8) Dead Poet's Society
9) Falling Down
10) Field of Dreams
11) Forrest Gump
12) Gone With the Wind
13) Groundhog Day
14) Grapes of Wrath
15) Independence Day
16) Indiana Jones (the good one)
17) It's a Wonderful Life
19) Jurassic Park
20) Jurassic Park
21) Liar, Liar
22) The Mummy
23) Ocean's Eleven
25) Pirates of the Carribean
26) Pretty Woman
27) The Princess Bride
28) Rear Window
29) The Sandlot
30) Saving Private Ryan
31) Shrek (the good one)
32) Spy Game
33) Top Gun
34) True Grit
35) Under the Tuscan Sun
36) When Harry Met Sally
38) Young Frankenstein
39) Sound of Music
40) The Women
41) The Wizard of Oz
42) Miss Congeniality
44) Father of the Bride (the new one)
45) Now, Voyager
46) Uncle Buck
48) A Beautiful Mind
50) Lion King
Feel free to post your score!
I love this movie.
"Oh that's a relief. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to use the 'liar, liar, pants on fire' defense."
In high school I must have watched it at least a thousand times. And I shared my love for the film with my buddy, Dan Burkhart.
""I strenuously object?" Is that how it works? Hm? "Objection, your Honor!" "Overruled" "No, no. I STRENUOUSLY object." "Oh! You strenuously object. Then I'll take some time and reconsider."
Of course the movie has deeper meaning for me now that my brother is a Marine. Sometimes I wonder... does Ted believe in "the code"? How far would he go if ordered? Are there people out there and above him who would use him in a negative way?
"I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don't think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous."
And when you think about it the movie is actually about a few bad men. Rather than ending as a scathing commentary on the Marines in general, 'A Few Good Men' breaks the military down into more specific groups than simply the separate branches. There are those who are "fanatical"; they follow their "code" to the letter, sacrificing their own well-being or trampling on the rights of others in order to keep it.
"We follow orders son. We follow orders, or people die. It's that simple. Are we clear?"
But on the whole the Marines are individuals with feelings and an understanding of personal rights. And admirably, there are those in the latter category who pity those who are weak enough to believe so blindly. Demi Moore's character feels an intense need to defend the Marines accused of murder because she knows their crime was motivated by the belief that they simply could not question an order. After all, these men fulfill a duty many of us aren't up to.
"They stand on a wall and say, 'Nothing's going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.'"
While I want to believe that I, if given an immoral order, would tell my "superior officer" exactly what he could do with it, that's something I'll never truly know because I won't ever be in that position. We civilians can't comprehend the gravity of the military and its standards and rules. Looking at the situation the other way I am equally baffled by the superior's role, played perfectly by Jack Nicholson. He gave an order that should not have been followed, but never doubted that it would be followed, and beyond that was perfectly willing to let others beneath him pay for his crime. So I hate him. But he has an answer for me.
"We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you" and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand at post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to."
Indeed. A lesson in humanity? Am I giving director Rob Reiner too much credit? His movie has been watched and enjoyed by millions. We praise his casting, his screen play. But isn't it also just a movie? As a matter of fact, "A Few Good Men" was inspired by real events. Reiner and his writers merely gave a famous face to each side of the story. Order sound much more severe coming from an enraged Nicholson. Witty banter conveys a much more realistic introspective journey when delivered by Tom Cruise.
"Is the colonel's underwear a matter of national security?"
I love this movie. It's a thinker. As the end credits roll to the sound of a military marching band, I feel I have been walking the fence, studying the men who abuse the power so completely entrusted to them by those who enlist in the military and take on the quasi-eternal position of a subordinate. Neither are entirely right. But both are entirely necessary. In the end, after Nicholson's character has admitted his role as initiator of the ultimately violent and criminal series of events, he accuses Cruise's character of having weakened the country.
Maybe that's true. Nicholson is right, "deep down in places [I] don't talk about at parties, [I] want him on that wall. I need him on that wall." But more than that I want the assurance that men in power sustain their levels of morality, refusing to sacrifice the principles that elevate us as a forgiving, benevolent nation. There will always be men who stand up and lead. There will likewise always be more men to follow orders and a code. But the difference between a good leader and a bad leader is very slim. Mercy is the deciding factor.
I believe in the importance of mercy, and that it is not to much to ask that of the people we place in positions of authority. Moreover, it is something all human beings ought to work to attain and practice. We'll be the better for it.
"You don't need a patch on your arm to have honor."
Some have labeled me a "movie snob". That's accurate, I guess, considering I have my own unwavering definition of a "classic movie". As cult classics go, I have my opinions. And while I adore The Breakfast Club, Molly Ringwald leaves much to be desired in my opinion. The real movie stars are John Wayne, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and, of course, Audrey Hepburn.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is probably considered a cult classic, too. But I love it. In fact, loving that movie makes me less than a snob because I can look past the acting, the dialog... and I find the beauty of the plot. It's eternal, the search for self. So where do I draw the line?
Puppets. My friend Chris has attempted for some time now to convince me to watch Dark Crystal. But I turn up my nose at muppets. Can you blame me? I'm sure some people can. My own husband finds puppet humor hysterical. Though he did stop me from seeing last year's Team America, knowing how much I hate what I term "stupid humor".
Falling head-over-heels into the stupid humor category are movies involving excessive bathroom or bodily function jokes, slapstick, jokes at the expense of a mentally disabled person, etc. As you can imagine this means I can't stand Dumb and Dumber, Something About Mary, the three stooges or Adam Sandler (in a big, stupid category all his own).
Poor Jon. I mean, the man loves the Simpsons (the yellow ones, not the singing sisters...) and I can't stand them. Once in a very great while I'll cave and watch an episode with him. It makes his day. Thus, he has developed an excellent knack for knowing what I won't like before I have to say so. Until yesterday I think we both believed that this stifled his own movie-watching capabilities. And then something amazing happened.
I wanted to watch a movie. Jon fully expected me to choose something black and white. He's grown to love some of my oldies and no longer anticipates new ones with absolute dread, but there is still a bit of resignation on his part when it's time for me to choose the flick of the evening. But I wasn't in the mood for Bob Hope or Maureen O'Hara. A little surprising but it happens sometimes. Anyway, I'd been craving something all day.
I popped in my old VHS copy of Liar, Liar. You should have seen the look on Jon's face! Priceless.
"You like this movie?"
"Yeah, don't you?"
Here I must admit that I am no die-hard Jim Carrey fan. If I didn't associate burning books and movies with Hitler, I would personally take great joy in exterminating all copies of Dumb and Dumber, The Cable Guy, Ace Ventura (all) and Earth Girls Are Easy (though that movie was much more Jeff Goldblum's fault than Jim Carrey's). But I respect Carrey's talent most of the time. The Mask couldn't have been done without that rubber face of his! The Truman Show remains to be a favorite of mine. I couldn't take The Majestic, unfortunately, but it was a valiant effort at serious drama.
Anyway, Jon and I watched Liar, Liar and laughed until our sides ached. Just a good time. And that wasn't the end of the surprises. This morning our Tivo picked of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. When I asked Jon to save it so that I could watch it later, he was simply stunned. So, for all those people who have deemed me to be a "movie snob" I give you a list of
Unlikely Audrey Favorites
1. Liar, Liar
2. Groundhog Day
3. The Mask
4. Meet the Parents
5. Meet the Fockers
6. Young Frankenstein
9. Many hokey Sci-Fi classics from the '50s
10. Lion King 1 1/2
So that's the ten I can think of now. One of these days I'll list my own top 100 movies of all time. The American Film Institute has done a fairly good job... but it underestimates the value of some smaller movies over the years. I underestimate no one. And that's why Barefoot in the Park makes the top 25 in my world. Yay for Robert Redford and Jane Fonda!
Hated her previous politics, but she's turned herself around. That's a great example of someone whose personal beliefs I look past in order to enjoy her films. Certain friends (Cindy) occasionally complain that I can't do that, separate the actor from the character. I admit that happens sometimes. But for now I'll use my Jane Fonda example (pausing to note that her father, Henry Fonda, was a much better and more important actor...).
Okay okay, I am a snob.
Okay, this will be quick because I'm trying this new thing called "GOING TO BED AT A REASONABLE HOUR". Anyway, tonight Jon and I went out with some pals to see a new movie. Two words: Batman Begins. That's enough. Go see it. I'm not kidding; it's the best movie I've seen in a long while that can't be classifed as a chick flick. Even if Christian Bale all grown-up and not-a-newsie isn't enough for you, throw in Liam Neeson ("If you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely."), Michael Caine ("I haven't seen a walk like that since Jurassic Park."), and Morgan Freeman ("I love being the wild card."). Yeah, that's right, good, solid acting. Even Katie Holmes did well. But I loved that the movie made this story as believable as possible.
This turned out to be a movie review.
But this was an altogether terrific day. Jon and I had a wonderful Saturday together. It's lovely to be in love. I actually started the day off with a run around my neighborhood. You can't be any more surprised than I was. And I guess I should own up to the fact that it wasn't so much "jogging" as it was "running intermitantly during a walk". Be that as it may, I think it really got the whole day off on the right foot.
We went out for breakfast, bagels from Noah's. Then a long, calm game of Go at Panama Bay Cafe (Amyless, unfortunately). Jon wore the shirt I bought him the other day, and boy, did he look handsome! I'm a lucky lady. And we were matching, both sporting Banana Republic clothes, mostly blue. We're disgustingly cute sometimes. After a stroll around downtown, popping in and out of antique stores and galleries, we hurried home so that I could get ready for work.
But I didn't have to work today, as it turned out! A nice surprise. Instead we hung out at home, did a little grocery shopping, ate Chinese for dinner. Jon wanted to watch "Backdraft", you know, the old firefighter movie. Kurt Russell is pretty cool, but I hate most movies that contain a Baldwin brother. Half way throught the movie we got the invitation to watch the beginning of Batman and we jumped at the chance.
Tomorrow I have an early morning meeting at work, but the day is free to celebrate my dad. He's a pretty darn cool guy, too. Also Jon's dad, grandpas, etc. Oh, and Jon himself. No, we're not giving out that kind of news. Check back with us in about ten years. But our kitties call him "Dad" so... that counts, right? Awwwwwww. My advice to all? Check out "Batman Begins", skip "Backdraft" completely, shop at Banana Republic and tell your dad how much you love him tomorrow!
So much for going to bed at a reasonable hour...