Monday, June 11, 2018

This is not goodbye...

This blog has changed a lot over the years, as have I. It's been ages since I have posted and the Blogger interface no longer feels like the best place for me to share my thoughts and interact with an audience. Not that I have a huge audience, but the fact is that I may never have one if I am not comfortable in the place where I am doing my writing.

This is all just to say that, while I intend to keep most of my old posts archived right here, I am trying something new. I am moving my home base to Tumblr and I hope to get back to writing more over there. Follow me there?

To anyone who is reading this, thank you. I hope we see each other again soon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Movie Review: Gloria (2013)

For my library's summer reading program, staff are encouraged to participate as well. Our theme this year is a camp theme and you can earn badges for each "camp" by completing 5 tasks on that camp's list. I just moved on to Travel Camp but last week I was in Camp Hollywood. That meant that two of the five tasks I could tick off were (1) ask a librarian for a movie suggestion and (2) check out and watch a foreign film. I've always hated the expression "kill two birds with one stone" because all I can imagine are these poor, bludgeoned instead I will say that I decided to knock out two tasks at once and asked one of our librarians for a foreign film suggestion. She recommended the Spanish language film Gloria.

I should preface this by the disclaimer that I rarely watch movies lately. I love film - I'd say that it's my second love after literature, with my tastes ranging from French New Wave classics to B-movie campiness. But it's hard to get the time to sit still for nearly two hours or more when one is juggling two classes, two jobs and life itself. I haven't watched a lot of film lately - once in awhile, while on vacation or during a semester break, but mostly I stick to Internet videos related to school projects or catching up on Game of Thrones at midnight, after I am tired of listening to lectures and writing papers for the day. So there is a possibility that my enjoyment of a lovely little Spanish film called Gloria is due to the fact that I am starving for good movies. However, I'm inclined to think that it's just a really good film.

Gloria stars Paulina García, (a Chilean actress I had never heard of but whose other films I will definitely be seeking out for more of her work) as a divorced woman in late middle age who gets involved with an older man, only to find she's more mature than he is. She has grown children of her own, but they have their own lives and while she loves them, she doesn't over-nurture them. Rodolfo, however, not only coddles his grown daughters but regularly allows himself to become entangled in the constant drama of his ex-wife as well. There is push and pull between the two aging lovers, but ultimately, Gloria finds that she is the truly strong one between them and she doesn't need to be held back from enjoying her life by a man who can't take the reins in his own.

There's more to it than that, of course - plenty of great scenes I won't spoil here. Some are infuriating, some are hilarious. I will say, however, that I was most impressed by the way the film did not shy away from the sexuality of a woman in her 50s. There are some truly racy scenes here and a lot of nudity, some of it of the full-frontal variety. Yet Gloria and its titular character are sexy and superb, even with the realism of wrinkles and sagging skin. Outside of the bedroom, García portrays Gloria as vulnerable with a quiet intelligence, so many of her emotions subtly playing across her face. It's a simple film, but thought-provoking and if it seems a little slow-moving at first, it's worth sticking with for the wonderful revelations. The most important of these, of course, is the revelation that Gloria may be lonely, but she has a lot of life left ahead of her and there is still joy worth chasing.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie Review: Copenhagen

It's been awhile - a LONG while - since I have posted here. Here I am, though, ending my prolonged hiatus with  a movie review. Copenhagen made me want to travel, want to fall in love, and want to believe that either thing is possible. Readers can find the film on Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube's new streaming service. It's also available on Netflix, but only until Sunday.

Copenhagen is a movie about a lot of things, and most of them are love. Feature film directorial debut for Mark Raso and shot on location, Copenhagen gives audiences a glimpse of the beautiful Danish capitol city, with its colorful row houses and brick streets. It's the story of an immature young man with a chip on his shoulder, played to perfection by Gethin Anthony (who audiences will know as Renly Baratheon from HBO's Game of Thrones), who has been abandoned by his friend in his late father's childhood home of Copenhagen. In his search to find his estranged grandfather and give him a letter his dead father left behind, he finds himself falling for the wiser-than-thou teenager who has offered to help him find his way around. These kinds of inappropriate feelings between teenager and adult are likely to make some audience members uncomfortable, but it serves a purpose and is handled well within the film: Anthony's character, William needs to grow up and it takes a mature 14 year old to help him do that. Meanwhile, the scenes of their travels and blossoming friendship are like magic. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Queen Amarantha: An Otherworld Theatre Production

The last time I received free passes to see live theatre in Chicago, the play I attended was poorly thrown together with a cliché ending and unconvincing actors (the only notable player was the actor whose character turned out to be just a figment of someone else's imagination in the end). It was fun only because it was a venue I had never been to and I was there with a friend; otherwise, it was a travesty.

Therefore, I wasn't expecting much from this small theatre production when I was offered free tickets. So I was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome: Queen Amarantha, a production of the Otherworld Theatre Company (whose website describes them as "a science fiction and fantasy theatre company"), was a triumph all around. The performance took place at the City Lit Theater and starred Moira Begale as the titular queen, who takes the throne following the death of her father but never feels like she fits in with the monarchy or in the conventional role of a woman. Instead, she likes to hunt, flirt with both men and women alike, and dress in commoner's (and men's) clothes in order to rub elbows with her people, She has a close relationship with her cousin, Roderigo, who has dreams of power without really knowing what it is.

The real peak of the story comes with the appearance of Amarantha's childhood friend, Thalia (a manic pixie nightmare of a girl, played to delirious perfection by Mary-Kate Arnold). Though Amarantha trusts her implicitly, the audience soon finds that she's got treachery in mind and at once, she sets to work to destroy the queen's reputation. In the aftermath of her friend's terrible betrayal, Amarantha flees with her lover in hopes of a different life; but while she is away, Thalia is wreaking mad havoc on the kingdom, using Roderigo as her pawn. When word reaches Amarantha, she has to choose between remaining free or taking back her kingdom, coming to her cousin's rescue, and clearing her name. I was completely enthralled by the story and the performances. And the set, though simple, was also versatile: it doubles as crumbling ruins and a lavish, shadowy throne. Meanwhile, the costumes were both extravagant and occasional props for comic relief.

Begale is compelling and believable as the tomboyish queen, and her performance never waivers. I actually recalled seeing her in a previous show, The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret, back in 2012 at Mary's Attic, and the reason I remembered her was because she stood out as especially talented. Here, she is equally credible and I imagine her going places.

Similarly, of the remarkable cast, another stand-out performance was that of Arnold. She brings the devious Thalia to life in such a way that the character is, in equal part, charismatic and terrifying.

This show doesn't run much longer; if you get a chance to see it, don't pass it up!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Taking The Ferry Home

I first posted the following tribute to one of my very favorite books on an old book blog I attempted to run for awhile. If you Google the book, it's still one of the posts that come up on the first page of search hits. I'm re-posting it because I've been thinking a lot about younger days lately, when I was content with long stretches of time to read and write and daydream. I recently asked, on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group (i.e., the best, geekiest place to be if you're a librarian or aspiring librarian on the Internet), about other readers' favorite out-of-print books and found that I am not the only one with a literary love that no one else seems to know. Here's what I want to impart to readers about this lovely little book: 

Each summer, from the time I was 13 and into my twenties, I found myself on an island:  Dune Island, populated by the kind of people who own summer homes and the kind of people who worked for summer homeowners. It's the setting of Taking The Ferry Home by Pam Conrad, a New York-born writer. I stumbled upon the book on one of my regular trips to the library in the next town over, drawn in by its almost mysterious cover: one girl with a faraway look sits on the grass in the foreground. Another stands at a distance in the background with the skirt of her dress blowing in the wind, a pristine Cape Cod-style house and shadowy trees behind her. To my thirteen year old self, the cover echoed with loneliness. It was electric with sorrow – I could just feel it – and it struck a chord with me. I had to read it.

It begins with a girl named Alison who has elected to join her father at a cottage he's rented as a writer's getaway – he's a novelist – and on her first night, she sneaks into the neighbors' pool. It's their summer home and Alison assumes they won't be arriving until later, so she can take one quick dip. There she meets Simone, their daughter, who is “beautiful, completely beautiful, and she wasn't even nice.” Their encounter leaves Alison “choked with jealousy,” but as the story goes, the rich girl gets what she wants and what Simone wants is for she and Alison to be friends. So begins the tale of a very “fragile friendship,” as the book's bright green back-cover declares.

Simone Silver is not a one-dimensional character, though – not the prototypical rich girl in the least. In fact, when I look back at all the times I've read Taking The Ferry Home, I am struck by Simone as the character whom I feel the most compassion for and kinship with. She's many-faceted: ravishing, privileged and yet, haunted by a traumatic event from her childhood. She reads Tarot cards and makes bracelets of shells, listens to Springsteen (even now, when I hear “Dancing In The Dark,” I think of it as her song). Darkly, quietly troubled characters have often bewitched me in a way that your run-of-the-mill dysfunctional protagonist could not quite pull off. Conrad manages to create a rich, engrossing character who mostly lives in her own head (something I've been trying to manage for close to a decade to little avail). I wanted to know Simone, let her read my fortune and string up shells for me.

The water was a character all its own. It churns, black and murky, beneath the ferry that takes Ali and Simone around Dune Island. The first summer I read it, I dreamed of being on that island – that island, with all its secrets and sadness. I dreamed of water and even had a bookmark with a picture of foamy waves lapping at the sand.

For me, my real passion for books – the kind of books I read now – begins with Taking The Ferry Home. Pam Conrad died of breast cancer in 1996, at the age of 48, but this one of her many books for children and young adults transformed my life. It will always remain in my list of favorites because it's one of those that formed who I am and how I want to write. 

Perhaps another re-reading is long overdue. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bisexuality in Pop Culture: Shipping Triles

Those who know me well know my obsession with a certain Canadian teen drama that has spanned pretty much my entire life. All the bad acting doesn't seem to ever matter when the characters are so compelling (before you fellow fangirls lynch me, I's not all bad acting) and the stories are just so heartfelt. I don't really have a full explanation of why I love it so much, but Degrassi just makes me happy. And sad, but mostly happy. And sad is just happy for deep people, anyway. Heh. But anyway, my obsession has taken a new turn following this season's finale. Spoiler alert: TRILES!!!

Miles went gaga for nerdy cello player, Maya.
I think what is making me especially happy about this is the way it came about and how I've never seen anything like it on television before. All these dramas will have the girl who has been dating boys all along and she suddenly finds herself interested in another girl. But I have never - NEVER - seen it the other way around. No one has ever tackled male bisexuality or male sexual fluidity that I know of, unless you count the second and a half that Blaine thought about dating Rachel on Glee or how Jack on the 90s drama, Dawson's Creek originally dated Joey briefly before coming out. It's pretty different, though.

All this time, we've been seeing Miles and Maya break up, reconcile, break up again. And all this time, he seemed pretty crazy about her, going to any length to get her back. But now that they're off again, it seemed like the writers decided it was time to revisit the crush that Tristan, Maya's best friend, seemed to have on Miles when they all headed to Paris last spring, before Maya and Miles got together. Tristan had kissed Miles back then, too, and I'll hand it to Miles -- even when he was into Maya, he never overreacted in a homophobic way to Tristan's advances. He was always sweet about them, which is something else you rarely see on TV. It's such a tired old cliche that the straight guy freaks when the gay guy leans in for a kiss, so Miles was pretty refreshing in this way, too.

So anyway, the season 14 finale had Miles and Tristan waiting out the storm in Miles' family's mansion, alongside his sister, Frankie and her boyfriend/Miles' best friend, Winston. To pass the time, they ended up playing charades and later, a hide-and-seek-like game called Murder. During Charades, Tristan is batting his eyelashes and flirting with Miles like crazy and Miles is taking it all in, obviously flattered by the attention. These two boys have the prettiest eyelashes and were giving each other the cutest smirky glances, so I was DYING for them to just make-out already. And then, when they were hiding during the game of Murder, the heavens heard my cry and granted my wish!

The best thing was that, when Winston caught them kissing, Miles was still smirking about it, like "so what?" and later, when Tristan thought it was a one-time thing and told Miles it was okay, Miles corrected him. They don't know where it's going, but it looks like it is definitely going somewhere! No lie, I am totally shipping these two and I don't care if I sound like a 15 year old.

It almost makes up for last season's painful finale. But, er, not quite. Degrassi, you still have a lot of work ahead of you for that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART TWELVE


I was feeling a little down and out when Glenn came over to see Ben the next day. I had already called Asha twice with no answer and she hadn't called back. I felt idiotic. I wanted to know how things went, what Rhonda had told her and most of all, I wanted her to answer some questions for me. 
Ben was slumped in my brown beanbag chair reading my latest issue of Sassy and I was pacing to the sounds of Cyndi Lauper on the radio. I was sure I was about to drive him bonkers, but Ben was pretty polite. He remained quiet and flipped the page of the the magazine. Over the time we'd spent together, Ben had started to feel like family - the brother I'd never had. It was nice, but since we sometimes argued for use of the bathroom or I found him using my nail polish I wasn't about to admit it to him. 
"Betsy," Ben said in an even tone, "please calm down. You're going to make yourself sick with worry. You know, that literally can happen. Give the girl time."
"Aughhhh!" I growled, annoyed. 
"Glenn's coming over later. Maybe you guys should practice or something. You have that gig later this week. And didn't you say Asha wants The Windows to play at her prom. Shouldn't you get the girls together to practice, then?"
"The problem," I hissed, "is that I have no idea what Asha wants now. Does she want me to play music for her big night with Todd? Does she want to be my friend? Is there...gods-help-me-for-hoping, but is there maybe something else she'd like to be? Don't you see, Ben? I'm going nutty!"
"Yeah," he said. "You're cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, alright."
I glared at him. The door to the bedroom flew open just then and Glenn waltzed in.
"Do you know what your mom just asked me?" Glenn said. "She wanted to know if I was sleeping over?"
"Sheesh," Ben said. "She's come a long way, baby." 

I just slumped to the floor and put my head down on a heap of my clothes. Bad idea. Something smelled like sour milk and I gagged, sitting back up. I got up and threw myself on the bed instead, burying my head under a pillow and screaming into the mattress to muffle me.
"What's with her?" Glenn said.
"Two words. Asha Campbell," Ben said.
"What did she do to her?" Glenn said.
"Nothing. I think maybe that's the problem."
I uncovered my head to glare at them.
"You know I am right here. I can hear you both."
"Then you tell me," Glenn said, turning to me with a hand on one hip. "What happened?"
"She went on a double date with Asha and her boyfriend," Ben said, shaking my magazine in the air to emphasize each word.
"Um, Ben? He's asking me!" I said through clenched teeth.
"Sheesh," Ben said. "Crabby!"
I exhaled loudly. 
"Drama queen," Glenn whispered to Ben and I just growled.
"I went out last night," I said finally. "And yes, it was with Asha and her stupid jerk of a boyfriend."
"Wow that is mature," Glenn said.
"I wasn't finished," I said. "Asha brought her cousin - sort of like a date for me."
"Yikes. Guess that was basically her way of blowing you off? An 'I-just-wanna-be-friends' statement?" Glenn guessed.
"I thought so at first, too," I said. "But then we had this moment. Asha and I, I mean."
"Now you're just confused?" Glenn finished my thought.
"Yes," I said.
"And she can't get ahold of Asha," Ben said.
"So I can't get any answers," I concluded.
We all sighed.
"I'm sorry sweetie," Glenn said, coming to my side and plopping down next to me. He leaned over until his head was on my back. "Maybe we should go out. Do something. Get our minds off our problems." 
He looked over at Ben, who was probably thinking about the rift between himself and his parents. I felt really bad for being cross with him. It made me think that maybe it was a good idea to get out of myself for awhile.
"Let's go downtown to the juice bar and maybe go walk around the beach." 
They both looked at me like I'd sprouted antlers. I probably deserved that. I'd been the mopey one more often than not lately and for me to suddenly suggest leaving my bedroom, much less doing something, must have come as quite a shock.
"Quit looking at me like that," I finally said. "You're right. We need to get up, get out of here. Songs aren't going to write or play themselves and I know I need more inspiration than these four walls." They were still gaping at me, so I said, "Let's go, let's go!"
They hopped up and marched like soldiers toward the door, perfectly synchronized.
"Very funny," I said before I followed them. 
I didn't drive, since we could walk from my home down to the lakefront shops faster than I would've been able to find parking there. You could often tell the tourists from the residents by their souvenir-shop T-shirts. Glenn and Ben liked to make fun of those, but I felt an odd sense of protectiveness toward tourists - wacky, confused people just going with the flow in a place where they clearly did not quite belong.
"I'm thinking that we should call Heather and everyone tonight and go ahead and set up practice," Glenn said. "For Her-Whom-We-Shall-Not-Name's prom."
"I don't even know if we're playing or not," I said. "And anyway, even if she did still want us to, how do I know the band will want to?"
"That's why we call Heather," Glenn said. "And we'll just consider it a potential gig - with the idea that if it falls through, we can just find another. Practice is never a waste of time, is it?" 
Glenn's words rang true, of course. It did make sense to be prepared either way. 
"We call her then, but when do we find time to practice?" I said. "Between school and work and homework? And this week we have the junior and senior class trips?"
"There have always been hurdles, Betz," Glenn said, placing his hand on my shoulder.  "We jump over them. Remember?"
"Plus," Ben said, "you get the chance of possibly impressing Asha with your musical stylistics and your super-suave, super-cool on-stage persona."
I had to laugh at that.
"Right," I said. "I'm sure that'll charm the straight girl into magically falling in love with me."
"You never know," he said with a shrug.  
We continued down the beach and back up the boardwalk. We watched a couple on roller skates whiz by and Glenn and Ben ogled some guys playing volleyball. 
"Why don't you go play with them?" I said.
"Really?" Ben said.
"You want to?" Glenn asked him.
"Sure! You want to come, Betz?"
"That's okay. You guys go and enjoy yourselves. I'm just going to go and check out some of the shops. My mom's birthday is in two weeks, so maybe I'll get a head start on gift-buying or just get some ideas. You two have fun."
"Aw, but Betsy! You've been depressed! We don't want to abandon you in your hour of need," Glenn said.
"You're not," I said. "Promise. I am ditching you guys because there is plenty of time for playing chaperone to a melancholy teenager and not a whole lot of chances to play volleyball with a bunch of hard bodies in Speedos. Seriously. Go!"
Glenn and Ben gave me excited smiles and then ran down the beach to where the guys were gathered around the net.
I headed up the boardwalk, feeling only a bit lonely. I could have
gone home and read a book or gone to the small, two-movie theater. Either of those things might have made me feel slightly better. But only slightly. It occured to me that I was exactly where I had been before I'd met Asha - broken-hearted, lonely, alienated. I was all the things that Callie had left me, but this time it was my own fault. Hell, maybe it was my fault with Callie, too. Maybe I was too boring, too predictable for her. That actually made sense. Callie had always been explosive and I was sort a dormant volcano. I knew it, but couldn't really change it much. Not without changing me, which I wasn't willing to do. I was the girl who read books, saw movies, occasionally took on volunteer work or drove other people's kids to school. I fixed cars sometimes, made model airplanes, watched cartoons. I made good grades and didn't smoke or do drugs. I only drank for self-destructive purposes and really hadn't even done that until after Callie had hit the road. I was not a terribly exciting person. But I wanted to be. Why couldn't that be enough?
I saw in the window of a little boutique a pair of earrings like the ones that Asha had given me. They were beautiful, but I couldn't wear them. I knew it was lame and kind of weird but I decided that I needed to know where we stood before I could show them off. I wanted to be able to say where and from whom I got them and be certain that it was accurate. I guess what I really wanted was to be able to say "my girlfriend gave me these," but wasn't sure I ever would.
I wandered into the store to look for something for my mom. There were pendants made of bone china that, for an extra sum of money, they would put on a charm bracelet, necklace or earring. I wished there were two because my mom wasn't the type to wear mismatched earrings.  I looked at the purses and remembered that she had mentioned needing a new wallet. I walked over to where their designer wallets were on display. They had some pretty ones - one with dyed leather binding in various colors, ones made of plastic or denim. I still couldn't find anything I was sure she'd like. The store also had scented candles, Polaroid cameras, unusual stationary and other little knick-knacks. Still, I didn't find anything there. 
Next door there was a lovely metal clock in the window along with ceramic animals. I knew that I would never get my mom ceramic animals. The perpetual klutz, I'd end up breaking anything like that in the house. Then I passed a place called The Artist Store and was intrigued. I went inside and found things like paints, easels, wooden palettes, canvases -some framed and some not. That's when I remembered - it was a faint memory only, but I remembered - when my mom used to paint. I have a vague recollection of coming across some of her paintings - some of them my own image - in our attic one night when I'd gone looking for some old doll furniture for a project I was working on. I never knew why she had stopped painting, but she was actually really good. 
I let my fingers rest over all the acrylic and oil colors. They were all so brilliant, and I wondered if the paint would come out of the tubes in as bright a hue. However, I decided to get my mom a kit of the most basic paints and, as a bold gesture, a framed canvas to work on. It was only partly selfish, because I wanted to see what the paints looked like and how an older, more experienced painter might work. I also liked the idea of giving my mom a gift that brought a bit of creativity back to her life. 
I purchased the gifts and decided to head back home, where I went on a search for tape, wrapping paper and ribbons and set about wrapping my mom's birthday gift. At four I started to make dinner - chili and cornbread - and when everyone got in, we all had dinner together. I was still in another world, thinking too much about the past few days and those ahead.  
After dinner, Glenn left and Ben and I did homework at the kitchen table while my mom watched television in the front room. I kept hoping Asha would call, but she never did and, after my homework and shower, I just went to bed. 
We had to be at school the next morning early for a field trip. Our History class was going on a field trip - the last of the year before exams - to a historic plantation where people in costumes dressed up in colonial garb and reenacted Eighteenth Century life. Ben sat with me at the back of the first activity bus. We were early because we'd skipped breakfast and gotten a ride with my mom on her way to work. We kept looking out the window for Glenn's car, but as other students started to show up it was harder and harder to spot him in the crowds. Our bus was getting full by 6:30am.
"If he doesn't show up soon, you know Mr. Gregory is going to make us scoot over and let someone else sit with us!" Ben said. The prospect of having to share the back seats with anyone else from our class was upsetting and I started getting panicky. I'd really hoped this day would go by smoothly, without any major harassment from my classmates and I'd be able to enjoy butter churning demonstrations and keep my mind off Asha. But suddenly things were looking dire.  
"Wait!" Ben said.  "There he is!" I jumped up and looked over his shoulder at where he was pointing. There was Glenn, walking across the parking lot in hot pink leather pants and a David Bowie T-shirt, Care Bears lunch box in hand.  I was so relieved I pushed the window down and yelled out to him. 

"Hey! Glenn! Get over here!" I shouted. He saw me, waved and started jogging toward the bus. When he made his entrance, I stood up and let him sit next to me on the window side. 
"What," I said, giving him the once-over, "are you wearing?"
"I figured if I was gonna get beat up by jocks, it was gonna be for something good," he said. I laughed. 
"I'm so glad you're here," I admitted. "It wouldn't be the same without you."
"I brought you something," he said and he produced a thermos from his lunch box. "Sip carefully."
I sniffed it instead and blinked. It was definitely Coke and it was definitely spiked.
"Is that rum?" I whispered.
"Yep," he said proudly.
"Glenn Christopher Balaban!" I hissed. "What has gotten into you? We could get expelled!"
"We're not going to because no one will know," he said and Ben happily took the thermos as it was offered to him. He sipped and handed it back. Glenn pushed it in my face.
"I don't know," I said. "My mom is really trying and she's been great so far. If I got in trouble, though..."  I let my voice trail off.
"You won't as long as you're careful. C'mon, this is hardly enough to get us drunk. We'll just start the day off...a little buzzed."
I grimaced.
"Ok," he said. "Suit yourself."  He shrugged and started to bring it back to his lips, but I stopped him with one hand on the thermos and an exasperated sigh. He beamed and handed it over, then bounced on the seat a little with excitement. 
"This is gonna be such a fun day!" he said.