Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Hallmark is Helping Me Cope with The Dump (Trump)

This post appears today in the Huffington Post.

True confession: I’m addicted. Not to drugs, but to movies. Hallmark movies.


It all started back in November, not long after our nation managed to screw things up royally by electing the soon-to-be worst President in U.S. history. (I know, I know the Fox-news folks say “Give him a chance.” I say give him a one-way ticket to Russia.)

For those first horrifying weeks after the election, I was in total denial. I couldn’t bring myself to read about the election in newspapers or magazines. I kept shutting off TV and radio news.

Instead, I buried my head in Hallmark movies.

How could that happen?

It was Thanksgiving week and I was having a glass of wine with my television-addicted neighbor. I sipped and suddenly I was watching a Christmas movie. A young woman from Philadelphia is sitting across from her boyfriend in a café. Speaking in a solemn tone, he announces that he has something important to tell her.

She’s pretty sure he’s seeing somebody else. Or he’s married.

No. He tells her that he is the Prince of Moldavia and that he wants to bring her home to his mountainous little country so she can meet his mother the Queen.


OK. I was hooked. I kept sipping more and more wine and then on a commercial brake, I raced across the street and finished the movie at home. Total schmaltz. Sure. But lots and lots of glittery Christmas decorations. And smiles. And people saying that the spirit of Christmas is all that matters.

I was no longer distraught over the crappy outcome of the election. I was smiling. I was happy.  I wasn’t sitting around worrying that the country was going into the dumper because of The Dump.

I was addicted.

Since then, are you sitting down, I’ve watched maybe three dozen movies? I’ve had my own little film festival going.  My favorite is "Twelve Gifts of Christmas." It's really sweet. Treat yourself. Watch it!

Meanwhile, my husband -- a progressive political organizer who was instrumental in getting Obamacare passed -- shudders every time I shoot up. He leaves the room, or if I'm watching in bed, he hides under the covers with pillows over his head. 

Still, he’s very good at pointing out to me how “formulaic” these movies are. Hallmark Christmas films – all with picture postcard sets that twinkle and glow like Hallmark cards -- feature a character, generally a woman, who has lost or never had much Christmas spirit. Many of the women are high-powered workaholics from big cities.  Or gorgeous TV news anchors.

One way or another, these women end up in picture-postcard little snowy towns, with names like Christmas Valley, where  they learn the most important lesson: Christmas is no crass commercial holiday but rather the season to rediscover love, especially family love, all over again.

Best to do that baking fruitcake and shortbread and gingerbread cookies, all the while it’s snowing and a fire blazes in a huge fireplace.

And yes, I get the irony that Hallmark is largely portraying the America that voted for The Dump. These films offer up a Norman Rockwell kind of small town life. In this life, there are only the occasional black or Asian. There are no gays, lesbians or transgender characters.

These are not films that portray the America I know. And they don’t reflect the underbelly of hatred and fear that fueled Dump's racist and misogynist campaign.

Still, I persist. Because every movie I shoot up gives me a warm glow in my chest (it helps to drink wine.) I feel myself filling up with a warm Christmas spirit. A family is reunited after some calamity, or a couple falls in love and gets married (usually on Christmas day!) and your (well, I should say MY) eyes start to water a bit.

So are you curious what happens with the Philadelphia girl and the Prince? Naturally, they travel to  pristine, mountainous Moldavia, where the Queen is outraged that the Prince is slumming it. She invites a gorgeous young red-headed duchess to the castle to try to distract Prince Charming. The girl from Philly gets disgusted and she packs up and heads home.

But of course, fueled by love, the Prince chases after her and in the end, the Prince and the Philly girl – now The Princess – drift passionately into their glowing future together.

Writing this post has helped give me some perspective. Last night, I turned off two of the movies and read a novel. It felt like I was home.

And as Christmas will soon be history, I’m figuring my addiction will be cured.

Except then I remember an ad from the Hallmark channel: just after New Year’s they’re featuring a film called “Hidden Figures,” which stars -- amazingly enough -- an all black cast!

That one I’m sure not to miss!

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Hokusai Says"

By Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive -- shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees.

Wood is alive.

Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn't matter if you draw, or write books.

It doesn't matter if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn't matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your veranda or the shadows of

the trees and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.

Peace is life living through you.

He says don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.  

For a wonderful illustrated reading, go to You Tube.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Even Thomas the Train Engine Stereotypes Women!

My grandson is now off the charts crazy about his new “Thomas the Tank Engine Busy Book.”

That’s too bad because as my son-in-law quickly discovered, the book sends all the WRONG messages about little girl trains.

It seems astonishing that a book like this would be published. I mean it’s almost 2017. But then again it’s not so surprising if you consider that a misogynist was elected to the White House.

After talking to my daughter the other day, I feel it’s important to urge other parents: DO NOT BUY THIS BACKWARD LITTLE CHILDREN”S BOOK because it reinforces some of the negative messages about women that we are trying so hard to dispel.

Thomas the Tank Engine, for those who don’t know, is a very popular character. A bright blue engine with a big smile, Thomas appears in dozens of books and is licensed for an array of other kiddy toys and other products. I remember my son, now 27, had a cute little blue pail that featured the popular little train.

Thomas has has an array of other trains as friends.

In this busy book, there’s Percy and James and Gordon. These brave little trains are “eager to be Really Useful Trains.” And so they are, picking up and delivering important cargo.

A fifth train, “Sleek and shiny Spencer, delivers passangers of the royal kind.” He has “pride for a job well done.”

Ah, but then the female trains are introduced. 

“Wise and older Edward always has good advice for Emily, who really is a very nice engine but who can be a bit bossy.”

Bossy, huh? How so? Because Emily has her own thoughts and opinions about how to be a train? Geesh.

A couple of pages later Rosie appears.

“Cheeky Thomas and lively Rosie make a good pair. Although Rosie’s enthusiasm for everything Thomas does can sometimes annoy him, Thomas has come to realize that they are Really Useful Engines.” Poor Thomas, having to put up with that annoying little Rosie. Lucky Thomas, that none of his male friends annoy him!

Finally, there is Mavis: “Thomas knows he can rely on this strong-willed yet friendly diesel...” Come on now. If we said Thomas was strong-willed, would that be perceived as a negative quality? Why can’t women be strong-willed too? And “yet friendly.” Does that quality offset her knowing her mind and sticking to her goals?

Who wrote these lines? The book is published by Phildal, a company based in Quebec.

My daughter’s solution, for now, is to read only those parts of the book that are not objectionable.

But as soon as my grandson loses interest, this book will disappear for good, as well it should.

This piece appeared first in the Huffington Post.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This is Chapter One

So I am preparing to figure out how to publish Sister Mysteries. My husband says, do it as an ebook. My friend and fellow writer Sharon Flitterman-King says, go to Troy Books, as her new book, Articulate Terrain is coming out of that publishing company shortly.

While I muse over the possibilities, I thought I would try to hook your interest in the novel. Once again, I am putting it on a blog. Stupid, most people say. A waste of time, others insist. People don't read long long long long blog posts.

OK, call me stupid. Call me stubborn.

All I'm asking is that you give it a try.

And if you would, let me know how far you read before you go to another site.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Keys to Happiness

I have come here to raise my eyes.
I have come here to keep them riveted on heavenly light.
When I feel my eyes, that window, when I feel
my eyes my heart my soul closing, I take 
a small breath and say a simple prayer
Help me keep my spirits, my breath, steady,
help me keep my heart open to hope and possibility and the beauty
all around me

No matter that icicles drip
lower than the windows. No matter 
that the snow is deeper on this November day
than it is in much of January.
This is plain white, the snow the snow
the soft the soft soft soft fluff of cotton.
All is right with the world when we are
wrapped in cotton warmed by
others. Loved this way, our inner eyes 
open to the moonlit trees at night
We see pink and lemon sunrise and
turquoise oceans and cozy fires and warm foamy
baths and tender new grass and chocolate puppies 
and purple tulips and two people kissing under a starry sky.

It is a miracle that we are able to 
see what we cannot see.
It is a blessing that these tapping keys are keys
to the world of words that
can make you feel sunlight
even though it’s millions of miles away.