Monday, February 29, 2016

Bridges to Cross

Mark Rylance won an Oscar for his supporting role as the Russian spy in Bridge of Spies.  I was rooting for Rocky one more time, but am intrigued by Rylance's selection.  It is hard to portray a philosophy onscreen,  but that's what I believe Rylance did so effectively.  This was the embodiment of stoicism.  There's a lot to think about here.

When his character repeats at moments of crisis: "What good would it do?", Tom Hanks, (the "good guy") reacts the way many of us would -- with a look of "Don't you care?"  That's what makes stoicism so challenging.  How much do we dare to stay engaged?

Realism and idealism exist simultaneously in the spy's character.  What could be more idealistic than to sacrifice family and the familiar and to live in an "enemy" country doing life-threatening work?  And what could be more realistic than to accept your fate every step of the way.

Is the spy's demeanor one of realism or despair?  Which is appropriate?  Neither?  Both?

Like I said, lots to think about here.

P.S.  Rocky was stoic too.  In a very endearing way.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Political Scandal

There's some serious girl power going on in the latest episodes of SCANDAL.  I swore I was going to leave the show for good if one more dead body showed up, but I'm intrigued enough to put that aside now and see where this season goes.

Shondra Rhimes is reading the papers or maybe even "feeling the Bern."  The champaign by the Pennsylvania candidate was taken right from Bernie's education stump speech.  The show is going to do something with this fictional Bernie stand-in, I'm sure.

TV and politics are the conjoined twins of 2016.  Oh Ben, you could really serve your country if you would use your scalpel here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Messing with Destiny

My writer friend Rex and I joke about how an author can feel as if one of his characters has taken on a "life of his own" and leads the plot in an unforeseen direction.  "Who'se in charge here?" we chuckle.
This time, I wish the character Sid Halley would tell the author Felix Francis to "Bug off and leave me alone!"

Some of you know that my favorite books are the Dick Francis mystery series taking place in the milieu of British horse racing.  I have learned much from Francis' heros and try to emulate their qualities in my life.  Sid Halley is one of my favorites.

He is a famous and beloved jockey whose hand (and career) is shattered and left useless in a fall on the track.  What emerges is a character who must leave "all of it" behind, including a wife who never understood his devotion to danger.  Alone and crippled, his stories begin.

Dick Francis died a few years ago and his son Felix took over the writing.  Felix's books are okay but only as an echo.   Now, in what I think must be some father/son pathology, Felix is giving Sid a hand transplant!  He is making him whole.  Shame!

Should the phantom get a new face?  What about the "one-armed man?'  Is Nero Wolfe going to have by-pass surgery?

Or, am I being selfish to want Sid to continue to triumph (as he always does) using the empathy he develops to such an endearing degree because of his imperfect self.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


It was inevitable. The time when long-time friends begin to die.  And it doesn't come as a shock the way the earlier ones did.  It is sad, not cruel.  The news makes me think I am entering a gathering place for the final march.  People are taking their places one by one.

What will guide me as I take my place among them?  Things are easier to see now.  Clearer.  Death beats divorce.  It beats injustice among siblings, pain over missed opportunities, guilt over friends ignored or left behind.

In sports, they say : "Father Time remains undefeated."  Death tells us there is no victory, only what we bring to the game.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Family

Elsa went to Miami to interview her family for the book she is writing about her life in Cuba and the U.S.  She timed the visit so she could see her father who was visiting from Cuba.  Elsa's family is divided between the two countries.

The book is going to be about her stormy roots and how she emerged into the successful artist, wife and mother she is today.  I knew a little about some of those early days.  Elsa's family story includes mental illness, abuse, infidelity, divorce, and jail.  All this happening --- as I bet you suspected --  in severe poverty.

"Elsa," I asked, "were they reluctant to reveal themselves to you?"  (I was thinking of my family who manage to keep some pretty dark stuff to themselves.)  "No," she said.  "They were just happy that someone was interested."

As we talked more,  I began to realize that Elsa's parents lived their lives as a series of unchallenged events they never attempted to explain.  Elsa helped me understand that shame and pride (which keep my secrets safe) come when there is education and status. Something "valuable" to protect.   The Moras were too poor to know of any of this.

Elsa said goodbye with: "You know Joan, the one thing they all told me that I took to heart is that they are happy."

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Importance of the Artist's Eye

My daughter-in-law, the artist Elsa Mora, is having a one-woman show in New York City in May. (Bravo!)  She asked me to look over the press release which introduces Elsa and this current work.  The show is titled TIMELINE and expresses her insights from living both in Cuba and in the U.S. during turbulent times.

I was struck by her perceptive awareness that the challenges she faced growing up in a dysfunctional family replicate the challenges of the dysfunctional relationship between Cuba and the U.S. during all of her life.

I've long thought that it is the artists among us who can capture history in the deepest and thus the most enduring way.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Great White Hope

For the past few years I've been telling my friends (in a "say it isn't so" tone) that the next President should be a white man.  My reasoning is that we are living through an eight year nervous breakdown over having a black President and we cannot afford another breakdown over having a woman. It will spark another round of ugliness.  Ugh.

You know me.  Of course the white man has to be a Democrat.   At first,  I thought I might have to settle for old Joe Biden.  All the while dreaming the impossible dream of Gavin Newsom.

But no! Bernie Sanders is the one.  Wow.

Nothing is simple.  Do we now have another cause for nervous breakdowns?  Let's see:  black vs. woman vs. Jew.  My head spins.

As my friend Bonnie says:  "Oy."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Celestial Surroundings

The urge to tout one's religious beliefs must be primal.  Or at least instinctual enough to overcome social norms of behavior in public.  I'm thinking of my "elevator preacher" who manages to deliver a sermon as we ride from the 26th floor down to the lobby.

Then there is my beautiful garage man Clement.  He has traces of an English accent via Africa.  On Sunday mornings I tease him about setting me "straight for the week."  I'm listening to his church music while waiting for my car.  (Yes, it's Sunday morning and I'm only going to the store.)

When I was living on the South Side and taking the El from 95th, it was a chorus of "praise Jesus" all the way into the Loop.

I don't get all of this worshipping.  And it makes me sad when I think of how religion keeps us at war.  But, I do know that we all look for ways to "get us through the night."  So, I am happy to smile and let the blessings fall where they may.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Good Place to Start

This is about the endurance of the written word.  As I was walking by the give-away book table at my senior center today, I stopped and smiled.  I had spotted Starting in the Middle by Judith Wax.  Judy and I were friends and neighbors when our children were teens.  Even as Betty Friedan loomed large, we did not yet have "careers."

I watched as Judy began her career in writing.   She wrote movingly about her experiences as a mother whose son had gone off to India to join a cult.  It was published in the New York Times.  Later, she comforted me as I worried about my daughter who was -- alone -- on a protracted trip around the world.

Her poem, The Lovesong of G. Gordon Liddy, made it into Time magazine during the Watergate frenzy.  The book followed.

I have no idea how many copies of Starting in the Middle ever sold.  It's life was cut short, as were the lives of Judy and her husband Shel.   Their plane crashed at O'Hare.  They were on their way to the Los Angeles Book Fair for interviews, readings and publicity.

I just took my copy off the shelf and I'm going to look at it again.  I hope some senior will pick it up too.  I remember it being a very good read.