The Hobbit, meh

I didn’t really like the Hobbit. Like everyone else in the world, I loved the earlier Lord of the Rings. 

Hobbit3I loved the book. I have memories of sitting on my father’s lap and listening with my brothers as dad read to us on the back patio in Skokie, Illinois on a warm summer night.

But the movie left me with one burning question:

Where are the women?

Do orcs, dwarves, hobbits, ogres reproduce through spawning? This movie was like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves without Snow White.

I know men rule the world, but really. Really?

No wonder Middle-earth is so violent. There are no women with whom to partner, make love, reason, journey alongside, learn from, share.

Last I checked women and girls made up half of the world’s population and half of the movie-going audiences. Why dis us this way?

The only woman in this film was the lovely Cate Blanchett who is really more of a spirit than a body. While the men can eat and travel and fight, her special talent is that she disappears. Perfect for this movie.

The movie was clearly made for and by men and boys. It unfolds like a video game — now that you’ve surpassed the scary tiger level, you move on to the orc level, and if you move on from that level, you may proceed to the next level. Blah. Blah. Blah.

I do like a subgenre of movies where the hero (always male) doubts himself and then finds he has within him what he needed all along. (Like Glory! An all-male movie too, but brilliant!) And I guess this journey towards courage in the face of self-doubt motif happens for Baggins on his journey. But I was hoping for something more.

Even Skyfall had a few juicy women characters like Dame Judi Dench and Naomie Harris.

If you are looking for a holiday blockbuster, go to see Les Misérables, a fun adventure for girls and boys, men and women.

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Child Health Care Plus

Yesterday I posted on Facebook:

putting together paperwork for the kids to get on Child Health Care Plus, NY State health insurance — forms are so lengthy, so complicated! It’s confusing for the two of us, both with advanced degrees. How do people do this?

A few friends suggested I blog  about the experience. I would kind of first like to see if we got approved, before I offer any summary of my experience. It’s not unthinkable that I messed up something. But until I hear if all of the paperwork’s in, let me  tell you: The application is 17 pages long!

There were opportunities on the application to provide more than was asked for. For example, if your child has no Social Security number, you have to provide proof of residency. Or maybe you needed to provide proof of New York State residency any way. Being the overachiever that I am, my instinct was to throw everything at them for fear of not providing enough. I provided a utility bill as proof.

I did call the number on the application to get clarification on another question. No one answered the call after 25 minutes on hold and a promise of  “a customer service representative will be with you in a moment.” I tried another number and got to ask my question.

Could I walk the application in somewhere to get it in by the 20th of the month (today)? (The 20th is the cut off date to provide coverage on the 1st.) No, it turns out, I had to overnight the application to Albany. I dreaded going to the post office less than a week before Christmas, but I used the automated machine. It was fast and easy.

child_health_plusThere are agencies and communities centers listed on the application where one could turn for help. But, rugged and proud individualist that I am, I thought I should be able to handle the paperwork on my own. Besides, I have a Master’s degree, how hard could it be? Hard.

The good news is that the cost, if all goes well, will be about $45 per child per month. This is wonderful and much more affordable than the $1,700 or so that COBRA would cost to cover the family. We would only need this Child Health Care Plus coverage for a couple of months until my small business gets off the ground and one of Chris’s  unions, Screen Actor’s Guild, kicks in for the family.

My husband Chris is on disability because of his Parkinson’s Disease and he is covered with Medicare, so that just leaves me. I have no health insurance for a couple of months.

On Tuesday, one of my creative writing middle school students got close to say, “Look! I have Pink Eye.”

“Hey,” I felt like saying, “Stay away from me if you are sick. But just for a couple of months.” Now, I’m wondering if my eye’s looking a little red. Yes, so it begins, two months of hypochondria until I get back on a family health insurance plan. Let’s hope I got the kids on their plan.

Les Mis

Yesterday I saw Les Misérables. This is my guilty pleasure. I love the musical. I have always loved it. Loved Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman and their vulnerability. I loved that they let themselves look like (or be covered in) shit. That’s an actor!

Today’s prompt is:

Tell us about a guilty pleasure that you hate to love.

I hate to love the movies, but they are my therapy.

They take me away. In the last month, I have seen a couple of awesome French films, Amour and Rust and Bone. And now Les Mis, which is set in Paris. The city is moody and dark, yet it is the city of light. This year we need a lot of  light.

I’ve wanted to go to Paris for years. I have friends there and a place to stay, but I feel it’s too far or too expensive. With Chris’s illness, I feel I should only travel close to home and only for a few days.

When I go to the movies, I go to Paris and am still home in time to greet the kids as they walk in the door after school.

One of the darlings went to the premiere and met the celebs. Here she is with Amanda Seyfried.
One of the darlings went to the premiere and met the celebs. Here she is with amazing Amanda Seyfried.

The life lessons in Les Mis are brilliant:

  • To love another person is to see the face of God
  • Show faith in and forgive people cast off by society just as the priest forgave the thief Valjean, played by Jackman
  • Let your children love and let them go. This song, “Bring Him Home,” by Jackman was a real tear-jerker
  • Care for all children, as if they were your own
  • Show kindness, always
  • Have passion for your cause
  • Know that change will come
  • Workplace squabbles can lead to prostitution

Maybe that last one is not a good life lesson, but you get the idea.

Believe in the power of passionate individuals to change the world. I know there are many more life lessons in Les Mis to explore, but I am heading to Middle-earth today.

Yes, I am going to see The Hobbit at noon.

And so I leave you with the words of Valjean.

And from a writing teacher’s point of view, I must point out these lyrics are so brilliant because they are so simple. Almost all of the words are one syllable, but they pack in so much emotion, just like the musical.

“Bring Him Home”

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home

Conflict Resolution and My Ideal Saturday Morning

Writing about anything but yesterday’s tragedy in Newton, Conn, feels insensitive. But to cope with horrors, ordinary or extraordinary, I need to write. Through any endeavor, creative and artistic, we find out who we are, what we think, and how we feel. And we figure out how to go on.

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This morning I dropped off one of my daughters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I feel calm looking at art and making art. Thanks, Andy Warhol.

I’m a teacher, a mother, and a writer. I’ve been thinking about conflicts.

I know in families and schools and all our relationships, conflict is inevitable. But how we deal with our internal and external conflicts is optional. I believe our society preys upon our conflicts. Our media exploits our differences — red state vs. blue state; stay at home mom vs. working mom.

Honestly, we have more that unites us than divides us.

As citizens of the United States of America, we have to find a way to seek common ground and lift one another up, not put each other down. We cannot whip out automatic rifles when we cannot get along — with ourselves or with our mothers.

We have to find and share our public spaces like our schools and our museums. Our public places and institutions are sacred.

I teach my writing students that conflict is the essence of drama. We mustn’t avoid conflict. But we cannot rest in a place of constant conflict. We must learn to use conflict to further the plot of our lives, to reach out, to state our needs, and to work on how to find a common humanity. Even when we want to find a common enemy.

Every child and every adult should lean how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Those of us who live in cities and ride the subways or share public spaces know we must coexist. And when we cannot live peaceably with ourselves, our families or our neighbors, we must get help.

And as every one is saying on social media, getting help should be a whole lot easier than getting a gun. There is no shame in experiencing conflict or in getting help with whatever arise in our lives. The tragedy arises when we cannot resolve our conflicts without hurting someone else.

To manage our inner and outer conflicts, we can:

  • make art
  • write in a journal
  • talk to a friend
  • work out
  • seek professional help
  • listen to music
  • walk in nature
  • attend a worship service
  • read a book

I don’t know. There are probably a million ways to handle conflict healthily. But we must be taught them; they don’ t just come naturally.

Today’s daily prompt, What’s your ideal Saturday morning? Are you doing those things this morning? Why not?

Ideally, I may do any of the above conflict resolution items.

I write in my journal. I read the paper. I drink coffee. I go for a run. I make a nice brunch for my family with bagels and lox. My kids clean up the brunch without being asked. Then I go to a nearby spa for a massage. The kids get themselves to wherever they may need to go — basketball, Bat Mitzvah. I feel at peace. I make art.

While the first few things I listed do happen, reading, writing, drinking coffee — the last few things don’t. I cannot control other people. (I am concocting a plan to make the kids more self-reliant and supportive of one another and of me and my husband.) I also do not get lox or a massage on a Saturday morning because I worry about the expense. I feel guilty spending money on myself during the holiday season. My budget is already pretty tight with kids’ presents and holiday travel. I guess that would be an ideal too, not feeling guilty.

Just for today, I teach my kids to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. I love them well and hold my dear ones close. Just for today, that is my ideal.

Here’s the link to today’s daily prompt: Me Time

Here’s an earlier blog post on Navigating Conflict. I learned these skills at the Girls Leadership Institute, an amazing group that empowers girls.

My Mom, My Worries, My Optimism

Today’s daily prompt is Write a letter to your mom. Tell her something you’ve always wanted to say, but haven’t been able to.

red barn
Took this pic a couple months ago upstate New York. I love a working landscape.

A few days ago, the prompt was:

A writer once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If this is true, which five people would you like to spend your time with?

My five people include dear ole mum, so this blog post fulfills two daily prompts.

  1. My mom – though I don’t talk to her every day (or even, every week) I think of her all the time. I thank her for passing down her good looks, sense of humor, personal style, and intelligence to me. Of course, she did this in combo with my dad, I know. But Mom still does yoga, teaches college, and stands on her head every day. What’s not to love?
  2. My secret garden – I would like to say more but, ya know, shhhhhh, it’s a secret. And it’s a garden. So ya… (it’s one of 7 Rules for Surviving, so revisit this post.)
  3. My three kids – they are my front and center; my alpha and omega. Everything I do and everything I want to do, I do for the darlings.
  4. Jolain and my girlfriends – When I became a mother, I found my center, but I also worried I’d lost my mojo. With a strong community of women friends, I’ve kept myself intact, even when I regularly lose it.
  5. Hal and my former colleagues. I know this is crazy, but I love my ex-coworkers so much. I love their intelligence and their passion for making the world better. I’m glad I’ve moved on from my full-time work, but this year, my heart and my social life is still full of the awesome staff from United Methodist Women and the General Board of Global Ministries.

I know many wives would put their husbands on their top five people. And Chris and I do have a great thing going, but, let’s be honest, the Parkinson’s Disease has really put a cramp in our romantic lives. We still are great co-parents and movie-going comrades.

Speaking of movies, next week our Screen Actors Guild special screening, Chris and I will see Les Mis and the Hobbit. How does anyone ever work full-time when there are so many amazing movies to see every damn week?

I have three persistent worries. And these are:

  1. Will we manage as we embark on two and a half months without health insurance?
  2. How long does my husband have in fairly good health? (I know, I know, no one knows how long any of us have, but with a spouse with a chronic disease, you worry.)
  3. How will we pay for our three kids’ college?

My sources of optimism:

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my mom and my daughter, my raisons des etres.
  • my boot camp for writers, my new biz
  • my ability to make funny jokes
  • my obtaining more wisdom and patience as I age, (right? tell me there are gifts to ageing)
  • my crazy creative writing students
  • my president
  • my belief in the restorative nature of nature
  • working out
  • movies and books

2 Great New Movies about Mental Illness

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook

Just in time for the holidays, there are two awesome new films about mental illness.

I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and The Master. Both of these films show the journey from destructive madness to precarious sanity. The films show the impossible internal tide as Pat, Bradley Cooper, and Freddy, Joaquin Phoenix, descend (ascend) into their altered states and try to get back to life again.

The movies made me wonder about something I read a long time from Carl Jung. I am paraphrasing, but the idea from Jung, is that: Maybe it’s not these individuals who are mad, but their societies are insane.

Maybe madness is the only sane response to an insane society. Coping is hard enough in life, without the stigma and consequences of mental illness, brought on by intense stress or some biological deficiency.

Both lead actors in these films chew up the scenery. Oddly, during a few intense moments in Silver Linings, the director cuts away from the Bradley Cooper character, a manic-depressive, to get the reaction shots of Jennifer Lawrence (from The Hunger Games).

The title of Silver Linings refers to the benefits of positive thinking to overcome difficulties. I am fan of optimism. Here are my other take-aways from Silver Linings.

  • Dancing and running help heal obsessive minds
  • Beat craziness with more craziness
  • Two messed-up people can make a sane thing
  • Find the silver lining in every crazy moment
  • Mental illness runs in families

The Master

Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are incredible in The Master. There is never a cutting away from their faces during intense scenes. If anything, the close-ups just get closer. Tormented minds reveal themselves through dialogue and action. Actions have consequences.

Here are my take-aways from The Master

  • Every one serves someone (the master?). (Did Bob Dylan say this too?)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder is real, especially for wartime survivors
  • Communal living is healing (and destructive)
  • We may be better than we think we are
  • Don’t give up on love
  • Talk therapy works (hypnotherapy too?)

Overcoming mental illness is no joke, although, turns out, these two films depict the efforts to overcome mental illness as entertaining and compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

After the characters of Freddy and Pat slide into their dysfunctional moments, they seem always at war with themselves, trying to reign in their destructive sides and crawl back to lives with family or community. They look for a state of grace. Or at least, they seek connection with others and a state of normalcy. Balance eludes them.

Just in time for Christmas and New Year’s, you can see these movies and contemplate having more compassion for your family members who may have diseases or mental illnesses.

Even though I loved these films, I hope to see a mainstream movie about a woman with a mental illness, preferably depression, which is far more common in women than men.

In the newly-released Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln denies her depression. Her mental illness is only viewed as an impediment to her emotional closeness to her family. For women in films, like Mary played by Sally Field, relationships matter most. For men, it is the journey to wholeness. But surely, Mary’s depression could be a fascinating feature-length film, not just a subplot in Lincoln’s life.

Maybe I’ll write more about Lincoln later. I just saw it yesterday and am still reeling from those performances and the immersion in a time of history when men and women fought to knit the country together rather than to pull it apart. To unite us.

PS I modeled this blog post from my previous post on 2 great new movies about alcoholism

One Hour Without Technology

It went badly.

I told all family members that for one hour on this Sunday afternoon they had to turn off their phones, computers, television sets at 3:15 pm. They could do anything they wanted — nap, eat, clean, anything.

At 3:15, they begged for, “Five more minutes. Just until I finish this episode.”

Hayden’s hooked on reruns of Prison Break and the girls on How I Met Your Mother. So I relented. At 3:20, I collected their phones and laptops and put them in a sealed, secret box.

My husband (who may have some OCD tendencies) began counting playing cards to get a Gin Rummy game going. The girls began to clean their room. So far, so good. Then my son began foraging in the fridge for something to eat and came up short. It’s true we’ve been gone a few days and the cupboards are pretty bare.

“You can go grocery shopping,” I suggested.

“No,” he said, flopping on my bed. “I’m hungry.” I began making him some frozen Trader Joe appetizer thing, left-overs from a party months ago.

“Mom, I have to turn on the computer to check what homework I have,” my son said.

“No,” I said.

“I think he should be allowed to do that,” my husband piped in.

“No,” I was not going to give in. “He knows he has to read the Odyssey. Just crack the book open.”

at the airport yesterday, my kids were all plugged in.

“I already read it,” he said.

“Then do something else,” I said.

“You’re such a jerk,” he said. Nice, right?

“You’re not allowed to call me a jerk. Or say I’m crazy,” I said. Last week, he called me crazy. Yes, I’m crazy. But a good kind of crazy. And that’s not what he meant.

Then the girls started bickering about a shirt they both claimed. And Charlotte was goading Catherine to quit lying on the floor.

Charlotte was exasperated. She said, “I’m the only one who does anything around here.”

And that naturally, got me yelling. Because that’s my line. I’m the only one who does anything around here.

My husband asked, “Who wants to play cards?”

“Not me!” the kids said.

“Get up off the floor,” Charlotte told Catherine.

“I’m hungry, Mom,” Hayden said.

I tried to keep it together by remembering the article on sibling rivalry from today’s NYTimes by George Howe Colt. He points out that when kids argue over food maybe what they’re really arguing over is mother’s attention.

That idea that mothers are powerful got me through the awful hour without technology. The other realization that pulled me through was knowing our social media sabbath was only going to last another 15 minutes. I served the kids that appetizer-y thing. People calmed down.

At 4:20, I went into the secret box and handed them back their phones and laptops. Okay, I didn’t hand them back. I threw them back. I said, “Here you go! Now we don’t have to talk to each other any more today.”

But we did talk later — at dinner. I suggested that we try this brief digital sabbath every week. They didn’t argue.