Girls and Their Dolls

When my daughter was around 3, she created what my father liked to call “Confederate Graveyards” (don’t ask me why) because she would line up pillows from around the house in a row, stick every doll face down on that pillow, and then cover them entirely with a blanket. The thing was, that’s how she napped in pre-school – you would lay down on a little mattress and the teachers would cover your entire body with a blanket. So my daughter wasn’t burying her dolls, she was putting them to sleep for their naps. I couldn’t find a picture of one, but she had around 10 dolls, so you can imagine the mounds lined up in my living room.

I don’t remember playing with dolls much, and I’m not a very girly-girl, but for my daughter, dolls are a living thing. In addition to putting them down for naps, she also did circle time and taught them like she was taught at her Montessori pre-school. I once opened up her closet to find 3 dolls in the back corner. When I asked her why, she said that “They were bad” and were being punished by getting stuffed into the closet. She didn’t seem to understand that maybe they had paid for their crime.

She’s going on 9 now and her imagination still astounds me. She has full-on conversations. Each doll has its own personality. My daughter teaches her class of dolls and stuffed animals, which now numbers in the 40s. I know have a step-daughter who’s 10 and she is equally (often more) intense about her dolls and play-acting. Like many girls, they have an obsession with American Girl dolls, the bane of any parent’s existence save for Disney. And the American Girl Doll stores are so crafty and clever about playing into this obsession: Come eat with your doll at the cafe! Get your doll’s hair styled! Hers-and-hers outfits so that girl and doll can match (swimsuits, pajamas, dresses, t-shirts, shoes…)

You would think with how much the girls love these dolls (and with how bleeding expensive they are) that they would treat the dolls like they were made out of porcelain and keep it tidy.

Such is not the case, at least not with my girls. They are everywhere in my house. Often lurking behind some corner or in a chair where I mistake that hair for an actual child/person. They freak my sons out, staring at the boys from their perch. Sneaky, sneaky little devils.

Enjoy the horror.

Nightmares are Real

One winter when I was around 10, on the road back to DC from Montreal, the weather forced us to stop overnight. In a hotel room with a street lamp right outside our window, casting shadows everywhere, my father turned on the TV and watched NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. I was supposed to be asleep in bed, but I wasn’t. And so I watched and would be afraid of Freddy Kruger well into my adult life.

Wes Craven terrified me as a child, and yet from everything I’ve read about the man, he seemed so unassuming, so quiet, and so nice. There was something about this sensitivity, his intelligence, and his quiet yet forceful dedication toward storytelling and filmmaking that I always respected and admired. He was part of the flashiest section in the flashiest field and yet he seemed anything but. It’s a testament to the imagination. He is our generation’s Hitchcock.

RIP to a man who made nightmares real and revolutionized and inspired horror films.

Book Review: Ruby

Ruby by Cynthia Bond is about Ephram Jennings who in his 40s finally finds the strength to go against the sister that raised him and the community that  supported him to pursue his childhood love of the local crazy Ruby who is shamed as a godless whore corrupting the good men in a small black town in Texas during the 60s. Through various character vantage points and flashbacks, we learn the harrowing and complicated history of the central lovers and their community, which includes unflinching accounts of child rape, murder, and physical abuse, set within a spiritual war between Christianity, a form of Voodooism, and simple human decency.

I am so glad that I read Ruby by Cynthia Bond. Given the subject matter of the book, “glad” would seem like the wrong word, but this book fed a piece of my soul, and for that I am grateful and, yes, glad. Given the subject matter of the book, it would seem like a “hard” book to read, something I wouldn’t easily consume, something that would take me a long time to get through. But Cynthia Bond has a way with words and a way with story and she wrapped her words and her story around my mind and my heart and my soul and took me down this path, little by little, until I couldn’t turn away from the horror, but became a witness and therefore part of a possible solution. What is the solution? Hope. Acceptance. Not turning a blind eye. Not shying away from truth.

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The Wonder of Harry Potter Land

It’s summer in Florida; people said not to go. But due to various scheduling restrictions, we had no choice. We had to go to Orlando at the end of July and do Disney and Universal with the mob of everyone else. I think we did it right overall, but the highlight of the trip, hands down, was Harry Potter Land in Universal Studios Orlando.

“Why?” My brother asked, astounded (and possibly disgusted since he hasn’t read any of the books and only saw the movies under familial pressure). “You’ve traveled around and seen real castles and real towns and real beauty, but you act as if nothing compares to Harry Potter Land.”

He was right: nothing compares. I can tell you that Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve been to and still go googly-eyed looking at the Hogwarts Castle in Hogsmeade. They are two completely different things. One is borne out of history and survival. The other is borne out of the imagination.

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Love is Red Book Review

tlc tour hostLove is Red is the story of a serial killer with a mysterious purpose attacking New York City and the woman who becomes his ultimate prize, the one he pursues for his final kill. Told in alternating POV, the story is gripping, scary, thrilling, and very sexy. The writer uses the second-person voice for the serial killer’s POV which is a stroke of genius. It makes the reader culpable by making us sympathize with and understand this monster. From the very beginning, we get the sense that the serial killer is omniscient, he just reads people too well, and while he’s somewhat cavalier and sadistic when he goes in for the kill, it never gets gruesome or graphic or crass.

It’s one of the strongest openings I’ve ever read, a real shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

The serial killer feels emotions through the senses, much like Death views human souls as colors in The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. The descriptions in Love is Red go beyond seeing a particular color to include sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings.

“Terror is the color of under the bed, it is the color of bone marrow and the color of chalk, it wails like sirens, it hums like wasps, it thuds like an MRI machine, it tastes of sweat, it tastes of metal, it tastes of rising bile, it feels like the scrape of cement against skin, it thumps like a pounding heart.”

Chapter 11 is almost entirely a key to the map of all the emotions: “Love is red…Anticipation is aquamarine…Ambition is orange, the color of a traffic signal…Anxiety is light blue, the color of varicose veins…” It is possible the descriptions could have been trimmed, they do verge on the edge of indulgent, but it is such sensual writing (literally) that it feels like a mini daydream in the middle of a nightmare. Truly exquisite.

The woman he’s ultimately after, Katherine, shows up in the second chapter with her first-person voice telling us about the date she’s on. It’s so relatable and she’s a bit on the sarcastic side, which I personally love. She finds herself drawn to her new boyfriend’s best friend, who is dark and distant, and is clearly the serial killer. She tries to ignore all the hysteria about the serial killer’s latest kill, how no one knows how he gets in, how there’s not a trace or a clue to his identity. She wants to live a normal life, she wants to find a man to love, but even in that she fails as she’s torn between the good, sweet, funny, respectful David and the enigmatic, boundary-crossing, lustful Sael.

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Movie Mondays: What I Learned at Cannes

I can only speak to my experience, and I hope to go again to build from this experience. I’m sure some of this info will change for the next year, but the gist of it will probably remain. I think so much depends on your expectations and goals and how you adjust to the reality when you arrive.

Going into the trip, I imagined Cannes was going to be a glamorous and elegant event all around, filled with celebrities right and left. Having lived and worked in Hollywood for a few years, especially on studio lots, I thought that by gaining entrance to this invitation-only event, that I would be treated like I belonged in this crazy world of movie-making.

Why am I always looking for approval and validation?

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Double the Writing Wednesdays! Black Moon Review

Have you heard of this book Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun? Go read it. Right now. Yes, I mean right now. It’s about how insomnia becomes a viral plague spreading across the world pitting those effected against the few remaining who can still sleep and dream. It makes you wonder how real is your reality.

Written in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read in a long time, this poetic, haunting, exceptionally told story follows three main characters in a end-of-the-world saga that feels so real, so subtle, so scary without any zombies, vampires, or otherworldly creatures to blame.

In the end, there are no answers, and that was fine with me. The ideas sparked by this book rang so true and while I want to know more, to know why, to know what will happen after “the end,” I am thoroughly satisfied with this book. And that’s a hard thing to accomplish.

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Writing Wednesdays: The Last Book Ever Written Review

tlc tour hostThe Last Book Ever Written is a cautionary tale that reads like a 1950s noir novel. Despite its thoughtful and well-thought-out characters and plot, it suffers from the earnestness of its social commentary. The writing itself is very formal and straightforward and reads like a report. While this is functional in terms of relaying the action and information, it lacks poetry and makes the reading itself tedious. It reminded me of reading Ayn Rand’s Anthem, but I have to admit I appreciated Anthem more than The Last Book Ever Written in part, I think, because the main character in Anthem has no knowledge of the past, and that past seems very very distant. Whereas the main character in The Last Book Ever Written does know his history, yet he remains a very naïve character and I had a hard time sympathizing with him. The book’s themes too – that creativity is needed, that we should talk to each other more than look at our iPhones – felt overly simplistic to the point of patronizing. I applaud the author for writing the book because it is well done overall, I just wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did.

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Movie Mondays: The Importance of Intimacy

Instead of calling this a review of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, I want to talk about finding the HEART in PLOT. Yes, AGE OF ULTRON is a big huge action movie. Yes, it’s fluff and fun and who thinks about intimacy and feelings when there’s stuff to blow up that looks awesome at the same time? And I LOVE big huge action movies, so it’s not like I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges. So, yes, AGE OF ULTRON is fun, it’s watchable, it has some moments, but it’s lacking in something critical to making audiences really connect with the action, really feel the stakes that are at risk, and from a writer/director who I know can do so much better, that left me disappointed.

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