Sunday, November 23, 2008

The "Twilight" of my years...

I'm 39 years old. I know that. I don't try to pretend I'm younger. I don't lie about my age when people ask it.

When I was 21, I was flying from Hawaii to Phoenix, tanned and young, happy with the memories of a summer spent working at a vegetarian cafe. The flight attendant came down the aisle before the flight started, stopped at the boy in front of me, leaned over him, and asked, "Is this your first time flying?" He answered, "Yes." She said, "Then wait here after the plane lands, and we'll make sure you get to your connection."

Then she smiled as she leaned over me next and said, "And is this your first time flying, too?" I smiled back at her and said, "Noooo," thinking my boyfriend had found a way to play a trick on me. She asked how old I was, and when I told her I was 21, she stood up straight and looked horrified. "I am SO sorry," she said. "I thought you were much younger and that maybe you needed help getting to your next gate." I politely thanked her and told her I'd been traveling on my own for some time now and could make my connection without help.

So that was nearly 20 years ago. No one's going to mistake me as a kid anymore--nor a teenager, nor would I likely get carded in a bar. And all that's just fine with me. I was never comfortable as a teenager--not remotely. I didn't know how to talk to most other teens, didn't know how to care about the things they cared about, didn't know how to giggle and roll my eyes and gripe about my parents and form cliques for the exclusive purpose of being exclusive. I was never in danger of being voted Homecoming Queen or Most Popular or class president. In many ways, I feel like I skipped over those years entirely, going straight from the girl who might have needed help finding her next gate to the young woman flying home alone after a summer on Kauai.

But--and it's a pretty big and telling but, I think--I love YA fiction. Perhaps it's precisely because I skipped over those years that I dwell in them now. I read plenty of adult fiction, too, of course. In fact, I'd say my reading taste is more eclectic than the average reader's. But I have a tender little spot in my heart right now for the YA label, such a tender little spot that not only do I read it but I write it as well.

So (and here we get to the point) I was drawn to the Twilight series when it came out however many years ago. And I read the sequels within a week of publication, having very firm opinions about whether I preferred Edward or Jacob (Jacob, by the way) and whether I thought Bella was a strong young woman (no, by the way) and whether the name Renesmee is THE lamest name ever of any character ever (that'd be a yes).

And when word spread that the movie was in the works, I had opinions about their choice for Edward (not happy at first, but he grew on me) and Bella (I liked the actress but not her rendering of Bella) and the previews of the special effects (do I really need to comment on this?). I eagerly awaited the movie's opening, ready to sit with my popcorn and pass judgment.

What I was NOT ready to do and had not awaited, eagerly or otherwise, was the experience of watching this with hundreds (literally) of teenage girls who are the real deal. They're teenagers! They're the girls I never "got" in high school. They're the ones who talked about makeup and shoes and cheerleading tryouts while I passed them in the halls, well aware of their eyerolling as I did. They're the reason, I confess, I was okay with skipping right to 21.

Here's what it was like in that theater last night:

The lights went out for the previews: SCREAM! The previews ended: SCREAM! The Cullens walk into the cafeteria: SCREAM! Then Edward comes in: OMG! OMG! SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM!!! And when the girls weren't screaming, they were talking out loud about how Edward or the other vampires looked in that last scene. "I know! Did you see him! OMG I LOVE him!" Carlisle Cullen comes to Bella's beside: SCREAM! Edward's car squeals in to save Bella: SCREAM! They almost kiss: SCREAM! Even after it was over, girls were screaming every time a still shot of one of the Cullens popped up on the screen. We were waiting outside for some of the girls we brought (none of whom screamed, I'm happy to say) and several groups of girls came out a different exit, all still screaming and holding their hands up to their faces like they couldn't contain themselves. One girl ran over to the movie poster and took a picture with her phone, nearly in tears with excitement. I've never seen anything like it. It was like watching those old news reels of the Beatles fans. If I hadn't been there in that theater, I wouldn't have believed it.

And now it's official: watching "Twilight" made me realize I'm old. I'm not just 39. I'm old! And I have been for a long time. Only, I didn't notice until last night when the screams drowned out half the dialogue and the sighs drowned out the other half, and all I could think was, "Thank God I'm not a teenager." I was so inept the first time that the thought of living through those years again and again and again as vampires do horrifies me.

(And don't bother me with details such as "Vampires don't really exist." My blog, my musings.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Note to casting directors

Because I'm sure dozens are reading this blog...

Yet I have something to say to them if they were so inclined to listen. And here it is:

Stop casting well-known actors as the villains in TV dramas. Just stop it. Stop! Do you think we're stupid (don't tell my kids I used that word, please)? Do you think we don't know that when Scott Wolf shows up in the third scene of CSI he's going to be the guy the cops are looking for? Sure, he's not an A-list actor these days, but he's familiar enough that we know he's not going to be gone by the next scene. And tossing Chris Daughtry in to throw us off doesn't work. He's not an actor; he's a singer. Of course, he's not going to be the one to sweat it out when the cops drag him in for questioning. He had a few good lines last night, but he was just the surprise guest star, not the jerk who ran the girl over with his car then fled the scene.

This is why I don't watch TV dramas anymore--at least not the police dramas. I only watched it last night b/c I was reading a good book and can multi-task. I don't watch the dramas because "who done it" is never a mystery. Never. Ever. And I want to scream at Gary Sinise (whom I adore, by the way) and his ilk: "It's Scott Wolf!! You know . . . 'Party of Five?' He's your guy. Don't let him leave the precinct."

I'm also not a huge mystery reader, although it was a mystery I was reading last night. Sure, I attended Bouchercon this year, the big mystery convention. But I attended primarily because it was (relatively) inexpensive, I wanted to meet a friend in person finally who was going, and because Charlaine Harris was there. Generally, I don't bother picking up a mystery because I can figure out pretty quickly who the killer is and I'm always annoyed the detective in the story can't. This isn't a slam to mystery authors, and I'm not implying I'm smarter than the average mystery reader. I just don't have the patience to wade through a book once I know the outcome. Sure, I'm occasionally surprised (Anne Perry, for instance), but the writing has to be really stellar for me to stay engaged otherwise.

The mystery series I'm reading currently is so good that I don't even care about the solving, though. It's by Phil Rickman and is about a female vicar in England (do they have "vicars" elsewhere?) who becomes an exorcist for the church. It's not anywhere near as creepy as it sounds and the writing is just. so. incredible. that I forget to try to figure out who the bad guys are. It's a thoroughly engaging read that goes beyond any mystery series or author I've ever read before.

Maybe that's what the problem is with "CSI," "Law & Order," and other police dramas: the writing needs to outshine the casting. If I were so into the story that I don't care when Scott Wolf comes into the scene, then I'd be engaged enough to care about how the mystery gets solved from there or how the characters interact with each other or what the dialog is like. Great dialog will keep me reading or watching virtually anything. Thus my love of "Buffy"--I didn't watch every single blasted episode of that series to find out if Buffy and Angel stay together or if Spike ever wins her over. I watched it because I loved the dialog. It was brilliant.

But I digress. Back to the casting directors: Stop. Seriously. Please. You're more insulting than reality shows. Then again, if I'm not watching you, I can be reading more, can't I? Or waiting for Joss Whedon's new show, "Dollhouse," to premier in February.

So nevermind. As you were. Just be aware you're not fooling any of us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas covers they should never have attempted

Our local "lite-music" radio station has already begun playing Christmas songs. In the last 36 hours, I have heard "The Little Drummer Boy" sung by, I think, Jessica Simpson. And, really, once was enough for the entire season--not that I have anything against her personally. That's just not one of my favorite songs to begin with and to have to hear it this many times in such a short span of time? Frankly, it's cruel. It's enough to drive the Christmas spirit out of me in a violent sort of exorcism.

And as much as I love Christmas music, some songs were simply never meant to be sung by anyone except the original recording artist.

Willie Nelson: "Frosty the Snowman"

I love Willie Nelson. Truly. He doesn't have the greatest voice of country western singers. Even at his prime, he always sounded a bit like Katherine Hepburn on steroids. But he's easy to listen to and you just gotta love a guy who hasn't changed a bit in more than 50 years. Marijuana-possession arrests or not, Willie is a true icon. "You Were Always on My Mind" nearly makes me weep, and I think the Pet Shop Boys should have left it alone. (Elvis did it justice as well. But David Hasselhoff? So wrong in so many ways.)

Yet when it comes to Willie singing "Frosty?" I just can't support the man on this one. Although I did do a little looking around, and found this: "In 1972, Walter Rollins admitted in an interview with Life magazine that initially the concept of Frosty the Snowman was written as a cautionary tale pertaining to the scare of "nuclear winter" and initially it was said that nuclear fallout mixed with the snow and children's dreams of a world without war were what brought Frosty to life, but the publishers and Gene Autry thought that the song would have more commercial value as a children's Christmas song" (thank you, Wikipedia). As an activist, perhaps no one is better suited to record this song as originally intended than Willie. So although I'm not crazy about his version, I won't turn the radio off when it comes on.

Barry Manilow: "Let It Snow"

I own this man's greatest hits and love most of them, even the cheesiest and corniest of the bunch. I love the Band-Aid jingle, and the State Farm jingle isn't too bad either. (Although I loathe State Farm itself. But that's a different post entirely.) But "Let It Snow" in Barry's mellow tenor? It's just not terribly authentic. Yet this is also the man who sings "Looks Like We Made It." ANYthing can be forgiven after that song. It makes me ache like no other love song out there. Go ahead and listen to it and tell me you don't want to crawl into a corner with your blankie and relive some college memories.

John Denver: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

There is no singer out there I love and adore more than John Denver. As you may recall, he died around the same time as Princess Di. My little sister called me during the middle of the night when Princess Di died, but I wasn't nearly as upset as she was. But when John Denver died? I cried like a psycho fan. (That's a lower-case psycho, not Psycho the movie, although that's a good one, too--just not terribly reminiscent of Christmas.) Everything about John Denver moves me. He may have sold himself for Grape-Nuts, which are killer on my TMJ, but I love him, his music, his efforts to save the world, and his admission that he was just a country boy who could screw up as efficiently as the next guy. And because I love him so much, I refuse to listen to him sing "Rudolph." It's more depressing than "Follow Me."

Wayne Newton: any of them!

I readily--perhaps too readily--admit I'm a rabid fan of Wayne Newton. The YOUNG Wayne Newton. The Wayne that sang alto and soprano. The Wayne I was SO sure was a woman the first several times I heard him. The Wayne of "Danke Schoen" and "Too Late to Meet" and "Bill Bailey" and "Summer Wind" (which, without apologies, I like way better than the Frank Sinatra version). So when I bought his Christmas cd a couple of years ago, I knew the move was risky. I knew I might end up with the Wayne that "sings" in Vegas today. The Wayne that is overtanned and overstretched. The Wayne that stormed out of an interview with Whoopie Goldberg years ago. (Okay, he was joking, but she didn't know that initially. I'm happy to say the man has a sense of humor about himself.) And, sadly, that's exactly the cd I ended up with. I couldn't even listen to all of the songs it was so awful. Let that be a warning to any of you out there who are also rabid Wayne-Newton fans. I'm sure there are millions.

But if listening to each Christmas song of his meant I could meet him in person some day? Well, I'd be playing it right now instead of writing this. I connect Wayne Newton to some of my best college memories and Barry Manilow to the rest of those best memories. Again, another post entirely.

Happy Caroling!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One of "those" moms

Simon, my 6th grader, wants to be a writer some day. For some reason, seeing me get rejected hasn't deterred him--perhaps because it hasn't deterred me either. I try to take my rejections cheerfully, gleaning something from them and telling him this is a subjective business: "I don't like every book I look at in a store, so I can't expect everyone to like mine either, right?" And he sees me at my computer during every free moment I can, typing away (or sometimes screaming at my characters to do something worth notice), so he knows a few dozen (I'm being kind to myself today) nos won't send me to bed a month.

But last week, he came home, discouraged about writing for the first time. He'd written a memoir for his reading class and had received an 82.5 on it. "Now I'm not sure any of the stuff I've been writing is any good." Again, I gave him the pep talk I give myself on a regular basis and told him it was just one paper, just one teacher's opinion, and that he has to keep going.

Then I switched into mom mode. I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say I read the memoir (after asking her to send it home, which right there bothered me because if an assignment is going to count for roughly one-third of a child's final grade in a class, shouldn't the parent get to see it before grades are finalized and distributed? yeah, I think so, too), disagreed with her grading system, and respectfully wrote a letter last night telling her so, then had Simon take it with him to school today.

So now I suppose I'm one of "those" moms. I'm a parent teachers will dread having in for conferences. I'm interfering. I'm distrusting. I'm suspicious. I'm fodder for coffee- and lunch-break discussions and plenty of eye rolling and heavy sighs and "oh. my. gosh. I can't believe she said that!"

A couple of years ago I probably wouldn't have said a word to the teacher. I'd have given Simon the "hang-in-there" speech and let it go at that. But now I can't. If I'm truly convinced writing taste is subjective, how can I, at the same time, convince Simon receiving a number grade on an essay makes sense. How can you grade subjectivity? Did he do everything he was supposed to? Did he spell all the words correctly? Did he have a beginning, a middle, and an end? Did he have a title? The correct number of paragraphs? Did he stay on topic? Because none of those things are subjective. You want to grade him on the specifics, then okay. He still didn't deserve a C-. But to grade him on voice and give him a C-? Well, I'm okay with being one of "those" moms for the moment.

Perhaps I'm also going to bat for myself here because I have to believe a couple of things. First of all, I have to believe there are no rubrics out there that agents keep beside their computers, giving me a number grade on my partials or fulls: "80% for voice, 90% for subject matter, 60% for word choice, 90% for conventions. 80% average. This will never sell. Rejection letter." I have to believe someone will read my manuscript and say, "Okay. I like this. Maybe even a lot." And if they never do, then I can chalk it up to personal taste and keep writing simply because I love to write.

And second of all, I have to believe that my 11-year-old won't become discouraged with writing before he even gets the chance to try, before he gets the chance to not just enjoy it but to love it.
Stephen King said, "Fear is at the root of all bad writing." I want Simon to learn to write without fear not just so he'll be good but so he'll be happy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Deathbed humor and going toward the light

My father taught American history for 19 years before quitting because he could no longer stand the administration. He loved this country, loved the Founding Fathers, loved democracy. He was a staunch conservative and a supporter of Goldwater. I remember sitting up with him to watch the election results in '80 when Reagan, Carter, and Anderson were running. I was looking through my middle-school journal not too long ago, and there was the entry about the evening: "I hope, I hope, I hope Reagan wins. Dad will be so upset if he doesn't." I was a Reagan supporter at age 11 because Dad was.

And in high school I was a Young Republican before my school even had such an organization. I was opinionated and, I can admit now, more of a parrot than a thinker. But I adored my father so much that I couldn't imagine he would ever have a wrong opinion.
He passed away four and a half years ago from cancer of the duodenum. He only had 10 months to "prepare" for death--as though anyone can ever truly do that aside from the few Randy Pausches of the world.

And although I always thought he was a funny man, he developed an incredible deathbed humor that made us all wonder if we really should be laughing, even when we couldn't help ourselves anyway.

A couple of weeks before he died, my beautiful and loving niece who had been living with my parents that summer sat on the bed next to Dad. She said, "Grandpa? Is there any advice you want to give me?"

Now, my father was always one to shell out advice and opinions, asked for or not. So Becca waited patiently to hear what he would say. His eyes were closed and his breathing was slow and even. After several minutes, she assumed he was asleep and hadn't even heard her question. As she eased herself off the bed to leave the room, he raised his hand off the bed. "Vote Republican," he said. And that was it.

The following week, as he weakened so much he could hardly even speak anymore and we had to move him to a hospital bed, we took turns sitting around his bed, talking to him, each other, singing to him--anything to fill the silence. At one point he spoke up, smiling, his eyes closed: "We're all the same. We're all the same."

He didn't explain what he meant, but I'd like to believe that, as death drew near, my father realized that, truly, we are all the same: democrat, republican, Christian, Jew, atheist, black, white, Hispanic. It doesn't matter when you're at the very end, does it? Whatever he meant, the thought obviously brought him peace.

Also around this time, several family members were seated around him one night, the lights out in his room, voices hushed. I opened the door from the hallway to go in to see him and he lifted his head to look my way, light from the hallway falling across his bed. He sighed as he laid his shaking head back on the pillow. "Wrong light," he said.

But I think he saw plenty of the right light at the end. Whatever our vote was yesterday, we're all the same underneath: all of us are mothers, daughters, fathers,and sons who just want to believe in our future.

So here's to all of us getting a little of that light ourselves.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

What if she's nothing like me?!

My daughter--my only daughter--doesn't like mashed potatoes.
I don't understand this. I don't understand how anyone can not like warm mounds of mashed potatoes with butter, milk, and salt mixed in. Sure, some throw in sour cream or even cream cheese while they're at it, maybe some garlic and chives. But I prefer the simpler version. Gravy's a bonus but by no means necessary.

When I was in high school, my mother would buy the boxed kind so I could eat them for breakfast before heading to school. Don't judge me. It was fast, easy, filling, and low in sugar. You want to tell me those poptarts you ate were any healthier or any stranger once you break down the ingredients?

As I was saying, Emma doesn't like them. In fact, she gags on them. I keep trying to get her to eat just two bites: "Just two bites, Emma, and then you can be done." I keep hoping one of these days she's going to say, "Wow! I had no idea these were so incredible. Thanks, Mom!" But she doesn't. She puts that one sad little bite in her mouth and then gags. Literally. She closes her eyes and convulses slightly, covering her mouth like it's going to all come right back out. Still, I urge her to try that second bite. Again, don't judge me. I'm only looking out for her best interests. Life is so much more enjoyable with mashed potatoes.

She doesn't like sour cream either. The rest of us happily dip our quesadillas in sour cream and salsa. She refuses the sour cream and relies only on the salsa. I don't understand this either. You need the creamy with the spicy. It's an issue of balance, ying and yang, Cagney and Lacey, Hall and Oates.

What she does like? Tomatoes. She'll sit and eat an entire bowl of them: cherry, pear, grape, doesn't matter. She's not picky. She also loves red peppers and will eat them like apples. What 6-year-old does this? I don't understand.

Because she's my only daughter, I've often worried I'll never connect with her. When my oldest son was born, I thought, "I don't know how to parent a boy! I'm a girl!" By the time she was born, I had no idea what to do with her. When she was 2 and stubbornly refused to wear any shoes I picked out, the panic only increased. I didn't care about shoes until high school. And when she went through her solely pink stage? Downright upsetting. I was never a girly girl. I climbed trees, built forts, tramped through the woods getting poison ivy, came home with dirt under my torn nails, leaves and grime in my hair. The only reason I played with Barbies was so I could cut their hair and make ugly clothes for them.

Then today I took Emma to her first basketball class. She stumbled around the court, tripping over herself, her tongue hanging out as she concentrated on getting that ball in that basket, missing by a good foot every time. At one point, she broke down in tears during a relay because she slowed her team down.

And that's when I realized: she's just like me. Exactly. The spitting image.

So no more mashed potatoes for her. She's earned a reprieve. And when she grows and matures and realizes the folly of her ways, I'll share a huge bowl with her as we laugh about bruised knees and stubbed toes.