Monthly Archives: May 2015

Mad Thoughts, Part Two

This time, I’m referring to Mad Max: Fury Road. And let’s be honest – I saw this movie for one reason and one reason only. It had nothing to do with any love for the originals (I’ve never seen them), George Miller, or high-octane action films. It had everything to do with my (minor, harmless) obsession with Tom Hardy. Good god, the mouth on that one. Combined with the intensity of his eyes, and you can actually ignore the very British teeth and weak chin. Plus he’s talented and versatile as fuck AND considers Gary Oldman a god. He’s very nearly perfect.

So if I have a complaint, it is that Max is a supporting character in his own film. And yet, if Hardy hadn’t been in it, I wouldn’t have gone to see it, and that would have been a real shame.

It can be said that this film is one long, ridiculously over-the-top, too-much-is-never-enough, when-in-doubt-add-more-explosions, vehicle chase. This is true. It can be said that the actual lead, Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron is a bad ass who is the real star of the film. Much to the chagrin of mens rights activists everywhere, this is also true.

Incredibly, there is also a plot. And a damn good one. Furiosa is attempting to rescue women who are being used as sex slaves from the Big Bad, aka Immortan Joe. She wants to get them to The Green Place, a place she remembers from her childhood. It’s beautiful there, or so she remembers. Meanwhile, Max is just trying to stay alive. And free himself from being used as a hood ornament. Do we need lots of back story? Not really. Survival is the only motivation any of these characters need and that is enough.

Perhaps the cardinal sin that Furiosa commits, however, aside from invading a Man’s Movie with her badassdom, is that she isn’t overly sexualized. In fact, most of the women aren’t. The brides are, but only temporarily. The idea is to prevent them from being further objectified. The women they come across while searching for The Green Place are most definitely not either. They are older women, keepers of knowledge and history. There is one in particular who I thought of as the Crone who carries seeds with her so she can replant when they find a place to do so – she was my favorite.

Instead, Max and Furiosa work together to show us that a survival instinct doesn’t have to be inherently selfish. They repeatedly help each other, sometimes in unexpected ways. Because sometimes the badass chick is a better shot than the not entirely sane male, and needs to use his shoulder as a gun stand. As you do. After all, making sure more people survive ensure you’re not alone if you do.

Further, there is no forced love story sandwiched in with all the crashes and explosions. In the end, Max walks away and leaves Furiosa to do her own thing because…why wouldn’t he? Again, it’s not about love or sex. It’s about survival.

Survival is key. Sometimes it leads to redemption.

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On Writing

Listening to other writers talk about their processes, fears, reasons for writing, etc. has become invaluable to me.  I suppose it’s always been true, but I’ve become more aware of it since publishing the first book and especially in the past few weeks.

I found some validation at a recent con when I attended a panel of writers talking about finding the time to write. This has rarely been a problem for me, but it was interesting to hear about their habits and how important it can be to just put down a few words or sentences a day. One of them even talked about how whatever project he is working on is always in the back of his mind. He’s always editing. Yep, I can relate to that. There’s a sort of constant murmur going on behind the scenes for me. It’s been there so long now that I barely remember when it wasn’t present. Sometimes that murmur revolves around what should happen next. Other times it alerts me to something I need to go back and change or add. Often it depends on what stage in the process I’m in.

Last week, after the Mad Men finale, I went in search of interviews with show creator Matthew Weiner. I’d seen him in short interviews before and found him interesting, but not until I came across longer, more in-depth interviews did I truly come to appreciate what he’d accomplished. One such interview nearly left me in tears because I saw so much of myself in what he does. I need to add that what I *try* to do is very close to what he actually does. I am in no way trying to compare myself to him.

I couldn’t help but admire his determination to keep the show in line with his own vision. I loved when he admitted that he didn’t normally go into a script knowing how it was going to come out, that some of the best episodes were basically filler where the characters were left trying to figure stuff out. In the latter instance, he noted that there was still plot and it was still worth watching, but it did little to advance the overall storyline. That’s a huge risk. But he’d taken risks from the beginning and created something that no one else dared to do. The show succeeded partly because it broke the mold of what viewers have come to expect.

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

The other day, I heard an author on NPR talk about her process and the fear that she might not be able to write the book she wants to write. For her, that fear seemed to come early in the process. As I thought about it, I realized that it comes somewhere in the middle for me. I tend to start strong with a great premise and then realize that I either don’t know where I’m going or that getting to where I want to go is going to be a challenge. I’m currently in the latter category. But as this other author said, that’s precisely why I have to go there. I have to conquer this and be able to say I did it.

I write to put my vision out to the world. I write to face down and conquer my own fears. I write to challenge myself and, hopefully, speak to others in the process.

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Mad Thoughts

Now that Mad Men has aired its final show, I feel the need to talk about what I think worked so well about it. There will be spoilers. You have been warned.

I came into Mad Men late. I think the second or third season was airing when I finally came across a repeated episode and decided I had to watch it from the beginning. Of course, Don Draper was the original draw, but even he wasn’t enough to guaranty that I would keep watching. The first few episodes were tough. Knowing it was set in 1960 didn’t keep my feminism from getting extremely twitchy. I wasn’t even sure who I was more annoyed with – the men for treating the women like objects, or the women for letting them. Come on people!

Somewhere around the third episode, however, that all changed when we finally got to see Roger and Don as human beings rather than the personas that were so often on display around the office. In a scene where they are sitting around bitching about the new guy, Pete (who continued to annoy me as well, right up until the last couple of episodes), Roger says, “Every generation thinks the next one is going to be the ruin of them. There were probably people in the Bible complaining about ‘kids today.’”

And that’s a lot of what made the show for me. Clearly drawn, relatable characters who acted realistically rather than predictably. And while I often lusted after Don, especially when he was tying a woman to a bed and then leaving because she just wouldn’t shut up, or was ordering Sylvia around for an entire episode, I don’t think he was my favorite.

Nope, that would be Peggy.

Did Peggy want a home and a family all along? Yes, I think she did. But she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her career for it. She may have seen Don as a mentor but she also knew how to stand up to him, how to not be bullied by him, and how to succeed on her own without him. And when the show ended, her finale was quite possibly my favorite one of all the major characters.

It’s easy to look at Peggy’s ending and say it was just another rom-com trope that we’ve all seen thousands of times. Except it isn’t. In no way was she desperate for a man to take care of her. And she doesn’t expect that from Stan now. Further, while she and Stan have had their differences, I felt like they had come to a good place together, like they had earned each other’s mutual respect. Their banter didn’t scream, “get a room already.” Nor did they have any type of on-again off-again relationship a la Ross and Rachel on Friends. They make sense though not in an obvious way. It would have been just as easy, and believable, to let them carry on as friends.

And watching her work it out in her head as to how she felt was beautiful. That she hadn’t been agonizing over this for several seasons made it even better. It was sudden for her, and played perfectly by Elizabeth Moss. Similarly, there was a scene between Peggy and Stan a couple of weeks prior to the final episode where she admits to having given up a child for adoption. If Moss doesn’t at least get an Emmy nod for these episodes, there is no justice in the world of entertainment.

Also high on my list of favorites is Roger. Roger Sterling is everyone’s inside voice. He says the things out loud that everyone else is thinking, the things that should probably never be expressed out loud (“How Jewish are they? Fiddler on the Roof – audience or cast?”). He even showed up in black face in one episode and while I hate that that happened, I can see how it would be in character for Roger. Why wouldn’t he think that was alright? He is white male privilege personified. He’s never wanted for anything in his life nor has he ever had to truly work for anything.

And then there’s Joan. Early on in the series, the men of the office were trying to categorize the women as either a Marilyn or a Jackie. As women walked by them, they would call out which they were. Joan appeared and was an obvious Marilyn but as someone pointed out, “Marilyn is really a Joan.” And ain’t that the truth?

Joan knows her effect on men and uses it to her advantage every chance she can. And though she lives by her own rules, I don’t think that, until the last few episodes of season seven, she would have called herself a feminist. It’s not until she’s treated as truly disposable that she realizes her worth. And we see that in her ending on the show. She lets go of a man she cared about rather than compromise who she is and what she wants. She starts her own company – using her own two last names – because she knows her strengths and what she can accomplish.

Which leaves Don. I’ll admit that his ending confused me a great deal at first. As one of the masses who assumed that the character literally would not survive the end of the series, I was confused by most of the last half of season seven. He was systematically stripped of everything he held dear to him and to top it all off he…gives his car to some con artist kid from a small town? And then sits by the side of the road smiling about it?

And then that Coke commercial. What the hell?

For me, the answer came in remember one of Peggy’s last lines to him. “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” I have to assume that means he gets back from his little retreat and goes on to work on that very commercial (after all, the guy who wrote it in real life worked for agency of McCann Erickson).

The rest of it felt very Zen and very Buddhist to me. It was as if Don had to let go of his attachment to all the things he thought would make him happy, all the things that he thought would make him a new and better person, had to let go even of that persona he had taken on named Don. He had to rediscover himself as Dick instead of who he thought he had to be. I’d love to see what becomes of him after that revelation. Does he actually write that Coke commercial? Is he more down to earth? Less of a womanizer? Less arrogant? Does the change last or will he slip into old routines? It’s very open ended and I find I’m more okay with that than I would have expected to be.

I can’t overstate how much I love that this entire series was, in fact, a serial. There were plot points that came up in the final episode that had started in the very first episode. There were plots all along that felt like they were going to be significant that weren’t. Characters came and went, sometimes with little to no explanation, just like life. The series perfectly captured a decade and the lives of these particular people. Even the minor characters had depth. As show creator Matthew Weiner has said, “I’m not interested in writing Man One.” He made us care about all of them, even Pete Campbell in the end. And I think there are aspects of life that transcend time – not everything gets explained or wrapped up neatly. And it can change quickly with no warning.

As Joan so famously said, “That’s life – one minute you’re on top of the world. The next minute some secretary is running over you with a lawn mower.”

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The Things You Keep

As I finally cleaned this weekend in preparation for a houseguest, I began to see how much stuff I have that I neither want nor need. Combined with a discussion on minimalism and tips on how to eliminate such clutter, I believe it’s time for a serious purge. It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve done such a thing and I’ve often thought about how much I could live without. Certainly there are collections that could be trimmed down – salt and pepper shakers I’ve decided I don’t like so much after all, stuffed penguins that are only taking up space instead of making me happy, etc.

But this isn’t an everything-must-go situation either. As I take inventory, I notice what can only be thought of as an altar that sits on top of one of my DVD shelves. It started as a place to put a few stones and other metaphysical items. Over time, it has come to hold a far more eclectic collection, including a Bible, a stone phallus from Mexico, and a painting of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride.

What do these things all have in common? They were all gifted to me by the people who are most precious to me. My beloved grandmother insisted – on her death bed – that I have her Bible. It now sits  under a piece of etched glass that I gave her many years ago that says “I am always with you” and next to her wedding picture from 1938.

The phallus is from my best friend who got it from her sister who got it from another friend I don’t know…the idea is that I am to pass it along to someone else at some point. I even know who I am going to give it to. The painting is from my girlfriend. It landed in its place because I wasn’t sure where else to put it. Now I’m thinking it’s exactly where it belongs.

In the coming weeks, I will no doubt go through and get rid of quite a bit. But these are the things that make me happy and keep those who are dear to me close, even when they aren’t.

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