Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Today as I was driving to work, a shocking realization struck me. It's fall! I reached this startling conclusion as I noticed the trees that line my favorite part of the drive (this tree-lined hill) were no longer green but turning orange and red.


I love fall for so many reasons.

I love fall because it is so pretty. There's nothing like the sight of autumn leaves. I love the way they look. I love the sound they make as they crunch under foot. Summer and spring are lovely (and even a fresh snow can be breathtaking to behold), but fall has them all beat.

I love fall because the weather is so cool and lovely. It's sweater weather. It's turtleneck weather. It's light coat weather. My closet is thrilled at the opportunity to return to my back my favorite clothes. I can't wait to break out my big, comfy turtlenecks. I can't wait to layer.

I love fall because my birthday is in fall (October 11 to be precise). Even at my advanced age, I still love my birthday even if I often don't do much to celebrate it. (This year is different, but more on THAT later)

I love fall because all my favorite television shows are coming back -- The Office, Ugly Betty, and How I Met Your Mother all premiered last week, 30 Rock is a month away. Saturday Night Live has had some inspired moments already this season (thank you, Tina Fey) even if a lot of the sketches have been a little flat (particularly in that season premiere -- please stop having athletes host!).

I love fall because studios start releasing all the good Oscar-bait movies. Granted, I never usually have time to go see them because of my duties as director and speech team coach, but it's nice to know there's intelligent stuff out there for when I do find the time. (I've been known to sneak off to a movie by myself on Friday evenings before speech meets to just unwind and not think about anything work related for a couple hours.) I can't wait to see Doubt, The Changeling, Rachel Getting Married, The Soloist, and Benjamin Button, to name just a few.

I love fall because it's the time of Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving. I prepare a Thanksgiving feast at my house every year, and I can't wait to do it this year in my nice, big kitchen. (My old kitchen was roughly the size of a walk-in closet) I make almost the entire meal from scratch with the exception of the rolls and usually the dessert (although that used to be because of a lack of space, so I just might try my hand at pie-baking this year!).

I love fall because it's when Election Day falls. As frustrated as I have been with this campaign cycle this year, there's no denying the fact that I love the thrill and sport of this thing we call politics. I don't think I've felt this intellectually alive in ages!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fasten Your Seat Belts

This morning, I sat down and started a blog entry all about the discouraging trajectory of Jamie Lee Curtis's career. (She's starring in Beverly Hills Chihuahua, people! IT'S A TALKING DOG MOVIE!!!) I didn't get it done, so I saved it and perhaps it will get posted eventually.

What stopped me from posting about Jamie Lee, though, was when I happened to pop onto the New York Times website this afternoon only to learn that the House voted down the projected bailout -- sending the stock market on a 770-point plunge into the gutter. Considering there were students in the room, I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from uttering the expletive that sprang to mind.

Okay, I know I'm not anything remotely close to a finance wizard. My worse grade in college was in the one econ class I let my adviser talk me into taking. A lot of what I'm about to say here is pretty much steeped in the rhetoric I've heard over the weekend from CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the like.

This morning, it seemed as if this proposed bailout was not necessarily a perfect plan but it was a doable plan that would address the problems. It seemed as if the staggered dispersal of the $700 billion was a good solution that would address the squeamishness many of us feel about that sort of money being handed out.

It seems clear that some sort of solution is needed, and I'm concerned that Congress is dragging its feet to the detriment of the rest of us. Their inability to pass this proposed bailout plan has sent the stock market plummeting. As a student of American history and literaure, I know what happens when stuff like that goes down -- banks close, dust storms come, and people become hoboes whose only substinence comes from the breast milk of mothers whose babies were born dead. Yeah! I know! People, I will not make it as a hobo!

It's time for Congress to get their act together and get something passed. The bailout may not be the cure to our woes (it's definitely not, I know), but it may at least put some minds at ease enough to keep this economy on the rails.

The ONE little sliver of silver in this cloud? At least the price of oil is dropping along with the stock market.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'd Like to Use One of My Lifelines

Tina Fey returned once more to SNL last night for another shot at Sarah Palin. This time, obviously, Fey had a tough act to follow -- herself -- and expectations were high for another slam dunk.
Personally, I liked last night's Palin sketch even more than the first one. As Palin speaks more and more, her lack of preparation and knowledge becomes more and more obvious, and last night's sketch satirized that brilliantly -- from her nonsensical rambling about fixing the economy (ordering from McDonald's Dollar Menu will help) to her call for a lifeline and the adorable posing, Fey's portrayal of Palin gets creepier and creepier and more and more scathing. I love that Fey's disdain for Palin lurks so clearly just under the surface, as if you can just see her thinking, "Can you believe this idiot?"
In case you haven't seen it, check it out here .

Let's Call It a Draw

I sat down and watched the debate last night, wanting to see it before watching Meet the Press tonight. I've read some of the post-game commentary, mostly on the Huff and some op-ed pieces in the NY Times. And I have to say I came away from the debate with an "eh" reaction.

Obviously, the debate isn't going to change my mind. I'm not going to have this sudden epiphany over the course of two hours and suddenly become a rabid McCain supporter. If anything, the debate and this week's ridiculous show of suspending the campaign eroded any of the remaining respect I ever had for John McCain. (Check out today's Frank Rich for a great take on the "suspension.") If I heard that guy say he wasn't "Miss Congeniality" one more time, I was going to scream. Of course we know he's not Miss Congeniality -- he looks nothing like Sandra Bullock. How stupid does he think we are??

To me, the debates are like a football game (yeah, there's that sports metaphor again). I watch to support my team and hoping to see my team deliver a crushing defeat to its opponent. I did not get my wish with Friday's debate.

Did my team even win? I'm not even sure I can say that. Yes, Obama gave a fine performance. His cool calm was on display, and I had a glimpse of a future where America is in crisis and we have this cool customer calmly assuring us everything will be okay. McCain seemed petulant and grouchy. At times, I found him incredibly condescending towards Obama. But he didn't buckle under Obama's rhetoric. The fault for that lies with Obama. His refusal to let McCain ruffle his feathers kept him from really digging in and attacking McCain. He had several opportunities where righteous indignation could have delivered a devastating blow, and he let those opportunities slide. Maybe he didn't want to seem like he was beating up the old guy. Instead, he let the old guy continue to perpetuate the same untruths that has been fueling his campaign.

I know that Obama is trying to play these debates as a gentleman's game and doesn't want to dig in the muck. But when the rain is pouring down around you, you have no choice but to get a little dirty if you want to get through the storm.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Oh, and In Case You're Wondering . . .

If you're looking for my take on last night's debate, stay tuned but wait a couple days. I haven't watched it yet. I know -- SHOCKING! I recorded it on my DVR last night. I'm just getting over a nasty little cold -- sore throat, sneezy, sniffly, achy -- and actually spent all of yesterday curled up on the couch. With my icky achiness, I just didn't think I should watch the debate -- if only because the drugs I was on were likely to make me fall asleep. I plan on watching the debate either today or tomorrow, and I am sure I'll have something to say. I understand from the Huffington Post that Obama won. Surprise!

This One's Tough to Take

I woke up early this morning, quickly showered, and was out the door by about 8:00 to run some errands and then go work on the set for the play at school. As I was standing on the stage getting painting stations set up for the kids to work on a variety of projects, my cell phone rang. It was my friend George.

"Paul Newman died," was the first thing he said to me. I immediately collapsed onto a bench nearby, speechless and trying not to cry.

Paul Newman was perhaps my first favorite actor that wasn't animated or the star of a kids' movie from the early 70s. (Dick Van Dyke, I'm looking at you.) Paul Newman's movies were probably the first grown-up movies I can remember watching that weren't musicals. I can remember BEGGING my parents to let me stay up to watch the end of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, even though my father warned me I wouldn't like the end. (He was right. My seven-year-old self didn't see the perfection that is the ending of that movie. I just didn't get it or understand what was happening) I can remember watching The Sting for the first time and literally gasping aloud at the end, my dad, who had seen the movie many times already, laughing heartily at my surprise. I think that movie is what inspired my love for a good caper film -- the more twists and turns, the better.

Paul Newman was sort of a God in my house. He was the sort of rugged but real movie hero that my dad liked, and he was my mom's George Clooney -- that sort of "perfect" specimen of manliness and sex appeal. As I got older and became more and more interested in theatre, I began to see Newman as one of those "perfect" actors -- rarely a false note, always steeped in reality and humanity. He seemed to get even better as he aged. Look at those films from the latter half of his career -- Absence of Malice, The Verdict, The Color of Money, Road to Perdition. Newman is captivating to watch because of how genuine he always seems.

Paul Newman wasn't just a model to which actors should aspire; he was a model to which all people should aspire. His contributions to charity are legendary -- from his creation of The Hole in the Wall Gang camps which serves children with serious illnesses to the founding of his Newman's Own food products where profits go to charity. He and his wife Joanne Woodward eschewed life in the Hollywood fast lane in favor of the small Connecticut town of Westport, a quiet place to raise their children and a town which benefited from their presence. The Newmans helped build a new library, opened their home for charitable events, and helped save and restore the Westport Country Playhouse, a legendary theatre that had fallen into disrepair by the start of the 21st Century, despite having once been the host of the world premieres of plays such as Come Back Little Sheba and The Trip to Bountiful. A year or so ago, I saw an episode of Iconoclasts with Newman and Robert Redford where Newman took Redford through the theatre and spoke of its history and future with such love and passion. It was inspiring to see this man's love for theatre still burning so brightly after so many years in the profession.

It's always hard to lose a legend like Newman, but it's doubly hard when it's someone so decent and full of passion and integrity. We've lost a great one, and Hollywood will never be the same.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I tried. I really tried. I was trying to take a break from the political stuff. I posted about my back and 30 Rock and Clay Aiken and tried to give myself a break from the stress and anxiety this election is causing me. And then today, John McCain made it impossible for me to ignore the campaign by "suspending" his campaign to help focus on the financial crisis.

Give me a freakin' break.

First of all, this smells so foul I'm surprised I haven't passed out from the fumes. This is voter manipulation at its finest -- creating the illusion that he's concerned and putting the people above the campaign but it's really just a ploy to seem sympathetic and win votes. You know it is! On top of it, he's calling for a delay to Friday night's debate, denying people of one of the few opportunities to see the candidates and compare them side-by-side. At a time when the American people need most to hear from these candidates, one of them wants to go and hide.
And isn't it ironic that he wants to suspend his campaign when polls are showing Obama starting to pull ahead. (One poll I heard this morning on NPR shows Obama up by 9 points)

Plus, in all honesty, what does McCain think he's going to do? Ride into Washington and wave his magic wand (not raising it above his head, of course) and voila! No financial crisis. Yes, I know he's become the de facto party leader (Sorry, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- you are worthless now!), but still. What does he really expect to accomplish outside of feigning concern? This is a man who admitted he wasn't as well versed in the economy as foreign policy, so is he really the person to be leading this debate anyway?

I hate that I've become so cynical that I never once considered whether McCain's move here is sincere. Politics have burned me, and I've lost my trust, particularly of McCain whose campaign has been full of these deceitful moments of utter trickery -- from the nasty little ads to Sarah Palin. Here's hoping that the American public sees through this and doesn't reward him for this by handing him the White House in November. THAT would be the real trickery.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oooooooh . . . Shocker!

Okay, I don't know how reliable this information is, but according to Perez Hilton , Clay Aiken officially comes out of the closet in the upcoming issue of People magazine. It's not up on the People website, so I don't know if Perez is just that good or this is a giant hoax.
Let's assume, though, that this is true. Yes, it's the least shocking outing in the history of coming out of the closet, but there's a bigger issue here. Why does coming out of the closet have to be a big deal? Or better yet when will the day come when it's not a big deal when a celebrity (or anyone for that matter) comes out? Anyone who had eyes knew that Clay Aiken was gay, and yet he has spent years sidestepping the issue and denying it. To me, that does more harm than good -- further enforcing the notion that gay is shameful or something to be hidden.
Now, I know it's easy for me to sit here on my "Straight Girl Throne" preaching gay pride. I've never had to hide my heterosexuality or fear that I would suffer major reprisals for my sexuality. This situation, though, is a pathetic reflection on our society that forces people to hide who they are, who treat a natural phemomenon as sinful or dirty. This is the 21st Century, people; it's time to get over our straight selves and just let people be people. And then maybe the day will come when people don't have to go on magazine covers and state the obvious.
(PS -- As the reigning Ms. Fag Hag since about 1971, I just want to say "Hey, Clay! I am such a fan of your people . . .and your people are such a fan of me. Now I know why I wept so bitterly when your American Idol crown was stolen out from under you!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

"If reality TV has taught us anything, it's that you can't keep people with no shame down."

So I actually sat down and watched the Emmys last night. Over the years, I've grown less and less interested in the Emmys if only because I don't watch a lot of the shows that get all the nominations. Lost? Never seen it. Mad Men? Watched one episode and liked it but never kept up enough with it to keep my DVR from deleting it to make space for other stuff. Dexter? Don't get Showtime. Two and a Half Men? You must be kidding me.

Last night, though, the Emmys did provide a pleasant diversion from the raging pain that is my back, and I tuned in to root for a show that I do love and that was actually nominated for many awards -- 30 Rock.

30 Rock was pretty much destined to win my heart from the second the idea sprung into Tina Fey's head. First of all, just the involvement of Tina Fey had me at hello. She is my hero -- smart, funny, not afraid to rock the glasses, quirky. She's like the pretty, glamorous, successful version of me! Add to that the fact that it's the sort of workplace comedy populated by eccentrics that I tend to love, I was in.

So it was with great excitement that I watched the show walk away with a ton of Emmys last night -- for Writing (if you haven't seen the "Cooter" episode for which Tina Fey won her writing Emmy last night, you really need to. I tried to link to it but hulu doesn't seem to have it anymore. BLURG!), Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Comedy Series. That's a pretty impressive haul.

Here's the thing: despite the fact that this is the second year 30 Rock has won Best Comedy Series, the show still struggles in the ratings and seems to constantly be on the fence when it comes to cancellation. After the pain of losing Arrested Development under similar circumstances, I don't think I can go through it again. This show should be huge, like Seinfeld huge, and yet it's sort of like the little engine that could, slowly chugging its way up the hill. And you know what? That pisses me off. When shows like Two and a Half Men and According to Jim can run for seasons and seasons mining the same hardy-har-har laughs that have been around for decades and a show like 30 Rock struggles to get people to tune in, something's wrong. It's that same dumbing down mentality that led people to vote for George W. Bush. Heaven forbid we spend our evenings watching smart comedy. Instead, let's crack open a beer and watch Charlie Sheen crack one sexist joke after another.

Hopefully, when 30 Rock does return on October 30 (and seriously, wtf on that one?? The Office and My Name is Earl come back this week. What's with the wait on 30 Rock?!?!?!?), people will tune in and see what the big deal is . . . and they'll stay and help make this critically beloved show the popularly beloved show it deserves to be. If not, BLURG!!!

PS -- One final note for the Emmy voters out there, could you please stop giving Jeremy Piven awards? It only makes his ego bigger. And instead, could you please give one to Neil Patrick Harris?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Remember when you were a kid and you couldn't wait to be an adult? I was going to eat at Dairy Queen every day, keep my room as messy as I wanted, and drive a bright red Corvette. I can remember saying this to my parents and them laughing at the very idea.

What my parents didn't warn me about was what being an adult really involved -- paying bills, taking responsibility, and the physical toll aging starts to take on your body. I'm feeling the effects of that aging today.

Yesterday, I had a pretty active day. I woke up early and drove over to the school where I teach to spend the morning working on the set with the small group of students (all female) willing to give up a Saturday morning to paint. While the girls were put to work on painting projects, I had my own project to tackle -- building what I am calling flat wagons. (We're doing The Matchmaker which calls for 4 different sets. Because my stage is so small, there's not a lot of room to have the typical sort of wagon I would use for these scenes, so I designed what are essentially traveling flats that can become these scenes.) I worked solo on this project since none of the girls who came were very comfortable using power tools -- particularly the circular saw that I was wielding. My project involved a lot of lifting and bending over. When I got home, I spent another hour or so working in the yard -- mowing, raking, etc. I then spent the evening curled up on the couch watching Michael Clayton. (Great movie, but after having seen it, I think Tilda Swinton should not have won that Oscar over Amy Ryan.)

This morning when I woke up, I could barely get out of bed. My back was killing me as a result of the lifting and bending and whatnot. I've spent the day as an invalid, not even able to bend over to pick up some stuff on the floor. A couple years ago, I could have done this work and woken up the next morning to do more. And now? I'm a freakin' cripple.

This sucks.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reason #729 Why I Love My Job

Most days, I really love my job. I get to interact with some great kids and get the feeling that maybe, just maybe I might be making a difference in their lives. Of course, there are days when my job is really frustrating, when you get the feeling that what you're trying to do has absolutely no meaning or value for these kids. There are the days when you look out and just can see the grim future that is in store for these kids. But the good days outweigh the bad, which is why I stay.

Today was one of the good days because today was a day that reminded me how inherently good and decent many of these kids are.

Next week is Homecoming week. One of the traditions of our Homecoming here is that the royalty (King, Queen, and Attendants) are announced at an assembly on the Friday before the week starts. That way, the royalty rules over the whole week. It's also at this assembly that there's a fashion show to demonstrate the different dress-up days and various events throughout the course of the next week are announced. This year, two of my Drama Club kids were nominated for junior class attendant, but other than that, I didn't pay much attention to the list of nominees when the kids voted in my class.

As the announcements started, there was the inevitable "awwwwwwing" when this cute little sophomore couple was announced class attendants. One of my Drama Club girls was junior class runner-up. The junior class male attendant was this kind of nerdy kid with red hair -- ginger power!! And then came the big moment -- the announcement of King and Queen. Here, they have both senior class attendants, runners-up, and then King and Queen. (Which I've always thought was kind of lame, but I also understand it's a way to get more kids involved.) There were the shocked gasps when half of the couple everyone thought would be King and Queen (the boy half) was named runner-up without his girlfriend. There were the shocked gasps when the half of ANOTHER couple everyone assumed would get voted attendants together (the boy half again) was named class attendant without his girlfriend. When the Queen was announced, it was the female half of the couple everyone assumed would be King and Queen. So the tension built . . . who would be her King when her boyfriend was already standing up there beside another girl?

And then the teacher in charge of announcements called the name, "Kevin Johnson."

I guess at this point, I should probably tell you who Kevin Johnson is. Kevin is, obviously, a senior at our school. He is extremely popular, beloved by just about everyone (teachers and students alike), probably has more school spirit in his little finger than the rest of the student body combined. When he walks down the hall, he greets everyone with a smile and a wave. He is diligent and kind and respectful.

Kevin Johnson is autistic.

And he is our Homecoming King.

When Kevin's name was announced, the entire gym erupted with cheers like I've never heard before. It was deafening. The love and pride that those 500+ kids felt for Kevin was earthshattering. Because that's the important thing to note here. Kevin was not nominated as a joke and he was not voted King as a joke. He was nominated and voted for because the kids genuinely like him and genuinely wanted him to be their king. I don't know that I've ever seen a happier human being as Kevin bounded down out of the bleachers to join his queen. I could feel myself welling up and fought it, not wanting the kids to see me cry. And then I looked across the gym to where my principal was sitting, wiping tears from his own eyes.

Just when you think the future is doomed in the hands of today's kids, they redeem themselves with a moment of pure beauty and give Kevin Johnson what will probably be one of the highlights of his life.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who's Got Game?

What I'm about to tell you may come as a bit of a shock. It's not something I'm very open about. I'd almost call it a dirty little secret. I'm not sure why I've kept this information about myself so "hidden" over the years. It's not that I'm ashamed or think people will think less of me. It's just something that exists on the back burner of my life and I just don't talk about it probably because there are so many other topics I'd rather discuss -- like movies or politics or who's going to win Project Runway (now that Terri's gone, my money's on Korto although I think Leanne could be a sleeper ala season 2's Chloe Dao). Anyway, here it is:

I know a lot about sports. Like a sort of shocking amount. About several different sports -- baseball, football, basketball, tennis, even hockey. Like I know rules and positions and terminology. The thing is that I'm not even much of a sports fan. I mean, I don't dislike sports, but I rarely sit down to watch a game or pay much attention to the stats and standings. I have my favorite teams and am happy when I learn they're doing well (GO CUBS), but I don't schedule my life around watching them play. (I think I've watched one Cubs game all year. Okay, IF the Cubs go to the playoffs, yeah, I'll probably watch if only because they always provide such a beautiful lesson in crushing disappointment.)

As with much in my life, I blame my father for this wealth of useless information that clutters my brain. My dad LOVED sports. I think he was probably happiest when he was sitting in his recliner with a can of Pepsi in his hand and a game on tv. When I was a kid, we only had one tv for a long time, and so sports were a constant part of my youth. In the absence of anything else to watch and a desire to spend time with my dad, I would watch sports -- and learn. (My dad was a great teacher, although never a teacher by profession.)

So what's my point here? Well, my knowledge about sports led me to some thoughts this morning as I was driving to work and listening to NPR. They played a sound bite where Barack Obama stated that McCain was treating this election like a game to be played. I was a bit taken aback by this comment. Not that I doubted its truth (I've called politics a game many, many times) but realizing that McCain was treating it that way so blatantly. And with the way he's playing, I'm starting to get scared.

Nowhere is McCain's game-playing more evident than in his selection of Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin was not selected for her qualifications or her ability to perhaps lead this country. She's a ringer brought in designed to steal this game away. She's all flash and sizzle. She scores the occasional slam dunk, but she commits fouls to get that basket scored -- fouls that the referees (in this case, the voters) never seem to see. The people who DO see it and DO call foul are those poor souls in the back of the bleachers screaming at the refs to get their eyes checked -- and we all know that the refs never, ever do.

Meanwhile, we have Barack Obama who is a great player if a bit young and a bit of a phenom. When it came time for him to pick his team, Barack could have picked someone with some flash and sizzle (think Hillary Clinton) or picked someone who could "deliver" some key points (think Tim Kaine who could have helped Obama in Virginia or Evan Bayh who could have helped in Indiana). Instead, Obama picked Joe Biden. Biden is what my dad would have called a workhorse. He isn't driving to the net dunking the ball at every chance he gets. He's not a ball hog who's all about scoring. He's the sort of guy who leads the team in assists, who brings patience and deliberation and thoughtfulness to the team, who will provide key defense when needed. He completes the team, making it well-rounded. Team McCain is all about scoring points -- he's sort of like the Harlem Globetrotters. They're going to score, and they're going to score a lot, but after awhile, you miss the teamwork and the drama of a "real" game.

It makes me think a lot of my dad. My dad loved basketball and yet he didn't watch professional basketball all that much. Instead, he was a rabid fan of college basketball. Once, I asked my dad why he didn't watch the NBA, and he said, "They're just too good. It's all slam dunks and huge scores. With these college games, you get a good game played by a team. I'll take that any day over these guys with the inflated egos and paychecks showboating around the court." Obama-Biden is a team. McCain-Palin is inflated egos showboating around the court. Which team do you want to spend the next 4-8 years watching?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Babies Havin' Babies, Y'all

Okay, gang, rant time.

I started my writing unit with my English I class this week. We start with basic five-sentence descriptive paragraphs and build our way up to five-paragraph persuasive essays. I find that it's easier to ease the kids back into the writing process after a summer spent NOT doing any expository writing. The topic I gave the kids for today was "Describe a person you know." I encourage the kids to delve beyond mere physical description, but that can be a bit of a challenge for a lot of kids who haven't really trained themselves to look past the surface level.

So this afternoon, I collected paragraphs from one of my classes and sat down to grade. These first paragraphs are only worth 15 points, and I was mostly looking for mechanics and sentence structure and making brief comments here and there on content. I've learned over the years that these kids need baby steps. Most of the paragraphs I read were about friends or siblings or the kid that sits across the aisle in class (a testament to how limited their vision can be). Occasionally, a kid will write about a parent. And then I got to one from a very quiet young woman who sits in the front of my class; let's call her Lily. She sits right in front of my podium, has never uttered a word in class, and has always struck me as rather meek. So what was it about Lily's paragraph that struck me and prompted me to write this entry?

Lily's paragraph was about her six-month-old son. Let me say that again -- HER SIX-MONTH-OLD SON! This girl can't be more than 15. She is a freshman in high school. Ninth grade. And she has a child, a child which she had while in eighth grade. When I was eighth grade, all I cared about was when the new Wham record was coming out. Lily was in labor. The kid's name is something like Tiesen. That's her misspelling. I almost corrected it and then I realized that MAYBE it would be tacky to correct her on the spelling of her own child.

But here's the thing. If you can't spell the name of your baby correctly, you shouldn't be having a baby! If you can't drive legally, you shouldn't be having a baby. If your years in school haven't hit double digits, you shouldn't be having a baby. This isn't the first time I've experienced something like this, although Lily is my youngest mother. A few years ago, there was another freshman girl who came to school with her sonogram pictures which she passed around for all the other girls in class to coo over. When I had her in English II the next year, she frequently (no, make that always) signed her name at the top of the paper followed by a heart and her daughter's name. Kind of the way I used to sign my name followed by "hearts Ricky Schroeder."

This is where abstinence education fails us. I have no doubt that someone somewhere in her life told Lily that she shouldn't have sex at her age. And then they left it at that. 'Cause you know that when you tell a kid NOT to do something, they never, ever do it. Instead of educating Lily and saying, "You know what, it's really not a good idea for you to have sex, but just in case, here are some things you can do so that you don't end up with a baby before you even start high school."

This is also where I have another problem. I think about my parents and what they would have done if I had come home from junior high with a load of Algebra homework and a load of baby in my uterus. I think about what I would do if I were a parent and my eighth grader came home pregnant. I know what my parents would have done, even my conservative father. After the explosion and the tears and the freak out, my parents would have placed a call to the local family planning clinic and voila. No baby. And I know I would do the same thing. A 14-year-old has no business raising a child, and there's a part of me that thinks that it's an irresponsible parent who allows that to happen. It's not fair to anyone involved -- the girl, the baby, the parents themselves.

I know that "abortion" has become a dirty word. I was watching an episode of WKRP the other night (I swear this is relevant!). It was the episode where Mr. Carlson's wife finds out she's pregnant, and I was stunned when Mama Carlson showed up and advised her son that his wife get an abortion -- and actually used the word. That show aired in 1979. Nearly 20 years later, the closest we can get to using the word in a movie called KNOCKED UP (for Pete's sake) is to say "it rhymes with schmabortion." My point here is not just that we were more progressive about this sort of thing in the 70s (even though we clearly were) but rather that we need to get over our fear of this word and recognize that there are times when it needs to not only be said but considered. I am in no way an advocate of "abortion as birth control." That's just as irresponsible as not using birth control at all. There are times, though, when abortion does provide a way to face a situation that could devastate countless lives now and into the future. I wish someone had had a serious talk with Lily before and after she decided to have sex and taken some steps that would keep her life from being a sad one. Because now I realize that the vibe I have been getting from Lily for the past several weeks as she has sat in front of me is irreversible sadness. As much as I am sure she loves her son, I also sense (and hope) that she realizes that she is in over her head -- and there's nothing she can do now to take it back.

** One caveat here: I am not advocating abortion in lieu of adoption. Adoption is a fantastic "solution" to an unwanted pregnancy and brings so much joy from a not so joyful situation for many women. I am concerned, though, with putting a newly pubescent body through the rigors of childbirth. From what I understand, it's an emotionally and physically brutal experience. It hurts. Things rip. Can a 13 or 14-year-old child really handle that experience? While abortion is also an emotionally and physically brutal experience, I think that it can also be the kinder choice for young girls.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wash Your Mouth Out!

This morning, I tuned in, as I always do, to Meet the Press. One of Tom's guests was Rudy Giuliani who was there as a surrogate for the McCain campaign. Giuliani was trying to defend the latest McCain commercial that paints Obama as an advocate of sex education at the kindergarten level. He was trying to defend Sarah Palin's clear lack of qualifications as well as the growing rumblings about misconduct in her leadership in Alaska. At one point when he was launching an attack on Obama, Giuliani pointed out that Obama was the most liberal member of the Senate and that Joe Biden was the third most liberal member. (Who's lucky number 2??) My thought was, "Awesome! That's just what we need -- two liberals to really shake things up."

And then I realized that this was meant to shock us, to scare us, to convince us that voting for Obama and Biden would be a tremendous mistake. It's not the first time that candidates have used "liberal" as a slur against another candidate. I can remember Michael Dukakis coming under fire for being a card-carrying member of the ACLU. It's become a rather damning slur, and it's time for that to stop. As a liberal, I'm offended by this portrayal of liberal as something dirty or unseemly when the truth is that any candidate running as a candidate of change has to be a liberal.

Have you ever looked the word up? Do you know what it really means to be liberal? According to dictionary.com, a liberal is
favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
(often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism.
favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, esp. as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
favoring or permitting freedom of action, esp. with respect to matters of personal belief or expression: a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
of or pertaining to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant: a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
open-minded or tolerant, esp. free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts: a liberal donor.
given freely or abundantly; generous: a liberal donation.
not strict or rigorous; free; not literal: a liberal interpretation of a rule.
of, pertaining to, or based on the liberal arts

Which one of those definitions mean all hell breaking loose? Which one of those definitions indicates a general destruction of our society as we know it? Is it the one about being free from bigotry? Or maybe the one about being generous? Or being anti-monarchy? This country was FOUNDED by liberals. Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, George Washington? Those men were liberals (except maybe that free from bigotry part, as I'm sure their slaves would attest to). They had the vision and courage to break from the monarchy and start a government like none ever seen before. Turning "liberal" into a dirty word is an insult to everything those men fought for -- and an insult to everything this country is supposed to represent.

This country has a history of liberalism, of standing up to injustice and seeking reform when things are falling apart. Abraham Lincoln was a liberal, leading the country through one of the greatest reforms in its history -- the abolition of slavery. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a liberal, setting into motion the most radical series of government reforms to attempt to get this country through the Great Depression.

The fact of the matter is that when this country has faced its greatest challenges, when it has been in the greatest peril, it has been the liberals who have stepped forward and held our hands through the crisis. Where would this country be without those liberal founding fathers? Without Lincoln or Roosevelt? Without Woodrow Wilson, who came up with this crazy idea that maybe the countries of the world could work together to secure worldwide peace? Without JFK and LBJ, who had the courage to champion legislation aimed to end racism? Without Martin Luther King, who had the dream of harmony and brotherhood?

Obama is the most liberal person to ever run for president? Hallelujah! We need a liberal now more than ever. Look was 8 years of "compassionate conservatism" has gotten us. If we want to weather this storm we're facing, it's a liberal we want at the helm of this ship -- or we just may end up on the rocks.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Rainy Day Treat

It's pouring here in Illinois, a good day to curl up inside with some cocoa and the internet. Actually, I'm working on writing letters of recommendation for a couple of my seniors and grading freshmen exams, so I'll just leave you with this happy little nugget . Enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Our Day That Will Live in Infamy

Every generation has one -- that moment in time when we all share a common experience and bond together, if only briefly, as a result. That moment when you will always know exactly where you were when it happened. Sadly, that moment is usually one wrapped in grief and tragedy. Our moment is never one of joy and celebration, of life, but rather of death. For our grandparents, it was December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America was shoved into World War II. For our parents, it was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the fairy tale world that was Camelot came crashing down. For us, it's September 11, 2001, the day that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked by commercial airliners that had been hijacked. It was a moment when the world seemed at once to both stand still and go careening off its axis. Just as the lives of our grandparents and parents were changed by their moments, so, too, were ours.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was ten days into my teaching career. After a couple years spent trying to figure out what to do with my life post-college (including a miserable year in law school), a couple years back in school to take the classes I needed to become certified to teach, and a couple years job hunting while working as a teaching aide in an elementary school, I had found a great job -- ironically not only in the school where I had completed my student teaching but in the same classroom, replacing the woman who had been my mentor teacher. It was an overwhelming time with a lot of responsibilities and kind of coming to terms with the reality of teaching. (A lot of my idealistic philosophy had already bitten the dust.) That morning, I taught my first hour class (Study Skills, which was a course designed for sophomores who had failed or come close to failing English their freshman year but who had been identified as having the potential to be more successful with a little extra guidance). Second hour was my prep period. I went downstairs to the library to confirm that I would be bringing my freshmen classes down the next period to check out library books for their book reports.

When I got to the library, the librarian (who was a grouchy, chain smoking woman that everyone in the building both hated and feared and yet who, for some reason I've never been able to fathom, just loved me and was never anything but kind and helpful to me) was standing in front of a tv in the library, just silently staring at the screen. I could see some sort of smoking building on the screen but couldn't really tell what was going on, so I asked.

"Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center," she told me.

"Like a little plane like before?" I asked, thinking of the small place that someone had tried to fly into the White House just a few years earlier.

"I don't think so," was her response. As we stood there watching, the second plane hit. We both let out gasps and looked at each other with the same unspoken thought -- this is bad.

I went back upstairs to my classroom and logged onto cnn.com and turned on the tv in my own room to try to figure out what the heck was going on. Somehow, word had already started to spread through the building. My department chair came walking into my room with a junior girl who was sobbing, overwhelmed with emotion over what was going on.

"Can Kelly come in here where it's quiet for just a little bit?" she asked. Apparently they had been watching the news on television and Kelly had lost it. I quickly turned off my tv and the two of us sat with Kelly for quite sometime, just letting her cry, neither of us able to come up with any sort of words of comfort since we, too, were shocked and devastated. After a while, Kelly had composed herself enough that she was ready to go back to class, and a bond was formed in that moment between me and Kelly that lasted until she graduated the next year.

Before the next period started, an email had gone out from our principal asking us to try to keep things as "normal" as possible but to be prepared for more cases like Kelly and letting us know that the counselors were available to help us. The principal also made an announcement to the school reporting the facts and encouraging them to stay strong. When my freshmen came in third hour, I decided to go ahead and take them down to the library to check out their book report books and then just let them read quietly. I kept the tv off, but CNN on my computer -- which is how I found out that the towers were collapsing.

At this time, I taught Journalism, and my sister worked at the local paper in Galesburg, the local paper which provided free newspapers to classrooms. The Galesburg paper is an afternoon paper, and I realized that they would have coverage of the attacks that day. I called my sister and asked if there was any way I could get some papers for my Journalism class which met at the very end of the day. She told me what a crazy day she was witnessing, seeing the media coverage in a behind the scenes way. She told me, "I actually heard someone yell 'Stop the presses' and they meant it!" She told me how the paper had been minutes away from going to press and the publisher had come running down the stairs yelling for them to stop while they scrambled upstairs to put together a new front page.

I was able to get the papers that afternoon, just in time for my 7th hour Journalism class, a class full of juniors and seniors, including Kelly. The kids snatched the papers out of my hands as soon as they realized what they were and spent the next hour reading, pouring over the articles, occasionally looking up to see what CNN had to say, trying to make sense of what they were witnessing. They were grieving, they were confused, they were angry (since this was about the time that CNN started showing the dancing in the streets in Middle Eastern cities), and they were scared. That was the first time when I really grasped what I had taken on in becoming a teacher, the tremendous responsibility I had in the lives of these kids, because I (and my colleagues) were the ones they were coming to for answers and guidance. I had to do my best to put aside my own grief and confusion and anger and fear to help them navigate this thing. It is a responsibility I feel every day I walk through my classroom door.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We Are Too Sensitive!

So this week, Barack Obama is learning a hard lesson -- that people are too freakin' touchy and easy to offend. He made what I sincerely believe was an innocent comment. In discussing the spin that the McCain-Palin camp is trying to put on their record, he said, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." I heard that comment and my reaction was a little chuckle -- not because I made the connection between lipstick and Sarah Palin (and therefore jumped to the conclusion that he was calling Sarah Palin a pig) -- but rather because that phrase always makes me chuckle because it makes me imagine one of my childhood idols, the legendary Miss Piggy. I mean, seriously, that pig was a riot because no matter how glamorous she thought she was, she was still a pig!

It's not like Barack Obama made this expression up. It's a common expression -- one that McCain himself used just a year ago to describe the health care plan of a Democratic rival. That Democratic rival? Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton? Did Hillary and her camp throw a fit and accuse McCain of being sexist? No. Suddenly, because of her stupid hockey mom-pit bull "joke" (I use quotes because is it seriously that funny?), Sarah Palin has somehow trademarked lipstick?

I have a hard time believing that Barack Obama, a man who has dealt with a lot of bigotry in his life, would stoop so low as to actually call (or more accurately imply) that his rival is a pig. I think he has more sensitivity and class than that. I also think that he's smart enough to know that if he were to intentionally make that analogy that he would be crucified. Remember, too, that he has to face Michelle every night, and I don't see that kind of remark flying by her. Rather he used an expression in an attempt to seem more "like us" and didn't make the connection that everyone else jumped to right away -- that it would be seen as a comment on Palin.

Again, though, I grow concerned about the tone of this election. It seems incredibly counterproductive to me to have a female vice presidential candidate on the ticket, to trumpet her as a harbinger of change, and then demand that she be treated with kid gloves -- kid gloves that would be nowhere in sight if she were a man. This kind of double standard does not help the cause of women but rather only further highlights our "otherness" rather than accepting us as equals. If we want to play with the boys, we gotta be ready to be treated like the boys. It may suck, some really lousy things may get said, but that's, sadly, part of the game. There may be lipstick on this pig we call politics, but it's really still just a pig.

No offense, Sarah.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I Am Freakin' Old

Once upon a time, I was actually a pretty hip person. Pop culture was my bitch -- whether it was movies or tv or music. I was often the person who "found" new music before it became popular. I read all the cool magazines, watched MTV religiously, and knew all the words to all the cool indie songs.

Well, folks, that's all over. I watched MTV's Video Music Awards from last night, and by the end of the ceremony, I was close to tears. I felt every single one of my 36 years -- and probably some of YOUR years, too. I would guess that I hadn't heard of about 80% of the acts that performed or won awards. Of the 20% I had heard of, I probably couldn't name a single song by most of them -- I just had HEARD of them. To make it even worse, when these bands I'd never heard of did perform, I was sort of digusted by what I saw. Whether it was just gross looking people (like that Lil Wayne with his pants down around his knees) or horrible sounding music (like those Jonas Brothers), it was just horrifying. I would guess that three acts were actually entertaining -- Pink who always kicks ass, Christina Aguilera who rivals Pink in that department, and Paramore (the spelling mistake is theirs, not mine) whom I had never heard of before but who were really cool -- reminding me of Heart if Heart had had more of a punk edge. I kept waiting for them to break into "Barracuda." The lead singer had incredible stage presence, and the song they performed was just really great.

On top of my complete ignorance where the acts were concerned, though, the VMA's were a huge disappointment. There were no surprises, no moments that made you gasp -- unless you count host Russell Brand (who the frick is Russell Brand?) calling George Bush "retarded." I can remember the days when the VMA's kept you on the edge of your seat and was all you could talk about the next day. Remember when Nirvana's Krist Novoselic nearly knocked himself out when he flung his bass in the air and clocked himself in the head. Remember Michael and Lisa Marie's kiss? Pee Wee's return? Every single time Britney ever took the stage? Every single time Madonna took the stage? Guns-n-Roses shocking return? There wasn't a single moment like that. The whole thing felt scripted -- if the script had been written by the people behind Hannah Montana. (In my day, Miley Cyrus would never have been allowed within 10 miles of the VMA's let alone be nominated for Best New Artist.)
Even more disappointing was the fact that the presenters made constant reference to the fact that it was the 25th anniversary of the VMA's, yet outside of that lip service, there was little recognition given to the vast history of the show. Would a little retrospective of past Video of the Year award winners have been so hard to put together? (And how cool would it have been to see something like that) Maybe a performance or two from some of the acts that made the VMA's survive 25 years? Where the heck was Madonna? Aerosmith? Red Hot Chili Peppers? Pearl Jam? Yeah, I'm a history geek who loves those sorts of retrospectives and who has always been very interested in the history of pop culture and not just the present of pop culture. I can sing commercial jingles of products that ceased to exist before I was even born. And it continually frustrates me with my students that they have no awareness of the "classics." I've had students seriously ask me "Who is Jimi Hendrix?" The day is probably coming very soon when they ask "Who was Kurt Cobain?" And a portion of the blame for this belongs to MTV who had the opportunity to embrace its history last night and instead gave us this lame mishmash.
Sigh. I guess I'd better call my mom and apologize to her for all those arguments we had when I was young over MTV and the music they played. She may not have been right (Madonna will ALWAYS rule!), but at least I understand now what she was going through.

At the Movies with Mel

Well, it's Monday, and here I am back at work ready to face a long and busy week filled with auditions for the fall play, open house, and more. Luckily, I had a nice, peaceful weekend. Besides taking in the art at Art in the Park and doing some work out in the yard (again enjoying perfect temps), I spent a significant portion of time watching movies. I had quite a few stored in my DVR that I wanted to watch to clear some space and a movie from Netflix that I wanted to get back since Baby Mama is next in the queue and comes out tomorrow.

Here are some capsule reviews of what I watched for you to keep in mind next time you're at the video store or adding good stuff to your Netflix queue.

1. I started off my Saturday evening movie marathon with Love's Labour Lost. Here, Kenneth Branagh takes a relatively lesser-known Shakespeare classic about a group of men who have forsworn the company of women for two years and turns it into a 30s-style musical. At first, the concept seemed rather clever when the language of Shakespeare gave way to the language of Gershwin and Porter. After about 20 minutes, though, it became rather tiresome and then downright unwatchable. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Branagh and his cast were not particularly able singers or dancers, and the music at times seemed forced in rather than growing organically from the story itself. It didn't help that Alicia Silverstone's labored effort to get Shakespeare's language out was palpable -- and painful. Unless you're a Shakespeare completist who feels the need to see everything the Bard ever wrote committed to film, I'd recommend skipping this one.

2. The evening definitely improved, though, with my next selection, Gone Baby Gone. Memo to Ben Affleck: Please stop acting. I ask this not as some sort of statement about your acting ability. Unlike a lot of people, I actually like your acting (at times) and think that many of your performances, particularly Chasing Amy and Hollywoodland, show tremendous promise. This plea comes more as a result of this film, your directorial debut. Ben, you've got mad skills, and it would be a shame to see you waste them in front of the camera when you could be turning out films like this. Sure, you were smart and surrounded yourself with great actors -- Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Amy Ryan. You helped your brother Casey prove that he could be a thoughtful, engaging presence on screen. (With this film and The Assassination of Jesse James, Casey really has put himself on the map of promising, underrated actors.) You picked a compelling script based on a novel by Dennis Lehane and which allowed you to work in the Boston you love so much. Many times, I found myself comparing this film to another great film drawn from a Lehane novel, Mystic River, and the comparisons were favorable. It made me think that you, Ben, could be the next Clint Eastwood, turning out these dark, complicated, compelling films that defy convention. Your work showed the same sort of intelligence that Eastwood's show. I think if this movie HAD been directed by Eastwood, it would have gotten a lot more respect and awards consideration than it did. (And Amy Ryan was seriously robbed of an Oscar!) With Eastwood frequently talking about retiring, his throne as "Greatest Actor-turned-Director" could be yours, Ben. Take it!

3. I went from the grit and suspense of Gone Baby Gone to the sweet charm of Adrienne Shelly's Waitress. I needed a little bit of a palette cleanser. Of course, the sweetness of Waitress is a bitter one as it comes with the back story of writer/director Shelly's tragic murder shortly after the film was completed. She never lived to see the film generate the relatively positive reviews it earned. It's not a perfect film, but it's a nice little movie about a waitress with a gift for making unusual but delicious pies who finds herself pregnant with the child of her nasty, possessive husband. She is filled with mixed feelings about this baby, resenting its presence and the fact that it seems to take her away her ability to finally flee from her husband. The movie is filled with a lot of charming characters and sweet, funny moments. I really loved it.

4. Greenfingers is similar in that it's a smaller film with a lot of charm. Here, a group of British prison inmates discover their love of and talent for gardening. With the help of a gardening guru, they earn the chance to compete in England's prestigious Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The movie ambles in spots, but it manages to take some characters who would be completely unsympathetic on paper (murderers, thieves, etc) and turn them into lovable characters. I also liked how it managed to defy expectations in terms of the ending.

5. Last but not least, I watched Definitely, Maybe. This was a cute little romantic comedy with a twist. A father on the verge of divorce is asked by his young daughter to tell him the story of how he met her mother. He tells her a story that involves three women who played a part in his romantic life, changing the names and some facts so that the daughter isn't sure which one is her mother. It's clear throughout the story that there's one woman that's meant for him -- but is she the mother? Ryan Reynolds is pretty charming as the romantic lead here, and Abigail Breslin is adorable (if a bit too old for the part) as his daughter. Of the three women, two are pretty forgettable and seem a bit underused, but Isla Fisher is completely charming and helped alleviate some of my concerns that she might not be the right person to play Becky in Confessions of a Shopaholic. Kevin Kline also has a great, surprising cameo. When his character opened a door to reveal himself, I literally screamed with delight.

And so I put my movie watching self to rest for the week, but perhaps you've all found something worth renting.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

La Vie Boheme Comes to an End

5,132 performances. How do you measure the life of a show?

Today is a sad day on Broadway. After 12 years, Rent closes -- leaving behind a greatly changed Broadway community from the one it joined in 1996. It is a closing driven by economics (like the rest of Broadway) -- simply put, the people just weren't coming to see the show anymore. (Interestingly enough, though, once the closing was announced, people came in droves -- enough to force producers to push the closing back several months to accomodate the newfound demand. Rent closes with shows sold out to 100% capacity -- a much more fitting end than most shows get when they close)

When Rent opened, Broadway was in crisis. After a decade full of bombastic "event" musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, the musical seemed to be a fading genre. In the years leading up to Rent's arrival, few shows made much of a splash. Even the "kings" of Broadway -- Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim -- were fading. Even though both won Tonys for Best Musical in the pre-Rent years (for Sunset Boulevard and Passion respectively), neither show had the impact on audiences as earlier work and did not enjoy the spectacular success of those landmark earlier works. The demand for bombastic spectacles was being fed by Disney's arrival on the Great White Way with Beauty and the Beast. The shows that made the most noise tended to be either big, splashy revivals or straight shows -- this was the time of Angels in America and when great modern playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein and Terrence McNally were seemingly at the top of their game. To just get a feel for the environment into which Rent walked, the same year that Rent opened, the other big original musicals that year were Bring in Da' Noise, Bring in Da' Funk (which owed about 99% of its success to the brilliance of Savion Glover), Big: The Musical, and Victor/Victoria. Not exactly shows that have become a huge part of the musical canon. Two of the musicals that Rent beat out for Best Musical at the Tonys (Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Swinging on a Star) are shows I honestly have absolutely no recollection of ever even existing -- and I'm a theatre nerd!

So what made Rent so special? A couple things. Like Hair nearly 20 years before, Rent was an attempt to bring youth culture to the theatre. It brought in "non-traditional" music styles to the form, fusing rock and salsa and pop into the genre. The argument could be made that Rent was even more successful in attempting that fusion than Hair before it in that it delved even deeper into the rawness of rock music than Hair did. Rent's legacy can be found on Broadway today. Would shows like Spring Awakening or In the Heights or Passing Strange have even had a chance of playing on Broadway had Rent not paved the way? Although those shows have not enjoyed the same sort of rabid devotion, they do owe a creative debt to Rent.

Besides mining the music of young people to tell its story, Rent also actually told a story about young people; the disenfranchised young artists who populate the story were characters never seen on Broadway in quite this vivid detail. There were lesbians and drag queens (and not those homey, delightful drag queens like in La Cage) and crack whores. These were flawed people and yet people with whom we could sympathize and maybe even identify -- even if we'd never shared their specific experiences.

Rent introduced the world to spectacular young talent. The cast was full of then-virtual unknowns. In fact, the most recognizable face in the cast when it opened was Anthony Rapp, who appeared as one of the nerdy kids in Dazed and Confused. When it opened, we didn't know who Taye Diggs and Jesse L. Martin and Idina Menzel were. Now, it seems almost impossible to believe that a cast could be filled with all those powerhouses. Back then, they were just struggling actors who lucked into a show that would launch them into the stratosphere. (When I listen to my Rent cast album now, it's almost hard to believe how little Idina Menzel's Maureen sings in the show. I mean -- it's IDINA MENZEL. How could she not basically sing lead in every single song? And yet she's a relatively secondary character -- probably the last time something like that could be said of her.)

Of course, the cynic could argue that Rent owes its success to one thing and one thing only -- the death of Jonathan Larson. It's true that Rent did arrive on Broadway with a backstory that could have been its own musical -- a young man who struggles to get his show produced only to drop dead tragically the night of the final dress rehearsal, just hours short of truly seeing his dream come true. There's probably no denying that a significant percentage of those people who went to see Rent in those early days were drawn by morbid curiosity. Morbid curiosity, though, only goes so far. Morbid curiosity doesn't buy you 12 years and over 5000 performances. Rent has become more than Jonathan Larson's tragic dream come true and deserves more than just being the success built on death.

Rent may not have "saved" Broadway from bombast and spectacle. Disney still has its hooks in, after all, and originality still suffers in the face of jukebox musicals and the incessant adaptations from films. But Rent gives hope that that spark of originality can still find an audience and ignite a phenomenon. Someday, another show will come sneaking along that will show us what a musical can be, that will challenge us and show us something we've never seen before. And chances are pretty good that it won't be produced by Disney or have a score provided by the music of Britney Spears.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday in the Park with Mel

After a week of anger management lessons courtesy of the GOP and several days of non-stop rain courtesy of Hurricane Gustav, it was wonderful to wake up this morning to sunshine and perfect temps. Added to the perfection of the day is the fact that today was the day of Galesburg's annual Art in the Park festival where local artists and those who travel from afar set up booths to display and sell their wares. Until recently, Art in the Park was a summer event scheduled for mid-to-late July. Many, many visits to Art in the Park were filled with sweat and heat exhaustion, which is perhaps one of the reasons that organizers moved the event to early September. The weather is more comfortable and inviting for the crowds.

And on this gorgeous Saturday, the crowds were definitely out in full force. My sis and I got there about 11:30 and lucked out in finding a pretty decent parking space. One of the downsides of Art in the Park is that any large parking lots are multiple blocks away from the park and often already packed and any close parking is all street parking. We spotted a space about a block away from the park and took it right away rather than gamble that there might be something closer. (We were actually on the way to a parking lot on the Knox College campus that would have put us about 2 blocks away from the park)

We merged our way into the crowds lining the sidewalks of Standish Park. Right away, we were drawn to a booth selling this amazing pottery -- gorgeous platters and bowls and vases. We were delightfully surprised to learn that the artist behind this work was my junior high school art teacher. Just about anything I know about art comes from the two years spent in her studio classroom. Had it not been for the fact that her work was pretty pricey, I would have left the park with several of her pieces.

That's the only real problem with Art in the Park -- the art is gorgeous but very expensive. I absolutely fell in love with the art found in one booth on the outer edges of the park. This artist worked in oils and had the sort of urban sensibility I tend to love -- reminiscent of Edward Hopper's urban work like Nighthawks . One piece was this amazing "close-up" of a neon diner sign that would be hanging in my house right now if it hadn't been for the $1200 price tag. My sis fell in love with this gorgeous painting of Wrigley Field. (My sis is a devoted Cubs fan who is in agony right now as the Cubs continue to toy with her emotions by seemingly self-destructing as they enter the home stretch into the playoffs.) This artist also had several pieces that featured local buildings here in town -- the sign outside a now-closed downtown furniture store and another of the Antiques Mall which is housed in a gorgeous old building downtown. This artist did sell smaller, more affordable prints of his work, but unfortunately didn't seem to have prints of any the pieces that we loved so much.

We also saw some beautiful handcrafted jewelry (although neither my sis nor I are big jewelry wearers and the pieces that did prove tempting were again more expensive than I could justify spending on something I'd wear only occasionally -- like the $80 necklace or the $40 earrings). We saw an artist who worked in spray paints, creating art on demand there on the spot. We listened to some great live music. We ran into many people we knew. We had a great hour spent browsing and celebrating art.

And then we went to Wal-Mart.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Can You Feel the Love?

Nope, me neither. The lack of any sort of apparent affection between John and Cindy McCain last night was downright uncomfortable. Did they ever even touch once? I mean, don't get me wrong. The last thing I wanted to see was an Al and Tipper moment where John bends Cindy back and shoves his tongue down her throat. (Oh, God. I just threw up a little in my mouth!) But I was just sort of taken aback to see so little show of any sort affection. The whole post-speech show was downright awkward as the McCains and Palins stood up there, waving awkwardly to the audience, looking more like four strangers waiting for the bus than two couples working together to seek the highest elected office in the nation (if not the world).

Nation (I'm channeling a little Stephen Colbert here for a sec): here's a promising sign. I'm having my Speech classes watch the McCain speech today in class. (We watched Obama last week, and I'm trying to be fair) While the county where I live is very heavily Democratic, I teach in a neighboring county that is very conservative and Republican. You would not believe some of the things I hear my students say about politics (what little they know). Anyway, it's really been encouraging today as we're watching this McCain speech. The kids who were completely silent and riveted by Obama last week are openly critical of McCain's speech -- challenging not just his speaking style but the substance of what he's saying. (Granted, they also made a couple digs about Mama McCain looking more like she should be his wife than his mother, but that's just good comedy!) Nation, there's hope!! These kids are listening, and they are NOT liking what they're hearing!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

And the Race Is On

John McCain is making it official as I type right now. I applaud McCain for taking a more gentlemanly approach to his opponent rather than taking the shrill and mocking road taken by the rest of his party this week -- including his running mate. His recognition of Barack Obama's decency and integrity was much appreciated. We can only hope that his party respects him enough to follow suit.
What I'm not hearing, though, is what McCain will do that will bring the change he's promising. What are you going to do for these people you want to champion other than mention their names in your speech and tell the world how much your lives suck as you face health care crises and money issues?
Here's the thing: I like John McCain. I think he's a good and honorable man who has worked hard for this country. I just don't agree with him on some pretty fundamental issues -- like the war and the environment and education reform (Hey, Washington, let me clue you in on something -- NCLB is not helping our students! It's cheating them out of the well-rounded, first-class education that will make them competitive in the world market. We're being forced to cut enriching programs and units in our curricula to teach to the tests. That sort of factory mentality is going to sink our kids down the road! And school choice is NOT the answer!). I hope that McCain is able to join Obama in his efforts to keep the tone of this election from sinking into the gutter.
The last thing I want to say is to thank McCain for giving his speech apparently in front of a green and then blue screen, thereby allowing Stephen Colbert to host another John McCain Green Screen Challenge .

Anderson Cooper, Will You Marry Me?

Now, Anderson, I know we face some obstacles in this developing romance of ours. I hear a rumor you might not be a fan of certain body parts I possess -- or rather you're a fan of parts I don't possess. There's the problem of the fact that you live in New York and travel the world while I'm a school teacher here in Illinois. And, of course, the little problem of you not knowing I even exist. But here's the thing: I love you. Like seriously. Besides being utterly dreamy and charming and brave and freakin' hilarious (see his appearance last week on The Daily Show when you allowed yourself to be bullied by the Best F***in' News Team), you share my disdain for the Family Lohan, you clearly are a fan of The Soup (since you referenced it during your guest host stint on Regis and Kelly), and you are smart. You sealed the deal tonight during the RNC when, as the John McCain video was about to start, the video designed to introduce us to John McCain, you said, "I'm a little confused here. Haven't we been introduced to him every night this week?" Yes, Anderson, we have.
And so, I come to you and humbly ask for your hand in matrimony. All of those problems can be worked out so that we can live happily (and sarcastically) ever after.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Things that Make Me Go "Ugh"

As I sit here watching Sarah Palin's speech (woo hoo, laptop!) and having sat through a large portion of tonight's speeches, I've come up with this list of what has really bothered me.

1. I forget how downright nasty Republicans can be. I was stunned by the nasty, dismissive tenor of Rudy Giuliani's speech. His speech (and others both tonight and last night) have struck me as condescending and lacking in any real substance other than to make fun of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. You'll notice that during the speeches last week, the Democrats at least had the class to show respect to their opponents. They didn't attack John McCain as a human being but rather questioned whether his ideas were the ideas America needs right now. This convention has an arrogantly dismissive air that really bothers me.

2. It really bothered me that Sarah Palin spent a good 10 minutes at the beginning of her speech talking about her family. I know it's meant to humanize her and endear her to the voters, but I found it rather superficial and pandering. And if Rudy Giuliani wants to question whether we'd worry about a man "abandoning" his family to run for office, then I'm going to question whether a man would feel the need to spend 10 or more minutes talking about his wife and kids.

3. I'm glad to see they cleaned up Baby Daddy. He doesn't look like such a dirt bag now.

4. If the GOP wants to trumpet Sarah Palin as having more executive experience than the Democratic ticket combined, fine, but maybe they need to remember that she has more experience than the guy at the top of their ticket, too. As Stephen Colbert pointed out last night, if it's all about executive experience, maybe they need to flip it around and make it Palin/McCain.

5. As offended as I am by her candidacy, I have to admit I still had the tiniest of lumps in my throat when Sarah Palin accepted the party's nomination.

6. I'm offended by all the "hot chick" paraphenalia that seems to be floating around the convention center -- all with Sarah Palin's picture.

7. Okay, that little Palin kid (the one who licked her palm to smooth down the baby's hair) is pretty damn cute. Not Sasha Obama cute, but cute nonetheless.

8. Cindy McCain gives me the creeps. Like seriously. She's the stuff of nightmares.

9. Was it just me, or was the chanting of "Drill, baby, drill" really, really freakin' creepy?

10. I'm about to sound really heartless here, but I am really, really tired of hearing about John McCain's time spent as a POW. I'm still not sure how that makes someone supremely qualified to lead a nation. Okay, yes, it's a sign of his courage and his strength in the face of adversity, but I guess I need something more solid to cling to above this "test of character" stuff.

11. When Sarah Palin referred to John McCain as "John S. McCain," I couldn't help but think, "Wow. It's like she only met him for 15 minutes before taking this gig!" Oh, wait. She did.

I have to admit, I have a hard time truly judging whether or not Sarah Palin's speech did what it needed to do because I'm having such a hard time separating my objective analysis of her speech from my own subjective reactions. I have a feeling it was successful. She seemed charming and tough, smart but approachable. I think I've had parent-teacher conferences with this woman before. I have a feeling that, if I were a Republican, I'd be nuts over this woman. As a Democrat, though, I can't help but feeling that something was missing -- substance? I don't know. All I do know is that we may be in for a big fight in the next 2 months.

Democrats, this is our time. We have to fight. We can't let their dismissive arrogance defeat us this time.

We're Entering Enemy Territory

I think we've all realized by now that I'm a pretty diehard Democrat. Just about anyone who knows me knows that about me. And so it often shocks people that I watch the Republican convention just about as closely as I watch the Democratic convention. I admit I tend to watch "highlights" of the RNC, letting CNN and its pundits talk over the speeches they don't consider worthy of sharing with us rather than watching the pundit-free gavel-to-gavel coverage on CSPAN. But I do watch -- as much as it hurts. And the hurt strikes a couple different places.

First of all, the RNC hurts my head. It is difficult to sit through speeches which oppose your ideals and beliefs so squarely. Fred Thompson's speech last night, while exceptionally well written and perhaps the best speech I've ever seen him given that didn't have Dick Wolf's name pop up on the screen at the end, was a source of much anger at my house last night as I talked back to him and tried to debate him. Joe Lieberman's speech hurt even more if only because I once really respected and admired him. To see him throw himself on a sword for his bosom buddy was at once admirable and disheartening. Hearing the candidate I admire and respect so much attacked and mocked is unpleasant and infuriating.

And yet I watch.

The RNC also hurts my eyes. All those white faces are a jolt to the corneas. My sis and I like to play a little game we call "Spot the Minority." During the crowd shots, we scan the crowds looking for non-white faces. The media doesn't count. Nor does John McCain's adopted daughter (who looked SO thrilled to be there last night. Geez, even Sasha and Malia Obama hid their boredom a little more effectively -- and they're children!). My sis won last night's round, spotting six non-white faces in the crowd. As she told me, though, last night, "I was really good at Where's Waldo, too." The odds are stacked against my sis and I, though, as I learned today on CNN that there are only 40 African-American delegates at the convention -- out of over 2000 delegates.

And yet I watch.

The RNC hurts my soul. Those "Service" posters in the picture here look a lot like the wrappers of Hershey bars. That's not right. Please don't drag chocolate into this!

And yet I watch.

Most of all, the RNC hurts my heart. You see, the real reason I watch both conventions with nearly the same level of intensty is because I honestly never knew any better. In my house growing up, we always watched both conventions. This was back in the day when the networks gave the convention more than 1 hour of coverage a night, before CNN and MSNBC and Fox News, when watching the convention coverage was really the only option on a summer evening. The lack of other options, though, was not why we watched both conventions in my house, though. It was because my dad believed in fairness; he believed in listening to both sides and then making his choice. Yes, for the majority of his life, he chose to vote Republican, but he did so with an understanding of just what choice he was making. My love of politics stems from those evenings in 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992 spent watching the conventions with my dad, learning about the candidates and the parties and their platforms and reveling in the traditions (Dad and I both LOVED the roll calls). As I grew older and heard these parties present their cases, I came into my own politically and really started to think about what I believed and what I wanted my country to be. My decision to become a Democrat was not an act of teenaged rebellion, acting out against my Republican dad. It grew out of an understanding of the issues and the differences between the two parties and a realization that what I believed was not what the Republicans believed. It was not a decision I made lightly if only because I knew how much it would disappoint my dad. And it did disappoint my dad, but if anything, it made our time spent watching the conventions together more fun because we could argue and debate one another. And that all led to that fateful night in 1992 during the RNC as we listened to George Bush rail against abortion, when I turned to my father and asked him, "Dad, as a father who loves his daughters, how can you vote for this guy?" And for the first (and only) time in his life, my dad voted for a Democrat for president.

My dad died in 1996 -- two months before the conventions began. I had a hard time watching the conventions that year and actually watched very little, of either the RNC or DNC. As I watch the conventions now, I think a lot about Dad, especially during the RNC since that was "his" convention, and I miss him. I think a lot about how my dad would have viewed the state of modern politics. I feel safe in saying George W. Bush would have disgusted him. (My dad disdained stupidity) I have a feeling he and I would have been battling this year over Obama and McCain. I think my dad would have loved John McCain -- but the lifelong Illinoisian in him would have struggled over whether or not to vote against the Senator from Illinois. It would have led to some spirited debates, and my own continuing political education and development is poorer for not having them.

And so, for Dad, I watch.

Battle of the Super Divas!

Tonight, my great loves collide. Sarah Palin is giving her crucial acceptance speech at the RNC, the Project Runway kids meet Diane von Furstenberg, and Tyra Banks returns with another season of America's Next Top Model -- the season that will forever be known as "The Tranny Cycle." WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!?!?!? Thank God for DVR who has kindly agreed to record Tyra and Heidi and their minions while I sit back and watch Sarah Palin try to dig herself out of the hole John McCain has shoved her into. (It's kind of like that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy has to claw her way out of her own grave. Buffy came out of that catatonic and spent pretty much the entire season that followed cruising down a pretty self-destructive path. Granted, she did sleep with Spike that season, but she was also a total downer!!)
I can't wait for our spirited discussion over Palin to continue following tonight's speech.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I hope Sarah Palin checked for any knives in her back when this photo was taken. Or at least had someone look for the "Kick Me" sign.

I'm about to shock the heck out of my regular readers/friends with what I'm about to say . . . y'all, I feel sorry for Sarah Palin! During what should be a pretty heady time in her life, she is inundated with rumors, innuendo, and the revelation of some pretty private, embarrassing information. No matter what I might think of her idealogically, I feel bad for her, particularly the onslaught of criticism heading her way in light of the pregnancy of her 17-year-old daughter Bristol. Bloggers and political commentators are questioning her parenting skills, and that's just not right. There are plenty of "good" kids from "good" homes who end up pregnant. We don't know what kind of sex talk the Palin children receive, but even kids who get the nitty gritty details spelled out for them in technicolor have accidents.

Now, I'm sure there are those who are fearful that I'm jumping on the train engineered by Laura Bush and think I'm adding my voice to the call to take it easy on Palin because she's a woman. To that I say, "One, you don't know me very well, and two, hell to the no!" Palin is, in all honesty, getting the same kind of treatment a man would get in the same situation. (Although do fathers have to pin the scarlet P -- for pregnant teen -- on their jackets when their daughters get pregnant the way that mothers do?) On a certain level I applaud the press for not taking it easy on Palin.

No, my real argument here is with John McCain and his vetting team. Either they did a half-assed job of vetting this woman and did not uncover things that should have raised some serious red flags about her candidacy OR they decided to ignore whatever they uncovered and throw Palin to the wolves anyway. It's been made obvious to us that Palin was McCain's third choice at best (after Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge), and there's the implication that McCain's attitude when he didn't get his way over Lieberman was "I don't care. Whatever." Nice way to govern, dude. The McCain team seems to have looked at one thing in making their choice -- Sarah Palin's gender -- and decided that either the rest would remain cozily hidden away (although Bristol's growing bump would surely have started to show by November) or weren't significant enough to make a difference, that people would vote for her regardless because of that whole vagina thing.

In the meantime, this woman has been devoured by the press and potentially had her career irreparably damaged. Yes, Sarah Palin did make the choice to accept the offer knowing there were all these skeletons hanging over her head, but as many people who've appeared on Meet the Press have said, how do you turn down that call when it comes?

McCain and the GOP have set this woman up as a sacrificial lamb and sent her to the slaughter with no seeming concern for her welfare. Maybe Mike is right and she was never meant to make it to November, that she's been set up as a sort of Eagleton so that when McCain gets the choice he really wants, it won't piss off the right as much. Or maybe this will all blow over and be barely remembered come November. Maybe the hope was that the news about Bristol would attract even more women to the McCain/Palin ticket. Nothing like using a 17-year-old pregnant girl as a gimmick to get votes.

And yeah, okay . . .maybe this does piss me off a little more because Sarah Palin is a woman. But it's more because I worry that this is just going to be one more thing that will make it harder for women to aspire to power and give those who think that a woman has no place in the White House (except when she's picking out china and hosting teas) all the more "proof" that they need. And maybe, too, it will become a deterrent for women, that they'll shy away from seeking higher office because they don't want their parenting skills called into question.

No matter what, this is a historic election. The question is whether it will be a history we want or dread.