Monday, September 30, 2013

The Fictional Nonsense of Porn

Don Jon!

Have you seen it?

Every now and then I hear about a movie and know I need to rush out, buy a ticket and surrender myself to 90 minutes of inspiration. Which, admittedly, is an odd way for a happily married mother of two to feel about a movie that's ostensibly about porn addiction.

Just for the record, it wasn't the story of the self-styled Jersey Shore porn addict wannabe that resonated with me.

It was the movie's underlying concept; which spotlights how the media portrays human acts like love and sex and the way we, as a culture, often mistake what were always intended to be shorthand constructs, for the real thing.

The story, in brief, is about Jon, who hooks up with a different girl every night. Despite his success with the opposite sex, he prefers his computer porn because the women he brings home don't offer the intimacy and acceptance he finds alone. It dawns on him (SURPRISE) his existence is unfulfilling and he sets out to create a relationship that is, ultimately doomed, when his porn ideals clash with his girlfriend's equally unrealistic views that big screen romance is an accurate representation of a relationship.

For me, the movie was a reminder that the most engaging stories are both entertainment and a glimpse in the mirror of social relevance. The reflection we see is often most interesting when it's at its most accurate. Blemishes and all without a picture perfect bow.

It's also a reminder that, even though I can't change the culture where bikini-clad models eat hamburgers while the voiceover announces wink-wink, nudge-nudge that, "the newest sandwich isn't just another piece of meat," I can be aware of it, not be numbed by its constant presence.

Unchecked, the stream of media-ideal, fictionalized versions of women, sex and relationships has the power to warp all of our perceptions of reality. Don Jon reminds us these prepackaged items have no more sustenance than Diet Coke and are as unreal as the photoshopped models used to sell them.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Where One Door Opens

There's a saying, popularized by a last century Chicago song, that goes, "You don't know what you got until it's gone and I found out just a little too late."

That's the song I've been singing every morning in the shower as Child  #2 wanders in and out of my open plan bathroom.

A door.

I really underestimated the importance of a door!

Our new house is the antidote to our old one. Where, it was old and respectable, this one is newer and modern. Lots of levels, lots of stairs, lots of fun. From outside it kinda looks like a ship.

I love everything about it, except the fact that there is no door to my bathroom.

When I say no door, I don't mean a doorframe space where a door has been removed. I mean a great big open space where bedroom melds into bathroom when you walk around the corner.

Have I mentioned my son likes to talk?

Saying he likes to talk is an understatement, sort of like saying fish enjoy water. My early morning shower time has become his captive audience time. This morning's pre-coffee conversations went like this.

"So, I breeded a Nose Breather and a Funky Monkey and if you had to guess would you say I got Smelly Feet or a T-rexasaurus?"

"It's bred and could you please give me some privacy."

"I am giving you privacy! My back is to you."

"I need you to leave the room!"

"How do you define the room?"

"Where the floors change color. Leave! Now!!"

"How about if I stand at the edge of where the floors change colors so you can still hear me?"

The indignity of my less-than-private shower is compounded by the cheerful chatter that awaits me the minute I step out of the shower.

"Do you think gummy worms contain any vitamins? If you had to pick a number that looks the most like you, what would it be? No really, Mom, you're just saying a number and not thinking about one that looks like you."

This morning, in a weak moment, I sent him back upstairs to see what his sister was doing.

Two minutes later I, along with everyone else in the neighborhood, heard her shriek, "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!" Followed by the loud bang of a door.

I know I should feel bad about playing one child against the other, and I really would if only I wasn't so jealous of their doors!

Monday, September 23, 2013

At the Intersection of Constitution and Twelfth

Attendance at the National Book Festival seems almost compulsory for any kind of writer, sort of like the core curriculum, English 101 on the National Mall.

This is why, family in tow, I headed into the Nation's Capital yesterday to check out some good books and the writer's who wrote them.

We wandered through the white-tented pavilions, stopping at the Fiction & Mystery tent where Khaled Hosseini spoke to a standing room only audience.

"Maybe you'll be speaking there next year, Mom," my daughter said.

"If that ever happens, I'll save you a front row seat," I promised her.

My husand found his niche underneath the History & Biography tent where he caught a snippet of Evan Thomas.

We all stopped to ponder a white board that invited us to think about 'Books That Changed the World'. Green Eggs and Ham was on the list, as was The Great Gatsby. My son included Captain Underpants and, after a lot of measured thought, my daughter included the Bible.

The thing that probably holds true for any book festival, is that the under eleven crowd quickly loses steam. Even though I'm eleven years into parenting, my offspring's need to eat at regular intervals still catches me off guard.

We were suddenly, as these things alway seem to happen, in rubberlimbed, meltdown territory.

Child #2 informed me he couldn't take another step. We hurried off the mall in search of nutrition where we were, literally, waylaid by a parade.

It's amazing how quickly a parade can make a person forget he's just claimed he is close to dying and CAN'T EVEN MOVE HE'S SO HUNGRY!

Especially when the parade participants were dressed in costumes like these!

Fortunately, for everyone, sustenance in the form of celebratory Latin Day street food was located on the other side of Constitution Avenue.

Hunger pains and sit-in style protests against overzealous mothers who spend too long at book fairs were both successfully averted.

As we drove home, I realized we all have memories of childhood activities we did at the whim of our parents. I can't help but wonder if book fairs will be something my adult children will avoid like the plague.

Or whether, twenty years from now, they too will find tables heaped with books and surrounded by the people who wrote them, fascinating enough to make food irrelevant.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Portland to McLean: Culture Shock

Every time you move you have to get used to the new quirks of a place, those special little oddities that just like falling in love, can become the things you cherish most.

Portland has its virulent bikers, its oddball coffee shops and its fleece hoodies.

Virginia has...other things. Some of them make me smile, and some of them, like PDX's crazy bikers who occasionally take their verbal frustrations out on those of us who still rely on fossil fuels, might be an acquired taste.

Valet Parking: It's everywhere. At my gym. At the grocery store. Not a fancy grocery store, mind you, just the local Giant. But, in the event you can't be bothered to find a parking spot in the expansive parking lot, there is a team of valet parkers at the ready.

Culture: It's everywhere too. Our new town is a mishmash of people from all over the world. My son's new best friend, across the street, is the son of Lithuanian diplomats. You have no idea how long it took me to extract that information.

"Where did you say they were from?"
"Mom, I told you. He's from his country."
"Yes, but what is that country called?"
Yesterday I sent Child #2 over with cookies and he returned home bearing an enormous bar of Lithuanian chocolate. Mystery solved!

My husband, who is coaching Child #2's soccer team remarked there are at least five different languages spoken on the sidelines. "And I understand them all," added Child #2. "Okay, most of them," he amended when cross-examined on the verity of that particular statement.

Traffic: It's bad. The kind of bad that, after three weeks here, already has me studying Google Maps for alternate routes and planning trips at nonpeak hours.

Museums: Saturday afternoon we zipped into the city (nonpeak traffic hour).

Checked out the Lincoln Monument, walked the sad granite processional of names that is the Vietnam Memorial (made slightly surreal when I realized my children understood that war more from the Vietnamese perspective, after our recent visit to Vietnam, than they did from that of the American one) and ate BBQ to the accompaniment of live music.

We were home by 8:00, in plenty of time for kid bedtimes. "Can we just do that, go into the city and see cool stuff whenever we want?" my daughter asked.

"Yes, absolutely," I told her.

Like the DJ'd coffee shops and world class food carts that made me fall for Portland, I'm discovering this area's charms. Who knows...maybe I'll fall in love with McLean too.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Accounting

I hardly ever talk about my writing on this blog.

Maybe it's because I'm bad at promotion. We know it's not because I'm too shy to tell you each and every detail of my life (see posts 1-300).

Maybe, I don't know, it's because I can't get over the notion that writing is meant to be read and I want my readers to enjoy all the words I produce.

Is the slow arduous process of writing a book, blog post worthy? Today it's going to have to be because that's what's holding first position in my head.

But first, here's a status update:

The Persephone Campbell Series: Losing Beauty and Losing Hope are still alive, kicking and selling at a normal small publishing rate. Will I write the third book in the series? I'd really like to think so. Do I have a self-imposed deadline? No, not really. Although I should probably commit to at least thinking about one.

The Virtual Life of Maisy Parker is off with Agent Emily. I have my fingers crossed for good news on that front. If you have an extra set of fingers to cross or good juju to send my way I'll be forever grateful. It's such a good book. Really, really good book. I fall in love with it all over again each and every time I dive back in.

I have my sights set on a big six publisher this time around.

On the one hand, that's exciting. Sort of like dating someone new with all the accompanying nail-biting anxiety and self-analysis (Will they like me? I mean really, really like me or just kinda, you know, sorta like me?) And by me, I mean the book, which is crazy, I know. But remember, writer here! No problem with playing the crazy card.

On the other hand, it's frustrating because I'm so in love with this book. I want you all to read it. Pronto! As in yesterday!!  But you can't and won't be able to for at least another year. Assuming it sells today or tomorrow or even next week, which could happen if someone really, really likes me...I mean my book!

Which leads me to how I'm currently spending my days.

The new book, of course! And, after a week and a half it's already filled me with doubts. The normal ones that I always have before that tight little imaginary world is solidly in place, but this time they're infused with a few extras...maybe just for good luck? :)

Do I like it as much as the last one?
Does the dialogue sparkle?
Are the characters too crazy? I mean, some of them are sociopaths so they have to be crazy, but is that the kind of thing people want to read?
Is the plot too slow?
In the alternative, is the plot too fast, not as developed as it should be?
What if I run out of things to say?

Okay, you all know I was kidding with that last one, right?

What about you? What are you working on and does your current project ever infuse you with the need to play your writer crazy card?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Notes from the Beltway

Here we are. Firmly ensconced within that tight belt of congested freeway that runs around the nation's capitol.

We're slowly making our adjustments. New routes to the grocery story. Searching for parking near Dupont Circle (note to doesn't exist). And making new friends.

That process, like many of the others in our new life, has a distinctly Washingtonian flare.

On the second day of school, Child #2 announced he had a new best friend.

"That's great!" I said.

"Yep, sure is. We traded for it," he told me.

"What do you mean?"

"So Mom, it's like this. He told me he'd be my best friend, if I'd promise to be a Republican."

"And you agreed?"

"Yep. Democrats are bad. They attack people. Sometimes they bite."

I could have pointed out that he'd spent a lifetime in Portland, where people recycle EVERYTHING, vote to the left of liberal and go door-to-door with good cause clipboards. I could have mentioned that, in the rare moments I stop to give politics more than a glancing thought, I'm pretty liberal. Instead, I said, "I think both parties attack, but I haven't heard of any actual bitings," and left it that.

The next day, on the way home from school, Child #2 announced, "Jack says I'm his eighth best friend now."

"What about that backroom deal you guys struck?"

He looked at me uncomprehendingly. "It was on the playground, Mom, but I guess I was the eighth person to agree so I'm pretty far down the list."

"Maybe you should branch out. Expand your basis of support," I suggested.

And the next day he did.

First life lessons from the beltway: Don't make backroom friendship deals. And a wide base of friendly support will always be your best asset.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Case of the Wemberlies

I have so many things I want to talk about swirling around in my head, but today, the swirliest of them all is that my kids started a new school!!!

Really! Just! Started! As in twenty minutes prior to the composition of this blog post.

It's something I never had to do as a child. I didn't know the before-the-first-day anxiety spent worrying about how to find the lunchroom and whether anyone would talk to me.

Will the teacher be nice? Should I take chorus or band or strings? What if my hair looks wrong? What if the food in my lunch isn't what other people are eating (too healthy, not healthy enough)? What if I wear flip flops and we start the school year off with gym class?

All throughout the too-long Labor Day weekend the kids were enacting their own version of Wemberly Worries, a favorite childhood book by Kevin Henkes that gently pokes fun of the childhood genius for worry.

The funny (or not so funny) thing about all this free-floating anxiety, is it's contagious. Like the flu, but worse because there's no proven inoculation.

As I was leaving the school after drop-off this morning to the sounds of the Pledge of Allegiance being recited over the intercom it a) made me realize how far we are from Portland and b) touched off my own bout of the Wemberly Worries.

What if the kids stand up when they aren't supposed to, or what if they don't stand and someone has to remind them?

What if they spill something on their clothes and their day is ruined? What if the dress code doesn't allow earrings? Was I bad mom to tell her they looked adorable? What if squeezing in at the last moment before the bell rang gets them off to a bad start? What if I go to the wrong flag pole to pick them up? What if they hate the new school and decide to take me up on my flippant offer to homeschool?

Truly, there's no vaccine against the worries.

But there is coffee. And there is writing. And there is the knowledge that this week, all across the country other kids and parents are joining in with their own, not so variant theme, on the Wemberly Worries. In the book version, everything turns out fine. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that, in this case, life will imitate fiction.