Posts Tagged ‘life’

I have been mulling this post over for a couple of days unsure if I should write about it, but I feel I need to.  I have been part of some conversations recently about decency, politeness, and safety.  I get the impression that many people, (read: men), feel women think about safety too often and make overly harsh judgments about people because of some irrational fear.

This past weekend, I met two friends at an art studio to discuss writing. We are all writers, poets, or artists. A mutual friend gave us the keys to her art studio so we would have a place to meet.

We were in a safe place, a place we’ve been to many times. We let our guard down. The art studio is in a community center. We sat with the door to the studio open and very openly discussed writing, race, politics, how to write inclusive characters that did not sound stilted or stereotypical, hair, how to outline a novel, shoes, family, etc. All things women writers discuss.

An elderly man walked in asking when the computer lab opened. We did not know and told him as much. He came in and asked what we were doing and what kind of place is this?

We told him it was an art studio and we were talking about writing. He then peppered us with a myriad of questions. Where did we go to school, what were we doing, what kind of stuff are we writing, what was our favorite word.

We all started answering his questions at first, and then one girl started to refuse to answer him while trying to be polite. I could tell we were all slowly becoming uncomfortable with him.

We started noticing things.

  • He had hospital bands on his arm.
  • He sat the whole time with his hand in his pocket.
  • He volunteered that he is bi-polar.
  • He told us he was a former law enforcement officer.
  • He seemed more than a little off.

I wanted him to leave. I could tell the other girls did too. They were feeling the same discomfort I was feeling.

I slowly started packing my stuff. I politely put my laptop in my bag. I quietly wrapped up the charger. I silently put my phone in my purse. I unobtrusively put on my poncho. I was ready to leave. I had to go to work. But I did not want to leave the other two alone with him.

Nonetheless, we politely tried to send him messages by making silent moves that we were leaving that it was now time for him to go.

When we got to the “What’s your favorite word?” question, I told him mine was serendipity because I like the melodic sound of the word. It has a syncopation quality that I enjoy. He asked me what serendipity meant.

I told him it was a fortuitous happenstance. He said he liked the word happenstance. He also liked the word “cloak and dagger”.  That was it for me. I was done being polite.

I loudly stood up and said, “I have to go to work.” As soon as I announced I was leaving, the other girls grabbed their stuff and agreed. “Yes, we have to go, too. The studio is closing.”

I could hear the elevator down the hall, which meant there were other people in the building. I made a point to be loud about us shutting the studio down. One of the other girls politely helped him stand up after he announced he needed help. I stood close by keeping an eye on the situation. He was elderly and frail, but none of that would matter if he had a gun. And being former law enforcement, he would know how to use it.

He shuffled out of the studio and walked down the hall to ask other people when the computer lab opened. We felt much better. Still, we took the back stairs out of the building and once safely outside, we shared our mutual fear of the situation.

He could have just been an elderly man who has some mental health problems but is otherwise safe if not just a little creepy. He could have been someone who has the potential to be a danger to himself or others. The truth is we will never really know.

What we do know is that 100% of the women in the room had the same unsafe feeling.

And yet, we were polite.

We did not immediately tell him, “No, you cannot sit here and talk to us. We are having a meeting.”

We did not say, “We will not answer your questions because you are being creepy and that makes us feel unsafe.”

We did not say, “Your presence is making us feel uncomfortable.”

We did not say, “Why are you keeping your hand in your pocket? What do you have there?”

In season 2 of A Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu’s serial version of Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, the main character, June relates this quote:

Image 5-6-19 at 11.48 AM

This quote is a summary of part of an essay in Atwood’s 1995 collection of Second Words: Selected Critical Prose,

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That may seem an extreme view, but women feel this every day in everything they do and everywhere they go. There are a million ways in which women are taught to keep themselves safe every day. We think about safety in every situation.

  • Where we go.
  • Where we park.
  • How we dress.
  • Where we live.
  • What we eat.
  • What we drink.
  • Who we date.
  • Groups we join.
  • The people we date or marry.

The problem is so pervasive that other people get involved to give women options to keep themselves safe:

  • There’s nail polish we can wear that if we dip our fingers in a drink we can tell if it has been drugged by men who mean us harm.
  • There are signs in the ladies’ rooms in bars with safe words we can give to a bartender if we feel we may be in an unsafe situation we don’t know how to get out of.
  • There are shelters for women who are abused.

I could go on. I could provide links and proof to back up everything I said here. I could give statistic after statistic of domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, attacks, or deaths of women at the hands of men. Men they trust. Men they don’t trust.  Other people have done a much better job of providing these resources. I encourage you to do some googling.

What I want my readers to take away from this, the salient piece of information I hope you understand, is that women do an internal threat assessment of everyone they meet and in every situation they find themselves.

  • Is this parking lot well lit? Can I get back to my car safely?
  • This guy I just met…how safe do I feel around him? Could I take him in a confrontation?
  • Boss’s behavior is boorish. Might make inappropriate comments. Will he stunt my career if I indicate I won’t put up with his bad behavior?
  • Do I feel safe walking through this neighborhood after dark if I rent this apartment?
  • If I voice my opinion, will people think I’m a bitch or dismiss me out of hand?

And through all of it, we are trained that we have to take other people’s feelings into consideration, so we are polite.

Here’s what I have to say to that.


You do not need to justify your safety.

  • If the guy sitting next to you on the bus is being creepy. Get up and move.
  • If you are afraid of the guy you just met, call a friend to meet you.
  • If you feel unsafe walking back to your car, ask your friends to walk with you.
  • Be loud.
  • Be outspoken.
  • Share your opinion.

Listen to your gut. Listen to that internal voice telling you that something may be wrong.

I’m not saying to live in fear. I’m not advocating treating people badly. I would never advocate violence. (And the fact that I feel the need to say this, angers me.)

I am advocating women, or anyone really, who finds themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is a concern to listen to that voice, stop being polite, and do what you can to protect yourself.

People will think badly of you whether you’re polite or not.

I think Anne Lamotte’s quote about writing your story applies aptly here:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Apply that to people who expect you to be polite in a situation that makes you feel unsafe. If they expect you to be polite, they should behave better.


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Grade school was tough for me. I was horribly bullied. I was a shy, quiet, small child who did not speak up for herself at all. When the kids at school began bullying me, I retreated into myself. I tried a couple of times to stand up for myself. All attempts ended disastrously.

That’s not to say I didn’t have friends. I did. Two good ones that I am still friends with today.

Still, the bullying was brutal and affected me deeply for many years. I spent many years wondering why me? Why wasn’t I popular? Why did they torment me? Why didn’t they like me? What was wrong with me? What could I have done to make them treat me better?

There are many answers to these questions, none of them have anything to do with me. But the truth is that their bullying had nothing to do with me, but had everything to do with them. The “strong” put down the “weak” to make themselves feel better, to draw attention to themselves, to revel in their own sense of self-importance, to stand tall on the shoulders of those under their boot.

By the time I got to high school, I was doing better. I was not popular, but I had friends. I valued and cherished them. The two biggest bullies in my past did not go to that school and I created a new life for myself.

I eventually learned to stand up for myself. Some of my friends in high school helped. One girl I went to high school with decided to start harassing me. We had been friends and I did not understand the change in her. She was too cowardly to bully me directly. She manipulated a younger boy into doing it for her. She would sit back and laugh.

One time, he came over to my lunch table and tried to pour a can of coke on me. I pushed him away and told him to leave us alone. My friends were furious. “You don’t have to take that from him!” One girl took a sip of chocolate milk and made a face. She plopped the carton in front of me and said, “This is sour. I can’t drink it.”

Everyone at the table egged me on and followed me over to his table. He was sitting next to my tormentor and they were laughing. I walked up behind and poured the container of chocolate milk over his head and said, “Two can play at that game mother fucker.”

My tormentor stood up and looked absolutely shocked and said something like, “How dare you!”

“Be careful,” I replied to her. “You might be next.”

A table of senior boys watched what happened and stood up and started whooping and cheering. The entire cafeteria broke into laughter and cheers. My friends and I ran towards the exit to get out of there before we got detention. I saw the freshman English teacher cheer and clap and laugh. The hard as nails history teacher turned on her heel while covering her mouth pretending she didn’t see me.

I turned back to face the room at the doorway. I took a bow then fled.

Standing up for myself was exhilarating. I did feel badly that the kid had to go through the rest of the day wearing a sticky wet chocolate milk covered shirt. But none of them ever bothered me again.

There are times I definitely wished I had given the grade school girls a good sock in the face. That may not have changed anything, but maybe it would have given them pause the next time they tried to torment me. Maybe I would have felt better. Maybe not. But. I never did.

Yesterday, a friend of mine from grade school shared an article on Facebook. One of my tormenters from grade school was in the paper. She had done well for herself over the years. But now, she is facing grand jury charges for corruption on multiple counts. And more people are coming forward to file complaints against her.

A very small part of me felt gratified by this, I’m ashamed to say. I am not a bully. I do not revel in the pain of others. At least, I don’t like to think that about myself.

Another part of me actually feels sorry for her. If the allegations against her are true, that says to me that she did not grow at all from the angry young bully I knew in 8th grade. Instead, she learned all of the wrong life lessons from her behavior and let that infect the whole of her life. What a sad way to live.

If the allegations are false, she is having done to her what she did to me, but a hundred times worse. If she is acquitted of the charges, they will still taint everything in her life from this moment onward. And that is also very sad.

Maybe she had it coming. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe it is not my place to pass judgment. But the news articles I read got me thinking and I wanted to write about it.

If I had known then, what I know now, how differently I would have lived my life. I don’t think it would be very different than it is now. But maybe I would not have given the bullies so much of my own power. They did not deserve any part of me. They are no better than I am. And they were not worth the effort I was putting in trying to be friends with them.

These are some lessons I’ve learned over the years about myself, but also about the other people, specifically, people who have put a lot of energy into making me feel that I am not good enough.

  • Everyone is insecure.
  • Everyone is afraid.
  • Everyone feels they are not good enough.
  • Everyone finds it easier to believe that bad stuff about themselves than the good.
  • Everyone is trying to make people like them.
  • There will always be someone who is smarter, prettier, richer, taller, and seemingly better than you in every way.
  • The people who you view as better than you are not.
  • Beauty fades.
  • Money can be lost.
  • Health declines.
  • Character matters.
  • How you treat people matters.
  • Everyone has worth.
  • People who do not appreciate you, are not worth having in your life. Stop fighting for their approval.
  • People who appreciate you and love you, cherish them.

Bullies will always try to make you feel bad so that they feel better. They are manipulative and mean. Chances are good, they are only trying to cover up the ugliness they feel inside. Or maybe they have just embraced and accepted that ugliness as their truth. Who knows. Until they are ready to do some soul-searching and figure it out for themselves, it is not your job to feel their pain.

But I have to end this on a positive note, because the bullies in my life have actually taught me a great deal about myself and about life in general.

  • I know my worth.
  • I know what I can do and what I’m capable of.
  • I’m a good person.
  • I’m caring and loving and optimistic.
  • I have not let them change who I am at my core. And that makes me happy.
  • I stand up for myself and the things that are important to me.
  • I have a voice and I use it to speak my truth.
  • And I can spot a bully a million miles away.

If I could share anything that I’ve learned over the years with the shy, young girl I was all those years ago, I would tell her to believe in herself despite the haters. They are wrong and small and ugly on the inside. She is stronger than she can imagine. And one day, she’ll know that for herself.


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Hello Blogosphere!  It sure has been a while since I’ve written on this blog.  A couple of quick updates…

  • I have been doing a ton of writing this year.  Several essays, a couple of short stories, and of course, my middle grade novel.  I may not reach my yearly goal of 12 personal essays, but I’m not too far off.
  • I am finish up my children’s novel for Nanowrimothis year and I am almost done!  I will finish Nano successfully for the first time this year.
  • My weight loss blog is doing very well.  I have lost 127 pounds with only 46 more to go.
  • My overall health is great.

Now, onto what I really wanted to write about today…

catching fire

I saw the new Hunger Games movie last night.  I am a huge fan of the books, which I re-read in preparation to see this movie.  Anyone who has read my blog in the past knows that I am definitely an advocate of reading the book before seeing the movie.

That said, let me start my review.

Any time a book is adapted for the screen, there will be changes in how the story is told.  Film is a completely different medium, after all.  Events that can take pages or chapters to describe in a book can be done more effectively with imagery and music in film.  Conversely, a character’s inner dialogue, which can be so revealing in a book, can often be lost in film. Some film makers often use voice-overs to fill that gap, but done poorly, voice-overs can ruin an otherwise good movie.  Francis Lawrence did not use voice-overs, thankfully.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I thought it was a good adaptation from book to screen.  There were changes, of course, but I thought they were very true to the source material.  I think anyone who is a fan of the books will love it.  Anyone who hasn’t read the books but liked the first movie, I think will like it as well.  But be prepared, this is not your typical feel-good, holiday movie.  This movie is very emotional and has a very mixed ending.  Some good, some bad, a lot of heart-break, and a cliffhanger. Overall, I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars.

*******SPOILER ALERT BELOW!!**********

Some things that I thought were lost in this retelling:

  • Katniss’s inner dialogue and the way she analyzes each situation or thinks through the problem at hand.  Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Lawrence does a fantastic job, but it’s hard to translate that inner struggle sometimes.
  • A sense of time.  The film sometimes felt a little rushed.  There was no sense of the time that had passed between events.  In the book there were 6 months between the 74th Hunger Games and the victory tour, A couple more months between the tour and the announcement of 75th HG, the Quarter Quell.   Then a few more months until the actual games themselves.  In total, between the 74th HG and the 75th, there was a full year.
  •  We lost the wedding dress montage.  Thankfully.  In the book, a lot of prep goes into Katniss & Peeta’s engagement and wedding.  The citizens of Panem have the chance to vote on her wedding dress and there is an entire episode where she is filmed trying on dress after dress.  Thankfully, unlike the citizens of Panem, we were spared that spectacle.
  • We lost the preparation Peeta, Haymitch, and Katniss did before the games.  We also lost learning more about the other tributes through the research Peeta & Katniss did ahead of time.

That said, I do not think any of this distracted from the quality of the movie, particularly if you have not read the books.

What I loved about the movie:

  • Nothing was sugar-coated. Katniss is clearly suffering from PTSD from the last games throughout the movie.
  • The emotional connection she feels towards her family, Gale, Peeta, the other tributes, Cinna, and other people she cares about is palatable.   This keeps the movie from being just an action film.
  • I love the inclusion of showing events from Snow’s p.o.v. and Heavensbee’s p.o.v.  I think that adds a real depth to the film and ratchets up the tension.
  • Conversations with her sister.  They are few and far between in the movie, but when they do happen, you can see the connection they share.  You also know that her sister is quite clearly becoming her own person and does not need Katniss to protect her any more.
  • The friendships she begins to form with the other tributes during the games.  They work together and save each other over and over.  At one point she turns to Peeta and asks, “How are we ever going to be able to kill these people.”
  • The scene in District 11 when Peeta & Katniss speak about Thresh & Rue.  Very emotional.

I really enjoyed the movie.  That said, I was not jazzed with the ending.  I know that it was pretty true to the book, and it was a hook to get you into the 4th movie, whenever that is released, but I still found it unsettling.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy had cliff hanger endings as well, but they always ended on a somewhat hopeful note.  Francis Lawrence could take a page out of Peter Jackson’s playbook and give us a little more to hold onto.  I’m not saying have a happy ending, but this is the start of the revolution.  Ending the Capitol’s stranglehold on the districts, while complicated emotionally, is a good thing.

Yes, the movie ends with Katniss, Finnick, and Beetee being rescued from the arena, while Peeta & Johanna are captured by the Capitol.  District 12 is in ashes.  Thousands are dead.  Everything is in disarray.  But the revolution has begun and there are hints that the citizens of Panem can really hope they are able turn the tide and take control of their own fates. That, at least, is something to hold onto.

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What a horrible blogger I am!  I feel like it has been months since I have written on this blog.  I have spent all of my time writing on my self-absorbed weight loss blog talking about myself and my gastric by-pass surgery.  I have completely neglected this blog and my other writing obligations.  Just a quick note, the surgery went well.  I have lost 71 pounds.  I have been writing quite a bit.

I owe my friend Jeff Miller a review of his book, The Bubble Gum Thief.  I need to post my 2013 writing goals.  I also want to talk about some of the other non-diet-blog writing I have been doing.

In this post, I am going to talk about my 2013 writing goals and about some of my other writing.  You see, my writer’s group asks each of us to create goals for the new year and to be specific.  We cannot just say, “write more,”  we have to set specific goals to show what “writing more” looks like.  The only thing I did not finish last year was to finish my children’s novel.  I am giving myself to Chinese New Year’s though, so I could still make it.  (see what I did there?)

Writing Goals for 2013:

  • Submit writing, short stories, essays, etc to four contests or other publications.
  • Finish children’s novel, which is almost done and hanging in limbo.
  • Write, finish, edit 12 personal essays.
  • Blog on both writing blog and weight loss blog 4 or more times a week.
  • Begin editing children’s novel and submit to my writer’s group for review and revision.
  • Join SCBWI and attend one of their conferences.

Lofty, I know, but I have to set lofty goals to guilt myself into doing something about it.

Current Writing Projects

A couple of the girls in my writer’s group formed a separate group that is dedicated to personal essays and/or creative nonfiction.  I have been attending that group as well.  Because the group is small, about seven of us I think, we are much more demanding about making each other submit their work.  As a result, I have written several personal essays and semi-true short stories.  I also have many more ideas on future personal essays.  I would like to put together a collection of essays.  I am not sure if I will turn it into a book or not, but I first want to get them together and see what I have.

I plan to dedicate my next post to the book review of The Bubble Gum Thief.  I will also post my review on Amazon.

That is pretty much what I have been up to.  I hope to spend more time on this blog and sharing all of my writing ups and downs throughout the year!  Happy writing in 2013!


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As I have mentioned several times in the previous posts, I am in favor of reading the book before seeing the movie.  That said, I did see the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby many years ago before ever reading the book.

I know.  I’m so ashamed.  

In my defense, I was still in high school I think, and I really only watched it because I totally love Robert Redford.  I was just a little girl when the movie was made, but by the time I was in high school, he was already way too old for me.  Nonetheless, I had total teen fan-girl crush on him.  Now, I know that is no reason to watch a movie based on a book that critiques the social mores of the 1920s, but hey, I was a shallow teenage girl once upon a time ago.

I have to admit that I do not remember much about the 1974 film, except that I did not like Mia Farrow.  I thought her portrayal of Daisy Buchanan was just terrible.  She was flighty and flakey and no depth whatsoever.  I felt she just flitted about, dancing and singing whenever someone talked to her and basically acted like an airhead.  Not to mention that she totally broke Robert Redf…er I mean Jay Gatsby’s heart twice.  Oh, and yeah, I do intend to completely ruin the plot, so if you have not read the book or seen the 1974 version of the movie and know nothing of the story, you might want to stop reading this until after December.

Having read the book, my opinion of Daisy Buchanan has not improved at all, but I am even more unhappy about Mia Farrow’s performance.  Daisy Buchanan is an utterly shallow person.  She is selfish, unaccountable, obtuse, and dishonest, traits which are hidden by her beauty and overwhelming wealth.  To play her as a flighty airhead who is just too confused by love and trapped in an unhappy marriage and  just doesn’t really know what to do about it, I think unfairly downplays the complexity of her character.

Now, I can understand why she married Tom Buchanan instead of Gatsby.  In the movie, it is clear she did not marry Gatsby because he was poor.  In the book, it is unclear what she knew of his financial standings.  He tried everything he could to cover up his poverty and let her think he was wealthy.  Then he left town and went to Europe, leaving Daisy alone and broken-hearted.  Granted, he went to war, but when the war was over, he did not return to the US, but instead went to Oxford where he apparently did not attend the college.  Jay had not made his fortune yet and did not want to return to Daisy a pauper.  In his absence, Daisy met Tom Buchanan and probably any number of endless suitors.  Tom was handsome, rugged, confident, rich, and most importantly, present.  While he may have been a bit of a brute, a racist, and an all around jerk, he did love Daisy.

Daisy was a young girl, probably just out of her teens, naive, anxious to fall in love and get married.  Tom Buchanan, in his youth, was everything a young girl in her situation could hope for.  Gatsby was, quite frankly, not around to marry.

As an adult, Daisy was rash, careless, shallow, and above all, rich.  She carries on an affair with Gatsby leading him to believe she never loved Tom.  She always loved Gatsby.  And though she promises to leave Tom for Gatsby, I don’t think it’s clear whether she would actually follow through with that promise.

Tom in turn, treats Daisy like she is a child, is a bit of a brute, carries on lurid affairs not even trying to conceal his infidelities from his wife.  Yet, when he finds out about Daisy’s affair, he sort of loses his mind.    In addition, he’s a small-minded bigot who is callously indifferent to the suffering of other people and the problems he creates for them.

The story is told through the eyes of one of Daisy’s distant relatives, Nick Carraway.  He is obviously from a family of means.  He’s a Yale graduate, a veteran of The Great War, and is a bond salesman.  He does not live the life of a wealthy man, but as a somewhat  above average working man.  He lives in West Egg New York and is Gatsby’s next door neighbor.  He is pulled into Gatsby’s world through his friendship with Gatsby and his relation to Daisy.

At the beginning of the book, there is a lot of mystery around Gatsby.  He throws lavish parties that all the best people attend, but he almost never makes an appearance himself.  There is no shortage rumors about who he is and how he made his wealth.  The rich and important people who attend his parties and enjoy the fruits of his supposed ill-gotten gains have no qualms about disparaging him at every turn.  Tom Buchanan is no exception.  In fact, as the story progresses, Tom makes it his goal to expose Gatsby for a fraud, probably because he rightly suspects his wife of having an affair with Gatsby.

Nonetheless, it becomes clear through the course of the novel that no matter how wealthy, Gatsby will never be able to really touch the inner circle of acceptability among the truly wealthy.  At one point in the novel, Nick refers to Gatsby as a Trimalchio.  This is a term I actually had to look up.  It is from the Satyricon by Petronius.  I read the Satyricon on college and one would think I know this word. Sadly, I did not recognize it.  The word means a freedman who has worked his way to wealth and success by the fruit of his own labor.  Among the truly wealthy, this means Jay will really never fit in with them.  This is fine with Gatsby for the most part because the only person he cares about reaching is Daisy.  But the distinction is important to Daisy.  Tom may be a brute.  She may be trapped in an unhappy marriage.  She may even really love Jay Gatsby.  She may really want to leave Tom.  She does not, however, want to leave the comfortable trappings of a respectably wealthy society.  Regardless of what happens at the end of the book, it is my belief that she never would have left Tom for Gatsby.

The real story in the book is not the love affair with Jay and Daisy.  The real story is the excesses of the super rich; their careless indifference to the world around them; the exclusivity of their inner circles that cannot be penetrated by the newly rich and other impostors; and their unaccountability to their crimes and the lives they destroy in the wake of their fun and drama.  The romance between Gatsby and Daisy and Tom’s affair with Myrtle are merely the best example of this.

The two victims in this book are Jay Gatsby and Myrtle Wilson.  They were both trying to enter this exclusive world by two different paths.  Both failed miserably.  The hero, if one can be found here, is Nick Carraway.   The story is told from his perspective.  He illuminates this crazy lopsided world for us and tries to make some sort of sense of it while offering his own sort of commentary.

I am really looking forward to Baz Lurhmann’s version of this story.  The novel is lax in lavish description of Gatsby’s parties and the rest of the world the wealthy embody.  This lack of description can leave a director a great deal of latitude to make things as wild and as crazy as they like.  After watching his version of Romeo and Juliette and Moulin Rouge, I know Lurhmann is up to the task. I just hope he does no just turn the movie into just a tragic romance, but can also capture the social critique that comes through in the novel.  We shall see.

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