Beasts of the Southern Wild

The entire universe depended on everything fitting together just right… 

I’ve finally found it.

Every year, there’s one film that just defies logic and expectations, and it uses that defiant stance to fold our own thoughts back into surprise as it tells us a brand new story.   Last year’s was The Artist, and now Beasts of the Southern Wild has taken up the strange and otherwordly mantle.   True, those two films are just about as different as could be – but there’s something glimmering below the surface.  There are new stories to tell still… And it’s so wonderfully hopeful.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez by way of Maurice Sendak

Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy – the six year old I want to be when I grow up.  In the middle of failing levees and a father who’s alternately loving and distant – Hushpuppy takes in the world with her wide eyes and fights to make sense of it.   She’s innocent without being naive.  You can only learn so much about the world in six years, after all.  And she fills in the gaps of her knowledge with these strangely poetic retellings of the world around her.

Like Emma Donoghue’s Room – some of the things Hushpuppy sees are horrific in their own right, but she’s been so protected from the outside world that she has no idea they’re horrible.  Does that make any sense?  And since we’re seeing the world through Hushpuppy’s eyes, we don’t even see all the horrors as they really are.  

Instead, we see them as gigantic primitive monsters melted free from their southern icebergs. Death incarnate, come for its own.

But she is not afraid. 

When I was little, I was so terrified of my own shadow that it’s amazing I even went to school.  I lived in a world of stringent right and wrong and I was expected to know the difference in any situation, even if I’d never been there before.   I was afraid of getting detention for something I didn’t even know was wrong.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I would have faced my fears at six or eight years old rather than twenty-five.  

I wish I could have rounded them all up and faced them down.  You do not belong here, anymore.  You do not have power here.  I’ve stripped you of your ability to crush my life, to destroy the lives of the ones I love.  Leave.  

Leave and never return.  

There’s something to be said for the power of a six year old.  They may not fully understand the world, but maybe they understand it in a more holistic way than we ever will.  There is good and evil in the world.  And at least for the moment, we can’t escape it. We can only choose what to do – fight?  Or run away?

Today is not forever, you see. One day we’re actually going to face down the evil that surrounds us.  Because good and evil are not opposites. That puts them on a level playing field, as though the question really is whether or not evil can overcome us all.  Good is not the absence of evil.

Good, and everything that comes along with it, is more vibrant and alive than evil can ever be.  Good is a warrior, a vanquisher, walking in to the very darkest places of our communities, the very darkest parts of our souls, knowing the war is already won.

Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning… 

And someone with the heart of a child will lead us all.

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Anna Karenina – A Crumbling Love

It’s that time of year when all the awesome movies hit the big screen.  🙂  Get ready! 

First off – I think Keira Knightley is absolutely stunning in everything.  I know she’s a bit of a polarizing figure in the world of film… but I am such a fan.  And Joe Wright & Keira Knightley together are brilliant.  (Aaron Taylor-Johnson is does a better job than I was expecting… but seriously – the role should have gone to James McAvoy.)

And that might be part of the problem.   I was coming in to Anna Karenina with the sky-high expectations of Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.   And on a certain level, Anna Karenina totally lived up to those expectations.  It’s dazzling, bold and inventive, and that’s saying something for a story that nearly everyone knows starts with a doomed love affair and ends with a train.  It’s so classic it’s nearly become a cliche, a story of society and sex, of hypocrisy and horror when someone steps outside of the accepted norms.

It’s theater of the most arch kind.

And that’s where most of the movie takes place – in a theater, as though we’re watching these characters on stage rather than on screen, leaving aside the sumptuous settings of a failing Russia and allowing us to simply observe the characters and their individual fates.

The film has moments so perfect that they rank up there as some of the best onscreen moments of the year.  And in those moments – I completely saw what Joe Wright was trying to do in telling the story this way. He’s inviting us into the production of it all, and you don’t want to miss a single second.  The closest movie I’ve seen to this one was De-Lovely –  which to this day is still one of my favorite films – where character walk back and forth from stage to real world without missing a beat, as though we’re finally able to step through a play and into the “real” world the characters inhabit.

Karenin and Anna are part of a fading hierarchy, the wealthy couple in government that everyone watches.  You get the sense that they feel as though their life is lived on a stage for all the world to see.

And then comes Count Vronsky, the one upsets their perfect world. All hell breaks loose around the Karenins.  For Vronsky and Anna, though – it’s as if everything in the world has frozen, and they’re coming to life for the first time.  This is where the theatricality of this specific version fits in so well.   There’s an early scene with when they dance beautifully through the theater as everyone else lives in still life around them.

And – in what I think is the movie’s most poignant moment – Anna admits the affair to Karenin as they’re getting ready to sleep.  His eyes grow cold, and you see a man fighting between rage and his steadfast commitment to keep his public persona intact.  But in a real life/theater blending moment – he walks through a door and onto the theater’s stage.  Anna follows, and in a dark theater, surrounded by glaring lights, Karenin sits, staring vacantly out.

He’s a man alone, a man who knows he’s lost the one thing he’s treasured.  He knows he’ll be held up for ridicule and censure.  He’s become a broken man in a heartbeat.  But instead of ripping into Anna, he just looks back at her quietly.

Tell me what I did to deserve this.  

I’ve always thought this story was all the more powerful if you believe that at one point, Anna loved Karenin.  She doesn’t respond to his question, and for a fleeting instant – you believe that she did once love the man sitting in front of her.

A Crumbling Love 

How does a love strong enough to press its way into forever find itself chipped away until it’s a shell of itself?   How is it that someone could vow for always to someone else and somehow find themselves all these years later full of indifference at best, utter disdain at worst?  It’s a common story, and yet somehow it always feels so fresh and raw with every retelling.  They were in love, and then they were not.  It’s such a sad sort of death.

And the train. 

The train gets rendered out in this bizarrely artificial way, and yet it’s that artificiality that gives it such power.  We’ve seen a thousand versions of car crashes and explosions in every movie.  And I think somehow, I’ve managed to put up a wall inside my heart when I watch those moments.  It’s only fake.  Everything’s fine.  But somehow, the fake train slipped through my filter, and for a brief second, theater and reality blended and Anna Karenina’s death got through.

It was blinding.  And it accomplished exactly what it was trying to do.  It made her death seem inevitable and pointless and brutal and broken.

I’ll be honest.  It’s not a perfect film, not by a long shot.  I think Pride and Prejudice and Atonement were definitely stronger films from Wright. In the few brief moments we spend with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen on screen – it was all I could do to not break out my blu-ray and immerse myself right back into the world of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

But Joe Wright has done what few would dare to do – he’s turned a story upside down and nearly inside out.  He’s stripped it of it’s rich and elegant trappings and left us staring on stage at characters who’ve been destroyed by their own making.  We don’t have the choice to look away.  And so we live through them, all the way to death.

Watch it.

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Your Presence has Made My Life So Beautiful…

image

Your presence has made my life so beautiful. 

It was part of my Facebook status update after my birthday.   And since then, I’ve really started thinking about it…. 

How amazing is it that we need others in order to live?  

I know I could throw in this whole ‘No man is an island’ thing and just go on and on.  But I literally would not be the person I am today without every single person around me.  I’ve learned things from every person in my life, and at every turn, my friends and family and office-mates (who quickly become both friends & family!) have inspired me with their own stories and determination to create.  

My heart is so full today.  It feels heavy… not in a Things are bad kind of way, but in the way that beautiful sculpture  is heavy.  Here is a thing of weight, of quality.  It feels present and beautifully permanent. It will make its way through time, while everything else is fading away – it will keep right on shining.  I’ve carried your voices and encouragement and hopes and dreams all this time.  You’ve made me feel grounded and completely free all at once. 

We’ve all come through battlefields together – and some of us have actual physical scars from all we’ve seen and heard.  We’ve made our way through celebrations and shattered glass, through tears and blood on the ground.  We’ve made our way through staring out across a huge ocean and feeling so infinitesimal and utterly present all at once, through laughing so hard we’re crying, through getting thrown in the pool at 2 in the morning, through looking around and thinking – This is the moment I want to live in forever. Endless glasses of wine, bowls of soup, cake for breakfast, and more cups of coffee than I can count. 

She taught me to be fearless because she was fearless.  He taught me to not take myself so seriously, that I needed to laugh and zen out every once in a while.  I watched her live life and discovered that maybe the thing I was so afraid of wasn’t really that scary at all.  I read his novel and her script and knew that the bar had been set wildly high for my own writing. I want to be her when I grow up.  I have so much to learn.

I am not a self-made woman, not by a long shot.  I am becoming this beautiful, crazy, how-on-earth-does-this-work mix up of everyone who’s been so amazing to share their life and experiences with me.  They’ve all somehow sharpened me and fought with me to become the person i was made to be… And I am so brilliantly grateful. I owe you all my entire life!  

There are so many more adventures coming for us all.  

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Saving Innocence Gala

Tonight was the 1st Annual Saving Innocence Gala!  And it was a.maz.ing!  Seriously.  I am surrounded by the most awesome people in my life.  

Kim Biddle may be one of my new heroes.

So here’s the details – because I think the whole world should know.  

Saving Innocence works with local law enforcement, social services, schools and other parts of the community to help bring a permanent end to sex trafficking of children in Los Angeles.  They also work to restore the cultural values of innocence and human worth.  

Hell, yes.  

I am so excited to see where this amazing non-profit is going to go over this next year…  2012 was such a phenomenal start for them – and they’re just getting started. They are on the absolute leading edge of creating hope and dignity in these girls’ lives, helping these abused girls to know that their abuse does not define them going forward. They are not trapped or permanently destroyed. They have life ahead of them.  They have stories.  Their hope is going to spill out of those stories.  And the world needs their voices.   Because one day, maybe we’ll live in a world where sex trafficking is no more.  How amazing would that be?

It’s so funny – in the last several months, my life keeps coming around to this same idea over and over – being a voice for the voiceless with the stories I write.  LA. Cape Town. Back to LA.  And it’s really making me wonder – what’s coming next for me?  What are the next stories I’m going to tell? 

Saving Innocence creates relationships and community here in LA where those desperate voices finally have a chance to be heard and valued. Because even the quietest, most overlooked girls deserve to have a hopeful future.  

Can you imagine being 15 years old and constantly hearing that your value is strictly in being a sex object?  That your life and future plans and family are totally irrelevant?   

And then – can you imagine being rescued out of that?  Told that you have value and a voice, that you’re safe, and that tomorrow, you get to go to school and pursue your dreams?  

Come on now…. how awesome is that?  I’m so excited that I can support them, even in my tiny little ways.  

                                                                                                                                          +                Kim and Kellan, rocking it out!  Love them.  ——————————————>

And just for fun… 

                                                                                

                                   My fancy husband and I in our night out on the town.  He’s the best ever.                       

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The Orange Room

orange room

Another BabySafe blog. I’ve started and restarted this entry probably ten times over the last week, and before I even get started, I know my words will never ever be enough.  Every time I close my eyes, I’m back there.  And I only wish my prayers were stronger… 

—————————-

My name is Lynn, and in this moment, that’s all I can really remember.  It’s as though every piece of me has been stripped away in this second, and for the first time, I come face to face with the truth – there are no words I can offer.  No perfectly turned phrase that will dull the ache of this moment.

I am new here.  A stranger oddly welcome in the midst of a family grieving.  I can feel it in the air when I walk in, a metallic tang that creaks with anger and grief and the bitterness of Why now?  These are the emotions the world spends their entire life screaming to avoid.  And right now, it feels as though the rest of the world has screamed away from us – recoiling in fear that if they dare look us in the face, that somehow our sorrow will morph into their own, our sadness will infect them and taint them with the taste they’ve longed to forget.

Death has visited here.  

And I – the stranger from so far – am welcomed in to witness the day.

I want nothing more than to turn the day inside out.  My heart on my sleeve, a family newly stitched in.  I will remember today for the rest of my life. Their names will find their ways into my prayers.  My heart is still bleeding for them.  And for a moment, I long to take their grief as my own, holding it for them for a moment.  Two. Ten.  The respite they’re searching for will not come today.

If only I was strong enough to bring it to them.

In the meantime, I will hold them.  I will stare straight into their eyes, a stranger welcomed in.  I will witness their soul-rending pain, acknowledge it, bear them up in it.  I will not look away. Nothing I give will be enough.  But maybe – somewhere – it’s important to know they are not alone.

Today, this family survived.

And in the quiet, a song plays.  Freedom reigns in this place… 

Today is not for always.  

Today will mark them, define this part of their lives.  They will remember the weight of the wispy clouds above.  The sound of the bird.  The chilled air that deadens so much. But now is not forever.

And in this bright orange room – I begin to understand.  We are all here together.  A tiny hand slips into mine.  And I breathe in.

Not all is lost today.  Some, but not all.

I only wish I had more to give.

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Finding the Words – Cape Town

finding the words

Imagine sitting at a tiny little cafe, looking out and seeing this view.

A field of warm green grass, hedged in by a field of lavender, with the Atlantic Ocean lapping at the base of the mountain half a mile away.  The sprinklers were going, throwing rainbow mist across the patio, and wild peacocks wandered between the tables, hoping to eat a discarded croissant or cookie.  Sitting there and drinking my coffee, for the first time in my life, I really had the thought – This must be what heaven looks like. 

I just don’t have the words.  

I had this grand idea that I was going to go to Cape Town, then come back with these amazing stories to tell.  And I did.  And I do.

But I just don’t have the words yet.  All my stories are still wrapped up in these swirling ideas that haven’t quite coalesced into actual sentences that move from one to the next.  I know what this moment or that moment felt like, but I don’t even know where to begin with actually sharing those thoughts and experiences with other people.

It. Was. Amazing. 

We can at least start there. Every day was full of brand new “Oh my gosh, I’ve never done this before!” moments, just one right after the other like this endless string of melodies that I’ve recorded but can’t sing back to anyone just yet.

I ate bread for the first time in a few years.  Fish. (My nearly-vegan ways deserted me pretty much as soon as I got off the plane!)  Alli & I didn’t have to rush in all of our conversations.  I watched my very first episode of the train wreck that is “Toddlers & Tiaras”.  (Yes, my fabulous LA people – that is one of the shows we export to the rest of the world. Gotta love it.)  I wore sandals every day while I was there – and the dust clung to my feet everywhere I went.  The sunlight is a different color there, thanks to being pretty much as far south as you can go on the planet without requiring a phD and a snowsuit a foot thick.  I love South Africa. I love the accents.  I love that everyone hugged me straight away before saying, “Hi.  Who are you?  Welcome!”  I loved living daily life with Alli again.  It felt like no time had passed at all.  This trip turned my world upside down in such a beautiful, heart-wrenching way.

I am different.  The world is different. 

If I can barely put into words all of the brilliantly fun experiences, how am I ever going to share the hardest experiences?  I live in LA, where we really don’t deal with the specter of extreme poverty and even death every single day.  All of my photos from my trip are gorgeous.  But they really only tell half the story.

And I’m getting to a point where I’m finally going to be able to share the second half of my trip with all of you.

Stay tuned…

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Thanksgiving Comes But Once a Year…

                                  

Friends!  

I can’t even believe that it’s Thanksgiving already!  How on earth did that happen?  

I hope you are warmly ensconced with family and friends, living it up and loving life.  There are so many things to be so very thankful for this year, and I have SO much to share with you over the next few days.  I am so excited! 

You’ve all made my life so wonderful. 

With love, 

Lynn 

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Seeking Each Other Out

seeking each other out

I think when I told some people I was coming to Africa they imagined me going into the bush, with no showers, no electricity, no phone, nothing.  Boiling water over an open fire, eating crazy things and being around everyone who spoke a million different dialects.

One day, that’s going to be my Africa experience… one day.  

Cape Town is its own thing – a strange mix of modern and ancient, of urban with the way things have been here for thousands of years.

And here in this lovely city so full of life and passion and energy – life is different.  I am different.  Everything in my heart is shifting around. Even more than usual, I see the value of community.  The value of saying ‘Hello, how are you?’ to everyone, and then actually listening to them. The value of beauty for beauty’s sake.  Things really can be functional and gorgeous all at once.  The value of family, of hugging new friends, of listening.  The value of sleeping 11 hours a day.  (Two days in a row…. I am beyond shocked & so so well-rested.)

We went today to Green Market Square – to the open-air markets in the middle, and we walked through all the stalls saying hello to everyone.  It’s free to look. But I have a good price for you.  Look at this one. Or this one for you.  It will look very nice on you.  For everything.

But the craftsmanship was stunning.  So many tiny figurines and bracelets and scarves and carved wooden spoons and statues and earrings and shoes and paintings.  I wish I would have taken more photos as I walked through everything.  I touched everything, felt the smoothness of the soapstone figurines, the supple softness of the leather purses, the textures of a thin cotton scarf, the polished, rounded edges of the wooden ladles.  I could smell the coffee nearby, and the fish & chips from the ocean.  I could hear the wings of flocks of pigeons.  The sound of steel drums from a nearby musician.  The gentle clinking of a mbira in the next stall.  The conversations all around me in English, Afrikaans, Shona. The laughter of kids getting out of school, running through the marketplace on their way home.  I met V’s aunt and cousin and SO many of the other merchants there.  Everyone wanted to hug us and wish us well. This is your first time to Africa?  And they’re looking after you well?  After reassuring everyone that Alli & V are taking crazy good care of me while I’m here, I just listened to everyone’s stories.  How business is going.  How life is going.   At least compared to LA, everyone is constantly touching everyone else.  It’s a land of living together.  These lovely people just know how to do life together and I love it!   There is just so much everywhere.

So often, I feel like I’m just drinking from a firehose.

Everywhere I turn, there’s just so much to see, so much to process, so much to absorb.  The way the air smells.  The way the city is just so full of people always looking to see if they know someone.

Like I told Alli – back in LA, if I saw a friend of mine way across the street while I was driving down a road, I might try to honk at them.  I’d wave, but most likely, they wouldn’t see me.  They’d be looking at their phone, seriously in their own world.  (And if I was the person walking across the street – I’d be doing the exact same thing.)   So we’d more likely get home and text each other – Hey!  I saw you walking on Riverside today! We’d both laugh and catch up at that point.  But here in Cape Town, everyone is looking for everyone else, and everyone is yelling from their cars – Hello!  Hello!  How are you, mama?  They’re seeking each other out, and the world is so much more vibrant for it.  And I can’t even tell you how many times people hugged me before Alli & V could even explain who I was.  In a way – it didn’t matter.  I was a person clearly part of their world, even for just a minute.  Everyone told me I must come back soon.

I love this city.

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Rice and Responsibility

rice

I have internet access here.  And I do have my phone.  I’m still going with my massive love of coffee.  (And the coffee here?  Fantastic.)  It’s just life.  Different, to be sure, but still fairly normal.  Everywhere I go, though – I’m constantly looking for everything not-American I can find.  All the flavors.  The views.  The shops and décor.  This is why I love traveling.  I want it to be as different as possible from my daily life.  I don’t want to come in and just observe everything from afar while staying so comfortable in my American ways.  The world is so big, so open, so different.

I’ve realized over the last ten years that I’ve been overseas for some of the biggest moments in recent American history. I was in London and Cape Town during the election, as the world waited to see whether President Obama or Mr. Romney would be taking over the White House for the next four years.  (And believe you me, the American election is massive news everywhere else in the world.)

And years ago, I was sitting in Ruth & Sandy’s living room in Dundee, Scotland, in March 2003, when President Bush declared war in Iraq.  It was the middle of the night, but we sat up and waited.  And waited.  And watched.  I was still in high school.  It was my first time out of the country, and here there I was watching everything change overnight for my world.

I think that moment completely colored my entire view of the war, honestly.  Instead of being surrounded by what I’d always been surrounded by, I was sitting with people who were asking – in all seriousness – What happens if the United States decides they don’t like the government of Ireland next? 

What do you say to that? 

It wasn’t that they were against the US fighting injustice around the world.  They were very much for it, in fact.  But – it was also that they were very cognizant of the fact that our ways of doing things might not be the best thing 100% of the time.  Maybe they were right.  Or maybe the US did all of these amazing things overseas that we’re never going to hear about.  Maybe – in some alternate history universe – we averted nuclear war.  Maybe we averted the entire meltdown of Iraq.  Maybe we brought at least the beginnings of freedom to a world that was so closed off before.  I don’t know.  And I think all the questions like that could kill a person.

But it made me realize that – in everything, not just in the government or international relations – that we can’t just fling ourselves into something without first taking the time to step back.  Is this truly what’s best for the region?  Is this truly what’s in everyone’s best interests? 

Food drops & feeding everyone.

I was talking with a friend of mine recently about all of the UN food drops around the world.  In one hand, they’re SO helpful, and in so many situations, they are SO needed.   Feed the hungry.  It’s not that hard, and we have been blessed with SO SO SO much.  When we hang on to everything we have with razor-sharp claws, our hearts get all twisted up and ugly.  Mine.  Not yours.  Not ever.  We become the worst versions of ourselves, the school bully gone extreme.  We become grasping, greedy misers who not only refuse to meet the needs of those around us, but refuse to even see or acknowledge them.  We become the worst of humanity.  So – for crying out loud – go feed people.  But – there’s another level we have to look at.  And in a lot of ways it’s the most important one.

Let’s look at rice. 

Sometimes in a way, we think we’re being all awesome when we swoop in with a million pounds of rice and start handing it out for free.  And in so many situations – like after emergencies or bombings or in very war-torn lands – those million pounds of rice is literally all that’s standing between little kids and complete starvation.  So you hand it out with the best of them. You’re taking care of part of the problem.

And as always, fixing some of the problem is better than fixing none of it. 

But what comes next? 

Do we keep handing out the rice, ad infinitum?  Is that helpful?  Yes, maybe we feed a lot of people for a long time.  But what about the local rice growers providing for their families who are now completely out of business?  Why pay for your rice when you can get the same rice just down the street for free?  It also creates this very weird power struggle where – instead of bringing true long-term health to a region – it ends up being this savior-savee relationship that totally strips local people of their culture, their heart and their dignity.  Total fail.

This is a whole thing I can get into… the different cultures of the world are incredibly valuable and beyond needed. To destroy those cultures is to destroy part of what makes us a human race.  It’s part of the beauty and variety that make up the whole planet.  We’ll save that for another blog.

But just imagine what the world would look like if we worked from both sides of the issue.

It’s not just about feeding people once, it’s about working with them in the confines and spirit of their own cultures to create a stronger future for them.  For instance, let’s say you’re going into an agricultural community that’s just been wiped out by flooding.  So – you bring in food to meet the immediate needs of the community. Of course.  But then – instead of looking around and going, “You know what the world needs?  A manufacturing community.  Or a community that grows corn, not other vegetables”  — you invest in what’s already happening for them.  You show them better ways to grow what they’re already growing.  You help them invest in better farming equipment and better compost.  You give them ownership in creating the future for their own community.  You give them the chance to fix things and celebrate when they have sorted it out and made the world better for their kids. You don’t just keep handing them rice and wondering why everyone’s spirits seem devastated.

Short term, the rice brings life.  Long term, the rice brings death to a region – physically, mentally and spiritually.  Something in the system is broken.

Even as an American coming into this beautiful city, I was terrified of coming in as the loud, crazy American and totally screwing everything up.  I wanted to blend in, to simply absorb myself into the culture so deeply that I could just learn and basically sit at the feet of these people who’ve been living here for so long.  And I’m quickly falling in love with Cape Town in so many ways.

But I want Cape Town to change me, not necessarily the other way around.

I’m incredibly grateful that I live in America.  Like crazy grateful.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can travel pretty much the world over with no issues at all.  I can live out my dreams of being a writer, working in Hollywood without having to reassess my visa situation every year.

But quite seriously – in the words of Peter Parker’s uncle – with great power comes great responsibility. 

And that responsibility is one we can’t overlook or take for granted.  We are not the savior of the world, that’s for sure.

But neither are we responsibility-free.

And it’s in that fine, razor-edged dichotomy that we get to live.

And now it’s our move.  What’s next?

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