Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Not Okay

So now I'm angry.  This whole "find a way, anyway, just get it done no matter the cost to democracy" attitude of our politicians is making me ill.  It wasn't acceptable when George W. Bush did it and it's not acceptable now.  (PS, has anyone else taken note of the face that Obama re-signed the Patriot Act?  Why isn't that bigger news?) 

The government answers to US.  If you can't pass a bill because our representatives are afraid to vote or not vote--then YOU DON'T PASS A BILL.  It's pretty simple and I'm tired of the republicans, democrats, independents and all of them weaseling their way around what the people want. 

For all of you who are okay with how Obama and the majority of democrats are maneuvering to get this Health Care Bill passed, think about how ticked off you were when Bush signed executive order after executive order to prevent open discussion about outrageous changes in policy.  It wasn't okay then; it's not okay now.  Somewhere along the line we have to insist on a better way of doing things.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Find Your Voice: Roger Ebert Hits The Oprah Set

After years of Ebert's story going relatively under the radar--his movie review site shows an older, pre-surgery photograph--it's about to be common knowledge.  The Esquire piece and now an appearance on Oprah means the news will spread fast. 

Ebert debuted his "new voice" on Tuesday's Oprah show--a company in Scotland was able to use the movie critic's film commentaries from old DVDs to create a computerized version of his speech that sounds an awful lot like him.  Watching him and his wife Chaz listen to Ebert talk was unbelievable.  Imagine not hearing yourself for years...and then suddenly your voice is back in a whole new way.  It made me think of the expression so often repeated in writing classes..."Find your voice."  This man's life proves it can be found in the most profound of ways.

Watch a clip of this amazing moment here.  It will make you think about how strong you are, how blessed, and how truly capable you are of doing more than you think you can.

I'll leave you today with these words from Roger...

“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and I am happy that I lived long enough to find it out.”

Let me know what you think...feel free to leave a comment!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Change is Gonna Come: Thoughts on Sarah Cunningham's Picking Dandelions

A few weeks ago, Sarah Cunningham gave me the opportunity to review her new book, Picking Dandelions: Searching For Eden Among Life's Weeds.  My free copy came in the mail and I was psyched to get started, especially after reading one of the inside notes of praise by another author..."Those strongest in faith are those who've questioned their faith."  I've found this to be true--whatever your faith(in God, in no God, in yourself, in each other) may be--and I love reading stories that really dig into the questions, dwell on the answers, and linger in all the spaces in between.  I read all 221 pages of the book on a  flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale.  I read it, thought about it, discussed it with Jorge, and then re-read many of the passages again.

And now, writing my review, I'm torn.  Very torn. 

I want to like this book.  To be fair, there are many things I do like about this book.  And I admire Sarah for tackling a subject that isn't easy, for putting herself out into the world, for sharing her vision of Eden and daring us to all to create it.  I'm drawn to passages like this one:  "As much as I loved the world and faith as it was, I longed for the world and faith as I believed it could be.  And like many aspiring world-changers, I thought I could somehow be a bridge between the two."  I read that and immediately felt a connection with Sarah.  I recognized myself, my friends, and our belief that we have the power to make life better.

I couldn't help but relate when further down the page she writes, "In the end, we changed less of the world than I had hoped, not even solving the problems of the continent we were on, let alone making a dent in the others."  In those few lines Sarah captures the struggle that many of us are experiencing: We've been told that we can do anything we believe in--but sometimes, at least in the short term, that isn't exactly true.  We do the right thing, be the bigger person, and still find ourselves at the wrong end of fairness.  For world-changers, that can be more than a bit hard to stomach.  And it's exactly why it's so important to keep going, to renew our faith and hope when bitterness and cynicism has all but dried it up.

So why am I torn?  Because I finished the book and felt disappointed.  It was like I had met someone who was clearly interested in forging a new friendship, but was deliberately keeping me at arms length to protect herself.  I felt like this author has so much potential, so many worthwhile things to say, so many small, relatable moments that add up to a big, meaningful impact. 

But she only skimmed the surface of a deep well of thought, feeling and experience.  And because I sensed the potential, I wanted more.

In the last third of the book, Sarah's message is about change--not the airy-fairy kind of change that is so often thrown around these days, but real, self-actualized, personal change.  She tells us about her flaws and the challenge of "picking those weeds" to create a more vibrant, beautiful garden.  She subtly suggests we do the same.  Our own contribution to a global Eden.  I love that!  Then, just when she's starting to get into those blemishes, she abruptly writes, "In the interest of time, I'm going to skip to the last flaw on my list." 

Sitting on that overly-full plane, flying high above the cities, I shouted NO! in my head.  Don't stop there for heaven's sake!  This is the good stuff, this is the stuff that all of us who want to be better people need to hear more of.  Forget time!  Time will understand.  In the interest of Eden, of Sarah's journey, I wanted her to stick through the messy stuff (It's not exactly a good time to mine the tunnels of our flaws) and keep writing.  I wanted to hear about what made it hard for her to look her flaws in the face and open her arms to change.  I wanted to hear how she coped when change didn't happen quickly enough.  I got a little of that.  Snippets.  But ultimately I felt like the book that Sarah was supposed to write is hidden in the crevices of this one.

I encourage my readers to pick up this book and think about it for yourself.  If you're like me, it will push you into investigating your own faith, your own reasons for embracing change, your own need to examine your flaws honestly, critically, and compassionately.  As Sarah says at the end of her novel, "Picking weeds is a beautiful thing."

And I invite Sarah to take another look at her work, acknowledge her accomplishments, and dive back into the writing waters of self-exploration.  There's more there to discover; your readers will thank you for finding it.

Pick up Sarah's book here.

Read more about the author on her website.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I was pretty stunned to see this photo of well-loved/often hated film critic Robert Ebert.  So stunned that I kept navigating away from it, only to hit the "back" button so I could make sure it was really him.  If you ever watched "Siskel and Ebert" or "Ebert and Roeper" I bet you're pretty shocked, too.
I knew he had been battling cancer for some time now, but I suppose because he continues to publish a superhuman amount of movie reviews I assumed he had recovered and was back to "normal."  I don't know how the man manages to see so many films AND write about them AND do it well.  There must be a reel inside his head.

If you aren't aware, 4 years ago Ebert had surgery on his jaw to remove cancer.  The cancer and procedure drastically changed the shape of his face.  After the operation he had a tracheostomy
which left him completely without a voice.  He communicates now through his writing, speech to text software, and sign language.  A profound change for anyone...especially someone who many consider to be the face of popular film criticism.

I'm blown away that he's still critiquing, still writing, still praising and lambasting movies at a record pace.  Pretty inspiring to all of us who know we can do more, be more, learn more.

Read a bit about what he's overcome here (People's story on Ebert).  I'm hoping to pick up the full feature in Esquire magazine soon. 

Do you have a favorite Ebert review? 

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just a quick note for Valentine's Day...

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

I know some of you don't care too much for this holiday...just another way for stores to make you spend more money.  But think back to those days of yore--aka, kindergarten--when Valentine's Day was simply about giving your classmates a nice little note.  Spreading the love, if you will.  I remember coming home from school, flopping down on my bed, and sorting through the tiny cards to see what my friends wrote to me.  Most of them were just signed in awkward sprawl, "From, Carrie" or "David."  A few containted more complex thoughts:  "You're nice.  From, Mark."  Even then, I tried to read more into what they wrote.  But mostly I just appreciated having a little piece of paper that let me know someone thought of me that day.

I think holidays only become commercialized when we let them.  We're the ones who bring the holiday spirit, we're the ones who make them meaningful. 

Hope you feel loved today.  If you don't, go love someone anyway.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Beneath The Surface: Avatar and The Hurt Locker

The possibility of Best Director and Best Picture coming down to a contest between  Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) and her ex-husband James Cameron (Avatar) has Academy followers positively teeming with anticipation.  The Academy loves stories like this; they’re both so talented. They both made movies dealing with war.  And oh gosh, they were married. But now they’re divorced!  Who will take home the prize?  More importantly, will they acknowledge the other when he or she is holding that statuette tightly in their hands?

It's the perfect recipe for award show heaven.

Bigelow and Cameron have made impressive, visually stunning films that keep your eyes peeled and your heart racing.  In their own, unique ways, they're both masters of the compelling shot, tight, edge-of-your-seat action and effects that leave you positively bewildered as to how they pulled it all off.  But they've also created work that at times feels uncomfortably forced, contrived, and emotionally shallow.  The commitment to craft and entertainment is clear; the ability to provoke deeper thought and meaningfully connect with an audience isn't.

I saw Avatar twice; once in 3D, once sitting in the front row on Christmas night.  A few scenes absolutely took my breath away.  I could almost taste the air when Jake Sully takes off for his inaugural flight aboard his Ikran (a huge creature that looks something like a pterodactyl.  The panoramic views of Pandora made me feel like the kid in American Beauty--the intensity of the colors, the lushness of the landscape, the diversity of creatures was almost to too much to take in all at the same time.  And I loved watching the long and lean (and Blue Man Group blue) Na'vi effortlessly run through rocky soil, up mile-high trees, and down mammoth waterfalls.  Parts were so real that I forgot it was CGI...and I can't remember the last time I said that.

But here's the thing(s) about Avatar.  The characters have less dimension than our sad sack of politicians.  The dialogue gets so bad that cringing becomes involuntary (Yes, the heartless General actually says "You're not in Kansas anymore, you're in Pandora" as he introduces new recruits to the planet).  Every cheap, emotionally manipulative trick is used to drag you into the narrative.  (Sully, our hero, lost the use of his legs in a previous tour of duty.  But in his Na'vi avatar body, he can walk, run, and kick-ass once more.)  The environmentalist message is poured on thick and feels more like pandering than an authentic point of view.

You know how those huge, glittery, beautiful packages line the store windows at Christmas?  And you know how you can lift off the tops and find them empty inside?  That's pretty much how it is with Avatar.  Worth looking at, not very gratifying.

Despite it being a very different kind of movie, I can say the same thing about Bigelow's The Hurt Locker.  This is a gritty, visual coup d'etat with nuanced performances and effects that make you forget you're watching effects.  Bigelow is a suspense genius.  She opens the door, invites you in, then proceeds to turn up the heat until you don't even realize you're burning alive. 

But take a step back from this cinematic firestorm and maybe you'll come to the same conclusion I did:  The Hurt Locker is a well-made, well-acted film with a serious lack of substance. 

If you're going to take on such complex subject matter--a war happening NOW, with real friends and family serving both in the military and diplomatically--don't you owe them more?  Don't you owe us more?  Is it enough to create a movie that captures the adrenaline of war, but not much else?

We're going on ten years of being embroiled in the Iraq War.  Ten Years.  Many of us know at least one person who is no longer on this planet because of their time in Iraq.  Most of us know more.  Perhaps I wouldn't be as perplexed by this movie if it was released 9 years ago when we were just starting to assimilate what this war looked like for some of the people involved.  Perhaps a piece that stopped at mere observation would sit a little easier.  But at this point, I need more.  I expect more.

The special features on the DVD pushed me over the edge of being disappointed with the intellectualism of the film.  Bigelow and crew sit around commenting on how realistic shooting was; they flew to the Middle East so actors could feel the heat of the desert, the sandstorms beating in their faces.  Listen closely and you'll hear the cockiness of this team, pleased with themselves that they've gotten so close to reality.  But high temperatures, sand, and location does not make for reality.  It's that inability to truly examine their subject matter, the failure to dive deeper into the story, people, and motivations of this war that make it entertainment and not art.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Upcoming Book Review--Picking Dandelions

Sarah Cunnigham's new book "Picking Daisies" came out yesterday...I'll be reviewing it here on February 23rd. 
Here's a snippet from the publisher:

In Picking Dandelions, author Sarah Cunningham explains how coming to religion through the front door--rather than through a weeping, born-again conversion--can make it difficult to understand how faith changes life, and even harder to grasp why it must. This memoir is a candid and personal account of outgrowing laissez-faire Christianity, moving into mature faith, and realizing that a God-following person is a changing person ... and you just might follow suit. 

Sound up your alley?  Get it here: