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Friday, February 20, 2015

50 Shades of We Should Want More

First I meant to post something about Valentine’s Day, how much I love it, how much I just love the idea of a day devoted to love. All kinds of love, not just romantic love. Anyway, I didn’t do it even though lots of thoughts on love kept wafting through my head.

Then I wanted to write something about “50 Shades of Grey,” going so far as to go see it by myself last week. I was really taking one for the team on that one. I did write, with my wonderful writing partner, a humorous take on the movie in our column, "The Fix-it Sisters," but I wanted to write something more. I’ve started and stalled a few different posts and gotten nowhere. Somehow I can’t stop thinking about both of these things - love and “50 Shades.” and how they don’t have a whole lot to do with each other.

When I think about love, romantic love, I think about all the ways it's supposed to make you feel good. That it’s this wonderful safe place to be. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was a ridiculous line from “Love Story,” I think it’s saying you’re sorry as often as needed, and that loving someone means treating them with respect and kindness. Safe.

I am all for consenting adults doing whatever they want to do together in the privacy of their bedrooms, or Red Rooms as it were, but I think what Christian and Anastasia were engaged in was not love. And that’s okay if that’s what they want. The not-so-great part is when young men and women think THAT’S what love looks like. It’s not. What Christian Grey is into is what someone who has some really deep emotional problems they haven’t dealt with looks like.

In my mind loving someone doesn’t involve wanting to see them in pain or humiliating them in any way. And the fact that despite the controlling, the stalking, the hitting, Anastasia thinks she loves Christian is concerning. That’s not love. That’s something else altogether, but it’s not love.

When the “50 Shades” phenomenon swept the globe a few years ago I was mostly envious of the author for creating something that did so well that everyone at her publishing house got a huge bonus. As a writer I wanted that too. I didn’t read the books, but got the gist, and it didn’t hold much interest for me. I thought it was just about domination and submission, which lots of women obviously found very titillating. What surprised me when I saw the film was just how controlling outside the bedroom Christian was, to the point of spanking Ana when he disapproved of her behavior, punishing her like a child.

I get the whole psychology of women have to be in control at work, with their families etc etc, and so when they get in the bedroom it’s kind of nice to have someone take over and be a bit...forceful. But there’s a big leap from there to kneeling by the door waiting for him to come in, and him spanking you for behaving in a way he deemed inappropriate. That’s shaming and abusive. That’s not love.
Over the course of the week I’ve come up with some Love Rules inspired my my trip to the shady side of “50 Shades.”. I’m sure I will think of many more, and you may have some too. Feel free to add in the comments. In the meantime, here are a few.

  1. Love isn’t controlling. If someone loves you they want you to have friends, do things that interest you, and have a life separate from them. It isn’t adorable if they don’t.
  2. Love is not wanting to harm or humiliate someone. Enough said.
  3. Love is letting someone be themselves. I don’t want to be someone’s project, and I don’t want to be in the people changing business myself.

“50 Shades” is being sold as a love story to women in particular, but it’s not about love, it’s about sex and shouldn’t be confused with love. There’s nothing wrong with movies that are about sex, but that’s a whole other animal. The books were essentially softcore porn peddled to mothers and wives who craved something to jump start their relationships that might have become a bit dull. That’s great, a lot of people probably had a lot of hot sex because of them. But young women flocking to see the movie shouldn't think being a submissive is the basis of a great relationship, and the men they date should really not think their partners want to be tied up and hit.

If Christian Grey wasn’t a billionaire who couldn’t buy Ana a car, new Macbook and take her in a fancy glider, he’d just be a weird creep. Money somehow sanitizes scary behavior. It shouldn’t.

People will most likely posit that Christian Grey is just a fantasy, but I can’t help but wonder, if as women, we couldn’t do better. Better by men, and so much better for ourselves.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Farewell to "Parenthood"

I will announce right up front that there are spoilers here if you haven't watched the last episode!

With the end of the NBC series, "Parenthood" after 5 1/2 seasons, we have lost one of the few dramas on TV that isn't about murders, espionage, politics or medical crises. It was a series that was from its inception, about family.

"Parenthood" was about the Braverman family. The matriarch and patriarch, and their four adult offspring and their families. There were no forensics, no trials, no politics, well, except that one time when Kristina ran for office. It was about family and the lives lived within it.

It was that simple, and that complicated. And it was probably one of the most underrated series on television. Choosing to focus on the simple, the everyday, and beautifully so, it sadly fell under the radar for many viewers and critics.

For most of us, this is what life is. The drama is in the relationships, the ups, the downs, our jobs, and our children. Rarely have the nuances of real life been portrayed so well.

"Parenthood" always struggled in the ratings. Something I never understood. The cast was stellar, the writing spot-on and rich, and the characters all thoughtfully developed and multi-dimensional. But somehow it was always on the bubble as to whether it would be renewed or not.

There is I am sure criticism about being a bit of a tearjerker, but I would posit that it wasn't because it was overly dramatic or maudlin. The issues that the Braverman's struggled with were issues so many of us do. Aging parents, cancer, marital strife, substance abuse,  adoption, interracial marriage, a child struggling with Asperger's, financial stresses...these are among the things that many of us face.

This is what life is. It is being handed what feels like so much more than you can handle, and yet somehow you do. You hopefully find the support you need, and you get through. "Parenthood" was one of the very few series on network television that showed what real life looks like.

This was a series that had some of the best writing and direction seen on the small screen. At least on network television. The agility in which the writers kept all of the characters engaged, their story lines ever-evolving, was nothing short of masterful. The direction was always beautiful and unobtrusive.

And the cast. What can you say about this cast? What can't you say? They were brilliant, and their love and appreciation for each other shone through in every scene. Especially in this last season. Craig T. Nelson was masterful at portraying an aging man making choices about his health, and what he wanted his life, and its end to look like. Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Ray Romano - in a role that showed a depth I never knew he had. Monica Potter, Dax Shepard, Bonnie Bedelia, and all of those talented children and supporting cast. Amazing. I don't know when we'll see a more talented cast assembled.

So let's talk about the tears. There was never an episode that didn't have me reaching for the tissues. And I think that's a good thing. Unlike a Nicholas Sparks' story, these tearful scenes were because the writing was so good, so moving. I never felt manipulated or like I wanted to throw something at the screen, which has been my inclination during an aforementioned Sparks sobfest. I cried because I could relate. No, I don't have a child with Asperger's, but I am a mom, and I know how it feels to love your child and to want everything to be okay for them.

More than anything, for me the appeal was that there were many times I wanted to leap in and be part of the big, messy and far-from-perfect Braverman family. Of course they could be a pain in the neck, and if I were a Braverman (oh, how I love saying that almost out loud) I am sure I would grow weary of them. But most of the time, almost all of the time, I would want to be swept up in a family that shows up. They show up for school events, meals together, and they love each other.

That's what I will miss. In a world of back-stabbing, scandals and procedurals, it was refreshing to spend an hour a week with family. Family that you know no matter what has your back.We are all so far flung, there is no way a regular Friday night dinner would be possible for most of us.

I can think of very few series finales that were as moving and true to the show as this. I admit within the first four minutes I was already crying, and by the end, after Zeek's death, I had soaked my cat's fur as I clung to him.

It might have not broken ratings records.but this show, (ever so loosely based on the movie of the same name) brought to TV by the very talented Jason Katims will I am sure, go down in history as one of the best dramas to grace our screens.

I refuse to say goodbye to the Braverman's. They will forever be in my heart, as well-crafted characters are wont to do. I will be forever grateful for all the hard work and talent that went into producing this show. Thank you for giving me a good reason to cry, a reason to feel, and something to aspire to as a mom, and a writer.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Making Friends with Change

As I sit writing this, there is a Christmas tree in the corner of the room. And on that tree is not one of my ornaments. The ornaments I’ve collected for 37 years. They, along with all the rest of my belongings have been in storage for a year.

I am wary of change. I’ve always liked things to be safe...predictable. Years ago I sat in a pew at First Parish Brewster and listened to Jim Robinson tell us - change is your friend and tried to believe that.

I clung to those words as I went through more changes than I can count. Divorce, children leaving for college, my parents deaths, breakups, loss of friendships, and job changes. For someone who has feared change as much as I have, I’ve been through a boatload of it.

So you may wonder,  why are all my things in storage?

Last year I sold my house. The house I’d lived in for 18 years. It was a house my former husband and I had built. I’d picked out every tile, light fixture and color. Even though it was too much for me financially and physically I clung to it. After so many changes, so many losses, this home was the only security I had. But with my back to the wall I took a leap of faith and sold it.

I will spare you the details of the awful, protracted and acrimonious real estate deal I went through, but suffice it to say, my fantasy of handing over my lovely home to someone who was wonderful and would love it the way I did, and having some security was dispelled. But I let go.  

Faith is what gets you through change. It is what allowed me to put one foot in front of another and keep going even when that felt impossible.

I have moved three times since January. I have not been able to find a year-round rental, and it’s been a struggle. After moving in with my boyfriend into his winter rental last January, I was positive by summer I’d find something. I didn’t. Thankfully, one of my dearest friends took us in for those eight weeks we had to leave. During that time she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she and I both immediately knew that’s why I was there.

That’s the thing about change, it often isn’t until you’re in the middle of it, or slightly on the other side of it that you see the why. It’s having faith in knowing you don’t have to know, it’s trusting that maybe there’s a reason, and that change will lead you to a better more interesting place.

My marriage ended so I could grow into the person I was supposed to become. My son’s descent into and recovery from heroin addiction made me a better person. A stronger, more compassionate, less judgmental person. Selling my house and not having my things has made me see how little they really matter. It’s friendships, family and love that matter, not stuff.

It may be that despite myself I have begun to make friends with change, to be less afraid of it. I will still often try to avoid it, but I’ve learned a new motto, something I learned from the world of improv. When life throws me an opportunity to do something that challenges me, that scares me, instead of running away I have learned to say yes, please, and I have to say, my life has become much richer, fun, and interesting because of it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just A Little Lie

I was asked to write a story about a lie to read at an event. This is the one I recalled from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it!

I was an unusual child. A bit more worrisome, a bit more sensitive, never quite like everyone else. I always spent a lot of time alone amusing myself like I’m sure everyone did, by playing library with my dolls and stuffed animals.

I was scared of the life size doll who lived in the back of my closet, monsters under my bed and the dark.

I may have been a scardy cat, but I never lied. except the time I peed in a box in my closet when I was four, because, well, why not? After discovering the evidence my mom told me, quite sternly that we had been going to do something special that afternoon, but because of what I had done we weren’t She died five years ago having never told me what that special something was. The not knowing still haunts me.

With a history of not lying, and pretty much being a good girl to the enth degree, I set off for my first day of first grade. My outfit had been carefully planned - a smocked, plaid dress, new Mary Janes, ankle socks and a brand new super poofy petticoat that crinkled when I walked. I was a vision of five-year-old splendor.

What I now realize is I was so focused on how adorable my outfit was I failed to realize that once we got to school, me in my super cute outfit, that my Mom would be leaving. Leaving as in, I’d be alone with complete strangers. What was she thinking?!

I’d gone to a private kindergarten, but that was kid’s play compared to real school. This was the big time - more kids! Recess! Desks! All day long! Well, I would be walking home for lunch with my brother, but I was essentially being thrown out into the world for up to three hours at a time. I panicked. My brother was long gone into the super secret world known as  fifth grade. I was abandoned, alone - except for my teacher and 20 other kids. But for all intents and purposes I was totally alone.

Before class the teacher had us go out on the playground to get some fresh air and get acquainted. Alright, this could be good. A little hopscotch, a little jump rope. I could totally do this. I killed at jump rope.

But the thing was, no one came over to me to ask me to play. I stood there alone, too shy (or as I later discovered many self-help books later) introverted to approach anyone, and no one was seeking me out.

So, in a moment of what I now realize is pretty genius thinking, I did the only thing my five-almost six-year-old brain could think of. I grabbed my eye and started to cry. A teacher came running over, understandably concerned and asked me what was wrong.

“I have a piece of glass in my eye!” I wailed.Where this idea came from I have no idea, but looking back I think, well played little Candy.
Soon I was surrounded by all sorts of teachers, and the principal. What I could not comprehend at the time was that my father was their boss. A newly minted wunderkind superintendent brought in to fix an ailing school system. And here they were - first day of school and they had broken his only daughter. My mother was immediately summoned.

I’m sure on sight my mother knew the truth, but back in her arms everything felt okay once again. We walked home, me still insisting my eye hurt. She played along, rinsing it with some water, putting a  warm compress - her answer for everything - on it. I had some graham crackers and thought, okay, day one was done. But no, after lunch she took me back.

I ended up falling in love with my teacher, Miss Kennedy, the prettiest teacher ever. I was not the only one to fall for her however, one month into the school year she got married and left. My father was never able to secure another full time teacher for our class and we ended up with 22 substitutes over the school year. You can rightfully assume I didn’t handle all those changes very well, but I never pretended to have glass in my eye again.  From that day on I took a far more dignified approach - crying in a stall in the girl’s bathroom. A coping strategy I still  to this day find quite effective.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Next New Thing

I recently upended my life. On purpose. And now I'm thinking, now what?

I decided last fall to sell my home of 17 years, which, as such a decision will, set forth a cascade of emotions, and more work than I ever could have expected. But now it's over. I've moved and I am feeling a little...lost.

We are not defined by our four walls, but they are the nest that holds us. The launching pad we thrust ourselves out into the world from. When the nest is gone, we lose a little bit of our sense of self.

Freed of a ridiculous amount of financial stress I feel like I can breathe again, And being a good student of years of therapy, and a life coach myself, I am practicing a lot of self-care, a term I must admit makes me cringe just a little. But I am taking care of myself. I joined a gym and go everyday, and am taking yoga three times a week. I am trying hard to put body and soul back together one downward facing dog at a time.

While most of my belongings are in storage while I figure out a longer term plan, I was smart enough to bring pieces of home with me. I am sleeping in my own bed, making bread dough in my Kitchen-Aid mixer, putting my feet up on my coffee table, and of course, snuggling with my cats. I am also living with a man who loves me very much, and whom I love. It's all good. I am supported, loved and healthy. So why do I feel so insecure? At times so scared?

It's because I've stepped out of my comfort zone, and that's always scary. It's the same part of us that stays in a relationship that isn't working because at least it's familiar. Even though I had an almost constant stomach ache over worrying about money, I was in MY house where I felt safe. I'm thinking this is an amended definition of insanity - continuing to do something that is incredibly stressful because to think of doing something else is way too scary.

I truly don't know what's next and it's the most exciting and frightening thing ever. I don't know where I'm living come July, but I have faith that it will all work out. I know it will. I have a writing partner I adore who challenges and inspires me to do more and to dream big.

Maybe that's the big takeaway - allowing myself to dream again. To shake off the shackles of servitude to a piece of property. My children are all grown and successfully living their lives and I can, for the first time since becoming a mom at 21, just think about what I want to do next.

The unknown is kind of a scary place for a control freak. I'm trying to make friends with it, and little by little I am. I have my moments where I miss my home so much it hurts, but when I remember the reality, that it was a very one-sided relationship, it helps. We needed to break up. It was time. And now there's a lot of room for all sorts of new things to bubble to the surface and I can't wait to see what's next. I think.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tweaking (not twerking) a New Version of Yourself

Things have been a little less than wonderful lately, and I haven't exactly been graceful about it. Job and money stress have gotten the best of me. Thankfully I have a saint of a boyfriend who's listened to me, hugged me when I've been crying and not fled.

And, thank goodness I have a writing partner who reminded me of some very important realities. Like telling myself and others that I'm cloaked in failure and a loser were not exactly going to help me, and darn it, aren't true.

My fake sister, is a smart cookie. She pointed out that for each of us our default setting is optimism. We're both people who believe in what we are doing and are hard wired for happiness. I just forgot it for a minute. Okay, more than a minute.

The metaphorical kick in the pants turned it around. Everything is the same - I'm still looking for more work, and my bank account isn't too flush, but what changed is my attitude about it. I remembered that like attracts like and if I want good things that's what I need to focus on. When you're throwing around words like "failure," and "loser," and "broke" they impact your actions and view of the world. It also impacts how the world sees you.

"The Secret" gave kind of a bad rap to the law of attraction, and it's a shame because there is a great deal of truth to it. Think of going through your day with a smile versus a grimace and  see what comes your way.

It's not always easy to stay on the path. That's where a good friend/fake sister come in handy. It's easy to get discouraged. Life can be very hard. We can't control everything, but we can control what we say to ourselves and our reaction to adversity. Sure we're going to go through times when we feel like everything is falling apart, we're human. But if we're really lucky we have people around us who love us enough to remind us, it's all okay. And it's only going to get better.