Books Government History Politics

Anne Frank and The CaronaVirus

lebo-room3-06012017-e1496928208671-1024x640When my daughter, about whom I am not allowed to blog, was in the eighth grade, she played Anne Frank at the Nightingale-Bamford School. Her father and I, already divorced for years, went together to opening night. I knew it would be especially poignant for him. He’d escaped the Nazis in Paris during the start of WWII. I wished his mother, who was a mentor of mine and a strong woman who lived in a time that didn’t nurture that, could have been there.

We were mesmerized. I had never seen the play but had devoured the book. At the end, all the lights went out, and our daughter’s voice penetrated the darkness with the following lines:

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals; they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

He wept openly, and I sobbed. It became a memory from our parenthood that didn’t fade with time.

A friend of mine was recently complaining about having to stay inside and going stir crazy as a result. I texted her, “I have two words: Anne Frank.” I didn’t hear from her again for a while.

Sure, this is like Anne Frank’s situation. Only not.

If Anne Frank were to be found by the Nazi “virus,” it was certain curtains — not just 2% certain.

Anne Frank had no communication with anyone other than the people who were smothering her space, and she wasn’t all that fond of most of them. Eight people. Two years. Try to imagine that.

Anne Frank couldn’t move from six o’clock in the morning until six o’clock at night — every day for two years. No earbuds. No TV. Just a few books and her thoughts, which still move me. I am grateful she wrote them down.

Anne Frank couldn’t flush the toilet. Ever.

Anne Frank didn’t have enough to eat, let alone 642 rolls of toilet paper stashed away in the basement.

Anne Frank wrote a few hundred pages in her journal. Very few of them contained complaints. And when she did complain, she expressed regret for doing so.

Here is the 411: We have to stay inside to save others’ lives, not just our own. When you break the rules because you just can’t stand it anymore, the chance that you will need to be taken care of by the health-care workers rises exponentially. Anne spent much of her time worrying about Miep Gies, the woman who was risking her life to keep Anne and her family alive. We have Mieps. The doctors and hospital workers and store workers. We need to do right by them now.

Here are some of Anne’s quotes that move me on this sunny morning in the Hamptons where I am safe and able to walk outside and see the budding spring:

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

Thank you Anne Frank. We will do better.

Books Theater

To Kill a Mockingbird Review: Aaron Sorkin Brings Us Inside the Finch Inner Circle

101032-11Who knew Atticus had a sense of humor? Who knew Calpurnia had such insight, wisdom, and spunk? Who knew Scout had any uncertainty about her dad? The way I interpreted Scout from reading the book and watching the 1962 film is that she was observing without much insight. I never thought of Atticus as witty. Calpurnia? I never thought of her at all. But Aaron Sorkin must have seen those qualities, and he has brought them to us all in his play opening on Broadway next week: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Harper Lee introduced us to the Finch family and their neighbors and friends decades ago, but Aaron Sorkin brings us into the family’s inner circle. And we are all the better for it.

There is so much hype around whether or not my beloved Sorkin (yes, I am a Sorkinite, and proud of it!) will change the book’s characters to the point of no return — and how to tar and feather him if he does. It gave me pause for concern. Will he buckle under the pressure? Change whatever limb he’d gone out on in his writing of this play around my very favorite book in the world, and of course, one of the best films of the twentieth century? As he said, “It was a suicide mission.” I had no reason to fear. He held nothing back. He, like the rest of us who are aging, might be at the point where he doesn’t care anymore what we think, and the play is all the better for it.

Sorkin gave us additional layers into each of the characters in “To Kill a Mockingbird” without changing any of the core values and attributes we already know so well. Atticus has a sense of humor. Scout has a wisdom while she reminisces that couldn’t have be shown up in the book because she was still a child. Tom Robinson is more insightful than Atticus and has a better understanding of the community in which they live. And Calpurnia — who might be the most important person to us in this production — has a relationship with Atticus, not just the children. This relationship gives us the doorway to the change Atticus must make in the way he looks at his neighbors and friends. Without her, he slides by. It’s almost like Harper Lee’s book introduced them all to us, and Sorkin made us part of their inner circle. Part of their family.

It’s not easy to give Atticus humor. But without it, there is no way any of our souls could withstand the devastating realities of life back then, which we now know isn’t as far away as we thought. His humor is never at anyone’s expense. It’s sometimes above their pay grade, but it’s not above ours, and it makes the message palatable. He changes and grows in a way that he seemed too weary to do in the book or film.

Jeff Daniels as Atticus? Don’t be mad at me, Aaron, because I have heard your interviews about how there was no one else to play the role, but I think you are wrong there. One of my fellow attendees said, “He spoke the words that showed he changed from someone who believed everyone is good and has a point of view that should be considered to believing that there are some people not worth respecting, but I didn’t see it in him. They seemed like empty words.” While I recognize that Gregory Peck is a hard act to follow — just in his physical demeanor alone — it was more than that. Jeff Daniels didn’t change. And, his timing is not on point, except for in his comedic messaging, and since every other cast member’s timing is perfectly synchronized like one of the great Barry Manilow tunes, it really stands out, and not in a good way. He doesn’t walk the stage well. And, the stage, which I found somewhat interruptive, is changing in front of us and he looks like that guy who is from Wall Street and has no business helping the movers move anything. If he is supposed to play it that way, they need to change it. It’s distracting. I don’t think Jeff Daniels, who I feel was genius in “The Newsroom” is my Atticus. Sorry, Aaron. I’m not sure who should have played the role, but I will keep you posted as I marinate in it.

The starring role is Scout, played by Celia Keenan-Bolger, whose timing is impeccable. She is onstage throughout the play and never once looks like she doesn’t totally belong where she is standing. Her ability to be childlike and yet wisely grown up is uncanny. And her comedic timing? Spot on, girlfriend. She has award nominations under her belt, but the Tony nod that will surely come her way is well deserved.

The other stand out is LaTanya Richardson Jackson’s Calpurnia, who doesn’t allow her Mammy presence from “Gone With the Wind” to make her nonthreatening, but instead lets it be the adjective in the sentence of her role in society in the time to which we’ve been transported. She is Atticus’ teacher and conscience, and I wish we all had someone like her in our lives.

When the curtain came down on the first half of the play, I thought I’d just seen the best first act of a play ever. I can’t say the second act is there yet. I think, for example, that there were three times at the end of the play (and we were 2.5 hours in, so it was time) when I thought Sorkin had made his point and the curtain would drop, only to transition to another scene. I think this can be fixed. Sometimes more is just more, and the second act has a bit more in it than we need. And the court scenes? Aaron, you have to go back to “The Supremes” episode of “The West Wing.” Don’t gently layer in Tom’s bad arm. The movie, in which we see it through the physical act of Atticus throwing him something he can’t catch, was important. It was ACTION, and we need action in the court — not the physical attacks that simply broke up the dialog but didn’t seem real.

This play will be around for a long, long time. It will sit on the shelves with “A Few Good Men,” “The West Wing,” and “Moneyball,” which I think are Sorkin’s best. It will also sit inside everyone who sees it, as a warning that what you want to be reality is not necessarily reality, and the danger in thinking that it is can be catastrophic. Tom would have lived if Atticus’ desire to see the glass as half full wasn’t so cemented in his desire for his community. Harper Lee forgot to tell us that, and Sorkin added it to remind us of the hubris of thinking we can walk in anyone else’s shoes. By the way, Sorkin’s ability to give us this is what makes his play elevate Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” to a whole different level.

Thank you, Aaron Sorkin, yet again.


The Handmaid’s Tale Book Review

imgresI know someone who wrote my favorite book thus far this year (2016 and 2017!). It’s Abby Fabiaschi, and the book is I Liked My Life, which went into a publishing book war with four major houses bidding on it. Lucky her. Lucky me for getting to read a pre-published copy.

Moving right along.

We were speaking on the phone about some other matters, and we started talked about The Handmaid’s Tale, which is coming out in a series (more on that another time), and we were off to the races about what it means for today’s political climate and our shock and awe at what we thought could never be our country’s take on things. I suggested she write a review of the book, calling out some of the issues. Here it is: my friend Abby’s take on what your next read needs to be. Thanks Abby!

Haven’t read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale yet? Well, there’s no time like the present, and I don’t mean that in the casual, carpe diem way the cliche implies. I mean it literally: there is an urgency to and a reason for the sudden resurgence of sales for this compelling bestseller.

In it, Atwood creates a fantasy time in US history where people of power leverage fear of Islamic terrorism to suspend the constitution and enforce a militant state. The media is deemed collaborators delivering fake news and hunted as sworn enemies. Protest marches are quickly stopped by the effective counter measure of open fire. Once fear has overtaken the non-reigning population, the Gilead regime, as it is called, executes its full, demented, horrifying plan for humanity.

As it was published in 1986, while I was learning to read, I missed its first wave of popularity. When I bought it, I had no idea why it was suddenly popping up on every list, but as soon as I read this line I understood with great clarity: “Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” Because, really, that is what we are all doing now. Even those of us making calls to our representatives and signing petitions. In between these moments of empowerment we are becoming acquainted with a new normal. It’s disturbing to see this from Atwood’s lens— the risk of it, the reality that one turn of power can beget another. And another. And another.

There are lines in this book that could serve as a direct response to things happening in our nation. On healthcare, try this quotation: “Better never means better for everyone,” he says. “It always means worse, for some.” Or, more generally, how about this one? “Perhaps he’s reached that state of intoxication which power is said to inspire, the state in which you believe you are indispensable and can therefore do anything, absolutely anything you feel like, anything at all.” (This led me to grunt. Perhaps a certain leader is just constantly drunk?)

They say the truth is stranger than fiction. I’m a believer in this. There are many things that have happened to me that my editor would red line with “readers won’t buy this.” When I finished The Handmaid’s Tale I found myself praying that fiction would prove stranger than the truth. Although now, even more than before, I’m on high alert.

Abby Fabiaschi

Art Books Personal Essays Relationships

It’s Norman’s Fault.

imgres-2I have been pondering who is to blame for the misconception of the “normal” American Family that we all struggle to overcome when our own families don’t quite measure up. Okay, forget the “don’t quite measure up.” Let’s call a spade a spade: Our families look nothing like the Leave it to Beaver, or even Modern Family models that we all love to turn on each week. There is no sign of the real sadness, anger, and stress of being part of an American family, and this makes us feel isolated in our inability to get it right. And, then there is the environment they live in lacking in the unmade beds or dishes in the sink that beg to be found out if anyone were to drop by your house on a given day. Maybe that’s why no one drops by anymore. And please do not get me started about the way Facebook enables us to re-write our daily lives into smiling faces and fabulous news that hide the real ebb and flow emotions of our own reality.

Anyway, I’ve figured it out. It’s Norman’s fault. Yep, Norman Rockwell, who happens to have the same birthday as me. He set up this ridiculous measuring stick that has no basis in reality. His artistic masterpiece covers for The Saturday Evening Post of happy, happy, happy Thanksgiving dinners and American life portraits were clearly set nowhere near my family’s Thanksgiving dinners, to which I was assigned to bring cranberry sauce in a can because no one liked me. Or Christmas when I was little, when my mother once gave me of a picture of myself as a gift. I immediately realized it was a photo of my sister, not me, which confirmed that no one ever took pictures of me when I was little because I wasn’t cute. (I’m cuter now. Actually, I was cuter in my twenties and thirties than I am now, but who wasn’t?) Anyway, the point is that Norman set us up to believe that someone, somewhere in America, was living the way his 322 Saturday Evening Review covers depicted, and he knew he was lying.

Norman was married three times and suffered from depression throughout most of his adult life. His repressed sexuality (he painted lots of men and boys), fear of women, and a fascination with manhood seem to stand out as his personal struggle, according to his biographer, Deborah Soloman, who worked on his biography, American Mirror: The Life of Norman Rockwell, for ten years. Of his 322 covers, only three depict a traditional family of parents and children. Who knew?

Soloman’s look at Rockwell has drawn a lot of criticism from those who prefer to let his paintings’ depiction of life be seen as his life’s reality, which was clearly not the case. His life was filled with the dark side that never saw the light of day in his paintings. His shrink, for example, spoke of suicidal moments and repressed everything. One of this models jumped out a window after he dropped him with nary a word, as was the painter’s habit. When Deborah Soloman spoke in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a woman in the audience stood up and said, “You’ve taken all the optimism out of Rockwell’s work.” Well, girlfriend, wake up and smell the paint brush. His work wasn’t portraits after all, but rather something I’m going to dub American Surrealism Under the Guise of Portraits. It sets everyone up for failure by encouraging them to reach for something that doesn’t exist. It’s like You’ve Got Mail, or Pretty Woman, two movies that depict love in such an unrealistic way that many women never find men who measure up. More American Surrealism. Hey, I’m just the messenger. And, I’m a reluctant messenger. I love Rockwell’s work and Pretty Woman and You’ve Got Mail are two films I watch at least once a year.

So, don’t get me wrong here. I write this not to complain about any lack of fabulousness in life; I love my life, past, present, and hopefully my future. But it’s important to recognize that there are ups and downs and imperfections and shades of gray in everything, and to accept this and realize that no one’s life is perfect makes those parts of our daily life so much easier to bear. If Norman had painted the kid getting his first haircut crying, instead of with that silly look of happy surprise, he might have given us a better mirror of our own lives. Couldn’t one face in the Thanksgiving Feast have been sullen? Just one out of the eleven in the picture? Come on, give a girl a break here. Make me feel at home.

So Norman, I forgive you. And after reading about your life a bit, I will say that it must have been hard to be held to a standard you knew didn’t exist, but which you somehow must have thought could exist. Or should exist. Maybe if you had tried just a little bit harder, it would have existed.

Books History Women

My Friend Maya

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-1-600x411I want to pay tribute to my friend, Maya Angelou. She passed away today, and I want to say a few things about her.

Maya was the first one to teach me about good energy. She believed that if you spent time lessening the worth of another by speaking ill of them then the negative energy would be part of you. When you entered her house, you were not allowed to speak of others unless it was positive, and off color jokes or political attacks were simply not permitted. On one occasion, in front of ten or so people, she walked up to someone, held out their coat, and said, “I think it’s time for you to leave now.” The person left, and the lesson was learned.

It wasn’t just that she believed in positive energy begetting positive energy that made me sit up and take notice of that experience. Perhaps more important to me was that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone. Standing up for that in which she believed, regardless of the personal loss, was always worth it to her, and so it has become worth it to me. In the years since the incident, I have left behind more friends than I have made, and I don’t regret a one of them. I could walk up to someone and ask them to leave my house now. I hope I never will, but I think I could which is where the lesson and the growth of me as a person lives.

When she was seven she was raped. She told a group of people what happened, and they beat the man to death. She believed that it was her voice that did him in. She felt so guilty that she stopped speaking for five and a half years. Her grandmother told everyone she would speak when she was ready. And, she did. I am in awe. Five and a half years. You learn a lot in that much silence. Perhaps that is why words went from being a weapon inside her to her gift to the ages.

And, what a way she has with words. I’m not going to list all the Maya words that I have held dear over the years, but the quote I hear inside me the most, the one that has lifted guilt from me at my darkest times is “when you know better, you do better.” When you know better, you do better. I say it out loud and hope that I do offer my best, which is sometimes lacking in the brilliant potential that is mine. And, when I realize I haven’t, I regroup, and I do better. Try it, it’s better than confession.

20130519-sss-maya-angelou-quotes-3-600x411Then there was the time she said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” It made me realize that I wanted to start acting the way I want to be remembered. Oh what a gift my friend and mentor Maya has left behind for us all.

I have to add her poetry. She is the first poet in whose work I saw my own reflection. And, she is the first poet that woke up the cobwebbed inner shelves of my mind to the wonders of what I might become and what I have done. Take a moment to list to her Woman Phenomenally. Do yourself a favor.

And, her books. Have  you read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I hope so, or maybe I hope not so you can read it for the first time now. The first time for something that amazing is always the best.

Maya is the first of my mentors to die because she was old and her life was lived to its natural conclusion. I think that makes it worse. That her time has come, rather than being snatched before she gave me all she had to give, means that she gave me all she had to give. I’m a greedy girl to want more when she gave so much. Shame on me. And, how to hold her close? To squeeze everything she had to offer – to respect her by listening to lessons over and over again? I will try to continue to go back to her lessons and the memories she left behind. Often.

I guess I should mention I didn’t personally know Maya Angelou. I know I write about her here as if I did, and that is a credit to her, not to me. She was a close friend to all that wanted to listen and to learn from her. So, I’m allowed to say she was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend. She would smile at that.


Books Fashion Women

Ooh la la! Book Review

Ooh la la! Book ReviewI must start with a few disclosure disclaimers. First, Jamie Cat Callan, Ooh La La’s author, is in my blogging group, and I actually like her a lot, so if I were not inclined to give her a good review, I would not have reviewed the book. Second, and perhaps more relevant, I was married to a Frenchman for a number of years. He’s the father of the fabulous daughter Sarah, about whom I am not allowed to blog. Although Yves-Andre (get the picture?) lived most of his life in the United States, he is very, very French. I have been to France more times than I’ve gone through tollbooths, so you can imagine. Also, I’m very, very American — that is, not French — and the thought of reviewing a book called Ooh La La did not thrill me. To be honest, I found the French less than friendly, especially when I was ordering Diet Coke in a five-star restaurant. Or when they wouldn’t let us fly over France to bomb Libya, which they really should have done themselves, but were afraid to do. All that bitterness aside, I do so very much admire French women — the way they carry themselves, and the way they wear their age with grace and joy. Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the book.

I didn’t expect to take Ooh La La seriously. The name alone sent me running. I’m more of a “Really?” person. Not Ooh La La. Lightweight, I assumed snottily. Frivolous. Fun, but without depth. Just goes to show you should pay attention to the old adage that says not to judge a book by its cover. This book is an important look at American women and how we may be selling ourselves short, and how the women in that strange land called France may have much to teach us. It may change you.

It is filled — filled, I tell you — with self-help tidbits told in charming, easy-to-stomach prose and stories that illuminate a subject that has been the Holy Grail for so many of us here across the pond in America — aging gracefully. “Aging gracefully” is an oxymoron where I live. You must be young to be graceful and relevant. Not so in France, and the book takes us behind the scenes to show us why. Combine it with Lean In, and you could change American women forever.

“Oh, and she’s old, so she’s got all that experience,” says someone Cat Callan interviews in the book. Right. Experience. That’s worth something? Oh my! I realize now that I need to wear my experience on my sleeve, and that I needn’t hide my age in nondescript clothing the way I do. Step to the front no matter what your age! Stand out! It reminded me of shopping in France and noticing that Valentino goes up to a higher size in Paris than it does in the U.S. I once asked Valentino why, and he told me that thin American women do not like to see larger women in the same clothes they are wearing. I am sure you are wondering why I was in a position to ask Valentino anything, and I’m not going to answer that. As we age, we women step to the back of the bus to give up the front seats to those who are younger. We dress down. We speak less. Ooh La La shows another side of us, a side that celebrates age and shows that you grow in worth with your age. Amazing.

In the same section, Cat Callan goes on to describe another woman’s home, and all the objects she has on the walls representing things that move her. She has clearly accumulated these things over the course of a lifetime. She talks about greens and browns and golds, and she says her living room is “awash” in those colors and objects of personal meaning. When I read that, I immediately got up to hang a few things that have been leaning against my wall since I moved in more than a year ago. I’m not kidding. Surround myself with things that make me feel good? That make me feel? Oh la la! And they somehow come together to tell the story of me? Forget the Story of O. I am going to start telling the story of me.

She talks about finding clothing pieces that are your icons. For Jamie, it’s a sailor shirt. For me, I guess it would be pearls. No, maybe a black cashmere sweater and pants. I love black on black, but I am happy to know it’s my iconic clothing image, rather than the darkest color I can find. It defines me. I was never defined by fashion before. Ooh La La taught me the context for my own personal style. Love it.

Jamie, you lost me in the lingerie department. Lingerie, Cat Callan’s interviewee states, is for the person wearing it, and no one else. Someone in France once told her that Americans, when they came to Plymouth Rock, needed to lose that part of themselves to survive. Well, that explains it. I’m a Mayflower girl — sixteen generations ago my people came to this land, so it’s no wonder I’m a black Victoria’s Secret cotton hipster person. Nonetheless, this is the one area I do not feel enlightened after reading about. I’m into comfort. But there was something I liked about the idea of wearing what you want underneath for you, not for anyone else. It’s like making your bed when you live alone, when you know no one is coming over. You feel better when you go to get into it. Note to self: Find undergarments (I don’t have the will to even call them lingerie) that are functional but a little different. I want to find something unexpected that no one else will see, but I will know is there. I will try some and see if I feel differently. Maybe it will nudge me to leave that ice cream to some other aging woman who doesn’t wear underwear for her own pleasure.

Perfume. I used to wear Hermes’ Amazon (Amazone), and I have no idea when I stopped. Most perfumes smelled too fru-fru for me. But when I smelled Amazon on one of those trips to France, I knew it was “me.” I finished the book and ordered it from, of all places, I crack myself up. Buying $200 perfume at I’m sure it would have been better if I’d gone to Hermes as part of the “experience,” but I live on Cape Cod and didn’t want to wait a month until I’m in New York to do it. I’m wondering if that might ruin its nuance. More importantly, I’d forgotten that I loved the way it smells, and the way I smelled wearing it. The book reminded me of the importance of saying, “It’s me, Christine, and this is the aroma I want to leave behind.” Wow. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

Bring it all together, everything the book talks about — fragrance, clothing, aging, environment, and yes, sex (that is a chapter I will leave to your private review; it was mind-blowing) — and you have a new you. The you you were meant to be. Ooh La La is a reminder that you get to choose so many, many things about who you are and how you want to be seen. Your own personal elegance. Jamie starts each chapter with a well-chosen quote from some French fashion person. I will leave you with my favorite.

Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.

– Coco Chanel

This book will help you do just that. Take possession of your future. Buy it. Read it. Gift it. Hurry.

Books Movies & TV

Movie Review: Les Miserable

“Those who do not weep, do not see.”
–Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

imagesI wept through much of Les Misérables, and Tom Hopper, Les Mis’s Director, earned every fallen tear. I wasn’t alone. Everyone around me wept, and since it was a sold-out crowd, we were weeping very close to the strangers who surrounded us. It was no matter. We were all in the tragedy together. We all knew there would be pain and death, still hopeful to see what the other side of that coin held, and we felt it deep inside. I am a better person for having seen this movie.

It’s hard to bring a play to the screen, especially a musical. I think some of the great musicals have been ruined by the screen. Annie. Phantom of the Opera. Evita. Such disappointments. Maybe the problem with Evita was Madonna, who could never be Eva Perón, but whatever the reason, it didn’t work. Chicago? Don’t get me started. Les Misérables is better on the screen. The story lends itself to the fluidity of the scene changes, which are less disruptive in a movie. Or it might be that the way it was filmed, having the actors sing their lines on camera rather than in the studio, made it work better. I generally don’t like dialogue in song, and I was worried about it before I saw the movie, but you hardly notice it. And this new method of acting with singing in tandem to acting could be the reason why.

Really, it’s all about Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, which I have been lost in since the movie. Hugo somehow understood that the pendulum swings equally toward bad and good, and he knew how to bring that understanding to life through storytelling. The worse the bad, the greater the capability for good. The so very believable love at first sight between Marius and Cosette cannot be taken in without the hate felt by Javert toward Jean Valjean. Les Misérables has all the sensations of living a truly full, human, flawed life. Love. Weakness. Strength. Hatred. Charity. Faith. Betrayal. But love is the greatest of them all.

“When love has fused and mingled two beings in a sacred and angelic unity, the secret of life has been discovered so far as they are concerned; they are no longer anything more than the two boundaries of the same destiny; they are no longer anything but the two wings of the same spirit. Love, soar.”
―Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Can’t wait to talk about the acting.

Anne Hathaway, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing you. Despite the hype, I find you somewhat ridiculous, and it did not occur to me you had it in you. But you do. Your scene singing perhaps one of the greatest songs written for the stage is by far the best one ever done. I am a fan forever. Hugh Jackman, I felt your pain. Your love. Your charity. You embodied every emotion that matters to me, and each time you wore it, you did it from within. Have you recovered yet? You must win the Academy Award for this performance, not just because it was the best I’ve seen this year, but also because it matters. It showed us the potential we carry within ourselves, and a grateful viewer thanks you for this. Amanda Syfried, the innocent Cosette, was predictably poised on the screen, but seemed to struggle a bit with her high notes. Truth is, I don’t much like her. Saw her on Letterman, which I recognize is a ridiculous reference, but she was a twit, and I just can’t say much about her. Russell. Russell. Russell. I want to be kind here—the movie makes me want to do that—but alas, you were not up to the job. I respect you greatly, and my disappointment was less in your performance than in the fact that you should have known this was not your role to play, and you should have left it for someone else. A bunch of us decided Bono could have played the role, and he could have sung it well too. This is the worst of your crimes, Russell. Lastly, your singing talent wasn’t up to the challenge. I contend you knew it all along. Just as you knew Jean Valjean was a better man than you.

But the character who stole my heart was Eponine. Lonely, suffering Eponine, brilliantly portrayed by Samantha Barks, who is new to the screen. I hope to see her again and again. Her minimalist approach to her character made her all the stronger.  Her voice was kind and gentle in its painful message, and I could hear it inside my soul. You were marvelous, and don’t let anyone leave you out of the kudos because you haven’t had box office draw capability. Your time will come.

There are a few small things to iron out. The opening scene with the ship being pulled into port. Not so much. Sorry. The scene in the Inn. Offensively over the top. Out of place a bit. Unnecessary. The two coffins set in front of the barricade. Not so much. The butterflies when Cosette sees Marius in the garden. Don’t be ridiculous. But those are minor offenses in a movie that spans a generation and teaches us everything about life in two and a half hours. There are those who say it was too long. It was not too long. It was the length it needed to be to tell the story at a pace that allowed us to take it in.

“Diamonds are found only in the dark bowels of the earth; truths are found only in the depths of thought. It seemed to him that after descending into those depths after long groping in the blackest of this darkness, he had at last found one of these diamonds, one of these truths, and that he held it in his hand; and it blinded him to look at it. (pg. 231)”
―Victor Hugo , Les Misérables

We were taken to the depths of the dark bowels, and for a few hours we were shown great truths there, and we emerged better for it.

Books Health

Book Review: The Miles Levin Story

I was sent an advance copy of The Miles Levin Story for reviewing, so I lit a fire last night and sat on the couch to look through some reading matter, and I started to read the book. I didn’t stop until I finished it early this morning.

Miles Levin got cancer when he was sixteen and died when he was eighteen. While his friends were going off to college and starting the next phase of their lives, Miles was ending his and trying to find a way to do it without malice toward the thing that was taking his future away. And he did it. Look, it’s not an easy read. At least it wasn’t for me. As I read, I was looking for symptoms that someone I love might have. I was disquieted to know that he dies in the end, and that cancer is a part of each of our lives in some way or other. If you are the least bit human, you hope you are in the percentage that doesn’t get it, even though doctors now say that if you live long enough, you will at some point.

But I digress.

Miles has some powerful messages for those of us who search for true meaning, for something that just might mean there is a point to being here.

“What you will one day realize is that death is not something to fear, it is only something which one must come to understand… On a personal level, it doesn’t look to be an unpleasant experience. It’s pretty neutral as far as I’m concerned. There is a primordial terror of The Great Unknown, all instincts pitted against it, but these primitive feelings can be transcended. See, things only matter in context… In the silent contextlessness, everything is alright. Because there is never going to be enough time to do everything you want to do, but the time I’ve had  has been time enough – time enough to make the world a better place for having been here, I like to think, if only in limited circles.”

His theme throughout is that he was sort of a guy just getting through, always late to life’s events and duties, and not really doing much of anything. Then cancer delivered its blows, one by one, and each day mattered more and more. By writing his blog, he was able to accomplish something, to be somebody. He felt that if he hadn’t had it, he might have just lived for decades always ten minutes late, leaving nothing behind that mattered. It sounds so fake when I write it, so insincere (could anyone be that good?), but as you labor through the book and his pain and pleasure, you can see that he really did have the epiphany of life that we all search within our souls to find. He found his purpose in being here. He was okay with leaving.

Look, I don’t mean to imply that Miles was a saint—he wasn’t, and he didn’t want to die. “I am doing fine because I refvse to do otherwise. That much is mine. Attempts to extinguish my fire thus far have only intensified it.” Fight. Fight. Fight.

My mother died of cancer this year. I’m still facing it. This book really helped me come to a peaceful terms with the insidious disease that took her. I urge you to get it, read it, and pass it on. It’s more than a journey of death; it’s a celebration of life, and it’s guidebook that teaches you not to fear the end that comes to us all.

Before cancer, I was a nobody. A nice guy, perhaps, but I didn’t have my act together at all, and perhaps never would. Then my hour came, and you have assured me with your words, tears, and prayers that I have delivered. In showing me that I have changed many of you profoundly, you have done for me all that I could ever want or need.”

Books History Movies & TV Music Politics

Best of 2011

It’s Best of time again, and here are my best of choices from this past year.

Best Song

No question on this one. Someone Like You by Adele.

With lyrics like regrets and mistakes, they are memories made, there is nothing more to be said. The only issue with this song is that they are playing it too much. They did that to Celine Dion’s song for Titanic and I wanted to shoot myself every time it came on the radio.

Chris Martin (the fabulous Gwenyth’s husband), said in a 60 Minutes interview that he is very competitive and strives to do new things always. He said he wished he’d written Someone Like You, and when he heard it for the first time, he stayed up all night trying to write something amazing.

Best Movie

I think I’m going with Win Win this year. Maybe I’m choosing it because no one else has picked it, and I think it’s being overlooked when it should be celebrated.

Opening dialog between mother and child.

“Mommy, where is Daddy?”

“He’s running.”

“From what?”

And, I love the vulnerability of the good and bad in our main character. I have been cheated by someone close, and I think this movie helped me to see that desperate people do desperate things that are not within the realm of who they are inside themselves. Great flick.

Best Quote

I am going to give you a few. The first is not substantial enough to carry the category, but I loved it.

“Rick Perry is a candidate for Republicans who thought that George W. Bush was too cerebral.”

Paul Begala, Democratic strategist, on Rick Perry’s potential entry into the 2012 presidential field.

“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” 

The last words of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs were reported by his sister Mona Simpson in her eulogy.

And, last but not least,

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.”

2012 Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren

Best TV Show

I know, I know. I can hear you now. “Christine, you are showing your shallow side,” but I loved Pan Am. I fear they aren’t renewing it, but I loved it. I loved the strong women bucking systems that we girls (I was under ten years old back then) didn’t even know existed. I love the way they didn’t let the chauvinists enter their own psyche. I loved the glamour. Cuba. Italy. Come on. It was fabulous, and if you didn’t watch it, find it and watch it now.

Best Tweet

I’m so tired of Oprah already. The woman truly thinks she’s God! Today she’s at Barnes & Noble signing copies of the Bible.

Joan Rivers

Best Book

Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie. It’s a tantalizing portrait and I read it well into the night a number of nights in a row to not miss a word. Read it. I wish they would use books like this in history classes instead of teaching history in a war to war series. Note to history teachers.

That’s it for this year’s best of.

Happy New Year Freesia Lane readers. I hope all good things come your way this year.


Books Religion

Ok Victor. I Lose, You Win

So, you all remember my friends Victor and Cathryn, who live in the now-distant land of Los Angeles. Cathryn and I are best friends from long, long ago in the seventies, when we lived together in an apartment whose living room we painted Grecian Rose, which made it very Bordello-like, and we thought we were awesome. She is my cheap friend who brings fine maple syrup into IHOP, which she introduced me to when I first landed in La-La Land three years ago.

Well, Cathryn’s husband Victor is much wiser than us, but he loves us both just the way we are and puts up with our infantile approach to chocolate (i.e., eating it whenever he isn’t in the house). He also puts up with the Housewives shows that we must discuss at dinners out while he rolls his eyes in exasperation, and he puts up with our generally reckless, ridiculous behavior, which shows we are still stuck in the seventies.

Anyway, last January Cathryn and I decided to fulfill a bucket-list item and read the Bible from cover to cover. We bought identical Bibles at Barnes and Noble before seeing some movie or other. The movie was intellectually too lowbrow for Victor’s taste, but he had nothing else to do and no other friends around, so he joined us anyway. After the movie we were discussing the year of the Bible read over lunch.

Victor started it all. “You two will never read the Bible this year. It will not happen.”

“Why Victor, why ever would you say that?” I asked.

“Because you two never finish anything except a box of Ring Dings, and reading the Bible is a huge commitment to excellence and intellectual curiosity—and commitment is something that neither one of you has ever mastered.”

Ouch, Victor.

We were both outraged. Outraged, I tell you.

“Victor,” I said haughtily. “Put your big money where your big mouth is. How much?”

It’s hard to remember exactly how the conversation went, and I’m hoping that the answer was $100—but my gut tells me there was additional conversation about how if it wasn’t enough, we wouldn’t take it seriously, and so it would have to be $1,000. Actually, I know it was $1,000 but I’m hoping he doesn’t. Actually, we all know it was $1,000, and I’m screwed.

Here is the bottom line. We read the first chapter and discussed it. Genesis. VERY depressing, VERY repetitive, and filled with much more violence than I had realized. We hated it. If the truth be known, that was the last chapter I can honestly say I read. Cathryn? I can’t speak for her, but I can say with certainty that she didn’t finish the book. She would have gloated.

I have recently joined a Bible Study Group and am reading Corinthians now, and again, the writing style has no style. It’s repetitive, and let’s face it, Paul is nothing if not inconsistent. But I’m in it to win it, and still going.

Which leads me to the point. You were right, Victor, and I was wrong, and I owe you $1,000, which is a lot of money. I am writing to eat crow in front of the world and to see if you are interested in double-or-nothing for next year? If not, I will send the check, but only because I have to try to be a woman of my word—which clearly isn’t the case, or I would have finished the Bible when I said I would.

So, you interested in double-or-nothing or what?