Tag Archives: Meryl Streep

Intent of the Day: Practice Empathy

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Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

The action of understanding is an interesting sentence. It reminds us that it is an act, it is a choice. It’s not a thing you should consider yourself exempt from. It’s not that some people are empathetic and some people aren’t. It means that, for the most part, empathy is a trait you can choose to develop. Today our intent is to practice empathy.

And why does it matter at all?  Continue reading

Why You Should Always Read the Book First

the giver bookWhen I was in elementary and middle school I was the level reader snob that competed in an annual competition called “Battle of the Books.” For thos unfamiliar, BoB as we affectionately called it, was a competition where students had the entire school year to read a list of 20 or so books, or as many of them as they could. Then they would compete in a team against other schools in their district by answering questions that always began with “In which book…” Three points if you could correctly identify which of the 20 books and the author the questioned event came from. Two points if you only got the title correct or answered the question after the first team didn’t give the right answer. The team with the highest cumulative total of points at the end of the day wins. It’s basically a wet dream for library rats who have a penchant for trivia.

Battle of the Books is responsible for me discovering many of my childhood favorite books, some of which are sitting on the book shelf next to me because I couldn’t bear to part with them even during a 3,000 mile move away from my parents’ house. Ella Enchanted, Lily’s Crossing, Trumpet of the Swan all top the list. And then there was The Giver. The Giver is a book by Lois Lowry (Number the Stars) set in the future when humans have created a way to eliminate suffering by basically suppressing all basic human emotion. People are assigned their role in the Community when they are 12 years old and are to accept it without question. When Tobias is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory he learns the truth about human history and how to feel – and it begins to make him question things in the Community. Soon his probing begins to unravel the very fabric of the existence he’s known his entire life.

I was in 4th grade when it was first put on the list. It’s insane now to think about reading that book at 9 years old considering how it grapples with death, sex and that bit at the end (spoiler alert) about forced abortions. I read it again in middle school when my ability to comprehend the underlying messages of the book was a little more advanced. I re-purchased it recently when I heard they were turning it into a film. The trailer for that film premiered today:

And it concerns me. It’s not just a feeling of “Oh god, the movie is never going to live up to the book.” (Please see: The DaVinci Code, most Stephen King novels etc). I know why The Giver was finally produced now despite being around for a couple decades. The time is ripe for dystopian young adult literature. ‘Sup The Hunger Games and Divergent. I see you hanging out over there too, The Maze Runner. The difference is that TGH, Divergent and The Maze Runner work on a broader scope – their worlds are so large they demanded cinematic attention. And, not to put any of them down because they are all great series (Okay, The Maze Runner has some sexism issues but that’s another blog entirely), but their messages are pretty direct. The Hunger Games is separate but equal isn’t equal with a bit of commentary on the inevitable corruption of oligarchies (There could also be another blog on the essential facts that were left out of the first film that dulled Suzanne Collins brilliant writing, but again that’s another blog). Divergent is about finding your identity and the freedom to be more than one thing. The Maze Runner focuses on the importance of working together and finding yourself in the face of adversity.

The Giver’s message is more opaque though. It’s hidden in the memories that Tobias receives from his mentor. The fact that the first half of the film isn’t shot in black and white and then transitions to color as Tobias learns more about the Community’s shared history is a big red flag. That’s a huge part of the novel – that being emotionless may lead to a more colorful life but also a grey one. As Tobias starts to fill in the colors, that’s also how he begins to find the truth. The trailer seems to focus more on the adventure aspect of the book – which is really only the last couple of chapters. Can you really show Eric from True Blood killing babies to a young adult audience and maintain a PG-13 rating? Are you going to be able to do it in a way the depravity of this way of life despite it being founded in the name of human preservation? Despite my high hopes with actors like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep backing this, the fact there’s an alien like space ship chasing Tobias to close out the trailer doesn’t make me that optimistic anymore. (Did I mention that Taylor Swift is making a cameo in this movie? Yeah, that’s a thing.) It seems to me that film companies were just trying to cash in on the Young Adult angst craze making crazy tons of money at the box office these days at the sake of great literary works of art.

The movie junkie in me is hoping that they do it right. The cautious book nerd is saying don’t take any chances – read the book first.

August Osage County: The Fall of Woman

august osage countyHoly Hannah. Can you spell d-y-s-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n and m-i-s-e-r-y?

I want to think the main characters in August: Osage County are just cinematic creations—the vitriolic pill-popping Violet and her three daughters—tight-jawed, unforgiving Barbara, quietly wounded, faithful Ivy, New Age escapist Karen. But no.

The film induced too many pangs of recognition, reminders of my own alcoholic step-father and his verbal abuse; the unhappy weirdness of so many of my friends’ parents growing up; Mommy Dearest sitting on book shelves; alcohol and drug abuse statistics; news stories. And from the murmurs, gasps and reactions of the audience it seemed pretty much everyone else in the theater was personally affected too.

“I always wondered if my mother killed my father,” the middle-aged woman behind me stated calmly to her seat-mate as the credits rolled. Really?

“I always knew I’m fucked-up because of my mother,” another woman said, strolling past on her way to the door.

“Holy crap.” Francesca, the friend I’d gone to the film with, turned to me, eyes wide. “Is the world really like this?”

Is it? I’d like to know! Comments please!

For sure the film drives home the point of just how much pain there is locked up in human beings—and how suffering, meanness and abuse are passed from one generation to the next. The sins of the fathers and mothers as it were—not “sin” as in doing bad and wrong, but sin as in missing the mark on life—relentlessly passed from one generation to the next, century after century until?

Until we get to see it.

Sin was originally an archery term that meant you “missed the mark” or bulls eye—your targeted goal. And what is the targeted goal of life anyway? Being a better person? Figuring out how it all works? Having fun? Contributing to the wellbeing of the whole? Having interesting experiences? If so, surely we’re ready to stop seeing this kind of experience as interesting? Like, maybe soon we’ll have had our fill of meanness and sorrow and be ready to call these kinds of people and their drama-filled lives “boring?”

But until that happens audiences will pay to see stories like these. It’s what theatre was designed to do from the most ancient times.

Stories let us witness ourselves. They let us stand (and sit!) safely outside our pain and see how it contaminates and ruins everything—how we unconsciously contaminate and ruin everything—how the bleakness that rules so much of our lives happens. The camera zooms into Violet’s face as she sits on the swing telling the story of her mother’s Christmas present to her and we get it. We can’t hate her. We want to, just like her daughters and everyone else around her want to. But she is us. Her story is our story, tirelessly passed along—the story of the ravening dark Goddess that lives in us all; the maddened Goddess that shows herself most clearly through women.

Beyond doubt, August: Osage County is a story of the Fall of Woman and what has happened to her. The men, who clearly are not without their flaws, mostly move around as loving foils enduring abuse. Even Violet’s husband’s suicide occurs off-screen. It isn’t important. It’s simply the kind of normal fall-out that happens when The Feminine is too deeply wounded to care about anything or anyone anymore.

The image of The Feminine we enjoy seeing and being around does not live in this film. The light side of the Goddess is beautiful, lyrical, self-sacrificing, loving, passionate, compassionate and inspiring—like Arwen, the elven beloved of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. In Violet we see the opposite. Here She is the equivalent of the Orc and the Uruk-hai—the fallen elves, tortured and mutilated beyond endurance until they become a force for evil.

The blessing of August: Osage County is that here evil has a human face on it and we are able to see Violet is not evil at all, just wounded. We are able to see what pain does—how it looks, what it says, how it lashes out—and finally have compassion. We see the light, love, beauty and hope in us all—the young woman in Violet’s wedding picture—marred and twisted into unrecognizability and we feel for her and feel for ourselves.

It’s not an easy movie to watch. But then life is not an easy movie to live. And in both there is hope. One day all of us will get in a truck in our pajamas and move on.

Why I Didn’t Like the Movie “It’s Complicated”

The movie “It’s Complicated” opened Christmas Day.  Given the rave reviews plastered all over full-page newspaper ads, and the fun trailer that showed promise of an actual adult comedy, I was very much looking forward to seeing it.  Meryl Streep is an amazing actress, and I have loved every movie she has ever done – until this one.

 

The biggest problem with “It’s Complicated” is the premise.  A long-married couple, divorced for ten years, has moved on with their lives.  The woman, Jane, played by Meryl Streep, runs a successful business and has good friends.  The man, Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, has remarried and is raising a child.  Their shared children are now adults, navigating the world rather successfully themselves.

And yet, one night the two get drunk and have sex.  Hilarious?  I think not.  This isn’t complicated, it’s adultery, and it’s not funny.

To make matters worse, rather than chalking up the experience to poor judgment and a bad mistake, the two continue their dalliance.  This smart businesswoman confides in her friends, who egg her on.  She seeks the advice of her therapist, and in the movie’s one truly honest moment she wonders why she has chosen to have this affair.  Jane has a long list of reasons that she has considered including revenge and loneliness.  She begs the therapist to tell her what to do, and he basically gives her permission to continue the affair, saying: “What could it hurt?”

It seems a renewed sex life has turned this once-wise woman into somewhat of an adolescent as she sneaks around, lies to her children, and convinces herself that she needs to be stoned on marijuana to have a good time.

Meanwhile, Jake is facing a kind of second mid-life crisis.  He obviously hasn’t learned from his past experiences, because he is once again the cad, the philanderer.  The child he is raising with his new wife isn’t biologically his, and he uses this as an excuse to shirk any responsibility.  He lies to both his wife and his ex-wife to get what he wants.  This man is a narcissist, and toxic to both women, although he has them blinded by his charms. 

So what could it hurt?  The woman is humiliated and almost loses a chance at real love.  The man loses the respect of his children.  The children are confused and afraid of additional pain.  The future son-in-law is put in a position where he must lie to his fiancé.  The current wife realizes she has been lied to and cheated on by the same man she is planning a family with.  The woman’s potential boyfriend gets his hopes and dreams dashed just when he’s finally opened his heart to someone.  And a little boy, who is finally bonding with his stepfather, may lose the only adult male in his life.

There may be some jokes in this movie, but it is not a comedy – it is a tragedy, a commentary about values.

What the characters in “It’s Complicated” really need, and want, is closure.  And you can’t get that by having sex with the ex.  Even after ten years of divorce there may be feelings of regret, of grievances, of sorrow and pain.  But there is a formula to get through it, and to move on in a positive and powerful way.

At the end of the movie, Jane and Jake sit and talk, inches away from each other, but miles apart.  There is a reason they were divorced in the first place.  She says it wasn’t all his fault.  He apologizes.

What these two people are really searching for from the beginning is closure.  But do they have to go through all that they go through, and hurt other people and themselves to get it?  Well, there wouldn’t be a movie if these characters didn’t mess up.  It’s the slipping on the banana peel that gets the laugh.  But in real life, the answer is no. 

Closure is a process, one that we can move through maturely and deliberately.  We can’t get closure from any other person, only from ourselves.  And once we have it, we can move forward with our lives in a positive and powerful way – and not look back.

Here’s my new book: "Closure and the Law of Relationship: Endings as New Beginnings"

 

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