Which Button Do I Push?

It’s Friday night. My mates and I have driven 4 hours north to our cabin near the lake. It’s a long drive, but every time I stand on the deck/porch I tell myself it’s worth it.

We have no cable, no Internet (except for a hot spot, which I am using as we speak), no TV. Radio, okay. CDs and Tapes if we are in the mood. Being four hours away from the small town/city I live in makes all the difference in the world.

So here I am Friday night, wanting to watch a DVD, and I’m confronted with four controllers, one TV, one VCR, one gaming device, and one DVD player.

Good luck trying to figure out how to watch a movie.

One machine shows DVD, Tape, TV, SAT, and several other choices. Pick a device, pick a controller, and hopefully you’ll find your way to a movie.

Not me.

It’s not that technology has passed me by — I just can’t figure out which dang controller goes with which dang machine. Or which order I’m supposed to push the buttons. I don’t consider myself technically challenged until I get into the comfort of my own home. One wrong button and I’ve changed cable channels, input mechanisms, and devices.

I don’t get it. I’ve learned new programs at work like Wrike and Google Analytics and Agora Pulse, yet the mere appearance of more than one TV controller sends me into Flipper Hell.

Why does everything need to be so complicated?

My hubby and I like to play video games, especially Gauntlet on PS2. But by the time I change input and turn this machine on and that machine off, I’ve given up and resolved myself to watching  Deadliest Catch reruns.

This is the part of getting older I hate. Not remembering which machines to turn on, which buttons to push, how to get back from pushing the wrong button.

I wonder if that’s a metaphor for my life.

I don’t have time to think about the cosmic applications and interpretations of such. All I want to do at the moment is watch The Mummy on DVD.

Buttons be damned.

 

I Don’t Like That I Don’t Get It

I had an odd reaction to a movie I watched the other night, and I’m not sure I want to talk about it. Yet it affected me in ways that I don’t like, because it makes me reflect on parts of me that I don’t like.

I watched one of those Barbershop movies. I don’t know if those comedy/dramas that happen in the ‘hood interest you, but I enjoy the hip language and colorful culture that’s portrayed.  The first two movies were more about the barbershop starting or moving, and the interactions between those who decided to stay and make the shop their own. The third one was more about the same barbershop owner trying to keep his kid out of gangs, along with the effects gangs were having on the ‘hood. This installment was darker, edgier, the gangs scarier, and the vocabulary a lot more raunchy.

I enjoyed the darkness — I didn’t get what all the T&A had to do with it.

The first thing that comes to mind when I don’t like something is that I’m turning into an old fogie. While there’s no doubt that’s true, I like to think that I keep up with the younger generations fairly well. I know it’s more than bro and bae, and I try and keep and open mind. After all, my parents rolled their eyes at me, and their parents at them. And I’m not aghast at swearing or sexual innuendos or basic raw sex.  Been there, done that, too. I can cleavage with the best of them. But there was something about the sexual volleys between the sexes that seemed so raw and offensive, I wondered what the point was.

Look. I know I’m whitebread. I’ve never denied that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to walk through the world with blinders on. I know with every new generation the boundaries are looser and farther away, society is wilder and more demanding, and the chances of success fewer and fewer.

But this…

This is why I didn’t want to talk about it. My prudish self is coming out. But I couldn’t help but react to the big, tightly-wrapped booties sticking out and shaking and cleavage falling out to one’s belly button and sizes of anatomy parts. What are they saying? What image of life are they trying to portray?

Just like I can’t wrap my head around today’s politics, I also can’t wrap my head around the plight of inner city situations. I am removed, so there is no way I could understand. And because I can’t understand I have no idea what they’re all going through.

And something tells me I should.

Everyone’s life is different. From Africa to the south side of Chicago, from Buckingham Palace to small town Hebron, everyone’s story starts where they are born and ends where they die. And every single thing that blows by affects our lives whether we want them too or not.

I’d like to think that there is still such a thing as self respect. That being sassy, being cool, being a smart ass is a show of confidence. That talking trash about body parts and sexual positions are signs that the we’re not afraid to bring these taboos into the light.

But sometimes I wonder. Is it them — or me?

Chinese Magic

chinese-dragonI have a confession to make.

Sometimes in the evening, all by myself except the dogs and cats, doing a little research (not real writing), I’ve found myself checking into Netflix for background entertainment. Not so bad, really…

Except I’ve been watching these really strange, weird, truly localized movies from China and Japan. Period pieces especially, but fantasy ones too. Mojin: The Lost Legend. Journey to the West: The Legend of the Monkey King. Fearless. Seven Samarai.

And I have to tell you, it’s strange fun.

As one might expect, although there are universal themes that run through every movie, every culture has its own take on how to present those themes. Chinese and Japanese cinematography is every bit as amazing and imaginative as its partners in other countries. There may be a bit more martial arts  (at least there are in the movies I’ve chosen), and their approach to the walking dead and magic and monsters is unique to their audience. The music might sometimes be off (Jazz in Mojin?), but that might be to contrast modernism with ancient worlds. They do a lot of swearing in these movies, too, but since I don’t understand a word of it, I’m not offended.

There is something wonderfully mysterious about ancient Chinese and Japanese culture. To many who are born and raised in the United States in general and the Midwest in particular, these countries are as far away as the Andromeda Galaxy. The language, the traditions, are so different that you can’t help but be wrapped up in their heady perfume. Even if the genres are fantasy, you can learn a lot about a culture from the way they interact with each other. The things they say. The things they don’t say.

I am finding this true in art, too. I feel like I’ve lived so long with blinders on that I never knew there was art outside of Monet and Renoir. That a painting, a sculpture, a movie, can speak thousands of words about a person’s heritage, beliefs, and history. That the art of the Netherlands is just as mysterious and beautiful as that of Harlem. That there is a place in history for shoguns as well as scullions.

And all the fields of Creativity are speaking to us.

Of course, the main reason I don’t get much writing done is that I have to read the subtitles on the screen. (That’s how I know about the swearing.) And you really have to concentrate, because each movie has different inferences. Like the one I just watched was big into Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The one the other night was big into Buddha. And Fearless was about the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation. Important conversations and innuendoes that you would miss if you were merely listening to the movie while, say, doing the dishes.

The Han Dynasty. The 18th Dynasty of  Tutankhamun. The Age of the Vikings  from 8th century to mid 11th century A.D. The Middle Ages. Genghis Khan, Emperor of the Mongol Empire in 1206. Worlds we can only imagine. Worlds only writers and historians can imagine. I just can’t resist books and documentaries and movies that put only a toe into those oceans of the past. Time travel of the most extraordinary kind.

Maybe that’s why these exotic Chinese movies interest me so much. Even if made in modern times, they reflect ancient traditions. Ancient worlds. Places I will never experience except in my mind.

But Ho! I’ve learned something too —  who knew they had the same swear words in Ancient China as they do today?

Sweet, Sticky Christmas Movies

91QU10iPjGL__AA1500_I do not consider myself a cynic. Maybe a bit disillusioned, but for the most part I’m a pretty good-natured gal.

As THE day approaches,  TV is wrestling with itself to see how many Christmas movies they can squeeze into 24 hours.

Apparently a lot.

I find that movies at Christmas time can really divide a family. If I say there are so many sappy movies on that it makes my teeth hurt, I’m a curmudgeon. If I watch them with devoted fervor, I’m a sap. Every movie is a reflection of Harlequin novels, which have a specific outline. For example, here are a few requirements for one line of Harlequin novels.

Harlequin Heartwarming

  • Clean, emotional, satisfying romances that readers can feel comfortable sharing with their friends and family of all ages
  • Romance, family and community are strong features of these stories
  • Characters demonstrate traditional values, but exhibit flaws and overcome hurdles similar to those in other contemporary series romances
  • Conflict between the main characters should be an emotional one, arising naturally from the story
  • Plots unfold in a wholesome style and voice that excludes explicit sex or nudity, pre-marital sex, profanity, or graphic depictions of violence: references to violent incidents or pre-marital sex in the past are acceptable if they contribute to character development
  • Physical interactions (i.e. kissing/hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality: low level of sexual tension; characters should not make love unless they are married

A clean, healthy dose of falling in love. And little (if any) sex.  Fall in true love first, ruffle the sheets later. Oh. And happily ever after. MUST have happily ever after.

Now, before I go further, know that I am for writing anything as long as it holds the reader’s interest and your heart. The same should be true about romance movies, too. But these syrupy sweet movies  make my teeth hurt. The men and women are always beautiful but flawed, their hangups based on past incidents they never quite got over, their kids sweet, the snow perfect.

I have yet to see a made-for-TV movie where the woman is middle-aged, chubby, and works at a diner. I have yet to see young men working as truck drivers or fork lift drivers wind up with the rich debutante. I know these are supposed to be feel-good, make-believe types of stories — ones that give hope to those who have less-than-perfect holidays.

I have had less-than-perfect holidays, and all those movies do is make me itch.

I’ll be the first to admit that one reason I back away from feel-good confections like these is that I’m afraid I’ll start to cry, and the doors to the tear bank won’t stop until I’ve refreshed them with a sandwich or glass of wine. That’s why I stay away from sappy crybaby stories all together. Old Yeller. Beaches. Turner and Hootch. Bambi.

Another reason I tend to stay away from TV Christmas movies is that there are so many commercials they make my eyes sting. It’s like little needles going into my forehead. I hate commercials. Beautiful people selling fun, beauty, and car insurance.

Okay — I’m not really against feel-good movies. The ones I watched last week were pretty decent, considering I saw the same theme played out 3 different ways. And I did wind up admitting they were “cute.”

Maybe I hold a little resentment because my Christmases are always a madhouse. Some is my own doing; some because others hold the strings to my Santa Claus puppet heart. It’s all done with love, but there’s really not much rest, either in front of a fireplace or under the mistletoe, like in the movies. It’s run, hug, kiss, eat, drive to another place, hug, kiss, eat, go home, wrap presents, fall down frozen from exhaust until 5 a.m. when grandbaby comes in and says, “Granny! Santa came!”

I think I’m beginning to hear that sappy Christmas movie music again….

 

I’m Coming to Get You…

scaryWhat does it take to scare you? Rather, what does it take in a movie to scare you?

Things have certainly changed since Boris Karloff chugged along as Frankenstein. These days readers and movie goers have seen just about everything there is to see in the blood and guts world. I mean, most of what is considered “horror” is really more “disgust.” How much you can do to the human body and still let them live. Even when the story is clever, there’s nothing about losing limbs and buckets of blood that make those little hairs on your head stand up.

Writing horror isn’t easy. It’s not easy to twist plots and rattle windows and whisper in someone’s ear and have them be truly frightened. Portraying that same creepy feeling on film is not easy, either. I get it. But the more we grow spiritiually, emotionally, and psychologically, the more it takes to catch us off guard.

My son gets Netflix, so I decided to take a ride down the horror road and see what I could see. Half of the movies I’ve seen, half I have no interest in. Maybe it’s being older, but just because someone has pins in his head doesn’t make someone scary. Yet, the way Hellraiser talked, the way he held himself, the way he slowly pried his way into the lives of the unsuspecting — now that was pretty creepy. It turned pretty bloody/gutsy, but the earlier ones threatened more and showed less. I tried one from France: some kids climbing over a locked gate and mountain climbing into the horror pit where some hillbilly wacko lived. (Teenagers are always so dumb.)

I’ve tried old ones (The Scream series), I’ve tried new ones (The Walking Dead). I’ve tried ghosts, monsters, psychos, and snakes. Some make it to kinda creepy, others are just d-u-m-b. The Saw series is nothing but bloody psychological terror, one fingernail at a time. But it’s not horror.

Back in the day, movies like Psycho and Halloween  brought “real life” horror into the realm of the everyday. The Exorcist and Night of the Living Dead put normal people in abnormal — and often deadly — situations. Alien and The Thing took those same situations and put them in outer space or in the future.  Devil possession, zombies, psychos in masks — how can you deal with those?

But as the years passed, what was once novelty became remakes, each one more technically savvy but emotionally empty. By the time Halloween VI or Alien Resurrection came along, nothing was new. We’d been there, done that. Only the stars had changed. And the ability to frighten us.

So what kind of movies twinkle my creepy twinkie?

It’s obvious that humankind wants to be frightened now and then. Controlled frightened. Like frightened for the length of  a movie only.  The Grudge was pretty scary, with dead bodies scurring across the ceiling and up the stairs. The first couple Aliens were pretty scary, even though by the second one we knew the formula (pick off people one by one). Even though my husband and kids disagree by miles, I loved Cabin in the Woods, because it brought all possible endings and villians to the end. I’m hooked on The Walking Dead — I mean, sheriff driving around, looking at overturned trucks and abandoned cars, wondering what’s up, and the next thing you know — Armageddeon! How can you not be creeped out by that?

I loved the old “The Haunting“, and pffffted the remake. I wasn’t scared by windows turning into eyes and canopy beds coming down to squish the heroine — I loved the old black and white because you couldn’t see the adversary. Who can forget the lion’s head doorknob turning evvver-soooo-slooowly? Or the banging and breathing of the bedroom door? You never once saw a bloody hand or face or someone’s entrails spilled on the floor. It was your imagination that frightened you.

And that, I think, is the heart of anything scary. The victims on the screen have to be you, but not you. To be tortured would be cruel beyond imagination. To have a child see dead people everywhere — that’s another story. To be able to capture your imagination and be three steps ahead of it is the true heart of a scary story. To not be able to tell what is real and what isn’t — that’s the stuff nightmares are made of. Movie or not.

So tell me — have you seen any good scary movies lately?

Are You Plugged In?

plugOne sign of getting older is that I seem to notice things I’ve never noticed before. I don’t know if it’s just swishing around past my prime, or rather just starting out in my prime, but I smell things no one else smells, hear things no one else hears, and notice actors and actresses being recycled through the years from one movie to another.

I love escapism. I don’t get to watch TV or movies as often as I’d like, as work and writing and yelling at the dogs takes up a lot of my time. But I find I wonder “how do they do that?” more often than not. And I’ll be the first to tell you that I am amazed at special effects. My simple brain cannot wrap around the fact that city landscapes and alien spaceships and Roman cities are nothing more than 1’s and 0’s running through a computer. I can’t even begin to understand how they made the German’s face melt in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark; Transformers destroying the city (and each other); Inception, where people run on ceilings and curl cityscapes back on themselves. King Kong. Toy Story. Avatar. The list goes on.

Special effects, computer generated imagery. Galaxies and Mordor and everything inbetween. And none of it is real. Yet one can’t help but get sucked into those worlds as if we really stepped through the magic portal. Our minds quit trying to figure out what’s real and what’s fake and just get lost in someone else’s creativity.

Even more mind-blowing is that the same part of the anatomy that everyone has — even me — is where it all comes from. One’s mind. Which resides in one’s brain. Which we all have (but not all use…ah…a blog for another day).

So it is with any step into creativity. We have all gotten lost in a good book, holding our breath as we turn the pages. We have all looked at a painting or a sculpture and marveled at its simplicity or complexity. Some are able to take the next step in their creative career — go to school, get published, get a job at Industrial Light and Magic. Some turn their love of acting into dinner theater or Broadway, or their skill at playing a guitar or piano into symphony orchestras or rock bands.

So why is it, if we all have the same equipment, we don’t understand the same thing? Why is it so hard for some of us and a piece of cake to others? I can barely do basic Math, yet accountants and computer designers see numbers as easily as seeing the sun. Mankind creates the most amazing, breathtaking, impossible things — all with that one little tool in their skull.

The “whys” of why some people develop the gift and others don’t I will leave to philosophy and a glass of wine. The point is, we ALL have the ability to use that hunk of grey matter to open those magic portals. Some can’t wait for their free time to jump into their next creative project; others see creativity as a waste of time.

Maybe it’s just that the same plug that plugs into the outlet of special effects is on a wall of infinite outlets that lead to infinite destinations. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw that one plug leads to quantum physics and one to insanity. One to painting and one to crayons. We are all plugged in to different outlets. We can’t change where we are plugged in, but we CAN choose to follow the path of electricity to outlet boxes scattered all over the universe.

Working with the material inside the brain box is a lot of work. Some just catch on faster than others. But when you find that junction box where creativity makes you feel good, you want to stay plugged in. Some may be taken back by the jolt that comes now and then from creative satisfaction, while others find it a natural high they want to come back to again and again.

I don’t know where all this deep philosophy came from this fine morning, but I do know one thing — don’t give up. Make time. Let yourself be. Let it flow. And know you can come back to this feeling any time.

Whew … and to think … I had this cosmic burst before I had my morning coffee!

 

HaChaCha Hermione

tumblr_m6nj6jcdgM1rvv4n8o1_500I came across an article the other day that confirmed what I’ve thought all along. According to J.K. Rowling, Hermione should have ended up with Harry Potter, not Ron Weasley. (http://time.com/3680/j-k-rowling-says-hermione-should-have-ended-up-with-harry-potter-not-ron/ )

Duh.

Although I LOVE the books (and the movies), I could have told you that there was never any real chemistry between Hermione and Ron. None. Opposites attract, you say. Looking at my husband and me, that could very well be true. He’s logic, I’m pretzel. He’s smart, I’m trying. He has the patience of a saint, I would rather stand and complain and fidget. But seriously. Hermione was smart, resourceful, and outgoing. Ron was dull, jealous, and a little thick. Hermione sparkled every moment she was around Harry. Her sparkle was practically non-existent around Ron. I mean, anyone who read the books could see that. So it made me start to think.

What other characters in books and/or movies should never have gotten together?

The revised, re-pumped Star Trek movie franchise. Spock and Uhura? Naw. Even if he does dip into his emotions now and then. She’s so smoldering she should be in her own spaceship. Indiana Jones and any of his female co-stars. Was there really any hachacha between any of them? And don’t say it was more of a satire/drama. So was The Mummy. And Rick and Evelyn O’Connell made danger take a back seat to hot teasing.

J.K.’s admission also made me take a look at my own characters. Book One and Book Two: the same two stars. Book One the heroine doesn’t get the hero because she’s busy trying to stay alive. Book Two she goes back to look for him and they spend most of the book dancing around previous commitments. My third novel is more an independent-woman-in-a-situation sort of book, romance more a hint than a possibility. (I may have her connect with the hero in the sequel).

Maybe I’ve been skirting the real issue – chemistry. a.k.a Sex. Admit it. Sex sells. Chemistry makes you want to strip off your clothes and get shamelessly amorous. Like you can’t keep your hands (oh..and mind) off of the other person. But we all know there has to be some kind of depth behind the chemistry/sex to make it last more than one night. Harry and Hermione were always hugging, touching, and adventuring together. There was never any such show of affection between Hermione and Ron. Actually, Ron was more of a third wheel (as was Ron’s sister who wound up with Harry).

But all this is hindsight. J.K. had a real belief in her pairings, and it was up to the reader to see her world as she did. And hers was a delightful world to get lost in.

So I wonder. Do you have books or movies where the pairings have been less-than-satisfying? Have you seen coupling that doesn’t really make sense?