Resolutions–January Review

Well, January felt like the longest month of all months ever. How are things going, resolution-wise? Exactly one thing actually crossed off the list. But progress on some others, and absolutely no progress on other others. Not a terrible start to the year!

  1. Drink more water. This lasted about a week. Now I’m back to my usual dehydrating schedule of gallons of daily coffee. More water necessary. I definitely notice that on the days where I don’t drink enough water, getting through the evening commute/dinner hour/bedtime is rough–I get hangry and light-headed. 
  2. Sleep at least 6 hours per night. See below. 
  3. Aim for 7. LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL! NOPE. Well, I’m alternating. Work has been busy and I’ve been up crazy late, way too often. Plus reading Twitter and fretting about the state of the world. I do this for about a week in a row until I’m completely exhausted and then go to bed freakishly early on alternate weeks. As usual, I’ve got to get back on a more moderate, regular schedule. 
  4. Exercise 5 days per week. See above.
  5. Eat more vegetables. We’re doing it! See below. Still not as many as we should or could be eating, but there has been a real, significant uptick in the volume of fresh vegetables consumed. 
  6. Be kinder to my spouse. I try to observe and appreciate *everything,* not take anything for granted, and verbally thank as much as possible. Whether in general I’m in a more friendly mood overall, not so sure. But I am trying to be proactively more gracious and appreciative. 
  7. Be less rigid. Eh….
  8. Have more fun. Eh….
  9. Roll with the punches. Eh…..
  10. Take the long view. Everything is temporary. Everything can change. Indeed, everything will change, whether I want it to or not. It’s hard to take the long view when the last two weeks has felt like ten years. Will keep trying. 
  11. Take myself as seriously as I expect other people to take me (like, carry business cards and shit). I think I am doing this. I’m assuming, for example, that I’m not dispensable or an accessory at things, and taking my attendance and contributions and leadership appropriately seriously, and I think it’s making a real difference. Bit by bit. So, I will keep it up. 
  12. But also take stuff in general less seriously. Eh….
  13. But also do not become complacent/paralyzed/apathetic re: the world/our nation/social justice. I stalled out after Thanksgiving and it took until the travel ban to really get jump-started again. We marched in our little city on Jan 21 and that was great and important and galvanizing but let’s be honest, it was also largely a feel-good thing (if also a visibility thing). It wasn’t until I woke up last Saturday morning and read all the travel ban stuff that I got back on the phone with my representatives. I also spent about an hour digging about the Department of Homeland Security website until I found an appropriate number to call and complain, and I shared it with a few folks, who shared it with a few groups, and I know word got out to others. I don’t even know if it was the right number, but I did *something*, and the something had ripple effects. After the election, before Thanksgiving, the idea of having only one action a week felt absurd and not enough. And it probably isn’t enough. But now, now that we’re in it, for the long hall, holding myself to one concrete action a week means I’m *taking* one action a week, and it may help stretch out my stamina to stay in this, as long as we need to. So, trying to stay engaged, but also pace myself. 
  14. Just keep grieving. I feel like Trump has pulled me out of my grief slump kinda the same way WWII pulled America out of the Great Depression. Like, suddenly something so much bigger, requiring everyone to rally and work together and combine resources, has come into being, and as Enjolras put it, our littlel lives don’t count at all. But also: In January we had my aunt’s birthday, Liddie’s birthday, my grandma’s birthday, and my dad’s birthday, in that order. He had a huge sweet tooth, and I made a batch of double chocolate cupcakes–the same ones we had for his 60th birthday–to honor the day.
  15. Pull my weight re: nurturing friendships; do my fair share of organizing, hosting, prodding, reaching out, reminding, and lowering the overhead as much as possible for busy people to spend good time together. Yeah! I’ve re-instated a weekly ice skating lunch with a good friend, hosted a book club meeting, and organized a trip to see a play with friends in June. Doin’ it! Will keep it up!
  16. Participate in the weekly Sunday night potluck dinner organized by a former neighbor at least quarterly. Aim for monthly. Our neighbors are valiantly continuing to host this meal on a weekly basis, and we haven’t gone yet. By Sunday night we’re usually just feeling so tired and anti-social we’re not really up for anything. Will continue to try. 
  17. Cook more real food for dinner at my house. We’re doing it! But, it’s hard to say if it’s worth it. What does “worth it” even mean? These evenings are rough, and cooking with toddlers is rough. I used to think it was just an unfortunate coincidence that everyone I knew who had a bad accident in the kitchen had small children. Ha. THIS IS NOT A COINCIDENCE. This WEEK alone, I burned my arm pretty badly and cut my finger. I admit that I *have* really been enjoying eating more actual, whole foods and fresh vegetables. Food tastes better and I appreciate it more. Will try to keep this up However, it turns out to be in conflict with the following: 
  18. Eat dinner as a family, at the table. Yeah! Kinda sorta. We’re doing it more than we ever did before, and it’s great! We like it, and Liddie likes it too! She now always tries to get us to sit down with her before she will eat. But cooking *and* eating together is hard. We did it for a week or so and her bedtime kept getting pushed later and later and later. I feel like we need to figure out some kind of balance between nights where she eats with us, but we have a super easy dinner, and nice where we cook something a little more involved and eat after she goes down. But *then* we achieve the goals of cooking more and eating together more, but we don’t have a predictable routine for the girl, and that’s something she likes and needs. *shrug.* So much of working + adulting + parenting = can’t win/do what you need to get by. 
  19. Make time to speak with my mom at least weekly, more if possible. We’re both sick and tired a lot, but we’re doing it! 
  20. Make time to speak to my aunt and my grandma at least monthly, more if possible. Well we’re only a month in, and I have talked to my grandma on the phone once and Skyped with my aunt with Liddie. So I guess technically I haven’t fallen behind yet, though I don’t feel like I’m doing much to reach out and be supportive. Keep it up, self, and don’t fall behind. 
  21. Curtail Facebook usage (unless actually writing meaningful messages to the above or others) That’s a big NOPE. I even blocked it from my work computer–and then unblocked it after two days. 
  22. Blog more. Not yet…
  23. Write more letters. Not yet….see below: at some point I’ll unpack my stationery, pens, and address book and then I’ll get on with things. And I just wrote my first postcard of the year! (it’s to a friend, not a political protest) Now to actually mail it….
  24. Make a weekend with Kelsey and Robyn happen. Yes! It’s happening! It’s booked! First weekend together in like ten years. I can’t wait! I’ll officially cross it off the list after it happens. 
  25. Visit my aunt and grandma in Denver Yup!–I’ll tack this on to the front of the weekend with Kelsey and Robyn. But, this is only a half success, I’d say: I’m not bringing Liddie on this trip, which will leave everyone in the family unsatisfied. 
  26. Get my high school girlfriends to Michigan for a visit. No plans yet. 
  27. Take one awesome, adventurous, ambitious family vacation. No plans yet. First concrete step: get Liddie a passport. I’m irrationally paranoid about doing this because I’m somehow afraid that the record of her birth certificate–literally the only evidence that we are family–will somehow disappear in the process, or that something will go terribly wrong. Need to just get on with it, as it will open up our options so much! Also to be prepared in case of emergency bug-out. 
  28. Make our bedroom a nice, warm, comfortable, functional, attractive, calming, intentional place to be, rather than the garbage pile where we hide everything that we don’t want anyone else to see. Paint. Window treatments. Closet. A bed. OK. We have a bed. It’s 90% assembled–the last step is going to be a stupid doozy. And no progress on anything else. 
  29. Renovate our kitchen. No progress. I’m coming around to really liking some parts of our kitchen. Other parts (portable dishwasher that connects to sink, flat white cupboards that show every single stain and grease spot) I am SO done with. I also feel wary, like, we shouldn’t spend so much money with the way the world is right now. I’d rather have savings in the bank and not luxuriate/spoil ourselves when the world is so rough. I don’t know. We’ll see. 
  30. Establish a personal desk/table/corner/space for my crafts/personal projects/special off-limits pens/whatever. Well, the table is ready, but covered with junk. Oh man, keeping surfaces free of garbage/other people’s mail takes such freaking EFFORT. I have an empty set of plastic drawers set up under the table. Next step: unpack all my desk stuff from the old house. I still have no stationary, pens, stamps, my address book, etc., at hand. 
  31. When not on vacation/sick/out of the office, respond to email within 48 hours. I think I’m getting better, but how can one know for sure? Just kidding. I know one can know for sure. I think to test myself on this it would be a good idea to put some kind of alert on emails that haven’t been dealt after 48 hours. 
  32. Fix our goddamn roof. YES DONE! One actual task checked off the list!
  33. Obtain access to a functional and comfortable bicycle. No progress. 
  34. Create playroom space in our basement. No progress. Jeez, the basement is still half full of packed boxes from moving. 
  35. Swimming lessons for Liddie. No progress. 
  36. Take Liddie ice skating. No progress.
  37. Help my mom move out of our family home. Ease this transition as much as possible with significant practical and emotional support, i.e. a substantial stay with her this spring.  Cry as much as needed. Do not withdraw, do not fail to show up for this. I’ve blocked a week on my calendar in April when I might go, stay, and help, but need to, you know, talk to Mom about this and make sure it works for her schedule. 
  38. Cruise on my brother’s schooner!!! Mom has booked her trip for the first week of August and invited Sam and me to join. We need to figure out what we’d do with Liddie and if we can manage it in general–but the door is open. 
  39. Make regular donations to worthy causes. Yes! Ongoing! Monthly gifts set up to ACLU (doubled my existing monthly gift after the travel ban) and Planned Parenthood. Annual memberships to the Detroit Zoo and the Detroit Institute of Art. Instead of signing up for TSA pre-Check as I had planned, I gave the $85 as a one time gift to the International Rescue Committee.  Add to this existing monthly gift to the Uganda Community Project. 
  40. Visit with Liddie’s birthmother in person at least once. Aim for three times. Need to get in touch with her. Sent some pictures after Liddie’s birthday, but haven’t tried to set up a meeting yet. 
  41. Do something fun on purpose for my birthday. This won’t be til June.
  42. Participate in the neighborhood yard sale. See above. 
  43. Go to the beach. Ehhhh, there’s time, there’s time. 
  44. Find a way that also works for spouse to regularly schedule to space and time to myself that does not involve staying up puttering until 1 a.m.: mental health days, Saturday mornings out, whatever. Well, I was sick yesterday and slept literally the entire day. Does that count? Also, Sam took L to the grocery store this afternoon (right now) and I am supposed to be vacuuming (see no. 46)
  45. Set up auto-pay or reminders as appropriate to pay all bills on time. Well, I got in a fight with a customer service rep at AmEx because I couldn’t log into the site on the day my bill was due, and wanted them to waive my late fee, and they did, but then the guy got condescending with me about why it was my fault that I couldn’t log into the site….so, that counts, right? In all seriousness, I am starting to get a fresh handle on our finances in this new house world and that’s a good thing. 
  46. Clean house more consistently. Sweep, vacuum and bathrooms weekly, that would be  a significant improvement and good enough. I’m hitting maybe 50% of my very minimal house cleaning goals. We are constantly drowning in laundry and dishes, and getting out in front of that often feels impossible and discouraging.
  47. See more movies in the theater. Enough movies that I’m not devastated every time I manage to go and it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I love going to the movies. It brings me joy and it is probably the number one thing that I used to do a lot of and now do practically none of. So far zero movies in 2017. 😦 
  48. See at least one live theater performance. Booked! Going to see Fun Home in June when it passes through East Lansing. 
  49. Have a big-ass Christmas tree. A little early to tackle this one. 

Seven Chances

Man must take a bride by 7 p.m. today or forego his inheritance. (Who comes up with these plots? Why does this trope resonate so much with audiences? Was this the first time it was done? Is The Bachelor starring Chris O’Donnell the MOST ’90s movie ever made? So many questions.)

I knew that Buster Keaton being chased down the street by a mob of brides was classic thing, imitated and referenced pretty much constantly since it first happened:

What I did not know is that the Buster Keaton chase actually goes on for nearly 14 minutes. Uphill and downhill. Over mountains and lakes. There are boulders. There are bees. It’s amazing.

The whole movie, by the way, is only 56 minutes long, so it’s more chase than anything else.

Unfortunately, several other precious minutes of film are dedicated to racism, including a major plot point dependent upon a servant–played painfully by a white actor in blackface–failing to deliver an important message in time and a couple of jokes that count on the audience recognizing interracial marriage as a hilarious absurdity. Nothing beyond what would probably be expected in a film of this era, I guess, but I wasn’t expecting it, and you need to know it’s there before you plunk your kids down in front of this one.

I’m not totally clear on what the eponymous “seven chances” were, but people, let this be a frickin’ lesson to you: if you are already with the person you want to be with, and marriage is important to you due to impending financial ruin (or other reasons!), don’t wait for their Great Dane puppy to grow to full size before you propose.

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Mothers Day Movies: Strangers Like Me

The Prince of Egypt. Tarzan. Mommie Dearest. Um….one of these things is not like the others?

These are three movies I watched while on leave with my infant daughter that resonate differently after you’ve adopted a child than before.

MV5BMTg0NTQ4MDU4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjk2MjE5._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_The Prince of Egypt: We watched this on on Easter Sunday morning because I thought we should probably do something, even though that something wasn’t going to involve church. Frankly, I’d forgotten what a beautiful and powerful movie this is…and also how many famous people voiced its characters (interestingly, this movie was recently noted as one of the few examples of Hollywood not whitewashing Biblical stories. That may be true for the animation, but the very famous celebrity actors voicing these characters are, with just a couple of exceptions, all pretty dang white and western.)

Now, I went to Sunday School ALL the way through, and I know my Bible stories, not to mention my baby gear. I know Moses’ deal. But I had forgotten how much this retelling of the story engages with Moses’ internal conflict over finding his roots as a Hebrew slave–and meeting his living biological brother and sister–after being raised as the son of the Egyptian Pharaoh.

In Moses’ case, the story is complicated further by the fact that he has a third family. In addition to his family of origin and the family that raised him, he has what in today’s parlance we might call his “chosen family,” the Midianites. He belonged to a close-knit group and had a pretty happy life as a shepherd in the desert!

In the movie, Moses’ Egyptian mother says, “When the gods send you a blessing, you don’t ask why it was sent.” Their message to him is: Don’t look, don’t question. But The Prince of Egypt forces the question, Who are you? Who are you really? Who are your parents? Who is your brother? Who are your people? Are you oppressor or oppressed? Both or neither? What happens when siding with one means severing all ties with the other?

Five thousand years later, parents and children of different races still have to reckon with these questions.

Key takeaway: You can have a loving family, a good job, plenty to give and plenty to do, and still need to come to terms with where you come from. Sometimes that means embracing it all, but sometimes it means choosing a side. Choosing not to look is not an option. 

Oh, and by the way, watching a desperate mother float her baby down the Nile in a basket is one of those things that feels a lot different when you’re holding a tiny baby that seems to have drifted out of the reeds and into your world.

Mommie Dearest. This is one of those movies that I knew (“NO WIRE HANGERS!”), but I didn’t really know. I knew it was the film version of Joan Crawford’s daughter’s memoir. And I knew Crawford’s children were adopted. What I did not know was that the first 15 minutes of the film would be dedicated to Crawford being rejected from all legitimate paths to adoption, and that her boyfriend would ultimately buy her a baby of dubious origin. And then she would do this again. (And again and again and again, though that’s not in the movie.)

The thing is, Joan Crawford as she is portrayed this film should have been rejected for adoption. Not for the weak-ass reasons the agency gave–that she was a divorced working actress–but because she was a dangerous and terrifying person for a child, or anyone really, to live with and depend upon. It’s basically Sunset Blvd. all over again, except in this story she’s responsible for and at the same time deeply threatened by the children she has taken into her home, especially her oldest daughter.

These independent humans with their own minds and wishes and personalities are utterly incompatible with the hermetic universe that Crawford has elaborately constructed to (barely) hold herself together. But she’s not just a black and white villain, either. She is an extreme example of a highly successful, famous, wealthy, deeply insecure, possibly mentally ill woman used to exerting a great deal of control over her world, who desperately wanted a baby to “complete” her life experience, and couldn’t adjust when said babies didn’t conform to her rigid expectations. It’s gut-wrenching, to say the least.

Key takeaway: All parents need to come to terms with the fact that their children are individuals, not clones, accessories, or personal do-overs. But I suspect this may be especially true for adoptive parents, who may have spent more time imagining the perfect miracle child to fill a perceived hole in their lives. Most of us are not like Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford. Thank God. But we parents, all of us, are susceptible to this kind of thinking, if on a much smaller scale. We force our will, our weakness, our fears on our children at our peril (and theirs). 

The opening scene of Faye Dunaway going through Crawford’s morning toilette is incredible, and sets you up with a knot in your stomach and pretty much all you need to know about the main character:

Tarzan

MV5BMTIxNzY1MDg2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDgxMDEzMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_AL_In the Disney version of this story, baby Tarzan is rescued by Kala, a gorilla whose own baby was killed by the same jaguar that killed Tarzan’s parents (got that?). As Tarzan grows up, his emergent human traits awe and distress his simian family. Tarzan, too, constantly wonders whether he really fits in with this tribe. Kala and Tarzan play a game where they count all the ways they’re alike–two eyes, two ears, one nose, one heart. It’s a sweet effort but so insufficient–after all, likenesses like these put them in the same category as the murderous cat that killed their loved ones. What I like is, the movie shows both sides: game comforts Tarzan and Kala to some extent–but they also both see how it falls short. When they hold their hands up to one another, it’s obvious that they don’t “fit.”

When explorers of mixed intent arrive on the island, Tarzan for the first time recognizes “Strangers like me” and begins to lead a double life between the jungle and the shore.

The most ridiculous shortcoming in the story is when Kala finally decides to reveal “the truth” about Tarzan’s origins to him. “I should have told you long ago….” she says. Told him what? That he’s a different species than the rest of his family? Like, this is known, right? Yeah, that answers a lot of questions.

While watching this, I was thinking, “Wow, this is really dark and violent!” (The death of the villain, in particular, is pretty brutal). But, compared to what? Mufasa being trampled by wildebeests? Gaston stabbing the beast and falling off a castle? Eric fricking stabbing Ursula in the belly with the prow of a ship? So…yeah. It’s just your average, run-of-the-mill Disney death stuff here.

And one day before Mothers’ Day you may find yourself bouncing around with a babe in your arms and You’ll Be in My Heart shuffles up on the playlist, and you will find yourself blubbering and unable to stop.

Key Takeaway: 

Ready for My Close Up

Sunset-Boulevard-1950-Wallpapers-2In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve used my leave to watch all the movies I always wanted to watch and never got around to. And also all the movies I never knew I needed to know about. Sunset Blvd., of course, falls into the first of these categories.

I watched Sunset Blvd., Mommie Dearest, and Grey Gardens all in the same week, which is…um, a lot to take at once. I recommend them all but, you know….maybe spread them out a bit.

Movies about making movies are simply the best. So are movies about complicated women who have won and lost everything.  I can’t believe I’d never seen this one before.

The beginning, when William Holden is hustling for work, dodging the repo men and pitching stories to studios, all with a noir-style “this is how it happened” voiceover..it’s just fantastic. I meant to just have this on while I puttered around–feeding the babe, making dinner, whatever, but five minutes in I was rapt, just staring at the screen, elbows on my knees.

And then he stumbles into Norma Desmond’s decrepit Gothic mansion on the very day she’s holding a funeral for her dead chimpanzee (yes!), and things just escalate from there. The pipe organ! The parties and non-parties! Her eyes! Her obsession with playing Salome! Whole movie studios keeping up an elaborate charade to avoid upsetting her!

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“There’s nothing tragic about being fifty. Not unless you’re trying to be twenty-five.” ….said a 32-year-old dude.

It’s all the more poignant, of course, because Gloria Swanson, who plays Norma Desmond, basically lived the character’s experience: a silent film star who worked closely with Cecil B. DeMille, Swanson made 28 movies in the 1920s (not to mention 28 credited roles before 1920!)…and 4 in the 1930s. That hard turn also indicates where she herself hit her 30s, so this might be as much about women aging in Hollywood as it is about changing taste and technology. Not that that makes it better.

Other than the utterly iconic last scene, I will say this is one that fell apart for me a bit as it trudged on. I just wasn’t that interested in William Holden’s love connection with young writer Betty Schaefer, though I guess it gave him some motivation to try to escape Gloria Swanson’s clutches. And once we were deep into the drama, the first-person narration started to feel less like noir-y stylishness (stylish noir-iness?) and more like lazy storytelling. Meh. It’s also possible that I just started getting distracted by chores, by baby, by a tempting nap, etc., and didn’t give some of the middle bit my full attention. Or maybe it’s just the genre…I found that the same thing happened when I watched Double Indemnity.

Still, now that I’ve seen it, it feels like an important hole has been filled in. This is one of those movies that is referenced so much, and that everyone knows enough about to get by: the main plot, the ending, a couple of key scenes or lines (“I am big! It’s pictures that got small”).

I think the reason I was so drawn in right from the start is that there was just so much more to it than I knew or expected: it was cleverer, weirder, funnier, darker, sadder, scarier, bigger, just MORE than I’d counted on. It’s a pretty weird thing for a classic this classic to exceed your expectations, but this one did.

If you’ve always pretended that you’ve seen Sunset Blvd. but never really bothered (or assumed you didn’t need to), just do it already.

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“You there! Why are you so late? Why have you kept me waiting so long?”

Next up, All About Eve?

Mystic Pizza

It’s basically The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Without the pants. Or the traveling.mystic-pizza

And Julia Roberts has a booty!

And Julia Roberts has a booty!

And Vincent D'Onofrio as a studly young fisherman!

And Vincent D’Onofrio is a studly young fisherman!

And a cameo by baby Matt Damon!

And a cameo by baby Matt Damon!

I was too young for this to be a vital coming-of-age movie for me (and it lacked the constant cable TV presence of Dirty Dancing to win over a new generation) but just the right age to see all of these actors come into their own in the ’90s and ’00s. So, it’s a hoot to go back and look at them all in these early days.

If you grew up watching Now and Then, but you’ve never seen Mystic Pizza, you should. If you don’t feel at home in the genre of vintage adolescent-ish sisters-before-misters fare, feel free to give it a miss.