wrapping up the roaring 20s

I spent the better part of my formative years – at least the ones that weren’t defined by my parents’ splitting up – in a small town in Central Florida.  There was always so much I wanted to do, but there never seemed to be the time or resources to do it all.  I would read articles in the Sunday paper about parents taking their kids to ballet and piano lessons and all of that good stuff, and I always wanted to do those things.  Instead of going to concerts in middle school (and most of high school), I rocked out in my room as hard as I could to whatever 90s radio or random mixtapes I could get my hands on.

In some ways, I led a sheltered life as a child.  In many ways, this was a good thing.

But it led to me letting loose in my 20s.  Not in the sense of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll (well, not as much the former two), but in the sense of being determined to have every possible awesome experience I could.  And be ambitious career woman, and all.

In a lot of ways, it’s been expensive, as my personal savings are very little at this point, but what a ride it’s been.  And sure, I’m to the point where I am far more settled than many of my peers, but I’m still constantly about going and doing and making things happen.  To the point where I’ll spend six weeks away from my still newly-minted husband this summer to get that experience.

We’ve discussed this particular idea for years now, to the point where it’s not a thing, but in a lot of ways it’s not something we’re looking forward to.

It’s not just me running off and joining a hippie drum circle cult (OR IS IT!?), it’s me doing something to further my career in what will be the most efficient way possible before I have to officially stop being selfish.  Ugh.

But as our friends grow older, start having kids (this fall will bring a bumper crop) and I feel stupider and stupider dancing at clubs and the like, I have to face the facts: it’s time to say goodbye to my 20s. Continue reading

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not there. not fair.

My aunt died this morning of cancer.

It was her second bout.  She was a breast cancer survivor from several years ago, and an entirely separate cancer appeared near her kidney.  From what I got from my mother, the doctors referred to it as a lymphoma, but it was not a blood cancer.  (Rather a specific type of lump.)  I had not spoken to her recently, but as per instructed by my family, had been sending her text messages.  She was in a lot pain before she died, and had become very depressed.

My family has always been far away.  The distance has been a long way physically, and sometimes emotionally.  My mother’s family is not a part of the picture, and maybe that’s for the best, and my father’s family has always been spread out.  We’ve not gotten to spend a lot of time with them since we moved from New York in 1985 (when I was three).  Despite being so far away and not having a whole lot of contact, I always loved seeing them.  I have always been fond of my cousins, and have wonderful memories of being around them throughout my life.

When T-storm and I got married, neither of us had a huge contigent of family there.  But everyone who was there meant a lot.  There was a wonderful moment in which I went to the second hotel where our families were staying the day before the wedding, and was greeted at the downstairs continental breakfast by his aunts, shouting “There’s the bride!!”  It was instant acceptance, and so much love in the room it was almost overwhelming.

When my family got there, they were a bit more low-key (my father was the one with the hysterical gene, apparently), but it was so wonderful having them around.  My grandmother, aunt and two uncles came (all biological family), as well as my cousin who was only a year younger than me.  They danced, they enjoyed the photobooth, they had an absolutely wonderful time.  My brother told me that my cousin, who lives in Manhattan, was double-fisting cupcakes from the cupcake truck we had there, which made me feel pretty great.  My uncle’s girlfriend stayed until the very end, until we lit the sparklers, and danced the night away with me and my diehard dancefloor friends.  I got to take photos with them and I was so glad we were able to show them a good time.

I was so grateful my aunt was able to make it to the wedding.  Strangers told me that I looked just like her when I was a kid, and while our encounters were only every few years, they always meant a lot.

The wedding was in November; in March she was stricken with her diagnosis, and now two months later, is gone.

My father had a terrific talent for berating people, although he did so lovingly most of the time.  My aunt’s husband, uncle D, was often a target; my father would joke about him being uptight or boring, but my time spent with him was always great.  He was warm and caring, an unbelievably devoted husband, and also hilarious.  My brother and I spent a good deal of time at their house in the summer of 1997, playing video games in their basement and seeing family.  I have a specific memory of an epic Scrabble battle between uncle D and my mother, and the morning after, before he left for work, he wrote out some trash talk as a prelude to a Scrabble rematch, and my mother took a red pen to the note and gleefully corrected it.  That made us laugh for years afterwards.

My uncle D  is rightfully devastated.  He and my aunt had a wonderful life together: two children, an amazingly beautiful grandchild (whose birth my aunt got to witness), got to retire and travel a little, and had the most beautiful garden in the backyard of their house on Long Island.  One of my favorite all-time photos is me, at age 14 that same summer, with my brother and my two younger cousins in their backyard.   My aunt & uncle were together for over 40 years.  In a lot of ways, T-storm reminds me of uncle D and for that, I think I’m lucky.

While I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with so many of my relatives, family lore and legend has played a huge part in my life.  There have been times that I feel like I don’t come from anywhere, or that I lack customs or heritage or whatever else, and then I think of stories from my childhood.  Videos of my third birthday party, right before we left Long Island for Florida, where my whole damned family was there and I wore my She-Ra mask with my little plaid dress.  It’s not religion or nationality that define me, it seems – photos and stories and the such make up the core of my existence.  And even things beyond childhood, like when my brother brought home leftovers from a fancy Italian restaurant that summer we spent on LI, and my cousin ate them at 3 in the morning.  It’s family legend.  And it runs deeper through me than I realize most of the time.

My aunt was an exceptional education teacher for decades, and so I have thought of her particularly often over the last year.  She was able to retire and have some calm time.  She and my grandmother were exceptionally close – my aunt was the first born of four kids, and the only girl.  At this point, my grandmother has buried two husbands and two children.  (My father died when I was 19.)

The world is a terrible place sometimes, and surely there are worse ways to live and die.  But her end was particularly rough, and she’s left a huge hole in the lives of everyone who loved her.

The only thing that seems to make sense out of it all is that the next time someone chides me for spending money to travel and go to friends’ weddings and the likes, I won’t even listen.  Celebrating the lives of the people you love is important, and I consider myself so lucky to have gotten to see her one last time before she was taken from so many who loved her.

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annoying blonde romantic tropes, part III: Sting wrote a song called…

The next movie in our Fred Willard film festival was Roxanne.  It had been on the queue for some time.  My mother loves this movie.  I’d seen glimpses of it growing up.  I knew it had the guy with a big nose in it.  I never read Cyrano de Bergerac, but I had a close friend who quoted it all the time in high school.  She went through a Dante quoting phase, as well.

(So basically I don’t know anything – I just soak up information from my more literary friends, now including my husband.  The more and more I think about the way the rest of my life has gone, the more it makes sense that I married him.)

Anyway.  T-storm and I decided to watch this film on a Wednesday night or something.  And I will say, I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than Ira & Abby.  My pretentious asshole film critic ex-boyfriend might not agree, or the film theory books he read might have told him to disagree, but the 80s produced some good movies.  I don’t know.  Roxanne made me feel nostalgic for 80s movies.  A bygone era as it were.  Don’t even get me started on my unabashed love for 80s music, of all forms…but there was a certain magic in all 80s pop culture that’s missing today.  We had Tim Burton before he’d fallen so deeply in love with himself that he couldn’t see straight (and now I want to watch Beetlejuice immediately), we had bizarro kids movies aplenty, and even in the music, many things slipped through to mainstream popular culture that are still frowned upon today.

Snobs decry the purported downward spiral of popular music, and particularly the lyrics of popular music these days, but in the 80s you had little kids surely singing “Relax / don’t do it / when you wanna come”.  There’s not much tongue and cheek there.  You had Madonna humping the stage at the VMAs when they were A Thing.  But now we think of her as being so much better than Lady GaGa because we’re nostalgic for our collective childhood.  Madonna isn’t better than Lady GaGa (she probably has less musical skill than Ms. Germanotta) –  she just did all the same things first.

Anyway.   I can’t help it.  Movies do seem different these days.

I was once around a bunch of kids who were seeing The Muppet Movie for the first time, bless their hearts (the movie is straight up 70s, but close enough to the 80s and to an 80s aesthetic enough to call it a “close call”), and when they saw Steve Martin serve Piggy & Kermit wearing lederhosen, they said, “That’s the guy from Cheaper by the Dozen!”  It made my heart sink.  I mean, come on!  He’s The Jerk!  Surely, he’s been making attempts at picking up the rent (and financing his bluegrass career) since the early 90s, with sentimental stuff like Father of the Bride, but these kids who know him only as a cranky dad are missing so much.

Although it’s not a child-friendly movie, and not as good as The Jerk, it’s possible that Roxanne might be a good introduction to Mr. Martin for beginners.  He makes the movie worth watching for his performance alone.  He is that good.

So that’s what I really enjoyed about the movie.  Suffice to say.

But Daryl Hannah annoyed the living shit out of me.

Maybe it’s because she reminded me of myself in some sort of former life.  Sure, she plays a “nerd”, but you can’t just give a supermodel a telescope and say, “Oh, she’s mousey now!  Lookit her!”  The same way you can’t tell me that Julia Roberts is not Julia Roberts because she dyed her hair brown, put it in a ponytail, and dons glasses.

And the whole friggen’ movie, Hannah just wants pretty words from a pretty boy.  “Write me a letter!  Tell me pretty words!”  Martin most definitely picks up the slack from there, and even the more secondary characters (even the dumb pretty boy that Martin’s character ghostwrites for) are well done, but I couldn’t get over it.

It was like I was 21 and had spent way too much time in my young life at that point listening to moody love songs and watching too many movies and sighing and waiting for something to happen.  Then a boy came along and made me  a mixtape or six and the timing was right and blamo.  Four years down the drain.  Not entirely down the drain – I sure as hell learned a lot, experienced a lot, even the shitty stuff on the other end of the relationship spectrum from first kisses and mixtapes, and having a boyfriend in college certainly kept me out of trouble.

And it landed me here, in South Florida, with almost two years to explore before I met T-storm.  And it also gave me the wisdom to understand that, no, Rob Sheffield, love is indeed not a mixtape: it cannot survive if it’s not built up from a true emotional connection and the mutual support of two committed partners.

Suffice to say, more than just pretty words.  That’s just the surface.  That’s just the start.  That’s not much at all.

C’mon, Daryl Hannah.  I’m supposed to believe you as an astronomy grad student, who wants nothing more than to be told how wonderful she is through cleverly strung together words?  Real women of science demand more than that!

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annoying blonde tropes, part II: Fred Willard film festival

So back to our Netflix queue, and annoying romantic comedies.  We’ve watched two so far this week, one that I had wanted to get off the queue for some time, and then one that just struck my fancy for the moment.

Both of these films had Fred Willard in a bit part.  Which I guess is not uncommon.  He might have the second longest list of IMDB credits, immediately after the cast list for Law & Order.  (I shit you not.)

We’ll get to the third film in just a moment.

Let’s discuss the first film.   Ira & Abby: a film about a guy who wishes he were half as funny as Woody Allen and this blonde blythe spirit who he marries within a week of meeting.

Yes, I sang along to the first Rilo Kiley song that appeared with opening credit sequence, but I got tired of the all-Jenny Lewis soundtrack less than a quarter of the way through the movie.  I would have had a better time just listening to More Adventurous while reading wikipedia articles.   The same philosophy that inspired Kubrick to repeatedly feature the work of the brothers Strauss in 2001 does not work with Ms. Lewis.  Sorry.

Anyway.  In short, the film is an “irreverent look at marriage”.  And it’s irreverent indeed.  It basically states that marriage has no point, and is not something that lasts and is not worth pursuing.

What an inventive concept.  No idea how they came up with this one.

But the really really annoying part of the film is that it introduces another Blonde Romantic Trope, even worse than the Melanie Griffith/Meg Ryan/Kirsten Dunst MPDG: Jennifer Westfeldt wrote herself as the Manic Pixie Dream Wife.  Ugh.

Her character insists that she (Abby) and her anxiety-ridden Jewish future husband (Ira, obvs) get married upon one day of meeting: he is “looking for a change”, or so he tells his therapist, and she offers this wonderful new path in life.  (Male protagonist resists change: main qualification for the female lead being an MPDG.)   One of her oh so polite requests upon being married is that she and her slightly schlubby husband have sex, every single day.  A streak they go to great lengths to maintain.  (Forcing yourself to be intimate when you’re not really feeling it is not exactly the key to a healthy relationship.  But this movie isn’t really focused on healthy relationships – it’s got that indie flick moral core of “do whatever you feel.”  No movie really gets that across better than Harold & Maude, and lots of films just keep trying, working in the same aesthetic, and fail miserably.  It starts to make me cranky.)

Abby is friends with everyone she comes across, and has this wonderful, loving family  – her parents are Fred Willard and Frances Conroy, both of whom I usually love.  She brings a feminine wonder to Ira’s apartment, which she moves into.  Eventually the couple divorces twice, and there is a whole lot of inter-familial melee (the best part of the film is the interwoven character montage of everyone at therapy; and the “let’s get in a circle invervention” scene further on ruins the effect).

The best performance in the film is from Judith Light, of Who’s the Boss fame, as an uptight New York psycho-analyst, who is strong and knows what she wants through the whole film.  Sorry, but I’d rather be her than Abby, who argues with husband Ira about having no ambition, and says, “What if I just wanted to be your wife?”  How post-feminist twee.  Gag me.

By the end of the film, she’s no longer his wife, but they’re still together, and everyone’s okay with that.  And she eats McDonald’s everyday and is still thin.  OF COURSE.  Because that’s a medically sound probability.

But that’s why she’s such a Dream Wife: she throws caution to the wind, she eats like crap and doesn’t gain weight, she cares about the sex, and the loyalty, and not the whole marriage business.  And she’s friends with her exes but faithful to Ira, who wasn’t even given much of a fair shake in a hasty end to the movie.

Doesn’t every guy want a ragingly hormonal lady-friend who wants to be his partner for as long as they last, and doesn’t ever bother him about the wife thing?  And refuses to go to therapy (because therapy never helps anyone, of course)?  Women, we’ve got to cool down about the whole ambition and marriage thing.  Obvs.  Or not.

The movie had its charming moments, but it was also annoying as all get out.  Yeah, yeah, I get it.  It’s just a movie, she’s just a character, everything is fine, nothing is ruined, whatever.  There is still the possibility that pop culture characters are more than just characters but whatever.

I know that indie film producers and screenwriters and Manic Pixie Dream Girls everywhere out there want to make us think that being happy is all there is to life, but it’s so much more complicated than that.  Referring back to annoying blonde tropes, part I, I will say that Ira & Abby are just as screwed as Joel & Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Maybe Ira and Abby are just more okay with being obnoxious about it.   Either way, I really disliked even the grown-up version of the MPDG.

Next.

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annoying blonde romantic tropes, part I: a Bechdel primer

T-storm and I have been battling with the Netflix queue, and somewhat winning.  Well, at least we’re whittling it down rather than adding to the endless stream.  One day we will watch Restrepo and get all sad and angry,  and I’ll make him watch Don McKeller’s Last Days – it just occurred to me that T-storm loves The Red Violin, which McKeller also directed.  My media-aided pop culture-addled ADHD doesn’t help us conquer this list any faster.

However, late at night, after work, sometimes we don’t have the emotional energy to watch anything but light romantic comedies.  And boy, there are a lot of them on the queue.

I have problems with movies now, mostly because the twitter introduced me to the idea of The Bechdel Test.  I was super super pissed because we saw The Avengers two weekends ago – and it lived up to the hype, and as a geek I am extremely excited for Joss Whedon to succeed – but the movie didn’t pass the Bechdel test.  It was so close, too.  Scarlett Johnansson’s Black Cat character kicks so much ass.  But if she and Cobie Smulders had JUST SPOKEN A WORD to one another about the end of the world when they’re all standing in a circle, it would have just barely passed.  It was a disappointment not only to not see Robin Sparkles shoot for female friendship, but in terms of Joss Whedon, a rare sci-fi dude who has brought us so very many awesome female characters, it was a let-down.  And honestly, waiting for them to speak to each other distracted me from the film.

There is surely something wrong with me.  However!

The movies that best pass the Bechdel test are usually movies designed for women.  Bridesmaids may be one of the best and most prominent examples in the last several years.  (I still haven’t seen it, which is a shame both for someone recently married and such an avowed Gilmore Girls fan – to have missed the biggest success by a GG alum yet!  I just burst with pride watching reruns, thinking, “Hell yes, Sookie, go on and get your Oscar nod!”)  However, movies that are somewhat sexist or play on aforementioned annoying blonde romantic tropes pass the test with flying colors.  I don’t want to talk too much shit about Sex in the City but…

I’ll back it up a little if you don’t want to click an outside link.  The Bechdel Test was born of a comic by Alison Bechdel, and is referred to as a counter-cultural institution.  The particular strip portrays a lesbian couple discussing a movie to see, and puts forth the three prongs of the test.  The film in question must contain:

  1. At least two named female characters
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. …about something other than a man.

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so what exactly do you believe in?

Today, while at work, exhausting things were happening and making me cranky.  And some of them have to do with religion.

That should not be, whatsoever where I work, and I like where I work because religion plays no part in what we do.  Or at least, it absolutely should not.

But today, it did, and I got mansplained to by some preacher as to why kids act a certain way, and for the sake of being affable I thanked the dude for the work he does with our kids.  Because often, religious workers do great things for many kids.

Religion is not all hurt.  Religion helped me through a lot when I was younger.  I was little Catholic girl, CCD superstar (my nun teacher told my mother I was “brilliant” close to my confirmation), sang in the children’s choir, played in handbells forever and absolutely adored it, and even directed a chime choir when I was in high school.  Loved it all.  It got me through a lot.

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dear Sanford police department…

Hey guys.  Remember me?  I worked at your JoAnn’s superstore (with my boss who had so many “scabs” on his leg from doing “yard work on weekends” that he looked like a leper – and insisted on wearing shorts every day – and was so unpleasant that customers would overtly complain to me at the cash register about him and vow to never come back).  I have sped mightily on your highways, coming back from South Florida to see my mother.  I’ve been a patron of your mall for years upon years, since its opening in 1995 when I was, suitably enough, 13 years old.   I have enjoyed many a reunion evenings at the Ale House near said mall. I enjoyed buying Orange Blossom Pilsner at the convenience store near the little itty bitty Presbyterian church near 46 when I was in town.  My brother was born in your hospital, on the shores of Lake Monroe.  When I was a senior in high school, we did a lake clean-up on said lake and I pulled several tires out of that particular body of water.  I can’t think of any real havoc I’ve wreaked upon your city, and having never actually legally resided there myself, I really haven’t met with your kind.  So of course you don’t remember me.  But now it seems, the world will never forget you.  And it’s all your fault.

My mother worked for Volusia County law enforcement for years, just north of y’all.  (Yeah, I said y’all.  I’ve you’ve ever been to Volusia or Seminole county, you are aware that it fits.)  So between her stories and whatever cop shows/movies I’ve watched, it seems that police departments, aside from serving and protecting, have to cover their own asses.  A lot.  They have to defend the decisions they’ve made, and do a bit of damage control.  And that’s cool, man.  Teachers understand how that junk works.  I know you’ve been affected by budget cuts and that everything sucks being a public employee right now.

However, you see, while I do agree somewhat that the whole Trayvon Martin thing has gotten way out of hand.  (overheard by some educators: “I went up to a kid protesting in Miami one day, and said, ‘Did you know who Trayvon Martin was?’  Kid replied, ‘Who?’  I said, ‘Take that hoodie off, son!'”)

But I don’t blame Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or the Huffington Post for that one.  I blame you.

In a five minute wikipedia search, I found the link to the Florida state senate law describing “stand your ground”, and while it does indeed offer immunity to suspects who use deadly force and feel threatened, there are specifics within the law.  It doesn’t just say, “Oh boy, did someone come up behind you and say ‘Boo!’  And you shot them?  Self-defense?  K, go back home.”

It says…(quoting the notable sections)

776.012 Use of force in defense of person.—A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) Under those circumstances permitted pursuant to s. 776.013.
776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.—

(1) A person who uses force as permitted in s. 776.012, s. 776.013, or s. 776.031 is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10(14), who was acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer. As used in this subsection, the term “criminal prosecution” includes arresting, detaining in custody, and charging or prosecuting the defendant.
(2) A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force as described in subsection (1), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

776.041 Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant;
[Check the whole text here before you pick a fight]
Surely I’m no legal scholar (else I would not be writing this blog, I hope).  But it seems like there’s a lot of room to squirm in here.  But nope.  It’s as simple as one dude being let off with miniscule investigation.  And it’s at very very very least something they should have looked over.  Perused.  Thought about.  Spent a few more minutes on.  Even a few more hours.
But alas.  You did not.  And now, you’ve got absolute hell to pay for it.  And you could have prevented it.
In an hour, a Florida state attorney will do the job you didn’t and press charges against George Zimmerman.  Which had you done your job, could have been over before March Madness swept the nation.   I won’t cry for you.  I know in my job, that my efforts to good faith report things and document the living hell out of things are at least worth it, because I know my position.  It’s just unfortunate that you didn’t do the same.
It’s not Sanford’s fault that Trayvon Martin died.  Stand Your Ground may be the law (and a shitty one at that), but it holds shooters immune from prosecution, not from investigation.  The absolute melee, media and otherwise, that has ensued, reaching all the way up to Attorney General Eric Holder?  That’s a different story.
Long story short: when it doubt, research it out.  Find ways to cover your ass before you try on a miniskirt.  And when uncertain, screw the NRA and their ridiculous backlash.  Do your job and arrest the dude.
Side note to individuals?  When you see something not quite right, speak up.  You can make a difference.  On so many levels.
I will be especially pissed if I can’t cry my way out of a speeding ticket the next time I’m crossing the St. John’s Bridge on I-4 the same way that some dude got away with murder by shouting a gun enthusiast slogan.
Yours Truly…

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