Tuesday, December 30, 2008

extremely random movie thoughts, and by the way - Happy New Year!

When I wrote about the Emmys a while back, I was sort of put out with Hollywood because I felt disdained by them - what with having voted conservative, um, ever. That post started quite the little discussion. But one friend didn't comment at all - although she wanted to write something to the effect of, "Ah, Serenity is growing up!" because I was able to see anything other than red carpets and rosiness in my beloved Hollywood. Well, it's been too long since I wrote about Hollywood now, and I don't want anyone to wonder if I've grown up any further - because I haven't - so I thought it was time. Consider this a huge catch-up version of "Movie Reviews From My Cabinet at Home." In this case: A glimpse at some of the movies, new and (80s) classic, I can't get enough of this Christmas vacation holiday. Now remember, we're kids. I mean, um, we have kids. So it's not like any of these were nominated for best picture. They just get us, okay?

First up, Kung Fu Panda. First, I love the Asian themes. Love them. When I watched The Last Samuri I suddenly wanted to clean my house. Just clean it, remove 90 percent of the stuff from it, and hang black-framed pictures of lone white lillies. Besides the Eastern inspiration that makes us want to cleanse our universe/cleanse our souls, Kung Fu Panda is freaking hilarious. We never laughed so hard in our lives - out loud in a movie theater - as we did watching Jack Black as an overweight Kung Fu trainee with a heart of gold. So. Funny. Plus, I now figure there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who believe there's a secret ingredient and those who don't.

Freaky Friday. The Oscars are so pretentious, aren't they? Because if they weren't, they never would have overlooked Jamie Lee Curtis's performance as a teenager trapped in her mother's body in this hilarious version of what was already a pretty great concept. Lindsay Lohan actually does beautifully as her mother as well, but Jamie Lee Curtis slays me. When the teenager-trapped-in-mom's-body tries to read something and has to trombone it, Curtis says "Whoa, she's blind!" in one of the funniest line deliveries ever, and that's just one of the many scenes in this movie that she completely nails. I actually believe there's a teenager in there. Believe it. And this realistic acting makes it all the more poignant when they whip out the schmaltz and actually make me cry. It's a great movie about understanding each other. Period.

The Three Musketeers. I credit this movie for some of my downfall into a total adoration for the art of movie-making. It has everything - romance, great clothes and hair, heroes, sacrifice, brotherhood, and humor. I love the gentle queen who loved the timid king to whom her marriage was arranged. I love how fiercly the musketeers believe in their duty to protect that king. And the line, "Come, Dartagnon, we're saving the king!" was as critical to our family's movie-quoting history as "Goodbye, Boys, have fun storming the castle." Major Nickerson nostalgia in this film, and I'm so glad we own it now.

Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I have no philosophical goodness to bring out from this movie. No one single thing. We own it because I got it for about 4 dollars, and I loved it as a kid. But seriously, when I subjected my children to it the other day, I still sat RIVETED by those four, poor, quarter-inch children trying to cross the massive jungle that used to be simply their back yard. I couldn't wait for the humungous oatmeal cream pie and the part where they sleep in a Lego. It's just good, clean fun.

Ratatouille. If you're sensing a Disney obsession here, that's because I'm in the DVD club. And incidentally, I adore the movie montage before Disney movies now where they play the fantastic score from Kevin Kostner's Robin Hood. It gets my Hollywood eyes all starry. And Ratatouille is just so cute and culinary. It doesn't exactly make me want to be a cook, but it makes me appreciate them very, very much. I'm so glad some people cared to turn our plain animal instict to eat things into an actual art. If there were only people like me in the world, ingredients would never have come together properly. Heck, we probably never would have peeled a banana.

Hancock. We don't own this one, and we've only seen it once - but it was fairly recently. Will Smith is in it, which is a clincher for this fam. And he plays a really arrogant super power whose publicist (Jason Bateman . . . I think I still have a poster of you around here somewhere) convinces him to just look people in the eye now and then and tell them, "Good job." Oh my goodness, do we like to deliver that line around here. Plus, I love the idea of a reluctant superhero and the way he is transformed basically by one man's belief that he can better himself, a little boy's unfettered admiration of him, and the choice to love selflessly.

Now, can anyone tell me which of these movies I should rush to see (or perhaps away from) currently in theaters? Because I think I want to see them all: Benjamin Button, Marley & Me (I already know - bring a box of Kleenex and try not to have ever actually loved any of your pets), Seven Pounds, Bedtime Stories, Valkyrie. Also, I got a couple months of free Netflix for Christmas, so prepare for another rash of brief, completely unhelpful movie reviews soon. Up first is Hairspray, and I hear Ghost Town is awesome.

photo credit:  basha04 on Flickr

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm thinking a movie on a weekday at nap time . . .

Agent Holly:  You will be happy to hear, in the words of Drew shortly before this picture, "We.  Just got.  A Wii!"

So now when I am overcome with anxiety over whether or not I am any closer to beginning an actual writing career, I'll simply pick up a remote and bowl.  I'm really good at the bowling.  Not so much the tennis.  I end up jabbing at the air in front of me as if trying to poke my little Mii into responding to the ball rather than reacting to it myself.  "What does it say about you, though," I asked Michael, "to be good at bowling on the Wii?"  It doesn't seem like something you could put on a list of assets, talents, or even handy little knacks.  It just is.

I drove to my parents' on Christmas Eve.  The roads were covered in patches with packed snow, and Michael was home sick.  I have never felt so happy and so refreshed by a home-going though.  I needed it desperately that day for some reason.  As I drove there alone, I panicked when I realized that I had not yet read the directions for - nor placed in my vehicle - the car escape tool Dad got me for Christmas.  It cuts your seat-belt and breaks your window and punctures your air bag and all kinds of other important things if you have an accident that leaves you trapped inside the car.  I thought how awful it would be to have a wreck on Christmas Eve on the way to his house and not have the safety tool he had given me.  

Now it is safely placed in the pocket of my driver's side door, and I feel so much more prepared for life.  It's nice to have a little bit of Dad's protection beside me in the car as I drive.  Just like it was so nice on Christmas Eve, when the day kept feeling so decidedly un-Christmassy and the boys kept spilling things and I realized I still hadn't bought enough wrapping paper (Wal-Mart again?!), to know that I was going to Mom's just as soon as my work day was over and that she would rescue Christmas from the moment I walked in the door.  I was wrong though.  It was rescued the moment I saw the lights of the little town where she lives.  

We're headed into the second week of Christmas vacation for the boys.  They look so forward to it.  And then sometimes it disappoints.  They get bored and miss their friends and routine.  Jake likes having them around but finds that they sometimes mess with his universe.  They wake up every day certain something exciting will happen, and their faces droop to find me working (what is this strange part of grown-up life that you work on Christmas vacation?!) But I'm going to try and rescue it for them.  I'm pretty sure I can.  I just hope I have enough tools.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

one more wish for magic

So I guess we'll have a white Christmas this year.  I should have taken a picture right across the street.  Dave's house catches snow like a perfectly frosted gingerbread house.  Only it's a beautiful dark gray instead of brown.  I don't say "Dave's house" as if you know him, but simply because it's a pretty view from my house that I've mentioned on the blog before.  If we ever move, I think I'll remember this house more for that poetic view than anything else.  "Remember how Dave's house looked at Christmas time?"  I'll probably say things like that.  And, remember how Dave actually raked?

Tonight I'll wrap presents with the tiniest bit of anxiety, wondering if and hoping that my children still believe in the magic of Christmas once they've opened the presents tomorrow.  I saw a rerun last night  - a behind-the-scenes look at The Grinch cartoon.  And a man said, "Everyone hates Christmas a little bit.  No one would dare deny that."  Now, if you've been hanging around the last few weeks, you know that I really like this time of year.  I believe in the magic so much that I seriously expect complete strangers to walk up and hand me money.  (They did last year!  Well, it was a diaper coupon, but if diapers are on your grocery list, believe me, that is MONEY, BABY.)  I think the sound of the Salvation Army bell is the loveliest of the season and the Merry Christmas said between us after I've dropped my money in, perfect in sincerity. 

But still, I understood what that guy said.  Because no matter how hard we try to make it about everything except the presents, it still becomes about them a little bit.  And wondering if my kids will still believe the magic after Christmas morning is always a little moment of angst for me.  

But on that note, you should see me the day after Christmas.  Ooh, I love that day.  All the gifts are unwrapped, and we're reveling in them.  My kids were grateful and happy and so full of magic that it's shooting from their fingers and their toes.  I'm looking forward to that.

Next time I write, Serenity Now will probably be dripping with New Yearsy thoughts - all that hope and new beginning stuff.  I'm kind of big on that.  So, consider this my Merry Christmas message.  Here's hoping you've got magic shooting from your fingers and toes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I have the best idea for the next season of Survivor

I went to Wal-Mart on the Saturday before Christmas.

These are the words of an insane person.  Except that I survived it, which makes me a conquerer.  Except I came out limping and crying, which makes me ridiculous.

I went in cheerful.  Just be calm, I told myself.  Just a few gifts to pick up.  You already know what they are.  The crowds are just other people full of Christmas spirit.  The carts are not attacking you.  But.  It.  Wore.  Me.  Down.  

It's my fault really, because I wore ridiculous shoes.  I don't know why I do that.  (Yes I do.  It's the whole life is too short thing.)  And I wasn't prepared for the check-out lanes.  They were almost my undoing.  After picking up my last item and rounding the corner for the check-out lanes, which may as well have been heaven itself, I saw the lines and gasped the dying breath of a mad woman.  I bought Advil, a candy bar, and a Diet Coke while in line.  Plus read an entire magazine, alphabetized the gifts I'd bought, had a long chat with my mother, and flossed.  (Okay, only the mom one is true between Diet Coke and flossing).  When I finally made it through, boosted only slightly by the fact that the check-out woman's day was going to be way worse than mine, I limped and sloshed my way through the filthy slush, threw my stuff into the car, walked the cart about a half-mile back to the cart-retriever place like the marathon runner finishing the final leg, and collapsed behind the wheel, hugging it like it was one of my children.

One crazy thing I noticed over and over, though, in every aisle, three layers deep - was that people were seriously happy.  I didn't run into one single person who wasn't smiling despite the chaos, and I'm pretty sure most of us were smiling because of it.  I mean, don't get me wrong.  I am not casually saving ANY of my shopping until that late next year if I can help it in any way, but still.  Even as we commiserated with each other and rubbed our temples and questioned our intelligence (only our own - no one challenged the intelligence of anyone else), we wished each other Merry Christmas and thoroughly, not-just-because-at-least-it-has-to-beat-this-day, meant it.  This is what I love about humanity.  

(Aside:  I'm putting up another picture from our family photo night, because I really kind of like this one but didn't end up using it.  I like Jake's crooked pose, the way he and Drew have matching gaps, and my poofy hair from having jumped into the chaos.)

But anyway, next year I plan to get all gushy towards humanity on the Saturday before Christmas by sitting in my own home in front of my gorgeous tree and just think about how great humanity can be.  I'll probably even smile at the thought of all those poor suckers discovering humanity the hard way.  

Happy Monday, everyone!  It's a happy one because there are only three more sleeps 'til Christmas.  (Which reminds me, Guy-on-the-phone-with-your-significant-other, you don't know me, but I met you in every other aisle of the toy section about twelve times - each time you were talking on the phone trying to figure what in the world to buy.  Please tell me you found something from that child's list you were talking about.  I was so moved by the fact that you were there, taking those toy aisle laps like a trouper, keeping your infant calm, and especially that you didn't cuss once.  Merry Christmas.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

not always what you picture

We had a little trouble capturing a Christmas card this year.  I wouldn't expect one if I were you.  Doesn't Drew (in the middle) look like he's starting a modeling career though?  Check out that perfect uncaring pout.  And believe me, it's a pose.  He was in a perfectly good mood here.  It was Jake's mood that threw things off, as evidenced in the second picture here in which Michael is holding Jake's teary face toward the camera.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

I can get kind of upset about things not turning out as I'd like them to.  But, I don't know, this year I just love these pictures.  And not like you love those blooper pictures that you try for - you know, "Now everyone look silly!"  No, these are seriously unfortunate pictures.  Not a one of them turned out pretty.  And I didn't care.  I was really tired that night.  But I find that today - when I'll probably choose the least appalling one and upload it to Walgreens - I still don't care.  

What I care about is how much we laugh together, whether or not we're understanding each other and focusing on the same important things in life, whether or not the kids feel loved.  You can't put that stuff in a Christmas picture.

So I gave up early on the picture-taking that night.  Between each shot, I swear, they were rolling around on the floor wrestling - arms and legs flailing, Jake getting cheered up by not being forced to perform for Pete's sake!  And then I would just click the timer on the camera and yell okay and they'd plop themselves into some sort of seated position while I squeezed into the mayhem.  After a few shots, I just got tired of stopping the fun.  

Christmas won't be perfect for any of us this year probably.  We'll cut corners and hang fewer lights and buy smaller presents.  With the chaotic pace of life, sometimes Christmas isn't as poetic as we want it to be.  The night I put up the nativity I found that with three small boys it's not as easy to capture the solemnity of the moment as we always did with Mom.  I ended up getting the box down and yelling to various rooms, "Everybody get in here!  Linus is telling the Christmas story, and we're all going to sit here and watch it!"  So they did.  And then they snatched at the shepherd and wise men and baby Jesus and plopped them on the shelf with excitement nowhere near solemnity.

And last night I had it in mind to watch It's a Wonderful Life.  I was determined it was the only way I could go to bed happy.  But we all went to the Y instead.  I took a yoga class, John had basketball practice, Jake found that heaven is a rec center play room.  We were there way too late to watch a movie afterwards.  And an evening at the Y is such a different picture than an evening in front of Jimmy Stewart with chocolate and angels getting their wings and such.  I mean we ended the night playing Ms. Pacman and Galaga for goodness sake.  

You just can't decide ahead of time what life is supposed to look like - even Christmas - and only be happy with that.  It's like our Christmas card I guess.  I'd rather live a great picture than take one.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I went to school today and stumbled into a Christmas concert

If you stay around the school building in the morning, and it's the kind of weather when you have your windows rolled down, you hear the most adorable sound.  Over the loud speakers come these two little voices saying, "Good morning!"  Then they say their names and ask us to please join them in saying the Pledge of Allegiance and the Tiger Pledge.  The Tiger Pledge is a little vow to show respect and responsibility and best effort and all those good things.  I love hearing those little voices in the morning.

Well, last Friday should have been Drew's turn, but I got him to school late.  Today we were a little late again.  (I think Jared did it today, Sara!)  So I'm not sure but what he has missed his chance for good.  But anyway, I went inside to check with his teacher on something else and all the kids were streaming to the gym for a high school band concert.  So I was surprisingly serenaded with O Holy Night and a comical version of Twas the Night Before Christmas while Drew sat happily beside me and Jake chewed on a giant wad of bubble gum and grinned at Aunt Eva Jean who sat beside us.  It was a pretty decent start to any Monday, you gotta admit.

On the way home from a ball game last night (who knew third grade basketball could be so fun?) we stopped at a gas station where I plopped some Rolos on the counter.

"Chocolate fix?" the clerk asked me.

"Yep."  And it was.  A thoroughly emotional choice as I wasn't even hungry.

"Whatever it takes," he said kindly.

And I thought, whatever it takes indeed.  

See, I didn't have any trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year.  I've felt thoroughly magic clear to my toes since November 1.  Surprisingly, though, my budget wasn't feeling quite as Christmasy as me and hasn't been giving as generously as I would have liked.  It's like the economy is going under or something, although I'm sure that's not true.  So although it's been Christmas for weeks around here, December 25th has managed to plummet towards me like a giant snowball under which I feel I will soon be flattened.   I have way too much shopping left to do considering it is December 15th.  

And so, finally I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps Christmas is, like, too commercial or if perhaps the stores prey on our holiday spirit to get us to buy more, or if maybe - and this is a shot in the dark here - maybe there is a little something going on with the economy.  And all this threatens - like the giant snowball itself - to undo all of the happiness that Charlie Brown and Michael W. Smith have thus far established.  

So I say, whatever it takes.  I sit in the quiet at night in front of my lighted tree.  I listen to Christmas music nonstop from a variety of sources so you don't get - you know - "Jingle Bells backwards!" (Name that movie).  And I eat Rolos when I don't really need them.

An old friend of mine had an awesome Facebook status recently, "I'm glad the King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger, in all our trials born to be our friend."  That was all it took that moment.  And I was so thankful for it.  I refuse to let Christmas bowl me over.  It's way too easy to pause and finally get it.  You just gotta find what it takes.

Friday, December 12, 2008

if the Lord tarries

Mom knows a preacher who says that phrase, "If the Lord tarries," when he makes announcements and such.  You know, the meeting is tonight . . . if the Lord tarries.  

It has been a long time, don't you think?  Two thousand years ago - give or take - I know his disciples never would have guessed it would be this long.  It leaves a lot of room for doubt.  I like what Den said in the comments Wednesday, that Jesus left his legacy to people who had consistently failed him.  And sometimes that feels even more true than others.  Here we are, so many years later, trying to figure out just what he meant by coming at all - just what he was trying to say and to show us.  

"If the Lord tarries," seems to come from someone who really wishes that he wouldn't.  I heard a preacher speak on that once, that we should wish for Jesus' return more than we wished for anything.  I went to lunch that Sunday distraught.  I knew I didn't wish for that.  I wished for marriage and children and meeting new people and discovering new things.  I didn't want him to come and interrupt all that cool stuff life had to offer.  That's the famous day in our family history when I opened my fortune cookie after lunch, and it was blank.  (Was it blank, Mom, or completely empty?  I can never remember.)  Either way, it was eerie.  

Now I'm on the other side of some of the coolness and find that life has hardship too that would be nice to escape.  After 9/11 when my cousin was in a church in Pakistan that was bombed, I was thinking, "This might be a good time, Lord."  It seemed the world was falling apart.  But then, yet again, it didn't.  It didn't actually fall apart, and he didn't feel the need to swoop in and rescue us.  We keep stumbling about trying to figure out life and love (smile) and faith, and then we die and another generation is born to - it sometimes seems - start the learning process all over again.

It's bright and sunny here today, especially reflecting off the little patches of snow.  And something like the return of Jesus on clouds of glory always seems more possible on days like this.  But I find that despite everything in life - or actually, because of it - I still don't mind that he tarries (as perhaps a proper Christian should).  I really like the learning process of life.  It's so stressful in seasons but so rewarding when you come through them with something new discovered.

There were several good comments yesterday and Wednesday.  As Tracy H. pointed out (you can find her on the blog roll at Strengthened by Words), there is a lot of mystery and balance to our faith.  We struggle to find it between grace and works, love and justice, humility and understanding.  I'm not even sure there is perfect balance between them, or if perhaps we make up the balance by our differences.  Which is both trying - and oddly freeing, if you let it be.

This is one of my favorite movie quotes.  I'm convinced there's truth in it.

"If there's any kind of God, it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me, but just this little space in between.  If there's any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something.  I know it's almost impossible to succeed.  But who cares really?  The answer must be in the attempt." 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the greatest of these

I heard the best phrase earlier this year.  A guest speaker at my sister's church was talking about that famous evangelical phrase, "Love the sinner, hate the sin."  The speaker went on to congratulate Christians everywhere, himself included, because we are so good at that phrase.  Especially the second part.  We're so good at the second part, in fact, that we really don't get around to the first.

His suggestion was to give up the hate.  Just try it.  For like a month or something.  "Love irresponsibly," he said.

How much do I love that phrase?  Very.  I keep trying to think of ways to apply it.  It's a tough one for Christians, because - well - besides the fact that it sounds like a slogan for teen pregnancy - it also flies right in the face of our fear that we could actually love someone right into hell.  Do you know this about us, Person we judge?  We're afraid that if we don't condemn you now, we condemn you forever.  And as for our own self-righteousness - and, Lordy, do we have some - it's not only that we think we can earn our way to heaven (although, I'm afraid that's in there), it's also that we have believed our own purity is the best way to reflect Him.  First Corinthians 13, aside.  ("If I speak God's word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.")

I like the phrase love irresponsibly because it made me question that fear I used to have.  It made me wonder, if I believe I could love someone into hell, did I really understand what Love is?

I don't have this problem, for instance, with my children.  They can lie right to my face, the little devils, and moments later I want to wrap them in my arms and hold them 'til they smell like my shampoo.  I adore them.  I actually have total responsibility for their health, their understanding of right and wrong, and their happiness.  Actual responsibility.  It's in the contract you sign right next to their birth certificate.  I solemnly swear to feed them broccoli, hold their hand to cross the street, and apologize profusely if they point out obesity in the grocery store.  And yet I love them first and foremost without any thought for that other stuff.  It's why I give them cookies at bedtime and let them play football in the yard just five more minutes before they start their homework and strap 'em into mud boots and swimming trunks so they can treat the puddles like they were meant to be treated.

You know, Mom and Dad always used to teach people that disciplining your children is a greater love than spoiling them because it requires a greater denial of self (not to mention the fact that it shows a much greater love for the whole of society upon whom you'll eventually inflict your children).  That is certainly true.  But it's not the willing-to-discipline love that will motivate me when they make decisions I would not have made for them.  It's the cookies-at-bedtime love.  

I don't know, I just think this is the kind of love that would be worth considering with other humans on the planet as well.  I don't know for sure what it looks like.  But I'm pretty sure I've decided it's the way to be.  

And now I've put it out there.  I've taken another guy's words, packed it with my own emotions and agendas and put it out there for the world.  So go ahead, lay it on me.  What do you think about it?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

traditions are like the rules of Calvin-ball, you add new ones any time you want

My mom is really good at new traditions.  When I moved out, she debated over whether or not to send me with the long, narrow stocking that matched my siblings', which she'd hung every year for Christmas.  She ended up getting me a new one instead to take with me.  She's had to change a lot of traditions over the years.  And I never knew her to do it with very much sadness.  She's the one, you know, who keeps foolishly promising me that every stage of life is as wonderful as the next despite my determination to be blue at the thought that my poor children are growing so quickly.

This is a picture of a tradition she started several years ago.  One white gift bag for every family of my siblings and I for each day of December.  Our kids all have various methods for deciding who gets to open the package every day.  Mine have an elaborate process - one picks out the proper date and unties the ribbon, the other takes out the tissue paper for the big reveal.  The next day they switch.  Jake is - you know - also there.  

So today's ornament is from one of the packages.  It's the Grinch.  We also have an older Grinch ornament, so I gave them both some billing.

New and old.  I like life to be plenty stuffed with both.

Monday, December 8, 2008

if you think it's too early for Christmas, you better turn your head

We slayed a tree this weekend, shook its loose needles with a rumbling tractor, pulled it through some netting, and strapped it to the back of our truck.  

As we drove there, I was thinking about traditions and the fact that I've never really thought we had many.  There are lots of things we usually do but not many that we always do.  I think I was over-defining the term.  Because even though we will probably move to artificial at some point in the future, and even though last year we  waited too long and had to retrieve an already-slain tree from the ditch (i.e., the grocery store), Fouch's Christmas Tree Farm is definitely a family tradition.

 In my later high school years, Mom always had a beautiful department-store kind of tree, everything matching.  She put all our old homemade ornaments elsewhere and made the house look like Better Homes and Gardens.  Felic and I loved those trees.  We didn't have much love lost over the popsicle sticks from our elementary days.

Of course I intended to have a tree like that when I had my own home too.  So, what was I to do with all the Hallmark cartoon-like figurines that Michael brought to the party from his childhood?  I'm ashamed to say I put those ornaments on kind of reluctantly the first year. Then I tied wraphia bows around the edges and red balls to tie it all together, and it was absolutely gorgeous.  I remember feeling a little smug towards all those Caution Signs that marriage demands compromise.  If this is compromise, I thought, I'm going to be happy for EVER.

Now I love the unveiling of our Hallmark ornaments every year.  The kids get a new one each year from Grandma Bohon, and it's my favorite part of the tree.  I took some pictures and plan to put a new one up every day or so on the blog.  I know you won't really care, but I'm loving my tree - this year with a blue and silver theme - so much that I felt the blog needed some holiday spirit as well.

The first one up today?  Two little chipmunks in an acorn swing.  It says "Our First Christmas Together".  Can't you just see the happy compromise?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

why I blog at all

I've been wanting to do a post like this for a while, ever since a friend raised the question of my intent here, wondering if I expect input or perhaps don't enjoy it, whether I'm entertaining you or just perhaps myself.  Another friend thinking of starting a blog herself also asked me why I do it, and thinking about all the reasons why was just too fun.  So I thought I'd write them out here and see what other bloggers would add.  

Earlier this week, Drew turned around at the table where he was doing homework and said, "Hey, Mo-om.  Guess what one of my spelling words is this week?  WRITER!"  You can't imagine how it thrilled me to know that he had any comprehension at all that I would care about that.  He must actually consider me one of those, despite the fact that he's 7, so he doesn't exactly browse the blogging community, and there isn't a single book in Barnes and Noble with my name on it.  

And that is the first reason I blog.  Because I wanted to write.  A good friend said of me when I was in high school that I wrote well but hadn't yet found my voice.  "How the heck do you find that?" I asked my mom.  And she said, "You find it in your grocery list.  And all kinds of other common things you can write every day.  Keep doing them, and eventually you find your voice."  I thought a blog would be even better than a grocery list. 

Also, I wanted to write for people.  When I was just writing for myself, it was too easy to skip it.  I heard on the radio the other day, "We judge ourselves by what we are capable of, but others judge us by what we have already done."  Another thing my mom always said was to "discipline your art".  Too many people out there "should" or "would" or "probably could", and not enough do.  You have to put some work into it if you want to produce anything of worth.  I thought having readers would be a good way to make myself keep writing, even when it seemed easier to quit.

Blogging is hugely, hugely, ginormously self-indulgent.  I'm well aware of that.  The other day Drew was telling John about a girl he likes.  The only thing I know of her is that she has freckles.  And this is what he said, "I hope I recognize her my whole life."  Having a blog gives me permission to write down things like that.  And you kind people read it.  Me?  Self-indulged.

But my hope, and another reason I keep doing it, is that it will also entertain or move you.  That at some point at least someone will say, "I totally get that."  A part of me has this crazy need to find the common denominators in humanity.  I want to discover and record the way I feel about things with the delusion that at least some of them will make all of humanity nod its head, "Ah, yes.  We totally get it too."  There have to be some things like that.  The thrill and the ache of being a parent, the need for love, dreaming big.  I keep writing and writing and writing - just hoping something I say will get that big universal nod.  Indulge much?  Yes, I already told you that.  But if I get a nod here and there, then I figure I have given as well as received.

So that's why I  blog.  I started it for me.  I keep it up for you . . . and me.

How about the rest of you bloggers?  Or maybe those of you considering it.  What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

the gap ad you've been waiting for

So I've had a little trouble capturing the gap.  Here's Jake getting a hair cut last night.  He sat perfectly still, but do you really think I feel like grinning now, Mom?

Then I tried again tonight.  Say cheese, Jake!  Mom, are you kidding me with this?

But anyway, we got it eventually.  

So we're watching the ol' claymation Santa movie as I write this.  I get a little edgy about Santa every year.  I love it, and we do it, but I struggle with the fear that my kids will eventually think of it simply as a big lie we told them throughout their childhood.  I'm well aware that most kids just sort of grow up out of it, play along for several years, and never get all that traumatized by it.  But we're talking about my children here.  I've told you about Drew, right?  The dramatic one with all the sensitivity and crazy clever questions and, again, drama.  There's no way that dude's easing out of the Santa phase without some sort of a scene.

But here's my hope - that at some point in their youth, even if they realize the absurdity of some of the details they may have been believing, they will also realize that if Christmas promises anything, it promises magic.  I'm not being all ethereal and poetic here.  I just mean the whispering of secrets, the fact that at least someone during this season will surprise you.  They'll have a gift more perfect than you had imagined or be someone you didn't even know was thinking of you.  You're sure to feel a rush of joy every time you drop a coin in the salvation army bucket or give a coat to the coat drive.  There might be carolers outside your door.  Seriously, a crowd of people standing in your lawn serenading you.  Any season that encourages that is seriously magic.  

There was a group of them at HyVee tonight.  That's what put me in this magic frame of mind.  If you read the blog very much, you may know that I have a completely irrational abhorrance for grocery shopping.  Bumping into the sound of carolers at the West end of every aisle really brightened the entire experience though.  That and having all three rambunctious boys with me.  You just can't take yourself too seriously with three boys bouncing around you wheeling their kid size carts like they're in a go-kart race.

So that's what I hope.  That the belief in Santa will turn into a belief in the magic and the thrill of giving it as much as receiving.  My favorite part of the Christmas story is how common it is - a poor man, a plain girl, a manger, regular old shepherds, animals.  But then there were angels.  Actual angels, visible and audible and filling the sky and telling the shepherds to go join the tableau that now sits on our mantles every year.  You know what that was?  It was magic.  And I look for it every year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

on church going and communion

It's hard to find a church.  The church we've been to the last several Sundays has a few things I really love, and it has things we're unsure about.  Michael and I don't even agree on some things.  It's easier not to go at all.  

But still, yesterday I got up compelled to go again.  I want to go somewhere so much.  At this church it's the music and communion that keep me coming back.  The music is contemporary like I'm used to.  I love hymns.  Love them.  But there's something about the kick of the bass drum and hum of the electric guitar.  My previous pastor said you will tend to always find God best in the way that you first met him.  Maybe that's why I like the style of music we had in my church as a girl.

But the other thing that keeps me going back - is the communion.  I first really learned to appreciate communion at a big church in another town.  I knew almost no one there, and it moved me immeasurably to watch so many faces stream towards the cup, dip their bread in it, and be told it was the body and blood of Christ broken and shed for them.  At the church we've visited lately, they do communion every single Sunday.  So no matter what you think of the sermon or the electric guitar or the announcements in the bulletin, you get that moment where you center on what it is we all believe.  They don't even do the beautiful communal cup with actual wine.  It's regular old grape juice in a plastic cup, and you drink it with a cracker the size of a Tic Tac.  You do it in your own seat at your own pace, reflecting on the sacrifice you believe was made for you for as long or as little as you need before you partake.  I miss the streaming of people to the front.  But yesterday, after I had taken it, I looked up and watched as people throughout the room took their bread and ate it and then raised the cup to their lips.  One here, one there, two or three at a time.

It's my favorite part.  I think somehow despite all our differences about church, all our various reasons for why people should go to church at all and what a church should do and preach and be, in that moment I get why we go.  I get why we want to be somewhere together celebrating what we believe.  I used to have much fancier reasons to give.  And I think for some churches that moment of clarity comes through other means than communion.  But for me, for now, that's when it comes.  I like how the taste lingers afterwards.  Sometimes I think it's a crazy tale on which we're hanging all our hopes.  It's a little bit Hollywood to think one man paid a price for us all that secured our place with God in some sort of paradise for all eternity.  But I believe it.  And I like being surrounded by other people believing it too and drinking that juice and eating that tiny cracker with the reverence only that belief could produce.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

sometimes you get what you wish

To add creativity to my thankful list today, I thought I would include actual quotes from my journals.

October 12, 1995
I really want to love and be loved.

There are all kinds of quotes with Michael's actual name in them - clear back from fifth grade when I wrote about the two cute boys in my class and one of them was him.  Oh the drama as I pined for that boy from that moment on.  We went on our first date Valentine's Day 1996, and we were married August of 1997, the hottest day this side of a sauna, I'm told.  To me, it was perfect.

October 5, 1998
I want to have a baby.

It took me a while to come to this one.  Growing up all I really cared about was getting married and being a mom.  But once I got married, I found that I wasn't in a very big hurry for motherhood after all.  I finally started hoping for it about one year before it happened.  John Michael was born October 17, 1999, the happiest day of my life to that point, and Andrew joined us June 13, 2001.  Being the mother of two very young boys was crazy and trying and some days lonely.  Being the mother of them?  Awesome.

April 3, 1999
Our new dream is for me to work at home.

Check.  I've never made much, but I make a little, and I do it without paying childcare.  I really love that moment after dropping John and Drew off at school when I get to pull right back into my own driveway.  Third to being married and being a mom, I wanted a home that I love.  The house has flaws, but the home is wonderful.

Things went a little dark in June of 2005, as most of you know.  I was pregnant but diagnosed with a rare, aggressive tumor.  And then I wished for this.

July 21, 2005
I don't want this.  I want to live.  And I want this baby.  I want to live to see all my babies grow up.  Please let that be my story.  I promise to be grateful.

My cancer was removed before it spread.  And the baby I was so scared for that day is strolling around my writing space with Captain Jack Sparrow's spy glass in one hand and a chocolate chip cookie in the other.  He also just stole a sip of my Diet Coke.

I'm pretty grateful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

once upon a dentist's chair

I will post a picture when the gap heals a little -  I gotta give the kid a fighting chance for the Gap commercial after all.  But for now, I thought you'd enjoy the story of its removal, William Goldman style.

The surgeon's assistant was an older lady with bleached hair and a white mask "because of her cold".  We'll call her the Albino.  Count Rugen will be played by the nicest female dentist I've ever met in my life except for the really crappy morning she just walked us through.  The nice receptionist nurse named Julie will play a nice receptionist nurse named Julie.  

As we lay Jake in the dentist's chair, which certainly may as well have been a torture machine, they said "Welcome to the pit of despair."  And then they cleared their throats, wiggled his tooth and added, "Don't even think about trying to escape," i.e., the tooth definitely has to go.  Then they stuck him with a needle that I swear on my pretty Apple laptop was one inch square, and he screamed and cried while Count Rugen, the albino, and I held him down and tried to tell him this wasn't as torturous as it appeared.  

Then Julie, who I could not in this moment cheerfully call nice anymore, ripped me out of the room as Jake's eyes rolled around in their sockets and he lost his grip on reality while I lost grip of his hand.  I managed not to cry in the waiting room because of the really nice lady who told us stories and complained about how overbooked the office was that morning as we sheepishly nodded along, a teensy bit aware that our little emergency surgery probably added to the back-up.

Two minutes later (give or take) - and believe me, these were the most expensive two minutes of our lives, the tooth was out.  Soon we were ushered into his recovery room.  The torture here was seriously acute.  "We removed his tooth," Count Rugen said.  And with it we sucked one year of his life away.  So tell us how you feel, Jake.  And remember, this is for posterity, so be honest.

To which Jake cried.  If you can call it crying.  It was more like his vocal cords were outside of his body.  They were triggered by the slightest word coming from the mouths of any of the three previously mentioned players.  Any time any of them walked in the room and started speaking, the vocal cords sounded an alarm that was a low, crying moan I will never forget.  His arms also seemed detached from his body and periodically rose from it in slow motion.  When the arm pointed towards the door and the vocal cords said, "Truck", we knew the three were starting to reattach, and we'd be able to go home soon.  

I'll get used to the gap.  But let's just say the next time the three boys are alone in the bedroom, and any of the voices seem to be coming from the bunk bed, and there is anything even resembling the giggle of a friendly jumping contest, I'm tearing into that bedroom like a maniac and ripping the children apart like I'm sucking away a year of their lives.

The End.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Teeth and honesty

Tomorrow this gorgeous smile (seen here above the green shirt beneath the blond curls) will lose a tooth.  It happened in a tragic accident involving a bunk bed and an older brother which resulted in a really loose - apparently broken - tooth.  It's okay, he looks almost 5, right?  

NO.  He does not look 5, and I'm completely heartbroken about this in a way you cannot even imagine from someone who has had cancer, survived it, and emerged with all these weighty revelations about the real meaning of life.  Who knew vanity extended to your children's dentition?  It's shameful.  Lance Armstrong would be ashamed of me and probably take away my Livestrong apparel.  

In other news, I've had an attitude breakthrough.  I'm reading Anne Lamott who is all about being funny and honest when it comes to life.  Really, really honest in that way that eventually makes me go, "Okay, seriously, the truth isn't always this true."  So in that spirit, I submit to you this really heartwarming, live-like-you're-dying king of thought I had today when I was feeling blue that no editors have as yet brought me a publishing contract followed by a parade.  I thought about my really cool agent and the fact that she's a real live honest-to-goodness Fifth Avenue New York City literary agent and thinks I'm good enough.  And then I thought about this rejection I got from an editor a couple weeks ago that was so complimentary I plan to frame it and hang it above my desk (not really, it is a rejection after all).  And I thought, between those two things, I'm extremely grateful.  In a very real sense, I've made it.  I mean, those are really thrilling accomplishments (seriously, the rejection said my writing was powerful and would definitely find a home - it was kind), and I can totally live with that even if it's the farthest I ever get.  

Just not if I have to live very long.  (And that's the honest part of which I think Anne Lamott would be proud.)

Wish us luck on the tooth removal and the end of a certain Baby Gap modeling career I'd been banking on.

- Serenity

there she goes - blog hopping again

I borrowed this picture from Anne & May because I'm over on their site today as a guest blogger while May is on honeymoon, and this is the picture they used for my post on church hopping.

I've never known (or used really) that phrase as anything but a negative. On my post there, though, you'll see what I've learned to love about it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I'd like to buy the world a book

I recently joined a Facebook cause. I don't usually join Facebook causes because I can't see that they actually accomplish anything at all. The last one I was tempted to join was my friend Den's. It was the Put An End To Facebook Causes cause. But before I could join that one, I found a cause I said 'yes' to before I even had time to think about it. The cause is "Buy a Book Save the World."

The premise is that you promise to buy at least one book this - huh, holiday season, year? I can't remember when you're supposed to fulfill it. But I'm thinking those of us who join it have every intention of buying more than just one. The publishing industry is just one of the many out there hurting from the economy trouble, and this cause is our way of helping to keep it alive.

Above is a picture of how much I love books. When I joined the Literary Guild a few years ago, this is the stack of books that I ordered first and which came in the mail in one big, very happy box. That was the best day ever - having all those brand new books delivered to my house in one box. I spread them out and took a picture of them like they were my children's artwork.

And you know how your kids come home from school about every week with bookmarks from the library, with safety instructions, or even homemade? There are two kinds of paper I always save when it comes home from school. Anything with sentences the children made up all by themselves, like "My brither and I like football because we just have a thing about football", and those bookmarks. They get tucked into a pretty, round vase I got for my wedding, because you just never know when you'll need a bookmark. Especially since I'm usually reading more than one book at once.

The boys have two book shelves in their room - the one for paperbacks and early readers and cartoon characters like Spongebob, and the one they can't reach by themsevles with fairytales and hardbacks and Winnie the Pooh collector's edition and any others that I can't bear to find orange marker throughout or ripped-off corners or gum. I really like books.

So I was really happy to join the save-the-world cause by buying a book. I really want this industry to stay in business what with hoping to be a part of it and all. And this morning I was thinking we should all feel free to purchase things deliberately from now on from any of the industries we don't want to live without. Books of course, cars I guess - if you can afford it (just think of the single mom secretaries and dad-of-five-kids mechanics out there instead of the CEO's who flew to the meeting in their private jets, and you'll feel more motivated I think) - but there are so many more as well: Shoes (can I get an amen, ladies?), being able to watch television on the internet on our own time with less commercials (last season of LOST, I'm talking to you - I have to watch you again anyway because your producers spread your seasons so far apart), children's pajamas (I can do Christmas without Nintendo, but I can't do it without new pajamas), chocolate (hello, that goes without saying). You get the idea? Buy what you love, save the world. And let it start with a book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

a really cool family resemblance

If you haven't read Anne & May before, you really must today. Felicity is their guest blogger, and it's the most beautiful post about how important it is to celebrate. This is why I love that girl. You simply can't stay down when she starts talking. She just knows happy. As well as gratitude and love and giving people the hugest benefit of the doubt ever.

Now you'll notice a certain family picture in her post that frankly my sisters have both spent hours laughing hysterically over in the past, because - well - I'm kind of a dork. I'm a really delightful, celebratory dork - as Felic's post will tell you - but a dork nonetheless. Felic's post is so beautiful though and, as I said about her ability to give the benefit of the doubt, she makes me look all sweet and wise in her description of the pic.

So after you read that post, then this picture will make more sense. It's just one of those delightfully ironic things about family pictures. No one coerced him in the least, but here is a grandkid-photo taken on my oldest son's birthday (or possibly that of his cousin Jude in front - they were sharing the party). And look who is posing identically to me in the photo Felic shared today. That proud six-year-old is Jesse White, Felicity's son, who evidently takes after me in the celebration department. Seriously, go look at Anne & May. This will all make sense then. And I guarantee you'll get a smile.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Suffice it to say, I'm not a perfectionist

I've been dreading this school project ever since John told me about it. We had to dress up a doll in clothing appropriate to a country our child chose out of his ancestry. Clothing for a doll. I couldn't figure out how I could possibly make John do all the work. And I couldn't figure out how I was going to do it without sewing.

You may have guessed from my snack debacle that I'm not so much with the sewing either. I made a couple of dresses in high school. They fit and everything, but I didn't exactly take to it like the easier things in life. I was actually feeling put out with John's wonderful teacher. I couldn't believe she was asking me to sew.

But check it out. I didn't do too badly I think. I realize it looks more like a giant mushroom top than a beret and more of a wool poncho than a soft white top, but seriously, this doll is really small. He's a french painter guy, and this is exactly the image you'll find all over the internet if you google "frenchman's costume". If you simply google french costume, you get french maid lingerie. When you google french painting you get equally astonishing (though beautiful) images sure to make a 9-year-old boy squirm. We actually added the paint pallet to further identify the character. The whole thing looked more complete that way even though I didn't really know if that was appropriate. I told John to just explain that the French contribute a lot to the arts. Then say, "Like their famous museum, the Louvre." I think he's already forgotten that, but it does look better with the pallet.

John put the stripes on the shirt, but I sewed that baby with my own two hands and even got it turned right side out and onto the stiff, uncooperative arms of that doll. But the hat! Oh, the hat is my pride and joy. I knew we needed a French beret. It was the signature piece holding the whole thing together. But how do you make a French beret for a doll's head smaller than your index finger? Yikes. I made it with two cut-out circles from an old blue sock, put a piece of Diet-Coke-box cardboard between them to stiffen it and then topped it off with the sticky up thing - also pieces of sock. Then, the most creative part, I had to sew the thread through the hat and then under his (almost nonexistant) neck a few times to get the thing to stay on.

I'm very proud. I forgave John's teacher and showed it to Michael with glee. He gave his approval and then asked which poor soldier had been sadly reduced to this.

"It's not a soldier," I said. "It's Han Solo."

Friday, November 14, 2008

poetry and prose

Nobody really talks about the baby blues. No one really even mentioned it to me until the few moments after John Michael was born. Then Dad in all his wisdom gently suggested that I not be surprised if my euphoria faded a bit into what was often called the baby blues. I said, "Huh, okay." but inside scoffed that the happiest happy I had ever felt could possibly fade.

It happened gradually but suddenly and lasted only a couple of weeks that felt like a lifetime. I would reach to nurse him and suddenly feel too tired. "I've lost interest in him," I cried, and my mother took him from me and told me not to worry. I felt everything closing in on me. I felt sick and exhausted and told Michael very sincerely that I thought I might be dying. I felt certain I was the only person in the world who could care for that baby but I was far too weak and tired to actually do it. I loved him so much that I sat on Michael's lap and cried that he would grow up even one single day. But one night when I went out for Halloween candy, I felt that although I wanted to return home to Michael, I didn't want to return home to the baby.

That night was pretty much the last of it. It faded more quickly after that without so many excruciating episodes that we simply had to pray our way through. The euphoria eventually returned but was more grounded in reality now.

Two things I wondered then, "I was supposed to be a better person than this," and "Why don't women talk about it?" The first probably answers the second. I was an extremely emotional person all my life and had learned, I thought, to steady them and not ride the roller coaster quite so high or low with passing feelings. So I felt ashamed that I hadn't been stronger when he was born. I got over that eventually, truly believing that hormones do their own thing sometimes, and surviving it really is almost the best that we can do. And I talked with many women in those weeks who had been through the exact same thing. I think the main reason we don't talk about it is because it doesn't happen to everyone. I think we feel that if we suggest it, we will scare them. And if we don't suggest it, maybe it won't happen.

Charity was euphoric in the hospital with Nola Serenity. Giddy, achingly happy. She felt so glad to not be pregnant anymore, so happy the baby is finally here, and surprised - as I think we all are - by how perfect life feels with a new baby. In the first couple days at home she has hit some of those painfully exhausting moments when she wasn't sure she had the energy to do this. I told Mom to tell her it passes. I told her about going to bed early and trying to believe that the baby really will get taken care of even if you simply can't rise from the bed (which I know that she will). And I told her about the long drives that Don and Cheri suggested to us, and which really helped.

But I think Mom knew this is a wave you sort of just have to ride. Mom probably will tell Charity all those things, but she'll weave them in gently as it seems fitting to the moment. Too many solutions offered at once could be as overwhelming as the problem.

Today Charity sent an email that literally glowed with happiness. Nola is sleeping beautifully, and I know that with every hour of sleep, Charity's nerves will improve. I don't think she would like my sharing anything but the happy thoughts right now. But since she doesn't read blogs, I thought I'd risk it. I know from experience that when you write about your low points to good, kind people like those who read my blog - the next day is very often better. I couldn't help but take that chance for her.

It's funny. Almost all of us know exactly what it's like to cry half the night because the baby is. We know that exhaustion is so dramatic those first few days that it hurts. We know these things. But still we feel giddy when someone joins the ranks. I guess it's because we know the beautiful parts far outweigh the ache.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

speaking of nieces

This is my favorite
picture of my niece,
Claire. I'm sure it's
because her blue eyes
match my husband's.

It's an old picture, though. (Click on Rare Rocks for recent ones!) Claire is six today.
Six years ago she and her twin were born premature. Claire's sister Ellery went to heaven after only nine hours on earth. But Claire kept fighting. We all hung around her bassinet in the NICU for days and days and days.
There was always beautiful music playing in her room, and it was peaceful and warm. I know it was the hardest time in Felicity's life, but I look back on Claire's little NICU room almost like a chapel where we escaped the crazy, misplaced priorities and silly stresses of regular life and could center instead on the big, important things like love and God and healing.

During this time I discovered this book, "Bear Snores On" by Karma Wilson. I love this book and the sequels that have followed it. The poetry is rhythmic and fun to read. It's the first time I realized that good children's poetry will often have a chorus - not just verse after verse.

In the book, the bear is hibernating and smaller animals enter his lair, start a fire, pop popcorn, make tea - they even dance. Eventually he wakes up and feels so sad that they had a party without him. The party continues after that until the friends can't stay awake any longer. After that, "the bear can't sleep, but his friends snore on."

I knew that would be Claire one day. While she slept, every bit of her energy used up in simply trying to finish the growth and development she should have been able to complete in the womb, we stood around her bed in daily, nightly vigils of prayer, tears, and sometimes laughter. We streamed in and out of the giant doors that led to the NICU, taking turns by her side, in the rocking chair near her, replaying the soft, powerful music in her CD player, tucking stuffed animals into her space, touching her tiny fingers and toes, reading the blinking numbers on her monitors as though we'd all gone to nursing school ourselves. And I knew that one day, she'd wake up. Just like the bear. And all that will power we'd been praying for would turn into a vivacious, happy little girl with lots to do. And I felt that at least for a while, the rest of us would probably need to sleep.

So happy birthday, Claire. I'm glad things have evened out. We've recuperated from our vigil. You continue to move forward from it with every single milestone. And we're all finally at the same party.

I love you Claire-Bear.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

how I got the greatest honor

New life is a beautiful thing. On Oprah the other day Will Smith said that in life, death is never the end. There is always a rebirth. "So if you have suffered a loss," he said - a parent has died, you've lost your job, been divorced - faced cancer, I would add - "You've got to stay focused, because there will be a rebirth." He explained this is always God's way.

On Sunday night, my little sister went into labor. Felicity and I jumped in the car and drove the five hours to be with her - and then missed the baby's birth by about an hour. When we arrived, they gave the baby to me, and Charity said, "Everyone, meet Nola Serenity Long." I cried.

Charity explained that she decided at her wedding that she would name her first baby after me, because at the time I had been diagnosed with a rare, aggressive cancer. Then of course, I lived. ("Yay", Charity added as she told the story). But then, you may remember, in April of this year, they found a spot on my bone and I went into surgery again. As we waited for the news about whether or not it was cancer again, Charity and Ryan waited for the appointment that would tell them whether or not they had made it to the twelve-week mark with her pregnancy. She had previously miscarried and at this point not yet told us she was pregnant again.

Some time in the morning, we got my news - no cancer. And not long after, Charity heard her baby's healthy heartbeat. Now Nola Serenity Long and I share a name and a very happy day in which our families learned that we would live.

I'm the happiest Aunt in the world, and life is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

dreams come true (but this isn't about the book)

If you read this post here, you will see that my love for Hollywood at some point went from maybe it's my calling - like Denzel Washington says, to it's probably not my calling, but it sure would be fun, to I don't see how that could ever fit into my already-established and very happy life, to "I just want to be in one movie - just once."  

Well.  Say hello to Once.  The head of our video department at work has a friend in film school in Chicago, and I got to play the female role in his short film.  You've heard of Off Off Broadway?  Think that.  Only for Hollywood.  

This is what I saw when I first drove onto what I officially and unabashadly call the set.

These gorgeous horses were the Extras in one of the scenes.  

Then I saw this.  The guy in the red shirt, Nick, is also in film school - for cinematography.  The director (blue coat and hat) called Nick the DP (director of photography).  Next to Nick is the assistant DP.  The head of the video department at work is in the gray coat and hat helping the DPs.  I was feeling a little giddy here.  My movie career was ON.


Then, as I went to park the car, I drove by this.  The dock that would be my seat for the entire film.  (I told you it's a short.)  

This is my favorite photo from the shoot.  The director is giving me some instructions before my first take.  Could I look more "on set"? 

And this is my first shot of the film. Well, my second.  The first was the day before, from the same dock but with the camera across the pond.  In these shots, though, when they say "action", you can actually hear the film begin to roll.  Hear it.  I hope I never forget that sound.

Here's the director watching the take.  (How fun is this?)

Now, after auditioning and getting the part (I don't think there was too much competition but maybe some), I began to feel silly and concerned.  I would have to be away from my kids and family for almost three full days.  (We shot the film only minutes from my house, but it's not like I was available to them in that time).  It wasn't for my job.  I wasn't trying to advance my acting career (If I really wanted to get to Hollywood, this would be a place to start - but, let's face it, I'm not really trying to get there).  So, besides being fun, it felt pretty pointless.

Then Michael came through for me.  He said it wasn't pointless.  It was an experience that would add to my life, and that was enough.    

I really believe in film.  I think it's a beautiful story-telling medium, and I think that stories have purpose.  I'm just not too sure about my place in it.

But anyway - I got my Once.  And I loved it.   So, if you like DVD commentaries as much as I do, insert this behind my film if you ever happen to see it - say, at an Off Off Sundance Festival:  "We were freezing."  On the first day I sat on that dock in 37-degree weather while it was raining.  If viewers can't tell that when they watch this film - well - I'll take my Oscar now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

dear mr. president

I don't know about my strongest McCain-supporting friends, but I feel very peaceful today. McCain's speech made me sad for him. Charlie Gibson set it up by saying that McCain was a wonderful human being, "And I know his speech will be extremely gracious." And it was. I thought it was beautiful, and I felt for him and for his avid supporters. Then I couldn't wait to hear President-Elect Obama speak, because I knew it would be hopeful and uplifting. I have to say I was surprised at his reserve. I felt he was deliberate about not setting himself up as "our savior" as so many critics have accused him. His speech was also gracious, and it was honest about the work ahead.

It was other people's words that actually moved me more. It is impossible not to feel proud of my country when I hear someone like Donna Brazile say that Barack Obama will be inaugurated on steps that were built by slaves, men who probably never could have imagined that a black man would ever be taking the oath of office on the structure they built. I feel very moved by that just as I feel moved by the hope our president-elect has inspired in people across our nation and the world.

But there was one person I was worried about today. This is my sweet John Michael. You may know him as my oldest, the boy whose birthday I call the anniversary of my motherhood. The one who thinks donuts are too sticky and who once ironed a pair of shorts. And he believed in McCain. He got this passion all on his own. As you know, I wrestled with my voting decision almost up until the moment I walked into the booth, so I certainly wasn't feeding him any propaganda. Michael decided a bit earlier than me, but was hardly campaigning for any candidate either. John heard about the candidates at school and made his choice. Some of my readers won't understand this, but we're talking about a 9-year-old boy who just received his first hunting rifle for his birthday, so gun control issues were important to him. The second issue, I'm not sure where it came from - but put them together and he believed that Obama meant to take our guns away and make boys and girls go to separate schools. I can't think for the life of me where that second idea came from, and I've assured him it's untrue - as is the first.

Still, though, like my 7-year-old, they just had a fixed idea that as Drew put it, "John McCain just seems wiser." So when John came to me this morning and asked excitedly, "Who won?", all that hope talk and look-how-far-we've come stuff went right out of my head as my heart ached for a little boy who can't even vote but had learned to care. I was so proud of him for forming his own opinion and for standing by it despite plenty of voices around him suggesting otherwise. And I was sad for him.

So, Mr. Obama, you move me. You've raised a lot of hopes in this country and abroad. But I'm afraid there's a very big task ahead of you for my heart. I'm so proud of my little guy for embracing so thoroughly the beauty of the country in which he was so very lucky to be born. Please don't let him down. In four years, I hope he's more proud of it still.