Wednesday, April 22, 2009

…And Then There Are The Others…

It’s always great, and sometimes even moving, when you’re watching a movie or TV show or reading a book and come upon little nuggets that make the scene worthwhile—that rise above the norm, that give you more meat than the usual “Hi, how are ya” types of interchange—such as the couple of quotes we’ve mentioned from Stranger Than Fiction. Kind of renews your faith in writers and scriptwriting, at least in the broadest universal sort of sense.

Unfortunately, then there are the other lines that do the opposite.

I’m not talking about lines written for deliberate shock value, outrage, or humor, although heaven knows we’re up to our proverbial eyeballs in vulgar, lowbrow sarcasm and just plain filth that passes itself off as “humor” nowadays. (The sad thing is, it gets away with doing so because many of our kids, growing up with Simpsons and South Park [despite our best efforts!], laugh uproariously at things that, a generation earlier, were called sophomoric—and that didn’t mean they belonged in a college student’s lexicon.) On the contrary…the line I encountered this past weekend was in a movie that was aimed at an audience light-years away from the bathroom-humor crowd. Which is what made it all the more jarring.

The movie was The Holiday—not the classic Holiday with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn (one of my all time favorites) but the more recent movie, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. For those of you who don’t know the story, the premise involves two women, an ocean and a lifestyle apart, whose love lives are in shambles; they each decide they need a change of scene, exchange houses for the Christmas holiday, and—naturally—in those new situations, find the loves of their lives. It’s romantic, and of course, it pushes a lot of delightful “buttons,” all the way from two adorable kids (No, really. Truly. Adorable. And I hate kids in romantic movies.) to a script that’s on the whole pretty squeaky-clean.

…except for one setup that I still haven’t forgiven the writers for, one I’m surprised Ms. Diaz was willing to do with a straight face.

The scene occurs after the house exchange has happened; at that point, Ms. Diaz’s character, Amanda, is settling in to a cottage somewhere in Surrey…and discovering that the “peace and quiet” she thought she sought is actually boring her out of her mind. Enter her hero-to-be, the original occupant’s brother, who arrives more than a little drunk and clearly expecting to crash at his sister’s place. After a few catchup explanations, Amanda invites the brother to sleep things off there, prepares to go get him a blanket and a pillow and put him on the couch—the usual things. But then, suddenly and for no real solid reason…the brother kisses her. And she likes it, and asks him to do it again.

And then the next thing out of her mouth? “Well, yanno, with this situation—I mean, we’re never going to see each other again, I’m leaving, and you’re really good-looking…I think we ought to have sex.”

To which my daughter and I said, in unison, “HUH?”

Of course, the brother’s more than willing to take her up on it—which in this age of STDs, is at best disingenuous—and they proceed to act accordingly. Not on screen, at least. We get the usual morning-after scene, we get Amanda reassuring this guy she’s not going to fall in love with him, yatta, yatta, yatta. (Considering she’s just broken up with a guy she was living with the day before, the odds are that she doesn’t know how to love anybody, period. But I digress.)

The problem was, no matter how they “salvaged” the story or kept it PG-rated at that point, the damage was already done. We went from feeling gently amused and laughing at the heroine’s crazy Type A behavior to sputtering at the screen in indignation and incredulity. Or, as my daughter put it, “What a whore!” (Which I thought said it all quite well.)

I doubt this is the reaction the writers wanted from a twenty-something who otherwise is caught up in the romance of the thing. I really doubt they wanted us muttering for the next few minutes to ourselves about women who are too stupid to live. Nowhere else in the movie do they stoop to pandering; so one has to ask oneself, why then? Why there? Why that dialogue/scene at all?

It may come down to the simple fact that Hollywood doesn’t know how to express attraction, romantic sparks, or a carefree attitude toward life except by having their characters engage in free and easy sex. It may have been a temporary brain spasm on the part of the writers. It may be that they literally didn’t know how else to bond these people on screen, so they took the cheap shortcut.

What it does mean, sadly, is that no one had the good sense, the talent, or the taste to step back from the script for a moment and say, “Whoa, wait a minute, this is not going to work!” Which baffles me, since in the context of the rest of the screenplay, the writers hit home run after home run. So why did they let that major-league fly ball just drop through their hands in favor of the cheap injection of sex?

I don’t know. I still don’t know. But for all the world, I want to write those screenwriters and say to them, “Look, you don’t have to do things this way to prove you’re not religious-right nutjobs. This was just plain stupid in any context, even yours. Next time, use the red pencil God gave you and make yourselves do something more creative.”

The only reassuring thing about that scene, I suppose, was my daughter’s reaction to it. Not moral outrage. Not tsk-tsk. Not wink-wink, nudge-nudge. Just plain irritation and disgust at a character who threw herself around so cheaply. Which, in reflection, is a good thing for a twenty-something to be thinking about thoughtless sex with a stranger: “Not on my watch, thank you very much.”

If that was the lesson these screenwriters were trying to teach…they succeeded. But somehow, I doubt their motives were anything near that lofty. And that’s too bad. Because romantic, lighthearted, positive, and uplifting movies deserve better than heroines written in at any part of the story as little more than whores. It’s time someone in the entertainment business learned to trust their audiences enough to leave some things out that ought not to be there in the first place. We’ll still enjoy the story. Some of us will enjoy it more for that restraint, and we’ll keep coming back to those people for more stories…

…which I always thought was the whole idea.

Isn’t it?



Sunday, April 19, 2009

Words to Live By, Part II

Last time, I touched on a great line from Stranger Than Fiction about “making the world better…with cookies.” Seems to me that about captures a lot of our lives, and indeed, it was meant to—as evidenced by the rather ham-handed emphasis on the Point Of The Movie at the end. Which you already caught onto, if you’d been at all attentive for the 100 or so minutes of the film that came before it…

But there’s one more great line. And I think it’s a great line to start out a new week with.

At one point in the movie, our hero is staying with an acquaintance from work, and they’re talking about what he would do if he found out he was dying “in the near future.” After much wheedling, talking about superpowers (!), and the like, when the rubber meets the road, the character finally blurts it out:

“I’d go to Space Camp.”

Our hero is astonished. Isn’t Space Camp just for kids?
“Oh, no,” his friend assures him. “You’re never too old for Space Camp.”

I think if there’s any banner a writer, especially a novelist, can fly over her particular ship, it ought to be something like that.

Interestingly enough, it turns out you never are too old for Space Camp.
As, in reality, you’re truly never too old for a lot of things. (Just ask Susan Boyle.)
But most of us forget this. To our peril.
Some of us…remember in time. Many of us don’t.

Let’s us, this week, be among the people who remember it.

You’re never too old for Space Camp. But you can wait too long for it.
So, whatever your Space Camp is, stop waiting for it. Start now. Do it this week.
And then come back here and tell us all about it.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Words to Live By, Part I

Last evening, I got two pleasures I rarely enjoy.
First, I dug the first of my garden; if everything comes up that I planted last night, by August, I may be inviting you all over for strawberry shortcake.
Second, I sat down to watch a movie.

Yep. A whole movie, with no popping up for commercials, no pauses to go and do a quick cleanup of the supper dishes…just me and homemade meatloaf and the couch, for two solid hours.

Even without homemade meatloaf, that would have been good stuff. But I was also watching a movie I’ve seen once before and wanted to see again—to find out if my first impression had rung as true as I thought.

The movie was Stranger Than Fiction, a story with one of the great creative premises in the world, one I still wish I’d thought of and written down first.

I saw this movie originally in the theater (another rare pleasure) with my son and daughter, and I was most flattered when Matt told me that the author character reminded him of me. (!) Except for the chain smoking, I would love to be that character. Especially the skinny part…

But I digress.

I found the movie more affecting the second time around. More human. More touching. And I could, obviously, see the foreshadowing of crucial scenes now that I knew they were coming. (I still don’t buy the romantic relationship of our hero and a heroine I pretty much wanted to b***h slap the first time…but that’s a whole ‘nuther story, too.)

The pleasant surprise about this movie this time, for me, was a couple of good words of wisdom, especially nice to hear at a time when it can be hard to hold onto wisdom and perspective.

When Christian values are under attack on all sides; when the Constitution is pretty much being walked all over by our present leader of the free world, without challenge from the media and without the vocal criticism that came to his predecessor for “offenses” that are kindergarten-level by comparison; and when the world around us seems to have gone absolutely berserk in its lemming-like rush to oblivion, to nihilism and to the godless void that focuses on “feelings” as arbiters of good and evil…it’s hard to keep perspective.

It’s hard to have any faith that what you did today is going to have any impact tomorrow; it’s hard even to know, sometimes, what you should be doing versus what truly needs to be someone else’s fight. The fights are myriad and endless; every time you turn a corner, someone else is pleading for action on your part and screaming scary consequences of your failing to act strongly, right now, and this instant, whether you’ve ever felt called to act in those particular ways before or not.

At times like this, it’s good to remember things like what the heroine said in this movie. How she came to realize that, even though she was at Harvard Law School because she wanted to “make the world better”…that what she really loved to do was bake.
She finally relates that, after being on the verge of flunking out, she realized something: that she could “make the world better…with cookies.”

And I thought, ain’t that the truth.
As a writer, I can’t tell you how many times I day I wonder if what I do ever makes a dent. Even though I edit some pretty effective literature, it’s hard to see how our little books are going to make a dent in the prevailing mythology by which so many people live. And when I consider my little fiction stories…it’s harder yet to feel like they matter.

But then I sit back on the couch, and I drain my wineglass, and I realize—a movie has just made my life better. It’s just given me both insight and comfort, in a line that was probably put in more for whimsy, maybe even for laughs, than for any statement about the profound nature of little things in life

That statement is, in fact, made at the end of the movie, in a way that makes it impossible to miss. Just in case the moviegoer was too dense to catch it the first time. But if you weren’t…if you were paying attention…you got the message of the movie way earlier than the narrator “told” you it.

Which made it all the sweeter.
Especially since I, too, love to bake. :-)

So here’s to making a difference with cookies. Or novels. Or movies.
Or “merely” by raising kids with aforementioned Christian values, with enough smarts to know when they’re being had and enough energy to fight for future generations if they have to.

And never, ever forgetting that with one cup of cold water, we can and do change the world.

This movie also has another great line in it…which I’ll blog about in Part II, for the sheer fun and the sheer uplift it’ll give us all (I hope).
Stay tuned!


Better Things to Do Than Be Bullied

It is my fervent hope and prayer that you and your children have not been shamed, threatened, and otherwise coerced into participating in National Day of Silence (otherwise known as National Bully Day), an unfortunate instance of our culture's having the idiocy to cooperate in advancing the repression, cultural indoctrination, and outrageous discrimination that is part and parcel of the homosexual lobby. The fact that this has even been considered for a MOMENT to be a legitimate use of school time is an insult to people of integrity, morality, and conviction; the fact that school administrators are going along with it is the clearest sign of all that our school system in this country is terminally ill, and the sooner we dissolve the public school system in favor of something else, the better off we will be.

There's still hope.
Real hope, not that counterfeit nonsense coming out of Washington.

Watch the Comcast video, read the page, and see if it doesn't choke you up.
Go ahead. I dare you.

This school literally saved my daughter's life...and it goes without saying what it did for my son. So, although the place has had its faults--I'm there.

I hope lots of you will be, too.
It's a whole lot more productive use of your time than being kowtowed into "silence."


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Way Too Much Fun

Yes, I know it's impossible to have too much fun, but this comes close. I know I, for one, am having a ball...bringing back my days of reviewing stuff for Wild Rose, only much less pressure!

Stop in if you're brave enough to give it a try...


Monday, April 13, 2009

So when people start pitching YOU…

You know it’s been too long since you’ve posted, when people come out of the proverbial cyberspace woodwork saying things like, “If you need ideas for posting, here’s some stuff to write about.”

I had that happen over this past weekend, and it’s a sobering experience.

Actually, I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered (someone thinks that if I post about their subject, it’ll get attention!) or insulted (what, you think I don’t have enough ideas on my own?) I did have to reassure the person involved that I had plenty of ideas for stuff to write about…it was taking the time to organize said ideas into some kind of post and get it here that was the problem. (!!)

But it does bring attention to the unfortunate situation of being a Writer Chick yet not writing enough on this blog to let people know I still know how to do it. :-) Well, yes, there are reasons for this situation. Many good ones, in fact.

One reason is the Book From Hell I’m presently editing in the day gig.

Now, don’t misunderstand me (as people seem to be doing a lot lately)…it’s not that the book itself is hellish. It’s only that the book is about complex subject matter, it’s very detailed, and it takes a great deal of attention and energy to make sure one is Getting It Right As Much As Possible. I know there will still be glitches when it goes out, which is always galling. But for right now, until next Monday when we really need to get it to production, I’ll be doing my best to make sure as few of those glitches happen as possible. I have a full manuscript from a proofreader to go through, plus an index to paste in and format today, so my little fingers and brain will be more than occupied enough for the angels, thank you very much.

Another reason is that I spent what writing time I could carve out of the freelance wilderness putting together an entry for ACFW’s Genesis contest, something I didn’t even think I was eligible for until I got together with some folks in the Indiana group and had my attention brought to the fine print that said, “…unpublished in the last seven years.”

I have to say that truthfully, most of the time I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that yes, I’ve been unpublished in book-length work for long enough now that, in many contests, I have the same standing as someone who’s never sold a book at all. In this case, I chose to laugh, in the sense that at least it will enable me to get VOI back into a place where more eyes can see it, more people can appreciate it, and maybe some wonderful editor will look at it and say, “Where has this woman been all our lives? How much more has she written? Can we buy it all?”

(N.B. to those of you who don’t know this by now…when I dream, I tend to dream big. It’s a weakness. Deal with it.) :-)

So that, by way of explanation as to where the long, thoughtful blog posts are. Honestly? I get ideas for thoughtful blog posts about three times a day; I have scarce time in which to actually type them out and get them coherent, however, and that’s why you haven’t heard from me…not because I don’t have ideas to blog about.

And that brings to mind the second issue that may have prompted this kind of “helpful input” —a misunderstanding of just what my blog is meant to be about. Maybe because it’s listed in Catholic blog directories, some people might have the wrong idea about how I gather, find, or choose what I write about here.
So let’s get something clear: if you are a Person with a Cause, have seen that I do in fact write rather well, and think this place might be a great spot for me to act as your “mouthpiece” ...I have a piece of advice for you: save your breath and your fingers.

Rest assured that for every post you read here, there are a dozen more ideas going through in my head that I could write about…and sometimes have even started to write about…only to have a different one float to the surface because that’s what is the most compelling to me at the time.

Which is, in the end, what this is about. Lest we forget. :-)

I “ghostwrite” as a freelancer now and again, a profession in which one’s personality and style are submerged beneath someone else’s byline. So this place I doubly treasure as being all mine. This is where I can shine. This is where I can squawk, or do a happy dance, or expound, but most of all, where I can be me, and it’s all original.

I’m sorry if some of you may find this myopic approach disappointing…but, the fact is, this is not a public service blog. By and large, it’s not going to deal with topics people suggest (unless they’re questions about writing, which are pretty much always welcome). There are many things this blog is; one thing it is not is a bulletin board upon which, if you send me enough URLs and suggestions, I’ll start blogging about what’s important to you.

Because that, quite simply, ain’t the idea here.

Don’t get me wrong. If you ask me a direct question, I’m liable to answer it. And I love to see people happen by, and if something I write makes you want to spread the word about this blog or point other people to it, please do!

But make no mistake—this is my spot. It’s not being surrendered to anyone, no matter how noble their intent, for their thoughts, their ideas, their ideologies, or their causes.

Ain’t gonna happen. Not now, not ever.

I’m not a Catholic Writer Chick reflecting the world and broadening people’s perspectives for the sake of “edifying all of us.” There are plenty of other places where, if you want, you can get edification. If edification happens here, that’s all to the good. But it’s not by design. Just as I don’t write my stories so that people will “find salvation” through them, I don’t write a blog so that people will “become aware .”

I’m the Catholic Writer Chick At Large for other purposes and aims: I observe, I participate in, and I attempt to enjoy the world around me, while processing it all on the only terms I truly understand…

…my own.

So be it.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Get Out Your Cutler-y....'s Jay Cutler as the new quarterback of the Bears. Exeunt Kyle Orton and, I believe, two tackles. And within five minutes of each other on ESPN Radio this morning, I heard one football "expert" declare that not only weren't the Bears better off with this deal, but they'd just gotten way WORSE...and a second one say, "This was a GREAT move. Cutler is a stud superstar in the making." ...which is why my son doesn't bother listening to sports talk radio. :-) More in a bit, I know I'm scandalously overdue for a good post! Janny