Wednesday, March 20, 2013

One Night in Bangkok...

Actually, it'll be more like three weeks. And not just in Bangkok.

Even though I love a steamy subtropical city, we'll be going much farther afield. The plan is to hang out on beaches, explore Cambodian ruins, visit Vietnam and generally make our way through as many culturally relevant sites as we can.

My children, of course, are coming along. They're champion travelers, but even so we're all dreading eighteen hours of time in the air broken only by a jet-lag infused stop in Seoul.

Me: I think there's a playground in the airport.

Kids: Mom, no one wants to play on playground equipment at 3:00 in the morning!

They might have a point.
I have good reasons for dragging my entire family to the other side of the earth. There are things I want us all to see and experience. Because I'm a creature of impulse and impatience, those things take on an enormous magnitude that I'm helpless to ignore.

I'll expound more on that when I get back.

But right now I'm extremely preoccupied with making sure the hamsters have a temporary home, loading my Kindle with reading material and trying to convince Child #1 that my cast off flip flops are insufficient footwear for the entire trip.

See you in mid-April.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dreams of Oz

The concept for Oz the Great and Powerful had me from the first time I saw the trailer. I LOVE the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. They're playful, whimsical and so much fun. Why haven't more of them been made into movies?

So it was with a giddy sense of anticipation that I shepherded my kids into the theater and settled in for something that would be magical, perfect, delightful and....cue the sound of wheels screeching on pavement.

Yeah, it wasn't.

Not at all.

The most charming, and Baumesque part of the movie was the discovery of the China Doll in a broken China Town.

From there it went downhill. And by downhill I mean the kind of movie that caused me to semi-surreptitiously dig in my purse to check the time on my phone, offer to take people to the bathroom "No really, I'll take you. No problem," and fidget so much Child #1 told me to sit still.

To me, the movie felt like a mash-up of memorable scenes and characters from other profitable movies in recent history.

I could imagine the director saying, "We need a Shrek-style Donkey character. Stat! How about a goofy talking monkey? Perfect!" In my imagination both directors and doctors say 'Stat'.

This sort of borrowing continued right up to the grand finale witch duel with streams of light shooting out of wands in an apparent homage to Harry Potter.

I know the old adage there's nothing new under the sun, but my biggest problem with this movie is Baum's work is so original and creative there's no need to strip it down and dress it up.

Even stranger, given the American obsession with all things new, next, creative and current, I would expect Hollywood to play up the unique aspects of the work instead of serving up tired old rehash.

It's not just our taste buds for food that have grown adventurous, it's our taste buds for life.

Not surprisingly, the movie hasn't received much in the way of critical acclaim. As for me, I'm still crossing my fingers that Ozma of Oz will be made into a movie, with all the charm of the novel firmly intact.







 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring Fever in the Bathroom

Me: It's almost Friday guys. What should I blog about?

Child #2 (running in full of ideas): You should blog about our bathroom being like a workout room. You can hold on to the sink and do backward flips. You can, like, do sit ups in the bathtub. Oh, and you can also sit in the bathtub when it's empty and lift your bottom up so it doesn't touch the ground.

Me: Is that why there are always footprints on the pedestal of your sink?

Child #2: Yeah, probably.

Me: What else can I talk about?

Child #2: Pencils. Oh, and did you know you can also do a handstand on top of the toilet.

Me: Tell me more about pencils.

Child #2: You can use pencils and balance them on their erasers if you're holding on to them.

Me: But is that really balancing?

Child #2: I've never tried it, but I'm sure it's possible.

Me: I  need more.

Child #2: Our bathroom would make a great workout place for football players to get a tiny bit stronger.

Me: Why?

Child #2: Because....I don't know. Umm, Mommy, did you know the bottom of my socks have holes in them?

Yep, that's it.

It's almost Spring Break and I'm feeling a little Spring Feverish. Today's post puts a whole new spin on the concept of child labor. What can I say? Maybe he'll get some new socks out of the deal.

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Life Lessons from a Little Boy

I walk my kids to school every morning. It's not much time, a twelve minute snippet all told, but sometimes it informs my whole day.

Yesterday my daughter had early morning choir so it was just me and Child #2.

"Mom, life is a lot like chess," he told me as I stopped to photograph and tweet a picture of golden daffodils.

"How so?" I asked.

"You have to have an open mind. Be ready for anything. If you just concentrate on one way of winning you might not see all the other ways." He was wearing his oversized blue hoodie and ripped jeans. Suddenly I had a glimpse of him as an adult, possibly wearing the exact same outfit.

"So you're saying it's important not to close yourself off to unexpected possibilities."

"Yeah, it's just like soccer," he added, expanding the metaphor. "If you position yourself just right you can sweep in and score before anyone knows what's happened."

"You're right," I told him. "The trick is having the kind of mind that knows how to position itself and see all the possibilities."

He nodded and was silent for a moment. If you knew him, you'd understand any kind of silence on Child #2's part is nothing short of miraculous. Then the conversation turned to Pokemon types and I thought that was the end of his chess/soccer/life analogies.

But at school, when I leaned down to give him a good bye hug, he wrapped his arms around my neck and whispered, "You have that kind of mind, Mom. Even if you don't think you do. You do."

I don't know if he's right.

All I know is I'm lucky to have someone who has that kind of faith in me and that, on occassion, those twelve morning minutes are the best spent minutes of my day.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Game Time

My son counts down the hours until Friday after school because that's the magical moment when the remote controls to the Wii are released. He, and usually a couple friends, get to immerse themselves in the world of video games.

Sometimes I play Lego StarWars Wii with the boys. They've almost stopped being annoyed when I make my character jump on top of those big spiders and ride them around.

Okay, that's actually not true.

I've had several lectures about taking my participation more seriously. But have you seen those spiders? They're so much fun!

And so is playing video games. Everything I read about the world in which my children will live and work leads me to believe video games and gaming technology will probably make up part of their work experience. Many games teach problem solving skills and even hand-eye coordination. These are good lessons. If that's where the lessons stopped I wouldn't have an issue with video games.

Unfortuantely, gaming culture is often dismissive and sometimes downright mysoginistic when it comes to its female characters. Even though we're still at the G rated end of the spectrum, I've noticed disturbing patterns that only become more prominent as the games skew toward an older audience.

The female characters are often built like scantily clad Barbie dolls and fall into outdated stereotypical roles; women in distress, women as a reward or sexual objectification through use of women as decoration.

Video games have become one more part of popular culture that shape childrens' perception of the world. As such, I'm concerned about what these games teach about women's roles in society both online and off.

Turns out, I'm not the only one who's worried about the portrayal of women in video games. Anita Sarkeesian created Feminist Frequency, a video webseries that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives with an emphasis on deconstructing the stereotypes associated with women in both popular and gaming culture.

It makes me feel less alone to know I'm not the only one who's deeply uncomfortable with the way women are portrayed in video game culture.

Websites like Feminist Frequency are a message to game developers. One of the reasons girls and women play video games less than their male counterparts is because video games often don't depict our experience of the world.

I'd love to see games where female characters get to be powerful and strong without wearing a bikini. Or where their strength of spirit and intelligence were key factors used to unlock rewards. In fact, if I knew about those kinds of games I'd probably run out and buy the tomorrow. And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Talk about an untapped market!



Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Love

Sometimes my reading list feels like a hungry creature rattling the cage of my nightstand. I try to feed it, really I do because reading constantly and voraciously seems like the truest path to making me a better writer.

Typically I read a book a week. Which is a lot, I know.

I can already hear slower, more methodical readers shaking their heads at my book wanton ways. And they're right. Even though I read and read and read, I'm quite certain the details of each book I read aren't as crystal clear in three months time as they are to say, someone like my daughter, who takes her time and savors every teensy word.

Be that as it may, I believe the cumulative effect of my reading habit helps to shape my prose. Style, sentence structure and pacing seep in through those hours of reading and become something like correct grammar for small children. It's innate. They know it when they hear it, even if they can't quite explain the rules. At least that's the hoped for effect of my reading obsession.

Even if my obsession never makes perfect prose my native language, I can take comfort in the knowledge it buoys my favorite market. As long as writers keep writing, I'll keep reading, one book and one week at at time.

Here's what's waiting on my nightstand for March.

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mosin Hamid

The Earl's Engagement by Anne Gallagher

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Have you read any of them? Are you an insatiable reader? What are your favorite genres?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Secrets

Someone once told me once everyone has their secrets.

I doubted the verity of that statement. Everyone? Really?? Is it possible every person I see on the street, from the darling old lady walking her dog to the mailman, has their secrets?

Of course, well-kept secrets are the plot of many a great book. Still, someone's life has to be a dull, secrecy-free void, doesn't it?

As it turns out, some of the most interesting secrets I've discovered lately were kept by my grandmother, AKA the adorable old lady walking her dog. My grandmother is in her late eighties and thinks she's sixteen. And sometimes, if you ask her again, she'll smile sweetly and hazard she might even be nineteen. Her senility combined with other health issues means she can no longer stay in her home.

The last two weekends my mother and I sorted through a lifetime of accumulation.

It turns out my grandmother kept a secret or two. Nothing earthshattering. No illegitimate children or love affairs. Her secrets were in the form of sketchbooks and writing.

She loved fashion and had a gift for drawing. Who knew? Not me.

In an essay penned in neat cursive she writes
"At that time my husband left on Monday morning and usually came home on Thursday night. My infidelity began to be apparent in small ways. Namely, a small dog who visited daily, getting surreptitious bones and other tokens of my esteem via the back door. For some reason he considered the back door more appropriate for his station in life. Or quite possibly, this was all part of his attack and integration strategy."
 
The essays and pictures make me wonder if she ever published anything. Of course, knowing my grandmother such publication, if it exists at all would be blanketed underneath an assumed name of appropriateness.

More than anything else, the starts, stops and snippets of the secret life my mother and I uncovered filled me with resolve to live my own life in big vibrant strokes of color.

My grandmother's secrets make me want to be inappropriate, in all the best ways. No hiding emerging talent in private journals or dabbling around at this and that behind closed doors because I'm afraid of what the neighbors might think. I don't want my grandchildren or children to some day discover things I'd done and wish they'd known me better.

Of course, there's still time to ask my grandmother questions about her life. There are moments when she's lucid and knows my name, but even in those moments I'm not sure she'll open up. She's spent her life cultivating expertise in the art of the arm's length transaction. Which is why I've been thinking about how to frame my questions. But I'm starting to realize everything I want to know boils down to the same thing.

Did she want more out of life, and if so, what held her back? 


Monday, March 4, 2013

Queen Bees

I read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend. If you didn't see it the link is here.

The headline, The Tyranny of the Queen Bee, is what caught my eye; which, if I remember correctly from high school jouranlism, means it did its job. The current WIP deals, in part, with the same subject.

During the editing process I was suddenly gripped with fear that readers would find my 'Adult Queen Bee' character overblown and unrealistic.

The imaginary critics in my head said things like, 'Unflattering and unrealistic portrait of women.' Or, 'Grown women don't act this way.' Just as my doubts were reaching a crescendo along came the WSJ article linked above.

The article focuses on women in the work place who've risen to positions of power. Instead of using their position to serve as mentors and lend a hand to younger women, they actively try to block other women's career advancement.

While reading, suddenly I was transported back to my first year of practice at a (purposely unnamed) Wall Street law firm. One day I emerged from a stall in the women's bathroom to find a female partner waiting with arms crossed.

As I walked past the row of empty stalls to wash my hands she said, "That's my stall. In the future you should probably use a different one."

Of course, if she'd known me better, she would have understood she'd just issued an invitation for me to use 'her' stall each and every time nature called. We were in a pissing match. Literally!

With the perspective of hindsight, I find her behavior sad and incomprehensible. As someone with a bounty of female friends, who has also enjoyed many wonderful mentorships, both male and female, I know the person who loses most is the one who draws a line in the sand (or in front of the bathroom stall, as the case may be).

On one hand, it's hard to understand why this phenomenen persists pasts the halls of high school. On the other hand, I probably shouldn't complain too much since it makes for such fun and realistic (whew) character creation.

Have you ever encountered a Queen Bee in your workplace or otherwise? How did you handle her behavior?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Heresy!

My husband is a New Yorker. This means many things, but right now the most important thing it means to our children is he's a Giants, Yankees and Knicks fan.

My daughter is also a New Yorker. Even though she's lived in Portland for seven years she's maintained allegience to both the Giants and Yankees, which is easy to do since Oregon doesn't have a major league football or baseball team.

We do have a basketball team though and she hopped on board the Trailblazer fanwagon. Which was okay with my husband. He's been a good sport about it (sorry, bad pun). As a belated birthday present he's even taking her to the Blazer/Knicks game where they plan to wear t-shirts sporting their team of choice and a sign that says "A House Divided."

But I'm here to assure you....that's not the real divide.

My son, who was born in Washington, D.C. has declared himself a Redskins fan. When he told me (not being a sports fan of any kind) I was all like, "Yeah, that makes sense. Go Redskins. They're a football team right??"

However, mine wasn't the universal household reaction.

"Not the Redskins. Anything but the Redskins," moaned my husband after Child #2 made his announcement.

At Christmas I suggested we might want to get our son some Redskins gear. Just a t-shirt or hat or maybe even a bean bag chair. "Are you crazy? I can't have Redskins paraphenalia in the house," growled my husband, which made me laugh because he's a grown-up and so of course I knew he was kidding.

But it turns out he wasn't.

Child #2 didn't get any Redskins gear for Christmas. And yesterday morning, when he reiterated his love for the Redskins my husband threatened to send him to live with our good friends in Minnesota who are part of the same fanclub.

He was kidding.

I think!

Maybe I should call my friend and tell her to get the spare bedroom ready.

Are you a house divided when it comes to sports? Or, like me, do you think of televised sports as premium writing time?