Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Green-Eyed Monster At Christmastime (and I don't mean The Grinch!)



I know, the Grinch has red eyes, but you know what I mean.  I'm talking about being jealous of others during that time of year when you really should be counting your blessings, but hey, we're all human, right?  Maybe you feel jealous when you hear how others are planning these huge family celebrations and yours is always small because most of your family has moved away.  Or maybe you know your friend's husband has gotten her a diamond necklace and you're only getting a gold one. Either way, people's lives are not always what they seem, and I have a story which seeks to illustrate this:

Marie remembers spending much of her childhood alone, looking out from the glass of her grandmother's sliding doors, wishing she had just one friend to play with.  In second grade, she was consumed by frightening phobias that something terrible would happen to her.  When her class made a "Wish Board," and wrote down things like "I wish that chocolate grew on trees," Marie simply wrote, "I wish I had no worries."  In fourth grade, Marie took a few sick days from school and returned to find her entire class had decided they didn't want to be friends with her anymore.  She often escaped these lonely times by locking herself in her bedroom, singing along to her records.  She began high school struggling to overcome the recent losses of both a grandparent and a parent which prompted her to escape the memories of her hometown and move to Boston to enroll in music college to fulfill her childhood dreams of becoming a singer. Instead, she suffered vocal damage and was told by a specialist that she'd never be able to sing the way she wanted to because of chronic allergies that caused hoarseness.  She gave up her dreams of singing and eventually moved back to her hometown.

Linda recalls a childhood filled with love as the youngest member of a family of six which included live-in grandparents.  When she was eight, she learned how to ride a bicycle and rode around her neighborhood meeting tons of friends.  She looks back fondly on summers filled with neighborhood kids all playing together till it grew dark and the mosquitoes came out.  She was a gifted student who played piano at weekly assemblies in her grade school auditorium.  She won the fifth grade school spelling bee and had a huge birthday party that year at a rollerskating rink.  Her party even included the boys.  High school was a free and easy time of little responsibilities.  She and her best friend often spent weekends taking the subway into the city to go record-shopping and getting kicked out of magazine stores for making too much noise by laughing so hard.  She moved to Boston to attend music college, and although she didn't land the glamorous job she'd hoped for, she did become a retail buyer in a record store where she dealt directly with record label reps and often saw famous people, some of them her childhood idols, shopping at the store right beside her!  She enjoyed being surrounded by music all day for many years before moving from Boston to New York City.

Given the choice to trade lives with Marie or Linda, I'm sure you'd trade lives with Linda, although if you did, you'd have to take Marie's life too because Marie and Linda are actually the same music student -- me!  I got this idea from the self-help book, "Finding Your Own North Star," by Martha Beck.  You remember her.  She's the Oprah protege who SHOULD have had her own talk show!  She wrote two versions of the same person's life in a section called "Be the hero of your autobiography -- not the victim."  Growing up, whenever I was jealous of someone, my mom always asked me, "But do you really want to trade lives with her?  Think about everything you know about her.  If you really want to be someone else, you have to take on their entire life, not just the parts you're jealous of."  So just remember this holiday season, as you eye your friend's jewelry or her big, close-knit family, that you're only getting PART of her story.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Staten Island And Sandy



When I was a kid, every so often, a TV character mentioned my hometown, Staten Island.  Lucy and Ethel had ridden the Staten Island Ferry to see if they'd get seasick in preparation for Ricky's European Ship Tour.  On an "All In The Family" episode, we all cheered in my house when Archie Bunker mentioned the words "Staten Island."   More recently, there was the MTV show "I'm A Staten Island Girl," and of course Staten Island is the setting for many of the episodes of "Big Ang." Now I fear that Staten Island will forever only be remembered for the devastating events of Monday night's Hurricane Sandy.

On Monday night, many people had to be evacuated from their homes because their homes were by the water, and the tides were expected to overtake and destroy their homes, in some instances even lifting them right off of the foundation.  Our house is not located in that "Zone A" area, so after losing our power Monday afternoon, we sat in our living room that evening with the portable radio on, playing round after round of Crazy 8's cards, sitting on what we felt was the safest corner of the couch, away from the windows, trying to ignore the howling wind and rattling tree branches, my husband and I exchanging worried glances as my daughter blissfully ignored the storm yet wore her helmet.  We knew that there were probably only two dangerous trees in our yard, one is actually our neighbor's tree.  When we went to sleep that night, I slept in my daughter's bedroom on her floor, because I knew her room was safely far away from both of those trees.  My husband braved the master bedroom because he calculated that the tree was more likely to fall into the corner of his music room rather than into our bedroom, so he would most likely be okay.

Tuesday morning, we woke up and were grateful that none of our trees had fallen down.  We spent the next five days and four nights without electricity and heat, each night getting colder than the next.  We moved to the rooms where the temperature didn't go below 60 degrees, and eventually I shared a bed with my daughter just to keep her warm with my body heat.  With no refrigerator, I kept her juice boxes outside to keep them cold along with the bottles of Carnation Instant Breakfast I'd gotten her since she couldn't have her hard boiled eggs in the morning. I always thought that if I ever lost electricity for more than a few days, the hardest part would be not being able to watch TV, and even though I was eating cans of tuna every morning to keep my protein up, that wasn't the hardest part. The hardest part for me, definitely, was feeling cold all the time. We were able to warm up for part of the day at my mom's boyfriend's house.  We also charged our cell phones there and my daughter's portable DVD player so she could watch a half hour of her kid's shows before bed each night. But we didn't want to sleep there because he already had his daughter and his two grandsons staying with him, since their house also didn't have power, so we didn't want to impose unless we absolutely had to, so we stuck it out in our rapidly-dropping 60 degree house.

On Friday morning, we went to Stop and Shop.  We couldn't drive around much because there were two-hour long lines at the only two gas stations that still had power on Staten Island.  At Stop and Shop, every one looked like they hadn't been warm or had power for four days also.  The women came in with ponytails, wearing layers of clothes, stocking their shopping carts with more batteries and with foods that didn't have to be refrigerated.  As I shopped, I overheard one of the Stop and Shop employees telling someone that every day, more and more people who had lost their homes and were currently living in evacuation centers were coming in to shop.  That snapped some sense into me.  Sure, we were cold and eating tuna fish, and the adults drinking unrefrigerated milk (which I never realized was okay to do as long as it didn't smell sour and was not beyond the expiration date!), but these people had lost their homes! Not to mention the stories we heard on the radio of people who had lost their lives!  I thought of my friend's dad, who thankfully survived the storm, but had to be rescued because the water was up to his chest in his house!  I thought of how my daughter's godfather was coming to Staten Island from Pennsylvania with clothes, batteries, gas, food, and supplies for those who needed them, as his own brother and cousin were now without homes also.  My husband took the picture I've used for this blog of the street where we used to hang out with dear friends of ours who have since moved to England.  If they had stayed, they would have been evacuated and come back to find sailboats in their front yard and peeking into the windows of their house.  These are stories of people who have really suffered during the storm.

Our power did come back on Saturday, the day after I went to Stop and Shop.  We were very thankful, and we continue to pray for those less fortunate.  Staten Island will never be the same.  There is more help to give and more of the word to spread.  Yet someday, I hope Staten Island will once again be remembered as the quirky borough which is part of New York City but doesn't seem to be.  The one mentioned by Lucy and Archie Bunker and in True Life episodes of MTV.  Not as the borough which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
























Monday, October 15, 2012

Grandma, We Hardly Knew You



My grandmother was born in the beginning of October and died at the end of October, a few weeks after her 95th birthday.  That's why I've decided to remember her in an October blog.

The last time I saw her was at my cousin's wedding.  She had just turned 90 and had flown from Florida with my cousin, the bride-to-be, who was now her primary caretaker.  At this wedding, I saw a sassy side of her I'd never seen before. Every time someone would come to greet her, she greeted them back with zingers.  To her grandniece she said, "Wow, your husband put on a lot of weight."  I asked another of my cousins about this, and she laughed about it, saying, "She's always been like this. Every time she sees me, she still asks me why I only had one child." My mom endured zinger after zinger, most of them questions about my mom's ex-husband whom she married after my father (who was my grandmother's youngest son) passed away.  My mom didn't seem rattled by her zingers at all. When I asked her about it, she said, "I'm used to it. When you were a kid, she often told me I should wash your father's hair for him."   I figured that now that I was an adult, there would probably be zingers for me too. I braced myself for zingers directed at me, but they never came.

Growing up, I hardly ever saw my grandmother smile. If she spoke to me at all, it was either "hello," "what was that?" (because she was hard of hearing) or "goodbye," along with a "pray for me."  I also remember her being obsessed by things.  At first it was her false teeth, then years later, the floaters in her eyes. If she did talk about something other than false teeth or floaters, it was likely to be something odd. Like the time when Jack Cafferty (now a CNN news analyst, back then a New York City's Live at 5 News anchor) came onto the TV, and she suddenly exclaimed, "That is a good-looking man!"  Jack Cafferty? You'd think Tom Selleck had just appeared on the screen!

The only thing I can remember us doing together was play cards. She taught me a great card game with a lot of steps called "King's Corners." She and my grandfather used to stay at our house for one week every Christmas vacation.  During one of those visits, my mom had to go to work, and I wanted to make pancakes. I was probably about 12. I called my mom's work, and she wasn't at her desk, so her co-worker asked me if there was something she could help me with.  I told her, "Well, how do I make pancakes?"  She told me a few things, and I hung up the phone.  As soon as I hung up, my grandmother exclaimed, "Why didn't you just ask me?"  I was surprised at her expression and that she seemed upset.  "I know how to make pancakes!"  she said huffily. She had never reprimanded me for anything in my life except for not asking her how to make pancakes! It was funny, but the thought  never crossed my mind that I could just ask my grandmother how to do it. 

The fact that I didn't think she could handle something as easy as making pancakes is strange considering that when she was growing up, her family of five siblings all agreed that she was the most gifted academically. Her biggest disappointment in life was that her family didn't have enough money to send her to college because it was the Depression. Only her oldest sister got to go.  But she made the best of it and became a legal secretary. She was a champion stenographer who also entered typing contests and won medals. She was such a fast typist that she had to type on a special Underwood typewriter. Otherwise the keys would jam up because she typed so fast.

After she married, she became a stay-at-home mom to my uncle and my father.  It was World War II, and she and my grandfather had going away parties at their house for their friends going off to war almost every week. Since my grandfather had the two young boys to take care of,  he was the last to go. My uncle remembers there being singalongs at the player piano and karaoke before there was a name for it. My grandmother was considered very funny and an excellent hostess. But all that changed about nine years later, when she gave birth to her last child, my aunt, and suffered a severe form of postpartum depression. She wasn't able to take care of either her new baby or her two sons, so she endured "treatments" given in the basement of a questionable doctor and was never the same after that. But it did save her from going the way of Sylvia Plath.

For my grandmother's 90th birthday party, I asked my cousin what I should get her, and she said a brain teaser/logic problems book.  You know, the ones that hardly anyone can do much less would want to do unless they were being forced to? She said little during the party except that she didn't know what all the fuss was about. At one point, a guest said, "I try to never argue with anyone during the day because, you know, one night, you may go to sleep and not wake up in the morning."  "Oh," my grandmother said looking him up and down. "I wish that would happen to me!" 

During the last decade of my grandmother's life, my cousins, who sometimes took turns taking care of her, had a lot of stories to tell. The funniest story was when she stayed with my cousin and his wife who lived in New Jersey. Every morning,  my cousin went into the room where she was staying and noticed that the cable channel was always set from the night before on the same number, a certain adult channel. When they asked her about it, she answered, "I don't know.  I watched this show. There was a woman who had a pink apparatus." When my cousin told us this story in front of my grandmother, all she had to say about the channel was, "I was intrigued by it."

When she moved back to Florida for good, there were various medical personnel who came to evaluate her to help her get the care she needed. She never gave them an easy time.  One funny story is the time a man came to the house and had to ask her several questions as he filled out a questionnaire.  At one point he asked her how much she weighed to which she snapped, "Weigh? How much do I weigh? Well, how much do YOU weigh?"

Her mind stayed intact until only a couple of years before she died. I didn't see her during those couple of years, but I was told her personality had made a dramatic change for the second time in her life, but this time it was for the better. Suddenly, she was cheery all the time.  My cousin said she just sat around watching TV and laughing all day.  Her favorite movie was "Napoleon Dynamite," and she watched it constantly!

Come to think of it, there was one period of time that I actually saw my grandmother happy. It was when I was a teenager, after my grandmother's daughter's baby was born, and my grandmother moved in with them for three years to care for my new cousin while my aunt returned to work full-time. Whenever we visited them, she smiled and simply beamed over that baby.  She took really good care of her and truly thrived while doing so.

My uncle probably knew my grandmother better than anyone else in the world.  When I asked him about her recently, he told me: "People thought she was aloof and distant, but that wasn't the mother I knew."  Again, I say -- Grandma, we hardly knew you.


Post Script:  I have to give the photo credit to my cousin Dawn who found this picture in her stash.  Both of us were shocked that there was actually a photograph in existence of our grandmother and grandfather kissing!


















Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Woman Who SHOULD Have Had Her Own Talk Show



Believe it or not, Oprah's incredibly successful talk show was not the first of its kind.  That credit goes to Phil Donahue whose TV show had its heyday in the 70's.  He was the first TV show host to explore the deeply personal, emotional, sometimes cringeworthy topics that really moved both his guests' and audience's souls.  Donahue really cared about his guests who would bravely come onto the air and pour their hearts out.  He treated them with compassion and with the same respect he'd give to a guest who came into his home.  I'm willing to bet that every guest on his show could rest assured that once the cameras rolled, they would be discussing the topics they had actually been invited on the show to discuss. This is not the case for many guests invited onto the show of another famous Phil -- Dr. Phil.

Many people saw the recent Dina Lohan interview (Dina is Lindsay's mom). Apparently, she is yet another guest in a long list of guests who did the Dr. Phil show under false pretenses.  She thought she was invited onto his show to talk about the plight of abused women and how they can be helped.  Instead, she was greeted by Dr. Phil's surprise guest, none other than Michael Lohan, Dina's ex-husband and former abuser!  She got so nervous when she found out he was on the show that she couldn't continue with her platform and instead began behaving erratically.  She told Dr. Phil that he was yet another member of the media out to destroy her to which he angrily responded:  "I am not the media.  I've been a trained professional for the past thirty-four years.  I know how to interview people!"  But what he does obviously know how to do better than interview people is how to gain incredibly high ratings for his show's producers and advertisers.

I was a faithful viewer of the Dr. Phil show for years. But it all went downhill when I tuned into a show where his guest was a stage parent who had gone on the show under the guise of getting exposure for her talented singer daughter.  Instead, she was reamed out for pushing her child into a career in show business rather than letting her daughter be a kid.  The woman looked completely baffled and hoodwinked as to why he was doing this.  I felt bad for her.  I pictured the producers interviewing her and acting excited about her daughter's talent and telling her how Dr. Phil's show would expose her daughter to millions of potential fans, maybe even get her daughter a record deal right on the spot. Then she goes on Dr. Phil and gets humiliated on TV for being a bad parent!

I finally lost all hope in Dr. Phil's credibility as a therapist on a later program when he interviewed an older woman/younger man couple.  He all but called her a crazy psycho simply for dating a man about twenty-five years younger than she was.  He said she needed psychological help.   I don't know if it was due to the fact that this woman in her fifties was around Dr. Phil's age yet preferred men in their twenties, but his criticism of her was way out of proportion to the situation. I doubted he'd have the same advice for his daughter-in-law's former boss, Playboy magazine mogul, Hugh Hefner, who routinely dates women SIXTY years younger than he is!

So I'm not surprised at all that he has now done this to Dina Lohan.  Dina Lohan makes her own mistakes, it's true.  She's not an innocent, yet I did find it refreshing when she made him squirm in his seat as he denied that she was put onto his show just so he could manipulate her the way the media does, purely for ratings.

Another of Oprah's proteges, Dr. Oz, is one step above Dr. Phil because he mostly does an informative show about health which forces more focus on facts rather than psychological opinions.  However, I did experience an all-time low one afternoon while viewing the Dr. Oz show.  His topic was women and weight loss.  He humiliated his women-only audience by making it mandatory for them to sit in his audience wearing short, skin-tight exercise tops that exposed their large bellies.  His lack of sensitivity by doing this to these women made this show one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen.  This episode easily could have been done without the visuals.  One of the women given the microphone in the audience had a flat belly, but she also was trying to lose weight. She had no trouble speaking to Dr. Oz about her problems with weight loss without breaking down in tears as nearly all of the women with the large bellies had done during their turns at the mike.

The one former protege of Oprah's who should have had a successful TV show is Martha Beck. She wrote the brilliant books entitled "Finding Your North Star" and "Expecting Adam," the latter being about her son with Down's Syndrome.   In her "North Star" book she shows the readers how to create a step-by-step plan to both find and succeed at the work they really want to do.  She believes in being true to your authentic self and in doing the work you would do even if you weren't getting paid. Oprah gave one day a week of the Oprah show to Beck just as she had done with Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz to create interest and to pave the way for their own "Harpo" Network shows.  I was surprised when a "Martha Beck Show" did not appear on the air the same way the Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz shows had. But knowing what I know now, there is NO way a Martha Beck show would have survived if she had been forced to participate in the dirty ratings tactics that both Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz participate in.  I'm not criticizing Oprah, just her offspring.  Martha Beck would never have allowed people to be humiliated on her show. This is a genuine, kind woman with a clean soul.  She is there to help people, not hurt people.  What is wrong with our media and society if they are about the bottom dollar without having concern for ruining people's lives?  Martha Beck would have never agreed to that.  So she remains a woman without a show.  But I'm sure she sleeps better at night knowing she hasn't had to humiliate or dupe anyone during the day.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why Sci-Fi Should Be Called Psy-Fi


Earlier this month, NASA successfully landed a rover named "Curiosity" onto the surface of Mars, the Red Planet in our solar system. This project was developed to see if there is now or ever was life on Mars. Ray Bradbury would be proud!  He is my favorite short story writer who passed away in June at the ripe old age of 91, only two months before Curiosity landed. In fact, Curiosity might not have been landed at all if it weren't for Ray Bradbury!  Many scientists were inspired to explore Mars solely due to their reading of Ray Bradbury's 1950 novel, "The Martian Chronicles." That man had some mind.  His writing predicted many events.  His 1953 novel entitled "Fahrenheit 451" predicted how television would take over our lives with giant screens taking up space on every single wall in people's living rooms.  In my case, I'm glad that TV has taken over because I feel it helps me escape from the stress of my everyday, realistic, life.  Science Fiction TV, particularly "The Twilight Zone," is a place I can go to when I want to get away for an hour or so.  That's why I think "Sci-Fi" should be called "PSY-fi!"

Watching these episodes where people are constantly faced with problems of gloom and doom help me get my anxiety out.  As I watch, I feel anxious for these characters, yet I know it's a totally different world from my own, and even as I experience their dilemmas as they do, I'm still not in danger of coming to any harm. My favorite "Twilight Zone" episode, "The Midnight Sun," is a perfect example.  Two women are dealing with their apartment building getting hotter and hotter, there is a water shortage, and people are evacuating, heading north where it's a bit cooler because scientists say that the Earth has moved out of its orbit and is moving closer to the sun.  But by the end, it's suddenly really dark, and the mercury on the thermometer has dropped so low that the numbers are nearly unreadable.  It has gotten frightfully cold.  Turns out the woman was dreaming, and she was only hot because she had a fever.  The twist is that the Earth is not moving closer to the sun, it is actually moving farther away!

However, it's not always anxiety I need to release when I feel stressed, sometimes I just want to imagine a more pleasant world than my own.  One of the happier "Twilight Zone" episodes is from the 1980's remake of the series.  An episode called "The World Next Door" is about one of my favorite science fiction topics: parallel worlds.  Actor George Wendt (best known as Norm from "Cheers") stars in this one as a character named Barney who is a failure as an inventor.  He has a basement workshop, and when his wife orders him to clean it up and get rid of his mess of inventions, he destroys a bookshelf and discovers a door that leads straight into another house's wine cellar. A woman's voice from the top of the stairs calls "Barney" to come up and rejoin the party, except that the woman is referring to the "Barney" who lives in the house with the wine cellar.  He is a successful inventor famous for inventing something having to do with the fuel system for cars. Yet since they are identical Barneys each living in a parallel world, it is no problem when instead it is the failed inventor Barney who decides to go upstairs and join the party.

Turns out wealthy "Barney" is not happy either.  He wants to live a simple life, so the two Barneys switch places.  Failed inventor, Barney, brings one of his flopped inventions to this new life where here it is a success, and famous "Barney" has cleaned up the basement and is set to live a normal life with failure Barney's now-contented wife! Don't we all wish sometimes that we could escape to a parallel world where things are almost the same as our real lives but we've made improvements in the areas we see fit?

I think all of us have things we rely on to escape from our chores and the hustle and bustle of our busy lives. Mine is good Sci-Fi TV, because, hey, if on certain days, I find myself struggling to figure out a way to pay the bills, at least I can reassure myself that the world most definitely is not moving farther away from the sun!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don't Treat Summer Like Another Item On Your To-Do List



I find it curious that several of my friends are walking around saying, "Isn't it a shame that summer is almost over?"  They've been making these comments since the first week of July. For me, summer always begins on July 1 and finishes on September 1, so how can summer be almost over during the first couple of weeks of July?

Lately, I've been finding that time seems to go by faster than it used to.  Sometimes, I'll be on Facebook, and it will seem like I've looked at so many statuses and scrolled through so many profiles (and wasted so much time), but then I'll go back to the Homepage and see something I commented on, and I'll be happy to know it had been only six minutes earlier! I think it's because we are all so busy these days.  We need to cram so many things into one day that now suddenly a week feels like a month. I think it's all the multitasking.  More time seems to pass by than actually has because not only do we still need to do our chores and all the things we used to do, but now we have added the extra tasks of checking our e-mails, our Facebook Page, and, of course, the most necessary responsibility of all: keeping up with our cell phones, I-Pods, and our various gadgets. We've added all this technology and all these gizmos that we supposedly NEED, yet meanwhile, we'd lived perfectly fine before any of them had even been invented.

When feeling overstressed, it wouldn't hurt to get out of ourselves and get immersed in the way life was lived before we had a To-Do List that measured from the ceiling to the floor. For example, in Anais Nin's Diaries, Anais discusses a typical summer night in her life similar to this:  "I went for a walk with Henry.  Then we read some of our writing to each other while we sat on the chaise lounge.  After that, I cooked dinner, and we opened a bottle of wine and talked."  They didn't have TV then.  Her journals give lengthy descriptions of each day, and when she writes down July 12, she knows it's July 12, which is the BEGINNING of summer.  She had no problem keeping track of the days.  Unlike those who think it is August 31 when it is only July 17!

So next time you find yourself lamenting that the summer is almost over, instead of checking off yet another thing on your To-Do List, I advise dropping everything and spending one whole day at the beach.   Feel the sand on your feet and the sun on your shoulders. Maybe you'll find that the day felt just like a day, and then a week can once again feel like a week, a month like a month, and a summer like a summer.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I'd Rather Be Eating Cheetos With Hannah Horvath





Now that Season One of HBO's "Girls" has finished, how will I live without its creator, writer and star, Lena Dunham's quick-witted dialog every Sunday night? How will I live without her overly personal, too-true-to-life scenarios?  Come to think of it, how did I EVER live without "Girls?"

I particularly relate to lead character, Hannah Horvath, because she is a writer. In "Girls" we see her as a struggling essayist, doing things like working on a book called "Midnight Snack" and attending the book release party of her former classmate who Hannah proclaims is a horrible writer.  But the lowest moment of Hannah's writing life is when she bombs at a book reading where nobody relates to her essay or even her feeble attempts at breaking the ice with jokes. She leaves the reading feeling embarrassed and socially misunderstood.

As a writer in my early twenties, I didn't have a Hannah in my life to commiserate with during my lowest writing moments.  I was the youngest member of my short story writing workshop, and I created a character named Iggy who was the same age as I was to keep me company.  He was an antisocial punk, and I brought him everywhere and stayed in character all the time.  During the class, all the students had one twenty-minute break.  Everyone went downstairs to the lunchroom to network and to have coffee.  But I always chose to stay in the empty room alone, eating my small bag of Cheetos and drinking a can of Welch's Grape Soda as I read an extremely good collection of VERY short stories called "American Short-Shorts." 

Because of the personal nature of the stories we brought into class to workshop, there were very few male participants, and the ones who did attend could have been straight out of an episode of "Girls."  There was "Wench Man," who referred to all women characters in his original stories as "wenches"; there was "Abomination Man," who when asked to comment on a story during the one and only class he ever attended had no comment except for: "I think that writing fiction in present tense is an abomination";  there was "Sci-Fi Man," who attended every single class yet never brought in a piece of his own until one of the very last classes where he was condemned by some for bringing in a polished sci-fi piece and for not conforming to the purpose of the class which was to workshop your raw, unfinished stories each week WITH the group; and finally, there was "Reba McIntyre Man," who used to frequent the record store I worked at and had asked me if he could please, PLEASE, have the life size, stand-up, cardboard display of singer, Reba McIntyre, which stood near the Country Music Section.  I remember carrying that silly stand-up (which was taller than I was) all the way from the record store and through the turnstiles of the subway where we had agreed to meet so I could give him the stand-up.  It was Reba McIntyre Man who also gave me some crushing news after which I really could have used a friend like Hannah Horvath to lean on.

For some background, an older woman in the workshop had brought a piece into class that she said was a short-short. When we went around the room, she got all positive reviews until she came to me. I said I liked her story but felt that, in my opinion, her short-short would have fared better as a traditional short story and not as a short-short which is a very difficult format to write in. I knew this because I had been extensively reading the "American Short-Shorts" book that featured stories by writers who excelled at short-shorts. About a week or so later, Reba McIntyre Man ran into me at the record store and told me that this particular woman had just thrown a party and invited everyone from the entire class except for me!  Even Sci-Fi Man had been forgiven and invited, and so, years later, it makes me wonder:  Should I not have been honest about her story?  And if this had been an episode of "Girls," what would Hannah have done?

I thought back to the episodes and recalled the one where Hannah goes home to Michigan and sees her college friend perform at a club as a singer and dancer for one final time before the friend packs up all her things and moves to California to try and make it in show business. Hannah tells her date how horrible this girl's performance just was, especially considering she's planning to uproot her entire life and move to California when she really isn't that good!  And of course there is the book release party episode I mentioned earlier where she continues to harp on about the awful writer who wrote the book. She criticizes her best friend, Marnie, for buying the book because it's written by such a dreadful writer!  I know, in my heart of hearts, that if Hannah had attended my short story workshop, she would have given that woman the same critique I had.  After all, I was just being honest about her piece, and if she had listened, I could have spared her many years of rejections and of wondering why all the magazines had never accepted any of her short-shorts!  But that's okay because, again, I know that Hannah would have done the same thing that I did and have not been invited to the party either. Instead, Hannah and I would have hung out together that night, read magazines, ate her favorite cupcakes, my Cheetos, and had a Party of Two.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Happy Father's Day To Those Whose Fathers Never Grew Old


Father's Day has been a bittersweet day for me ever since my dad passed away when I was fifteen. My mom was concerned about me and my brother not having a father figure to help raise us since we were both teenagers.  My brother found a mentor in college, but I didn't think I needed one. Even though I was so young, I felt my personality had fully formed by then, and I knew that I was the person I was because I had my father to teach me for fifteen years.  My brutal honesty comes from him.  Probably part genetics and partly from observing his behavior.  My mom used to say to him, "Why can't you put on a smile for our friends? Why do they have to know you're in a bad mood?" and my dad would answer, "Because I AM in a bad mood.  Why should I have to be phony and pretend?"  Whenever we went out for dinner, and the waitress was OVERLY bubbly, my dad would raise his left eyebrow inquisitively as if to ask: "Is she for real?"  I immediately knew exactly what he was thinking.

Besides being honest, my dad was also very moral. His best friend, Hans, told me a story once of how my dad got upset when one of their mutual friends had a girl sitting on his lap.  He exclaimed to Hans, "Why is he letting her sit on his lap?  He's engaged to another woman!"  I share his love of music, and he helped me study for the Co-Op Test so I could ace it and get into Hill, the highly-esteemed high school of my choice. After that, I believed I had truly completed my childhood, so I found the idea of a replacement dad insulting.  I would never want to replace my father. I would never need to.  I felt that way for a really long time.

Speaking of Hans, he was very helpful to me when my dad died. When my father went out of remission, Hans brought in some cassettes of my dad's original songs into the hospital. He played a song called "Shadows Falling."  It had lyrics that reminded me of my dad as a young boy growing up: "Wish I could return somehow to walk upon the sand, catch the wind and rainbows and feel a welcome hand."  The lyrics made me cry after we left the hospital room, and all the way down the elevator, continuing into the parking lot.  No one knew how to comfort me.  Hans said, "Joan and I have fixed up the house.  We have the guest room finished.  You should come over and stay with us on weekends."  He, his wife, Joan, and son, Eden, took me in for many weekends, and Hans told me endless stories about my dad.  But I knew he couldn't replace him. 

Hans and I always remained in and out of touch.  A few years ago, we hadn't spoken to each other for a while.  We'd let too many years go by.  I didn't even know if he still had the same phone number, so I did a Google search.  I found a picture of him outside a school where they were testing for asbestos.  He was wearing a Bluetooth. Cellphones and Bluetooths were still new.  I asked my husband, "What is that thing people wear in their ears?  They're like cellphones, right?" and he answered, "They are Bluetooths.  Old men wear them."  Something about that statement just got to me: "Old men wear them."  I kept on recalling the image of Hans wearing his Bluetooth, and I knew then I had to get back in touch with him, and I was lucky to find him on Facebook.  We've been in touch ever since, and I now call him my Second Dad.

Another example of my longing for a father comes from an unlikely place:  My favorite TV show, "Mad Men." I've been faithfully watching since Season One, and I've seen most episodes at least twice.  One of my favorite characters, Peggy Olson, had started Season One as a secretary, but one day after participating in a focus group where the secretaries tested lipsticks, she makes a comment in front of "old-time ad man" Freddy Rumsen. She hands him a wastebasket where women had dabbed their lipstick onto tissues, and she tells him, "Here's your basket of kisses."  He asks her where she had heard that, and she says "I just thought of it."  Then she tells him that she didn't choose any of the shades of lipstick because someone already took her shade, and she says, "I don't think anyone wants to be one of a hundred colors in a box." Freddy sees potential in Peggy and suggests she be promoted from secretary to junior copywriter because she is creative and has a natural way with words. Peggy's career has soared since Season One, and it was really all thanks to Freddy Rumsen.  Even late in the current season, Freddy and Peggy have dinner, and he encourages her to go for a better copywriter job at a competing ad agency.  Their friendship has lasted.  I never knew why I was so drawn to this story until I realized that, in my mind, the Freddy/Peggy friendship/mentorship is like a father/daughter relationship.  Freddy is considered old-fashioned and out of date. My dad never became that.  He was always young. I never thought I'd have a need for an older father, or even a father figure at all since becoming an adult.  But between Hans's Bluetooth and Freddy Rumsen's belief in Peggy, I realize it must be something innate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Fifty Shades Of Christian....errrr....Grey!"


E.L. James wrote "Fifty Shades of Grey" to be the grown-up version of Edward and Bella's romance from the Young Adult series, "Twilight."  Remember Stefanie Meyer's books featuring Edward, the vampire, and his teenage bride, Bella, who gives birth to a half human/half vampire child?  Well, that story is actually much more likely to happen in real life than the things that happen in "Fifty Shades of Grey." This "Erotic Romance Novel" features 27 year-old billionaire CEO, Christian Grey, and 22 year-old college student, Anastasia Steele, who is a virgin until he introduces her not only to sex but to his wonderful world of S&M. 

Christian and Ana meet when she interviews him for her college newspaper.  Almost immediately, they realize they can't keep their hands off each other, and although she says she'd be perfectly satisfied with what he calls "vanilla sex," he has some serious control issues wherein she can't touch him without his permission, and he wants them to become involved in a Dominant/Submissive relationship where she must sign a contract agreeing to all his demands. Throughout the entire book, she still isn't sure if she wants to sign this contract which contains clauses such as:  "The Submissive will keep herself clean and shaved and/or waxed at all times," and "The Submissive will not drink to excess, smoke, take recreational drugs, or put herself in any unnecessary danger."  It also allows him to dictate what she wears, eats, how often she goes to the gym, and that she must stay at his house every Friday through Sunday.  So Ana is really confused about whether or not she wants to sign this contract.  If it were me, the choice would be easy. I would have signed the contract, no problem, and then have shown up at his house drunk and with greasy hair the very next Friday.

From a writer's point of view, this book is sometimes painful to read. The characters are supposed to be from Seattle, Washington, yet the British author has not made any effort to try and make them speak any differently from the way she does. Less than four pages into the book, a character says: "Olivia, please fetch Miss Steele a glass of water;" the word "Lovely" is used FAR too many times; and the only word she thinks we use here in America is "Jeez," because she has Anastasia say it about 200 times.  She also obviously based some of Anastasia's speech on Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz because every time Christian wants to introduce her to a new and possibly scary sex act, she says, "Oh, my," as in: "Lions and Tigers and Bears, OH MY!" She also has the poor habit of constantly describing Christian's finger as his "long index finger" which immediately brings to mind the long, glowing finger of E.T., the Extraterrestrial.  But by far, the worst of all is Anastasia's continually telling us readers: "I do as I'm told." By the seventh time, I felt like saying: Stop doing as you're told for this control freak, Anastasia, please! Just grow some, OK?

So why have these books become the phenomenon that they are? Because EL James has created a hot leading man with a sultry teasing voice who knows how to do "things," so to speak. That's why. The women who love these books are willing to ignore the lack of literary prowess for the imaginary world of Christian's sexual prowess. EL may not be able to write a literary novel, but she sure knows how to write a good sex scene.

I think most of the criticism of this book is because people aren't taking it for what it is: an entirely fictional, could-never-happen-in-this-lifetime, x-rated romance novel. If you start the book realizing you are not supposed to take it on its word but, rather, realize you are reading a fictitious story with fictitious characters and are NOT supposed to go out looking for a real Christian Grey, you will take the parts that you like for what they're worth and realize you are on an amusement park ride. This book is NOT a novel, you are not supposed to learn any of life's great truths from it, and it is not now, not EVER, supposed to be taken as a book that you should try and emulate any of your future or current romances on!

The problem I had with whether or not to read this book was all the S&M stuff. I've seen way too many episodes of the TV show "Medium" (which often has psychos tying up women and bounding their hands above their heads) to be comfortable with Christian doing that type of stuff to Ana, but then I realized something:  Although EL James may not realize it, she has actually made a social statement because instead of continuing to have women fear these images and to look at them as something to get upset about, she has taken them back from the men who have always controlled them and has claimed them as her own.  Similar to how African-Americans have taken back the "N" word, and how Mel Brooks claims "The Producers" was written because he wanted Hitler to be funny as opposed to scary in order to take back his power. Again, I don't know if EL James knew she was doing this, but the women who read these books will now have a completely different way of looking at these images and can claim them as their own.

Overall, I liked "Fifty Shades of Grey."  There is an actual plot to it, although it is mostly a book to get turned on to.  For at least three quarters of the bookThis book is about two nymphomaniacs who have sex way more often than a person without the nymphomania disorder ever would. Not only do most people not want to have sex that often, they also don't want to read about it that often either.   "The man is insatiable, or maybe all men are like him. I have no idea, no one to compare him to," Anastasia says.   No, Anastasia, all men are not like Christian, and that's exactly the way we'd like to keep them!


An afterthought:  There are movies being planned for the "Fifty Shades" series as we speak, and my pick for the actor to play Christian would be Christian Bale, but 10 years ago.  It's not going happen, he is no longer 27.  But again, similar to the way I've enjoyed the majority of this book, I'm willing to embrace the unreality of the situation!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Guess I'm Just Not Your Typical Romantic




Nicholas Sparks, romance author, recently chose his five most romantic films for "Entertainment Weekly." His choices correspond with a list of my own called "Chrissi's Five Most Repugnant Films."  The only film I don't hate from his list is "Casablanca," although not because I found the movie romantic.  I saw that film years ago, very surprised at how many lines from it had seeped into our popular culture.  I sat by myself in the crowded "Revue" theater, trying to be serious, when suddenly I heard: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine," which I'd only ever known previously as a sample from a song by one of my favorite '80's bands, "Big Audio Dynamite."  If that wasn't enough, there were also lines like: "Here's looking at you, kid," a variation of "Play It Again, Sam," and "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," all of which I'd originally heard as a kid spoken by a very popular character named "Bugs Bunny!"  So I do like that movie, but mostly due to its unintentional entertainment factor.

Now, here is my rundown of why I hate his other four picks:

1.  "Ghost"  I found it depressing and frightening. There's nothing romantic about one half of a couple dying.  And now I hear there is a Broadway musical of it coming out.  Oh, the torture!

2. "Titanic"  I had similar feelings for "Titanic" (with the added bonus of seeing blue people floating in the water at the end of the movie), but my biggest complaint is calling this movie a "love story" when it really is a "lust story."  Rich society girls don't fall in love with poor guys, but they just might have a lustful fling on a sinking ship.  That, I'll buy.

3. "Dirty Dancing"  The female lead's name is "Baby" because she's supposed to be so innocent, but about halfway through the film, she is naked and in bed with Patrick Swayze.  Turns out there's nothing innocent about "Baby" after all.

4. "Pretty Woman"  Absolutely, hands down, the worst of the bunch!  It's scary that people have nicknamed this movie "A Cinderella Story."  This is not a movie for young girls to one day emulate, particularly because of what's obvious to me but apparently not to others -- that the female lead (played by Julia Roberts) is a working prostitute!  Worse still, the movie dances around this issue by having Julia Roberts spill her guts about her seedy past to her "Prince Charming" (a/k/a "Paying John") without ever actually admitting that she does indeed have sex with men for money!  Watch the movie closely and you'll notice this.  I remember sitting in the theater that day waiting and waiting....

One movie I do find romantic is a movie based on one of Sparks' own novels called "The Notebook."  I hated it at first for the same reason I hated "Titanic" -- rich girls know to go for rich guys, they don't go for poor ones.  Initially, I had only seen the two leads as a young couple, but one night, I saw the movie on TV in its entirety.  The scenes of the now-old couple really got to me.  My husband found me crying in my recliner, and I tried to explain to him what I'd just seen:  "He didn't need to be in a nursing home.  But he went there to be with her," and "She wrote the book he's reading to her because she knew she was getting Alzheimer's, and she wanted to remember their relationship."  I was barely audible.  Now, I was truly moved by all of the movie because I knew I was seeing a real love story.

I don't buy that whole "love at first sight" thing.  "Lust at first sight," yes, but true love is what comes over time when a couple live together on a daily basis, some days are ordinary, others extraordinary, but that's the kind of love I believe in.

Who knows?  Maybe I'm wrong, and the leads in "Dirty Dancing" and "Pretty Woman" would have stood the test of time.  Maybe Ingrid Bergman did not get on that plane and instead wound up staying with Humphrey Bogart.  I'd watch the film one more time to really see how their characters interact to make my final judgment, yet I'm not confident I'd be able to see that movie again without constantly being reminded of Bugs Bunny!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Staring Out The Window



This week's blog post is about staring out the window.  Yes, you read that right.  I'm writing my blog about staring out the window.  In Banana Yoshimoto's latest translated-into-English novel, "The Lake," the female lead meets the male lead because they both have a habit of staring out the windows of their apartment buildings which are across from one another's.  When I read that, it reminded me of a Juliana Hatfield song from over a decade ago called "Outsider" where she sings about seeing an interesting guy from her thirteenth floor hotel window. 

Sometimes, people look for other people when they stare out the window, but other times, it's just a creative person needing some space from everyday realities.  My friend, Bella, once wrote this to me in a Facebook message: "You know, I'm having one of those days where I really enjoy just staring out the window."  To some, that may have sounded strange, but I knew exactly what she meant.  She had diverted her attention from the things she had to do that day, the chores and paying the bills, and she decided to just be and let the thoughts flow.

What do I think of when I stare out the window? Sometimes,  I'll stare at a particular tree that is just beginning to bud.  It will start to get dark outside, turning into dusk, and I'll wonder how people I don't see very often are doing.  I remember one time recently, I took quick peeks out my window while I watched that "Twilight Zone" episode called "The Jungle."  The background music sounded like it came from an action movie of the sixties -- when soundtracks used actual band instruments and not just a guy with a synthesizer.  The music took me back, and I thought about my dad's friend, Hans, and how he told me that he still has my dad's picture displayed in his house, and he often likes to reminisce about the good times they had when they used to travel on the road and go to different shows of bands they worked with.  Some nights, I'll have my glass of wine, stare out my window and wonder what Hans is doing right now.

That evening, I remembered all the hours Hans and I had spent many years ago, just listening to my dad's club band's reel-to-reels, him telling me about the music scene in the seventies, while my father's voice sang that song, "The Lady Is A Tramp," over the reel-to-reels which made Hans mention how much my dad really loved Marilyn Monroe.  If I hadn't been staring out the window just then, those details may have gone from my memory bank forever.

Parents are finally realizing now that it's not a good idea to overschedule kids with a bunch of activites, lessons, and playdates. When we were kids, we had more alone time, time to do "just nothing." People are now agreeing that "nothing" time while you are alone helps kids become more creative.

One brilliant example of this is the legend of how 1920's biologist, Alexander Fleming, was daydreaming, staring at a petrie dish and drawing pictures of the specimens, when he observed that the colonies of bacterium in the dish were being destroyed by a mold that had grown there.  Growing mold was not the purpose of the experiment, and his practice of daydreaming prompted the discovery of Penicillin.

Just like I had written a few months ago in my "Santa Claus" blog, immersing yourself in fantasy from time to time is essential for your mental health. Too much reality can destroy a person.  We all need moments of "unreality" to feel refreshed, so never feel guilty about spending a part of your day just simply staring out the window!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Best Predictor You'll Be A Happy, Well-Adjusted, Adult



I have an unofficial barometer for measuring which years will be happiest for you.  Will they be the four teenage ones you spent in high school or will they be the vast majority of the rest of your life?  For the popular bunch who consider high school "the best years of their lives," unfortunately, they will probably forever remain so.  For the rest of us who remember high school as a bit "challenging," if not "impossible at times," the best is either now or yet to come.

Think of what that microcosm of time we call high school was really like.  It was a time when you had no responsibilities, and getting attention was first and foremost in your mind.  You were at an age where you were at your most selfish.  Hardly a time when one becomes equipped with the necessary resources for adulthood. If you were one of the popular crowd, exclusion was what you were all about since in order to BE popular, those not in your crowd, i.e,. the rest of us, would have to be left out of the loop. These are not good qualities to help you go forward through life.

I found this point illustrated beautifully in the movie "Young Adult." I finally rented it after being intrigued by the premise when it was released in the theaters last year. Charlize Theron plays Mavis, a thirty-seven-year-old divorced writer of novels for teenage girls, who now lives in Minneapolis with her little dog and is writing the very last book of her series which is soon to be cancelled forever.  She returns to her small hometown in Minnesota where she was once a "popular" girl, and she misses her high school boyfriend, Buddy, and that period of time which was the "best years of her life."


She decides to claim Buddy back as her boyfriend despite the fact that he's now settled down with a wife and newborn daughter!  Mavis calls him up, and Buddy agrees to meet with her platonically.  Later, he invites Mavis to see his wife's "mom rock band" perform at a club where she's the drummer, and all the other members are also moms.  They perform a song from their high school era which Mavis still considers to be her and Buddy's song.  That part was very symbolic to me because earlier we had seen Mavis listening to the song from a mixtape while driving in her car on her quest to get Buddy back, but when Buddy's wife performs that song with her "mom rock band," Buddy's wife reclaims it. Time has moved on. It's her song now. Hers and the rest of her band.  Buddy is all smiles while he watches his wife perform. You can see how happy he is. How settled. This is reality now.


At the end of the movie, Mavis marvels at the fact that "People here are satisfied with so little."  If high school hadn't raised her expectations so high, meaning that she must always be popular and better than everyone else, she wouldn't still have a false sense of entitlement.  She is now a member of the adult population.  She is just one adult among many.  Neither special nor entitled.  If "so little" means being happily married with a wife and daughter and having some fun on the weekends seeing your wife's "mom band" play, then yes, I guess the people in this town are satisfied with very little.  And yes, I'd choose that reality over being prom queen any time!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Whatever Happened To Good TV?


I'm anxious for this Reality TV craze to be over.  REALLY anxious.  It's got to be over soon, I mean, it can't last forever.  Of course, I've been saying this for the past ten years! TV crazes have always come and gone.  There was the night time soap craze of the 70's and 80's:  "Dallas," "Dynasty," "Knots Landing" and "Falcon Crest" to name a few.  "Dallas" completely took over pop culture consciousness!  I distinctly remember how much everyone talked about the Spring of 1980 cliffhanger where somebody shot J.R., the lead character of the show played by Larry Hagman.  Even all of us kids were obsessed with finding out "Who Shot J.R.?" We hadn't even SEEN the episode, but we just needed to know "Who Shot J.R.?" 

Later in the 1990's there was the "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" game show craze.  Everybody watched it, and everybody was dialing up the pre-audition telephone test because they felt a duty to be a contestant on the show if they were able to answer the majority of the questions while watching from home.  Even Regis Philbin's wardrobe with its shiny ties and suits were analyzed and copied.  But at least the popularity of these two TV crazes didn't kill the basic format of the other shows on during that time period.  There were still daytime soaps and family sitcoms, and there were still game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" (which is still on today and still uses its basic original format) . These crazes didn't hurt anybody, but Reality TV has killed the Writer.

Reality TV's simplistic and uninspired dialogue, and the plots that are acted out (yes, they ARE "acted out," as Reality TV is scripted, albeit poorly), are about as far from reality as any other fictitious TV show has ever been.  But what's worse is that it prevents writers from being hired to actually write good TV.  There are a handful of shows still trying to peep their heads out from under all this reality nonsense.  I try to cheer myself up by watching "The Good Wife," a  law drama in which the writing is excellent.  Good writers actually sit down and think about how to make the plots and characters both thought-provoking and socially-conscious, and even when you think you've gotten the whole theme of the night's episode figured out, the writers manage to throw you a curve ball at the very end so that what you thought you knew and believed the show was trying to tell you was actually something completely different.  Becoming a regular viewer of "The Good Wife" has helped make me feel better, but my most recent rental from Netflix actually made me feel worse.

From 1990-1995, a weekly, hour-long TV show named "Northern Exposure" had its run.  It was about a New York City doctor named Joel who was transplanted to a small town called Cicely that was in Alaska.  I felt a special kinship with Joel back then because I was a New York City girl who lived in Canada during that same time period!  When I rented it from Netflix and watched it for the first time after many years, it really hit home how much we've been missing from TV.  "Northern Exposure" could be a novel rather than a TV show.  The characters are so well planned out.  Maggie Malone was always my personal favorite.  I used to pop kernels from a popcorn bag every night in a saucepan on the stove rather than buying the microwave version because that's how Maggie did it from her log cabin kitchen.  I wanted to feel like she did.  I long to live in a relaxed town and experience the easy lifestyle of Cicely, Alaska, escaping the fast pace and stressfulness of reality (or even Reality TV where they're always screaming and fighting).  I can become so absorbed in her story. 

One of the episodes on my Netflix rental was called "Nothing's Perfect."  It centered around an older character named "Maurice" who was a former United States astronaut and was the wealthiest inhabitant of Cicely. In this particular episode, he orders a very expensive clock from Germany which is a one-of-a-kind treasure in both its rareness and beauty, but after showing it off to his friends, he discovers that it doesn't keep perfect time!  Maurice is furious and wants his money back, but then he mulls it over. He tells us about how when he was a young astronaut, he thought he would live forever, but now that he's older, he knows that time is not something he can control.  He wants to keep the clock to admire its beauty and to hold onto the small moments in life and to enjoy them and savor them while he can.  Thus, this episode reinforces my disdain for Realty TV. If time is fleeting, and our moments are precious and few, why should we all be forced to waste it on Reality TV?

Friday, February 17, 2012

For One Brief Moment, We Can All Live Forever



Luise Rainer is the oldest living Oscar winner.  I learned that in the recent Oscar issue of Entertainment Weekly.  She's now 102 years old.  The last time I read her name was back in the early 1990's in the diaries of Anais Nin. I used to skim through them at the World's Biggest Bookstore during my lunch breaks.  I didn't know anything about Anais Nin, but I liked how the covers of each volume of her diaries had the same picture of her face but shaded in a different color. Eventually, I read her diaries and got hooked.  She made me fascinated about what life was like for an artistic, creative female writer living in Paris in the 1920's. Whenever I read books of people who lived many years ago or see a movie made in the early 20th century, I can't help but think that their heyday has passed and most of them aren't even alive anymore.  In the early 1990's, a few of the people mentioned in the Nin diaries were still alive.  I particularly remember that Anais's youngest brother, Joaquin, was still alive and over 90 years old. It was weird to think that there was still someone around who had lived all those experiences that Anais wrote about who could possibly still remember all those things.   But years later, the next time I googled Joaquin, I found out that even he had indeed passed.  It seemed the allure of the 1920's was over.

Which is what I thought when I first watched the 1929 movie "The Broadway Melody," the very first musical made in an era of only silent movies.  It was about two singing sisters and their struggles to make it from vaudeville to Broadway.  It was SO dated. I couldn't believe the silly hand gestures the performers made as they rehearsed their numbers, and as I watched, I couldn't help but think how all of them had passed away by now. 

The next day, I googled the names of the women who played the two sisters to see when they died.  First I googled Bessie Love.   She indeed had died in 1986 at the ripe old age of 87.  Then I googled Anita Page.  I thought it was a mistake when I saw that Anita Page had no year of death next to her name.  When I read her entry, it said she was now 97 years old and living in California!  The next night, I watched the movie again, and as I watched Anita Page on the screen, I imagined her getting ready for bed in California, how the weather must be beautiful this time of year, and how she was not only living on the screen, but she was living in real life as well.

I decided to find out if she had a MySpace page.  Before Facebook hit it big, MySpace was the place to be.  MySpace was great because you could actually connect with celebrities.  I remember being MySpace friends with Danielle Brisebois of "Annie" and "All In The Family" fame.  And you could tell that she took care of her own page, so when she accepted my friend request, she actually saw my name and picture and clicked "Accept."  Many other celebrity profiles were run by fans and not the actual celebrities.  But if you were early-MySpace savvy, you could tell which was which. 

So I found Anita Page's MySpace page which only had about 20 friends total!  I friended her and wrote a very brief message saying that I had just seen "A Broadway Melody" of 1929 and really enjoyed it.  I never expected a message back and was so surprised the next day when I received this really brief message saying, "Thank you (written as one word "thankyou") for your message.  I'm so glad you enjoyed 'A Broadway Melody.'  I didn't like it back in its day and always thought it was Bessie Love's picture.  I do like it now though."  Was it from her?  A 97 year old woman?  I never found out for sure.  But when she passed away about a year later at the age of 98, this man wrote a message thanking her fans, and again, "Thankyou" was written as one word.  The same way it was written on the message to me.  Obviously my message was written by this same man.  No one writes "Thankyou" as one word. Was she mentally acute enough that when he told her about my message, she told him what to write back?  Or did he just know she'd respond that way and wrote AS her?  I'd like to think it was the former rather than the latter.

I feel that as long as there are people who are still alive from a certain era of time, their era never really leaves us, and some of its magic still surrounds us.  I watch the 1970's TV show, "Maude," at 10:00 p.m. every night. My parents used to watch reruns of it at that very same time slot when I was in grade school. Conrad Bain and Bill Macy, the two male stars of the show, are still alive. I feel like as long as they are alive, then that period of time from my childhood when I was tucked into my warm bed, feeling protected, will never go away either.  Luise Rainer is still alive, and Anita Page was waking up on California mornings the days after I watched her in all her youth in a 1929 movie.  We can pretend for one brief moment that no one really dies.   If we try hard enough, we can convince ourselves it's so.

Monday, January 16, 2012

January Is The Month Of The Snowman



January is the month of the winter blahs.  Just ask anyone.  After Christmas and Hanukkah, nobody cares for winter anymore.  Some people may like it since they hate the heat so much, or they like to ski, or they just like to be contrary while everyone else is complaining.  Most of us miss the sun by now, and for some people, these darker months can cause an actual depressive disorder called "Seasonal Affective Disorder."  I first heard of this disorder on one of my all-time favorite TV shows, "Northern Exposure."  The series takes place in Alaska, and their winters are darker than anyone's.  They  lead up to a winter day where there is twenty-four hours of darkness!  One of the characters, Holling, always finds himself hibernating in winter, so he wears a contraption with small light bulbs attached to it that shines on his face and keeps the darkness from getting to him.

My mom has always had another solution to keep from getting depressed during the winter months.  Every January, she decorates the house with dozens of snowmen and even throws all of her friends a "Snowman Party."  The one rule for the party is that everything has to be white.  We all wear white and eat only white foods.  We have white cheddar cheese doodles and Swiss cheese on white crackers for snacks, and later, we order ricotta and mozzarella pizza, no sauce.  The main event of the party is a "Count the Snowmen Game."  Before the party takes place, my mom goes around her house several times to do a meticulous counting of the snowmen.  She counts all the snowmen dolls and nicknacks but also has to count the snowmen on the tablecloth and any pictures she hangs up for the party.  After our white pizza, we go around the house with our snowmen pencils and papers and count all the snowmen in silence.  Whoever comes closest to the correct number of snowmen wins a prize which may or may not be a snowman.

I remember one particular winter morning during the first few days of January when my mom and I had breakfast at the local diner.  For some reason, I had an enormous craving for chocolate chip pancakes.  This was unusual because I never crave anything but eggs for breakfast, ever!  I'm a total egg person.  "That's because we haven't had any sunlight for three days," my mom told me. "Sunshine and chocolate BOTH increase the release of serotonin in our bodies, and serotonin is a natural anti-depressant.  But don't worry," she continued, "January is the month of the snowman.  Even if we don't get any sunshine, we'll both decorate our houses with snowmen, and we'll throw a Snowman Party.  Seeing those smiling faces on the snowmen will cheer us up!"  It's a lot of work to throw a Snowman Party, but think about it:  It's a lot more fun than wearing a device on your head filled with lights!