One step closer to Oscar Gold

January 31, 2011 – Award season continued last night with the presentation of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards.

The SAGs, a surprising acronym that spells a word that’s taboo in Hollywood, tend to predict the Oscars with about 75 percent accuracy. The Golden Globe Awards, which aired two weeks ago, have about a 69 percent accuracy rate in determining Oscar winners.

Relatively new in the award show arena, SAGs have only been presented for the last 17 years. The nominees are voted on by the membership of the Screen Actors Guild. Like the Golden Globes, which is voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press, the SAG awards focus on both movies and television.

Hollywood loves to shine the spotlight on their community, which is really the main reason to add another awards show into the mix. It’s also good for the gratuitous union plug, which several actors mentioned last night. But mainly, it fills the month and a half month void between the Golden Globes and the granddaddy of all awards, the Oscars, giving the season a true trifecta.

There weren’t any surprises last night, as the winners in the movie categories matched those of the Golden Globes.

Both the Globe and SAG award went to Melissa Leo for best supporting actress in The Fighter, while Christian Bale took home both best supporting actor awards for the same film.

Natalie Portman won the Globe and SAG for best actress in The Black Swan, and Colin Firth took home both for best actor in The King’s Speech.

SAGs are not awarded for best picture, but rather ensemble acting in a motion picture, which went to the cast of The King’s Speech. Odds are it will also be named best picture on Feb. 27.

So, there you go. There’s no need to watch the Academy Awards now.  But if you’re a movie lover like me, who also can’t get enough of awards shows, you’ll suffer through it.

Norwegian Wood Take 2

January 30, 2011 — How about  a little Beatles with your Sunday breakfast?

While it is one of my favorite Beatles songs, I recently discovered that Norwegian Wood is also very “tongue in cheek.” I should have known better; John Lennon was famous for the sarcasm in his lyrics. I knew the song was about an affair, and that the woman led the man on, then said “You’d better go sleep in the bath.” But I never realized the man took revenge by burning her house down.

Still, it’s a beautiful song, and it was the first time we got to hear George Harrison play the sitar. In this rare version, you can really hear John’s sarcasm come through… “She once had me…”

Fiction Friday: Flash Fiction

January 28, 2011 – Want to try something different on this snowy Friday? Let’s sneak a peek inside the world of flash fiction.

Flash fiction presents the challenge to write a complete short story with very few words. Just how few may be debatable; most common word counts are less than 1,000, 500, 100 or even 50. This style of writing has been around for years and is popular in literary circles, but I just discovered it last summer at a writer’s conference.

So, here’s my first attempt at flash fiction; my goal – write a story with 250 words or less.

Purchase Anxiety

The doorbell chimed something resembling Pachabel’s Cannon. It was the piece of music she loved the most.

I hope that’s an omen of good things to come, she thought.

Books for sale lined the wall in front of her, featuring authors who wrote about the new age. She picked up a copy of Khalil Gilbran’s The Prophet. She’d read it in high school, wondered where it was, and decided to buy another copy. Chances are it was lost somewhere in her travels. Or maybe her father deliberately lost it for her.

Sadly, she remembered how upset he was when he saw her reading a spiritual book not written by a Christian author. He accused her of turning her back on her faith to follow the words of some Middle Eastern lunatic. He was even angrier when she exclaimed that Jesus was also a Middle Eastern lunatic, and he would know that if he weren’t such an idiot.

She hated that memory. Faith was certainly her father’s Achilles’ heel, and she took full advantage of hurting him with it. She felt guilty for years and never understood why she struck back at him with such venom. But she was 16 then, and maybe that was enough reason.

Somehow they found a way to forgive each other — she for his overbearing religious side, and he for her less than enthusiastic attitude towards religion.

Sliding the book back on the shelf she realized she didn’t want the book after all.

10 muses at my beck and call

January 27, 2011 — No matter how much you love what you do, there will always be days when you need a little extra kick to get you going.

When the writing process becomes difficult, for example, a little Internet surfing does wonders to spark creativity. If that doesn’t work, I turn to great quotations from published authors. They act as a muse and provide instant inspiration to get writing juices flowing again.

A few weeks ago, I shared my favorite quote by author Tom Robbins. More clever than inspirational, it still gives me the incentive I need. Here are a few “more traditional” quotes that do the trick, and form my Inspirational Top 10:

10. “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” – Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith

9. “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison

8. “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener

7. “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

6. “The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” – Agatha Christie

5. “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” – Cyril Connolly

4. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

3. “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” – Tom Clancy

2. “Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.”  – Lawrence Kasdan

1. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

Three for the price of one

January 26, 2011 — Yesterday was a busy news day.

Not only was it my son’s birthday (headline news in my house), but the Oscar nominations were announced, and the President’s State of the Union was set to address his job creation program. A real triple treat!

So, let’s review these important and newsworthy items one at a time.

The birthday
If you missed yesterday’s blog post, you can read it now.

Not only did I rant on about the Chinese “Tiger Mom” and parenthood, but yesterday’s post was also a tribute to my son on his birthday.

Although it is difficult to get him to read any of my work because he’s afraid he’ll recognize himself between the lines, I think he may have glanced at this one because last night he referred to me as a “Tigger Mom”.

I hope that means I jump around the house and act silly, and not that he has problems with the correct names for animals. Ah, maybe I was too easy on him.

The nominations
There were no real big surprises in the Oscar nominations this year. They followed pretty closely to the Golden Globe nominations with one exception … the Oscars included True Grit in the mix.

The good news … I’m off to a good start. Even with my limited movie attendance in 2010, I’ve seen two Best Picture nominees, True Grit, which I loved and The Kids are All Right, which I didn’t. I also watched The Town on cable the other night, which I thought was OK. I think I’ve had my fill of movies about Boston’s blue-collar neighborhoods, but this one did earn a supporting actor nod for Jeremy Renner.

The bad news … I have eight other movies to see to catch up with all of the Best Picture nominees. Yes, this year there are 10 films nominated for best picture. As always, I’ll do my best to see as many as I can before the Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 27. Here is the complete list of nominees.

The State of the Union
President Barack Obama was expected to focus on job creation and economic growth in his State of the Union Address last night. It was also the first time Democrats and Republicans would “sit together” to embrace the renewed spirit of working together in Washington DC. And, along with a Republican response, we would be treated to a Tea Party response, making it sound like a three-ring circus.

As someone who normally does not go out of her way to see State of the Union addresses, I wanted to be glued to my TV set for this one. Right from the start you knew this wasn’t the same President as we heard speak two years ago. He almost sounded “middle of the road”, promising that the parties will work together to get things done. However, his plan to create jobs, which sounds promising, is too far in the future to help those who are unemployed now. I want immediate action, but I know what we heard is more realistic.

Thankfully, I have a job interview scheduled for later today. I’ll let you know about my state of the union if there’s anything good to report.

The fine line of parenting

January 25, 2011 – Remember the Keanu Reeves line in the movie Parenthood? The cleaned up version goes something like this … “You need a license to buy a dog, drive a car or catch a fish. But they’ll let anyone be a father.”

With the controversy surrounding the “Tiger Mom” article from The Wall Street Journal published a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about that line a lot.

While it’s probably not fair to compare Tiger Mom Amy Chua to a man who flicked lit cigarette butts at his son (Reeves’ character in the movie), Chua freely admits to calling her daughters “trash” when they fail to live up to her expectations, making them sound disposable. Hey, we all know verbal abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse. The saving grace, if there is one, is that Chua’s children probably understand she loves them, although she should never resort to name calling tactics just because her daughters bring home an A- or would rather play the guitar over the violin.

I think I’m missing the point of that article, anyway. Why do we want to produce a society of Stepford children, even if they are  well-educated academically and musically? It’s great that a child can master Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major after hours and hours of practice, but can they write something just as beautiful? It’s possible if you nourish their creative side, something the culture seems opposed to. I’ll take a creative and curious mind any time (think Albert Einstein) over straight A students who are forced to memorize their work.

I don’t mean to pick on Chinese “Tiger” mothers. There are a number of other parent “stereotypes” that can be equally frightening. Consider “stage” mothers who push their child into show business, the “beauty pageant” mothers, who parade their young daughters on stage and teach them that the way they look is most important, or the “sports” dads who live through their children and pressure them to succeed to the point where they might turn to steriods.

Although we may not mean to, it’s easy to harm our children with our words. I’m not saying I have the answer, or that I am a perfect parent, but I did my best not to damage. Being a parent is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the most rewarding, even with the mistakes and arguments along the way. And there were plenty.

Twenty-seven years ago today, I became a parent. I think I did a good job. At least I know I raised a fine young man, although the experience certainly came with its share of yelling and tears from both of us. He’s intelligent and creative, and never, not once, did I call him trash; rather, I offered my opinion and tried to remain supportive even when we disagreed, which was a lot.

I exposed my son to as much as I could so he could see the possibilities, but he had his own ideas, too, and ultimately his future was his choice. I tried to instill in him that the world needs artists and people who think a little “differently” just as much as researchers who cure diseases, engineers who build bridges, and postal workers who deliver mail. We all have a purpose and our job is to find out what that is. I’m pretty sure he listened.

Happy birthday, Charlie!

Survey says …

January 24, 2011Travel & Leisure magazine has done it again.

The people who gave us compelling data from ridiculous surveys such as “America’s least attractive locals” (Philadelphia ranked #33) and “America’s most unintelligent locals” (Philadelphia ranked #30), just released the results from their latest coup, “America’s rudest cities.”

Los Angeles takes the top spot at rudest of the rude according to those surveyed, New York City grabbed the #2 spot, and my fair city of Philadelphia is #3. Rounding out the top five are Miami at #4, and Washington D.C. at #5.

The Eastern part of the country got hit pretty hard, also claiming the #6, #7 and #9 spot in the top 10, with Boston, Baltimore and Orlando, respectively. For Philadelphia, I suppose it’s positive that we’re not as unattractive or as unintelligent as we are rude. Or is that a stretch?

Here is the complete list, but without knowing what questions were asked, or how many were surveyed — I’m guessing the responders were magazine readers — I’m placing a big asterisk next to it in my mind:

20. Anchorage
19. Houston
18. Providence
17. Santa Fe
16. Seattle
15. Chicago
14. San Francisco
13. Memphis
12. Phoenix/Scottsdale
11. Atlanta
10. Dallas/Fort Worth
9. Orlando
8. Las Vegas
7. Baltimore
6. Boston
5. Washington
4. Miami
3. Philadelphia
2. New York City
1. Los Angeles

Travel & Leisure also conducts surveys that actually help people make travel plans, such as “America’s best museums” (Philadelphia ranked #8) and “America’s best historical monuments” (Philadelphia ranked #6).

Here’s a message for the responders of the latest survey, and I’ll write it as politely as possible…

As W.C. Fields once said, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”

Nether Lands

January 23, 1011 — The beauty of YouTube is that it allows any artist the ability to be appreciated by the masses. Here’s a little something to warm you on a cold winter’s day…

(Note: You may have to click on the “Watch on YouTube” link inside the screen if it doesn’t start to play.)

Bumper sticker philosophy

January 22, 2011 – I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “What if the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?”

It made me laugh and almost wish it were true.

That memory comes to mind whenever I’m stressed, or trying to figure out why things happen the way they do. And then it makes me ponder the age old question … what is it all about?

While the answer may differ slightly for everyone, or be too complicated for this simple blog post, most people would probably say something about the importance of health, and family and other relationships. Maybe happiness would come into play, too.

That’s how I would answer, too, but if I put aside the family, relationships, etc., and ask myself what’s important to me as an individual, outside of being a mom, a sister, a daughter or a friend, what would I say?

That silly hokey pokey bumper sticker comes to mind every time. It’s funny and poignant, and makes me realize that aside from family and friends and good health, laughter is what it’s all about.

So, here’s my best attempt at bumper sticker philosophy: “Smile. It makes people wonder what you’re up to!”

No, this is better: “Make someone laugh every day!”