This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

City Life

Raleigh is not really "the big city" that other cities are; Charlotte probably being the bigger city of North Carolina. I love Raleigh, however, because it *is* progressive and yet, it's still small enough that you could potentially know someone from the city.

Raleigh encompasses the "triangle" area, which is Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. That, of course, covers a lot of area that most people outside of North Carolina would never hear of: Cary, Garner, Carrboro, Clayton, Fuquay-Varina. The further out one goes, however, the less progressive. But those areas are not too far out there.

But I bring this up because of two things. One is the impending vote on May 8th on Amendment One, which is basically a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. I think many people have been led to believe that it's banning same-sex marriage but unfortunately, same-sex marriage has already been banned in North Carolina.

Instead, it's some warped way to hinder even domestic unions (between man and woman) by the state constitution. It's just wrong and another conservative, anti-christian way (through "christian" beliefs) to force a belief system onto people who may not believe the same way. Shame, shame, shame on you "christians" who pat yourself on the back for thinking you 'love thy neighbor'.

Here are some more issues this amendment will do to us if it is passed:

The other thing has to do with the recent movie Bully. Among the stories told was one that will be the black sheep story of the film. It's the story of a lesbian who came out in a small town. While most of America will sympathize with the other stories of bullying, few will find sympathy, IMO, with her story and probably will single her story out as something that doesn't belong in a film about bullying.

And yet, the entire town bullied her. She came out, the school, the town, turned her back on her. Her parents, coming to grips with their own thoughts, their own upbringing of what homosexuality is, took the high road and stood by their daughter. Inconceivable, I thought but WOW. There can be good people who can accept something that once was unacceptable.  The parents offered to move their daughter to a bigger city, for PROGRESSIVE change. The daughter, despite the bullying and abuse and SUICIDE THOUGHTS, decided to stay, in hopes of changing the minds of the town folk, maybe as she had done with her own family.

Even I sat there thinking how naive. How stupid.

And I was, unfortunately, right. Her first day back to school, the teacher and the students all turned their back on her and it was then that she knew, it would be generations of people after her that would have to change the minds of the people in this town.

It made me reflect, yet again, how lucky I am to be where I'm at, to be married to whom I am married to, to be surrounded by the friends I am surrounded by, to work where I work.

My company has allowed domestic partnerships since before I started. This means that they insured domestic partners, whether homosexual or heterosexual, before it was ever acknowledged in the media, all on their own accord. This was one of many things that attracted me to the company, and still does to this day.

There is no outwardly bias. Many of my fellow co-workers are outwardly "out" and share this on Facebook, their company proudly shown on Facebook as well as their domestic partner. And it's OK.

My friends share my passion for freedom of choice. In fact, one of my friend's daughter recently came out as a middle school. She was open enough to come out to her mom, then to the rest of her family. And came out in school, with no ill effects by the school system. It's not to say that there may be some teasing, bullying even, from some school kids, but there are other gay teens open at school. It's more tolerable than other small towns, as depicted in Bully, or as we see in other small town america news stories.

The teens from the Teen Writing Club I used to go to are all progressive thinkers. One also came out as lesbian but all are mainly agnostic or atheist and all supportive of HUMAN rights, which include gay rights. I noticed last year where most of my teen friends, some of them from teen writing club, others being my friends' kids, wore purple for Raise Awareness for Anti-Gay Bullying Day.

CJ and MiMi, of course, reflect our own views. CJ told me that one of her friends came to school wearing a shirt that said "I may be straight but I'm not narrow". CJ asked me, several weeks ago, 'If God hated homosexuals, then why would he put them in this world?' For a teen who doesn't have a great view on religion already, the pro-amendment oners aren't selling themselves very well.

I got my bumper sticker since I can't find a yard sign anywhere. I threw in a few buttons for the girls because they are pretty impassioned about it but they can't vote. They immediately put one on their school  backpacks.

So there is a great big difference in living in the city and living somewhere else. We are truly lucky. And as I've told my girls, what we have here is a small slice of what is very different in the rest of the state. Just because we pass by dozens of anti-amendment one signs doesn't mean it won't get voted down. North Carolina is still a conservative state. We are just one dot of blue in a primarily red state. Our only hope is that we DID get our electoral votes in for Obama.

But we are also one little piece of what the rest of the country is NOT. Sure, the bigger cities reflect progressive views but unfortunately, we have more backwoods people who refuse to move forward and prefer to believe that god is still some sort of hateful, biased prick that reflects their own beliefs vs. some peaceful, loving, buddha-like persona that other religions believe their all power being to be. That's what I prefer to believe (remember, I believe in's the rest of the family that's either atheist or agnostic)...I just don't believe in the god that 'christians' believe in because they believe in something i refuse to believe exist. Anything that preaches against gays, other religions, or anything that has people believing that i have to pay money, or hate people in order to get to heaven, just doesn't exist in my book.

And that suits me just fine in my happy little Eden of Raleigh, NC where I can hang out with my fellow slithering snakes of progressive thinkers, who'll vote with me (some have already, you evil littler Judas's - whoever that is).

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Juliet by Anne Fortier

Wow, wow, wow. This was AMAZING. I loved this novel so much. I read pretty much the last four hundred pages (mainly, the entire book) over the weekend because I just couldn't put it down.

***Spoiler Alerts***
Juliet is about Julie Jacobs, a young woman who loses her Aunt Rose and discovers that she doesn't inherit anything from Aunt Rose except a key to something mysterious in Siena, Italy. Something that her own mother had left her. Instead, Aunt Rose left her entire estate to her selfish, self-serving twin sister, Janice. On top  of the news of the estate and the key, she finds out that she and her sister's real names are in fact not Julie and Janice Jacobs, but Giulietta and Gianozza Tolomei.

So the story really begins with Julie in Siena, where by chance, she meets Eva Marie Salimbeni. She learns that the Tolomei and Salimbeni families are actually rivals, much similar to the Capulets and the Montagues. So the parallels between the two novels are there but much more entertaining, and a twist of originality. 

What Giulietta finds in the secret box is a journal, written in 1340 by Maestro Ambrogio, an artist who witnessed the events of the 'original' story of Romeo and Juliet, the story that eventually becomes the play that Shakespeare would write but would originate in Siena, Italy, with three families: Giuletta Tolomei , Messer Salimbeni (head of the Salimbeni family) and Romeo Marescotti. 

The novel (Fortier's novel, not the journal) traverses between Julie's 'now' world, and the mystery of people following her, ransacking her hotel room, and the brooding Alessandro, who is Eva Maria's godson and doesn't believe for a minute that Julie is Guilietta. 

It's fascinating reading the historical nature of 1340, and the 'story' of what might have been the real Romeo and Juliet (in their novel, not real life). The scenery of Italy is truly amazing, the way Fortier writes of it. I truly thought throughout she must have an Italian background. When I finished the book, I realized she was from Denmark and that she wrote it, partly for her mother, who loved the city.

The story kept me on my toes. Just when I thought I had the plot figured out, it twisted again. The story is just beautiful, endearing, funny and romantic - in 1340 and in present day. I can't believe Fortier doesn't have another novel for me to read! How can this be? And looking around for more work by her, it's no surprise that this book is on the docket for a movie. How could it not? But as we all know, there is NO WAY a movie could ever do this beautiful book justice.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I actually finished this book a few days ago but because my blogging time has dropped dramatically, well, you know.

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite authors. She is such a unique writer. Each novel has a little bit of magic in it. And it just feels good to read them. My introduction to Allen was The Sugar Queen, which will always be my favorite. It's a must read, IMO, for any of you that are into quirky novels. And the best thing about Allen? She's a North Carolinian.

The Peach Keeper has been out for awhile and I don't know why I didn't quickly scoop it up to read. No. I do know why. I was deep into my Harry Potter series, which I then followed up with the Song of Ice and Fire. That pretty much took up my year; what a great year that was too.

So now that I'm (so far) out of series' mode, I can pick up books here and there and I remembered that I forgot this little book. And once I stepped into the world of Walls of Water, North Carolina, I was happy to be 'back' in Allen's world.

The story revolves around the Walls of Water Women's Society Club 75th anniversary celebration. Willa Jackson and Paxton Osgood's grandmothers were two of the original women that started the club. Willa, a sporting goods business owner who has shunned the elite society of Wall of Waters, is disinterested, of course; while Paxton, struggles to follow in the footsteps of her demanding mother, the expectations of the Osgood name.

The celebration is to take place at the Blue Ridge Madam, a restored estate that once belonged to Willa Jackson's family. Her grandmother lived there and, at one time, her family had been one of the wealthier families of the town but hard times fell and they hit rock bottom.

The Osgood's, on the other hand, remained wealthy and in good standing and had the Blue Ridge Madam restored. Willa, while feigning non-interest in the Blue Ridge Madam, really did want to see what became of the place that once was her grandmother's.

While checking out the restoration, after hours, Colin Osgood, Paxton's twin brother, runs into her and then the love-pursuit of Colin-to-Willa begins. There's always a love story in Allen's books but they're sweet and most of all, it's the other relationships that are heartwarming.

The other little twist of relationships is the one with Paxton and Sebastian Rogers, the "effeminate kid" from high school. Sebastian has grown up to be one beautifully well-dressed man, who has become the successful dentist at Walls of Water. Paxton has fallen madly in love with Sebastian, but he's gay. At least, that's what everyone thinks. And Allen doesn't lead on until the end.

Trouble arises for the celebration at the Madam when Colin, a landscape engineer, discovers a skeleton at the base of a peach tree that is being pulled out, we discover the real reason why the women's society was formed in the first place. Paxton and Willa learn through Paxton's grandmother, because Willa's grandmother is now too senile, the truth about their friendship (who knew?) and what happened at the Madam that a skeleton ended up buried under a peach tree.

I can't wait for her next novel...tentatively titled Lost Lake...2013. Only George R. R. Martin stands in the way (sorry Sarah :)).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bully (the Movie)

I'm going to tell you right now that this will be full of spoiler so don't even read on unless you A) have seen the move B) don't care if I spoil it for you.

It was wonderful. And not wonderful in the way that I enjoyed hearing and seeing the stories play out. That would just be sick.

In fact, from about five minutes in, until nearly the end, I think I cried the entire time. OK. Maybe not the _entire_ time but close enough. It is heartbreaking and cruel and poignant, all at the same time. And to think: this is what we have to have in our lives? Is it really necessary? I don't understand.

The movie starts with Tyler Long's father talking about his son, with clips of Tyler Long as a baby and as a young boy. Eventually, we find out that he finds Tyler, hanging in his closest, a day or so after boys at school had told him 'why don't you just go hang yourself'. The story of Tyler was that he had been bullied for years and at 17 years old, he ended his life because of it.

A similar story comes in, in the movie where an 11 year old boy shoots himself. We don't hear the actual form of death. I find that out later when I google his story. But we see the awful grief in his mom and dad, as they bury their son. That image I won't forget. But another victim of bullying and in the story I read (not in the movie), Ty Smalley had stuck up for himself against the bullies, got suspended, and then decided to end his life.

Both these families, in order to cope, rallied against bullying to do something, anything, to prevent similar tragedies for others because, it seems, teen suicides from bullying seems to be prevalent. And this documentary follows a few other kids who are bullied and we see how they fare with school administrators, or with law enforcement, or with the community, and it ain't pretty, to say the least.

Alex is the one that you'll hear about most, if you read anything about the movie. He's an odd looking, lanky middle school boy. And he gets picked on *a lot*. During filming, we see boys punch him at school, or on the bus, out of the blue, for no reason. At one point, the filmmakers apparently felt the need to 'interrupt' filmmaking to show their footage to his parents and the school because they thought he was in danger.

Keep in mind, before this scene, at least what the documentarist chose to show us, Alex sits alone at lunch, is alone in the hallways of school; he pretty much has no friends that he associates with at school whatsoever. The bus ride home is usually the same, with boys pushing him off the seat, or if he tries to talk to someone, there are boys talking down/back at him.

So when Alex's mom sees the scene on the bus, she confronts Alex about it and asks him: do you think these boys are your friends?! And Alex says, after staring at her in silence 'if these guys aren't my friends, then what friends do I have?'

My eyes water just writing it. It's sad. So, so, sad. We see Alex at home and he's just a normal, awkward kid, like any other kid. He takes care of his sisters and he eats dinner with his family, just like anyone else. We see his parents just trying to figure out what to do. And when they confront the principal about the bus scene? The principal says: I rode that bus just a week ago and they were as good as golden. And it gets worse. You have to watch this movie just to see how this woman reacts to the students. It's laughable because it's so real; it's just what you can expect.

I love when Alex's mom says to the principal: When I was a kid and I rode the bus, if anyone got up from their seat, that bus driver pulled that bus over and made sure we sat down. What happened to that?

The excuses in this movie about 'bullying' is: boys will be boys and girls will be girls. So essentially, no one is held accountable. So when little Ty Smalley stood up for himself against a bully, he got suspended. So he felt like he did something about it and got nothing for it. Similarly, in another scene with Miss Good-As-Golden Principal, she made a boy shake hands with his own 'bully'. The boy didn't want to shake hands. She scolded him for not being good about it -- that the 'bully' was trying to say he was sorry (how the fuck does she know?). The boy told her 'he doesn't mean it. he's just going to push me again anyway).

The movie hopes to spread the message that we need to do something about this. What to do? Well, we need to teach our kids not to stand by and watch others get bullied. I know. Easier said than done. We also need our school administrators to do something about it -- more than play pollyanna and act like our kids are not lying about being good citizens and apologizing for their behavior.

Parents - yes, we need to talk to them. We do. But to think that our kids will come home and tell us they are being bullied? That is a stretch. Alex wasn't telling his parents. The filmmakers had to show them footage and they were shocked, to say the least. The parents of those who committed suicide had no idea how bad it got. Who would come home and admit: hey mom, dad: guess what? Some kids shoved my head into the toilet today. It's humiliating. And there's no way kids are coming home to share that information with their parents, with anyone. Someone else has to do that and that's where we have to communicate with our kids. We have to say that it is wrong for people to do that and if you see it, you need to report it to me and to the school.

I had my share of incidents in school. One I shared with my kids. Others, they will go with me to my grave, they are that humiliating to me to this day. And I don't care what stupid jocks say about bullying, they don't make you the person you are today.  There's one point that Alex says in the movie that I can't help agreeing with, a bit of ironic hypocrisy (I paraphrase, of course): Sometimes, I get tired of it that I want to become the bully.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A good friend of mine loaned me this book awhile ago and this has sat on my bookshelf for months. I took it with me to the Philippines but never 'felt' like reading it. After the last book, I decided it was time.

There's a 'rhythm' to reading this...or at least, something to get used to. And quite honestly, I thought I had that rhythm but after reading about this book_after_ I read it, apparently, I had it all wrong. It doesn't matter. I still had the gist of the book. I just had it a little off.

***Spoiler Alert***
The setting is in a fictional town called Port Ticonderoga in Canada. It flashes from 1999 to the 1930s. The main character is Iris Chase.  What is amazing to me is how Atwood writes Chase's character in a way that we embrace her as a sound and warm and sensible child. We meet Laura, her sister, who is described as 'odd', 'off', 'simple'. She is gentle and is kind and is unapologetic. And Laura ends up being the person the reader, or just me?, ends up loving, rooting for, mourning, vs. Iris, who we want to shake, slap, and scream at for just doing nothing.

I'm getting ahead of myself... The story is told by Iris, in her 80s. She is writing her story for her granddaughter, Sabrina, who she hasn't seen for quite awhile. She tells the tales of her grandparents, where her grandfather started a button-making factory that was very prosperous, which made the Chase family a big name in Port Ticonderoga.

She describes her father taking over the business and being a loyal business man to the town, ensuring that he provided jobs to the local folks. They remained prosperous during the first war, providing buttons for uniforms and such. Their mother was a pillar for the town but also weak in health. She died while pregnant with her third child, something Iris's younger sister would forever characterize the baby as a little 'kitten'.

During Iris's storytelling, Atwood would intersperse chapters with "The Blind Assassin" chapters. In these chapters, a high society married woman would meet a down-trodden man in a sleazy motel room and after their tryst, the man would tell a sci-fi story for her; a story within a story. These 'blind assassin' chapters, to me, were Laura or Iris meeting some mysterious dude, who would later be Alex Thomas (explain later), for their sexual liaisons. It was after I read the book and found references to it that the blind assassin chapters were actually meant to be excerpts from the book "The Blind Assassin" purportedly written by Laura Chase, but really written by Iris. Confused yet? It really isn't that confusing when you read the book. :)

Alex Thomas was a young man that Laura met when she was 14. She invited him to a dinner at her home because, that's just the kind of thing Laura would do. He was a radical young man (18, I think) that became falsely accused of burning down one of Iris's dad's factories. Laura, and then Iris, hid him and then successfully smuggled him out. The fact that he would remain the love of Laura's life and become Iris's lover is pretty cool; this minor character turns into the most significant one of the entire book.

Why, you wonder? Well, the book started with this:
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.
 Yes. Laura committed suicide. After Iris told her that Alex was killed in the war...and essentially admitting to her affair with Alex. But Iris had been a total douche, living with a man who she hated, who treated her like crap, was 'molesting' her own sister and she naively had no idea. He institutionalized Laura, after Laura became pregnant and she did nothing. It ended up that Laura came out as the mature one, while Iris ended up being the 'simple' one, as adults...only Laura couldn't handle it and drove off.

It's a great book. I enjoyed it, thinking I wouldn't. The story within a story - not the affair but the story that Alex was telling to Iris after the rendezvous was also interesting. But Laura is probably one of the best characters I've ever 'met'. I enjoyed her immensely and I hoped for a different ending. That, perhaps, she really wasn't the person behind the wheel. That she really didn't die...that there was weird twist to this story.

Here is one example of Laura's trait. Iris has been told that Laura had left her a message, before she was sent to a mental hospital. As Iris tries to recount where Laura would have left that message, she remembers this:
Then I remembered coming upon her once, in Grandfather's study, when she was ten or eleven. She'd had the family Bible spread out in front of her, a great leathery brute of a thing, and was snipping sections out of it with Mother's old sewing scissors.
"Laura, what are you doing?" I said. "That's the Bible!"
"I'm cutting out the parts I don't like."
"You shouldn't be doing this," I said.
"It's only paper," said Laura, continuing to snip. "Paper isn't important. It's the words on them that are important."
"You'll get in big trouble."
"No, I won't," she said. "No one ever opens it. They only look in the front, for the births, the marriages and the deaths."
She was right, too. She was never found out.