Monthly Archives: May 2007

The Full Brontë

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Mr. Rochester is a hard role for an actor to play. He must be, in equal parts, fearsome, winsome, tormented, provocative, intimidating and charming. The perfect Byronic hero, riddled with secrets and doubts, a living portrait of frustrated idealism.

If I may say so, Toby Stephens has proven himself up to the task.

This week we watched the most beautiful movie version of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen. It was a BBC production starring not only Toby Stephens as the enigmatic Mr. Rochester, but Ruth Wilson as a richly nuanced Jane. Her performance really captured Jane’s moral courage, her passionate nature, and her evolution from an intimidated child to a confident and empowered woman.

“They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. ‘Oh, comply!’ it said. ‘. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?’

Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation . . . They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.”

Is it any wonder that I’m feeling so swoon-y lately?

Embarrassing Confession #77

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Wow, I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I’m running out of revealing secrets to share on my blog, so here it goes:

I have actually written fanfiction.

Yes, I realize this makes me a hopeless dork.

For those of you scratching your heads, I will explain. Fanfiction is what happens when a rabid fan of some fictional work—a book, a movie, a television show—“borrows” the characters and writes them into a story of the fan’s own design. I suppose it’s a form of fantasy, a way to cope when those fickle television writers veer off in a direction you don’t want them to go, making your beloved characters walk over hot coals or jump off of metaphorical cliffs on their way to even more tangled plotlines, when all the time you, the viewer, know that they’re only a hop, skip, and jump away from sorting the whole ridiculous mess out and living happily ever after. Under these circumstances, the temptation to take the reins can be overwhelming, and there are whole communities devoted to rewriting the story arcs of popular fiction to suit individual fancies.

What’s that? You say you hated it when Thelma and Louise drove their car off the cliff at the end of the movie? No problem. In your rewrite, they can stow away on a tramp steamer bound for France and open up a Tasty Pig Barbecue together on the Rue de Rivoli.

Or maybe you, like me, cried for three days after watching Cold Mountain, shocked and heartbroken that even after all that they went through, Inman died in Ada’s arms, within sight of everything that he loved and had worked so hard to come home to. That’s an ending that just begs to be fanfictionalized. I see Ada coming up behind Birch just as he points his gun and clocking him on the head with a big chunk of oak from the woodpile, then hiding Inman away at the cabin for a few weeks until the war is over, fattening him up on homemade flapjacks and love. See how easy this Happily Ever After thing is?

Yeah, a large amount of fanfiction is badly-written, filled with typos and grammatical atrocities, and completely unfit for human consumption. It sometimes strays from the strong characterizations created by the writers and actors and devolves into nothing more than a shallow reflection of the personality who is writing it. Or it poses “what if” scenarios so wild and incongruous that they make Fonzie’s infamous shark look like a minnow in comparison. And some of it is just plain offensive. But once in a while, someone hits the target dead on, and a jewel emerges that mimics the spirit and cadence of the original so well that it instantly becomes a fanfic classic.

My one brief foray into the dark underworld of fanfiction writing was an act of self defense, pure and simple. I said fanfic was the domain of the rabid fan, and trust me, I was the rabid-est. When I finally took the plunge, it was prompted by a need to put to rest eight long years of unspoken words and misinterpreted glances. I mean, FBI agents are supposed to be observant, aren’t they? You’d think that two people who have made a career out of infiltrating secret government plots and interrogating uncooperative alien subjects would have at least a modicum of personal perception, right? Wrong. Mulder and Scully clearly needed my help to get their heads on straight and finally reveal the true depths of their feelings for each other. I make no apologies for that. It wasn’t very good, I’ll admit, but that doesn’t matter, because I wrote it for myself.

I suppose this is why I’ll never be a real fiction writer. I’m not very good at angst, at conflict, at the type of hopeless messes and misunderstandings that ultimately hook a reader (or a viewer) into the narrative and engage him in the long, wild ride to the conclusion. In life, and in fiction, I often feel an overwhelming urge to just skip to the good stuff.

So I wrote my own little piece of X-Files invention, tucked it away somewhere, and never told anyone (except Paul, who is the helpless witness to all of my various neuroses and obsessions) because, well, I was a little self-conscious. Writing fanfiction is not something “real” writers do.

And yet, here I am, years later, simultaneously scoffing at the pseudo-art form of the fanfic and considering taking another dip into the pablum pool.

Because believe me, I totally know what Jim and Pam need to do to fix this whole awkward mess.

Who Needs Nun-chucks?

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After her bath today, I was carefully combing the tangles out of Katie’s wet hair, a lengthy and delicate ordeal that usually leaves both of us frustrated. Fortunately, Katie recently asked to get her long hair cut short, a proposal I readily agreed to. We’re going to make an appointment as soon as possible.

“You know,” I mused, in the middle of a particularly impenetrable snarl, “when your hair is short, it will so much easier to comb. And you’ll be able to wash it by yourself, too. Short hair is a lot easier to take care of.”

“Is there anything else that’s good about short hair?” Katie asked.

“Sure! In the summer, it’s a lot cooler, especially when it’s off your neck, like yours will be.”

Always my measured and logical thinker, Katie asked, “Then what are the good things about having long hair?”

“Well,” I said, considering, “you can fix it in lots of different ways, like in ponytails and pigtails, or in a bun on top of your head. So short hair is easier to care for, but you can do more styles with long hair.”

She thought about that for a moment before adding, “Oh, and also, you could make your hair into a long braid to smack anybody who provokes you, right?”

That’s it. No more kung fu movies before the kids go to bed.

A Time for Heroes

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Many of you know how exciting it is to bring a new life into the world. You come home from the hospital ecstatic, exhausted, and maybe a little overwhelmed at the thought of learning all there is to learn about loving and protecting this beautiful child who has been dropped into your life like your own personal miracle. But alongside the excitement, an anxiety is born, and you realize within the space of your baby’s first few breaths that your new worst fear is that something could happen to your precious child.

For thousands of parents, that fear is realized the week they notice that their infant has been inexplicably losing weight, or the day that their four year old starts running unexplained fevers and experiencing night sweats, or when their sixteen year old has a seizure at school. Their concerned visit to the doctor’s office leaves them reeling, while one word plays over and over through their minds: “leukemia”.

Imagine that you are one of those parents, terrified and doubtful of the future, knowing only that you’ll do whatever it takes, spend whatever it costs, and ask whoever you need to ask for help for your son or daughter.

Now imagine finding out that there is hope.

Because there is. For many children and adults afflicted with cancer, a bone marrow transplant can be the promise of recovery, health, and a new future where once there was only uncertainty.

The only problem is finding a donor. The odds of the average patient finding a matching bone marrow donor within the general population are roughly 1:20,000. Those odds grow longer when the recipient has a unique blood type or a rare genetic makeup. Most patients wait several months for a potential donor to be found. Some wait longer. And for some, the wait is just too long.

But you can help! The National Marrow Donor Program keeps a database of potential donors on file, and as the number of willing bone marrow donors grows, so does the hope of a second chance for those afflicted with leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, immune deficiency disorders and countless other diseases.

It’s really easy to join the registry as a volunteer bone marrow donor. After filling out a registration form with your contact information and health history, a simple cheek swab or small blood sample is taken and sent off to determine your tissue type before your information is added to the database. Your information is kept on file indefinitely. If, one day, someone in your family needs a donor, your test results will already be available in the database to see if you could be a match. Usually, the donor contributes the cost of the tissue typing test (between $50 and $75), but right now, from May 7th to May 21st, the National Marrow Donor Program is having its annual Thanks Mom Marrow Donor Drive, and the cost to you is zero. Absolutely FREE!

Once you’re in the registry, it may be anywhere from a few weeks to many years before you are matched with a patient, if ever. You’ll be contacted at that time to make sure you’re still interested in being a donor. You can withdraw your name from the registry at any time. The donation procedure is low risk and performed under local or general anesthesia. Bone marrow replenishes itself, so you’ll never miss what you gave away, and most donors report no side effects apart from a few days of lower back soreness.

The drive is happening all over the country, so check for a donation center near you. In Coeur d’Alene, volunteers can enroll at the Inland Northwest Blood Center’s North Idaho Collection Center, at 1341 Northwood Center Court (right next to Outback Steakhouse.) The phone number is (208) 667-5461. I walked in on Monday morning and was out of there in fifteen minutes. They even had snacks and coloring books to keep Caleb busy while I filled out the forms. After answering a few questions about my medical history, I swabbed the inside of my cheek for a tissue sample (feeling very much like a CSI agent) and I was done.

I really hope they call me.

What can I say to convince you to do this? Yes, it may be inconvenient, and it’s not quite as simple as donating blood, but it’s your chance to be a superhero to someone who desperately needs one. Imagine, you could be the one who gives a mother back her little boy, the one who helps someone’s daughter live to see her high school graduation! You could be the one who saves a life. Isn’t that worth fifteen minutes on a Monday morning?

Our Handbags, Ourselves

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As questions go, it’s a bit personal, but for Taryn, I’ll answer it:

What’s in my purse?

Where do I start?

In the movie How To Lose a Guy In Ten Days, Benjamin Barry tells his friends that a woman’s purse is her “secret source of power.” How right he is. Whether she carries a tiny clutch or a tote bag equal to half her body size, a woman’s purse can reflect a lot about where she is in life, what roles she plays, and what’s important to her.

Or, it could just be a catchall for her junk.


Here’s a picture of my current purse (yes, I’m sorry to say, Perfect Purse: Mark Two disintegrated, so I am using New Purse, brought forth from the deep and dusty recesses of my closet.) Please tell me that it doesn’t have Frumpy Mommy Purse written all over it, even if that is, in fact, what it is.

When I started digging stuff out of all the pockets and compartments to take photos of it, I was amazed. I felt a bit like Mary Poppins unloading her bottomless magical carpet bag. Turns out I have some of everything in there.

For example, no geek’s wife could go walking around without a full compliment of personal electronic gadgets and doodads with her. I carry around my iPod, Sony Clie organizer, cell phone, and that little yellow thingy is the nifty 1 gigabyte USB memory stick Paul gave me for easy transfer of data files from one computer to another (very nice if you like to share photos with friends and family, or take documents you’ve created at home somewhere else to print or use them.)


And it might be a result of my brief stint with the Boy Scouts (as an Explorer Scout, actually), but there are a lot of items in my purse that fall loosely under the Be Prepared category: sunblock, ibuprofen, bandaids, lotion, safety pins, a Swiss Army knife, kleenex, an assortment of sanitary items we euphemistically call “girl stuff” at our house, and a protein bar that I can dig out triumphantly on the day my car goes over an embankment and I have to survive in the wild for a week while waiting, with a broken leg, for rescue. That protein bar will definitely buy me at least another…eight hours.

The Smarties candy, on the other hand, is for Katie, who is on a gluten-free/casein-free diet, so that when someone is handing out treats in her class or when Caleb is scarfing down free Costco samples that she can’t eat, I can pull out something for her to enjoy, too. (Of course, I’m sure she won’t mind if I eat them instead while I’m lying there alone in my wrecked car.)


In this photo, you’ll see something I rarely ever have in my purse: cash. Four dollars, to be exact–oh, the riches! For most purchases, Paul and I use our bank cards.

At the top middle of the photo is my little Bible, originally bought years ago to take on backpacking trips, but now leading a newly purposed life in my purse. Since I always have it with me, that’s one less thing I have to remember to pack up and bring to church along with crayons, fruit snacks, and books for the kids. And, to be honest, there are some times when having the comfort of well-loved Bible verses at hand makes the difference between a merely challenging day and a disastrous one!

I also have scratch paper (although Paul, who gave me my handheld organizer, can’t understand why I’m still hung up on that whole pen and paper thing) and my purse pens, which are sacred and untouchable. Woe unto the child or man who removes one of them from its convenient side pocket and spirits it away. They will incur the wrath of me. I can be frightening, let me tell you.

Random other items: scratched notes I’ve made of book recommendations from friends (they’re en route to the library), a zipper pouch with iPod charger and earbuds in it, business card holder, and wallet. If you look carefully at the wallet, you’ll see not only my Costco card, debit card, and insurance info, but the green of my incriminatingly crisp and new-looking gym membership card. I just can’t bring myself to throw it away until it expires.

Somehow, I know not how, all of that stuff fits quite comfortably inside the inner sanctum of my twelve-by-eight-inch personal inventory transport device. I even have room to tuck a can of diet Coke in the top and still zip it closed. How? It’s a mystery. I guess it must be some of that secret feminine power at work.

Meme

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Thanks to friends Sarah and Sandra Eileen, I’ve been tagged twice for this latest meme, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, I wanted to take a look at the word “meme”, which I (wrongly) assumed, from context, was pronounced “me-me” (as in “Look at ME! Let’s talk about ME! Here’s something you didn’t know and will probably be thrilled to discover about ME!)

In point of fact, according to Dictionary.com, “meme” rhymes with “theme”, and is defined as “a unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another, in much the same way biological information is transmitted through genes.”

Strangely, I feel much better knowing that I am passing along “units of cultural information”, and not just talking about myself again.

Now that we all know what an important cultural phenomenon we are participating in, here is the meme:

7 Random Facts/Habits About Me

1. I always used to return my shopping cart to the store when I was done with it until I heard about a lady whose kids were snatched from her car while she was returning her shopping cart. Now, if I have my kids with me, I just park the cart in the corner of the parking space and drive away. I still feel guilty, though.

2. I have been spelunking, rappelling, rafting, and rock climbing. For my birthday one year, my parents paid for me to take a glider ride. I love rollercoasters with a mad passion. But I’m scared of the ferris wheel.

3. I’m also freaked out by that grinning King with the big plastic head in the Burger King commercials.

4. I wore a strapless dress with a bubble skirt to my senior prom, and danced so much that I had blisters on my feet when I got home. It was a fun night, but the boy I liked (and never told) went with someone else. A few weeks later, he kissed me on the porch at the end of a perfect first date and we were inseparable for that whole golden summer. It ended, as golden summers do, but he gave me the first glimpse of what love might look like, so that when I met Paul, years later, I recognized it right away.

5. I’ve lost 20 pounds since January 1st, and I have ten more to go. I suspect that the last ten will not go quietly. After all, they’ve had a lot of time to stake out their territory (namely my belly and upper arms.)

6. Even after growing up in the South, I don’t have a Southern accent. I wish I did.

7.. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I wouldn’t go back and change anything. I like looking back at the jagged, winding road that led me here and seeing the prints of God’s patience and providence all over it.

There, now. If that isn’t random, I don’t know what is. If you would like to take part in this meaningful sociological occurrence, consider yourself tagged!

Brotherly Love

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I was driving Katie to school yesterday morning when a longsuffering sigh rattled forth from the back seat. I shared the sentiments behind the sigh; it had been a pretty chaotic morning, due in no small part to the kind of sibling bickering that makes one seriously doubt the possibility of peace on earth.

“What’s up, Katie?” I asked. Apparently the question opened a floodgate of pent-up frustrations.

“It’s just that Caleb really gets under my skin!” she lamented. (She just learned the idiom “gets under my skin” this week, so I’m proud to see she’s already incorporating it into her practical language. At least, I think I’m proud.)

“Yes,” I commiserated, “Little brothers can do that sometimes.” (In truth, I was thinking of my own little brother, who once cut the hair off my Barbies and then melted their heads on a cookie sheet just to see what would happen. I’m happy to report that he survived his doll-mutilation phase and went on to become a normal, productive member of society.)

I was just about to go into my critically acclaimed “Loving Your Family Even When They Get on Your Nerves” speech when Katie made it clear that she wasn’t yet done with the airing of grievances.

“He chatters all night while I’m trying to sleep, and in the morning he wants me to come down and turn on the light even though his bed is on the bottom and he’s closer! And he keeps saying that his name begins with a ‘K’ and mine begins with a ‘C’ even though he knows that’s not true! And he tries to climb on my back for piggyback rides when I don’t want him to! And he talks while I’m trying to read to him, and keeps turning the pages before I’m done with them! And he copies me! And he follows me around and won’t give me any personal space! And you know what else he does?…”

When she finally paused to draw breath, I leapt into the gap. “I know Caleb annoys you sometimes, but don’t you think you also do things to annoy him? Big sisters can sometimes be bossy and irritating, too, you know.” (Now I was thinking of myself as an oldest child, and the many times my mother had to step in to remind me not to be so domineering of others. I clearly remember saying to her once, “I’m not bossy, Mommy; it’s just that I have all the good ideas!”)

“Why don’t you try to think of some good things about your little brother?” I went on, “I’m sure there are lots of things you love about him.”

Seconds ticked by.

“I can’t really think of anything right this minute,” she said.

“Well, think about the fun times you have together,” I prompted, concerned that I had clearly neglected to nurture this delicate childhood relationship. “Think about the nice things he does. Can’t you think of anything good?”

“Well…it is fun to teach him stuff,” she finally admitted, “like how to create things with paper and tape, and how to make a tent out of blankets.”

“Good! That’s good, Katie. Can you think of anything else?”

“Umm, he likes to watch me play video games. And he’s always happy to see me when I come home from school,” she added. “And also, he gives me lots of hugs (even though sometimes I don’t want any.)” I ignored the little grumble at the end and gave her an encouraging wink over my shoulder.

We were pulling up to the front door of the school when Katie thought of one more thing.

“You know what else, Mom? Caleb thinks my jokes are really funny!” she said, before slamming the car door with a grin.

I grinned, too, as I pulled away.

At least one of us does.