Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Interestings: when hopes and dreams meet reality

I really, really like this book. I don't love this book, because it's missing a couple of things required to achieve that. The writing is good, the subject matter is interesting and relevant, but in order for me to love a book it has to either contain bits of prose here and there that are so beautiful they take my breath away for a moment, or it has to contain a revelation of some truth or meaning. This book ... well, it's kind of like life.

It is about things in life that I think about. The story centers around a group of people who meet as kids at theater camp, and actually manage to stay friends for their whole lives. The book covers the major portion of their lives, following them from age 15 into their fifties anyway. Its main theme seems to be dreams and expectations versus what really  happens. And I couldn't help but think of my kids when I was reading it, especially my youngest. Here is a quote from the end of the book....
People dissuaded their kids from going into the arts, knowing that there was no longer a future there. Once, a few years earlier, Jules had gone to see a play at Ash's theater, and afterward, during the talk back when the audience asked questions of the playwright, and of Ash, who had directed the production, a woman stood up and said, 'This one is for Ms Wolfe. My daughter wants to be a director, too. She is applying to graduate school in directing, but I know very well that there are no jobs, and that she's probably only going to have her dreams dashed. Shouldn't I encourage her to do something else, to find some other field she can get into, before too much time goes by?'
And Ash had said to that mother, 'Well, if she's thinking about going into directing, she has to really, really want it. That's the first thing, because if she doesn't then there's no point in putting yourself through all of this, because it's incredibly hard and dispiriting. But if she does really, really want it, and if she seems to have a talent for it, then I think you should tell her that's wonderful, because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down, but a mother never should.'
I have two kids who have the urge to create. My youngest son, Robbie, is in music. Since high school, he has played and sung in bands, both hardcore and acoustic, and he has written some really pretty acoustic music as well. Right now he's doing the hardcore band thing. He works full time, and does the music for fun, and pours a fair amount of money into it as well. I don't honestly know if there is any possibility of making money in hardcore music, but I'm glad he is having fun with it, and he can find joy in it for what it is if it never becomes anything more. My younger daughter, Johnna, has had serious aspirations in theater since middle school. She is now finishing her first year in college, with a theater arts major. She has an amazing talent. If that alone assured success, there would be no doubt. Even as hard as it is, I do believe she can succeed.

But that's the problem. It is hard. Of all the kids in the book, only one experienced real, worldly success in the arts. In performing arts camp, Ethan had not been terribly attractive, and he had set his sights on Jules, who was also not the most attractive girl in the camp. It wasn't that he was setting his sights low because he didn't think he could do better, though. Although Jules failed to recognize it, there was a kind of soul mate connection there, because even though Ethan ended up hooking up with (and later marrying) the most beautiful, and nicest, girl in the camp (Ash) after Jules rejected him, Jules continued to be the one he loved all his life.

Of course, Ethan is the one who became a fabulous success. Jules attempts to be a comedic actress for awhile and eventually gives up on it and instead becomes a psychologist. She marries outside the group, an ultrasound technician. So these are the losers, the psychologist and ultrasound technician. I find this kind of funny, because these are two professions my daughter and her boyfriend have thought of in their lives as fallback professions. Well, Jules and her husband start out crippled by student debt, and face various trials, so in spite of the fact that you'd think a psychologist and an ultrasound technician would be comfortable, they are not, and in spite of the fact that Ethan's wife, Ash, remains Jules' best friend throughout her life, she is also wildly jealous of their wealthy lifestyle (and of course considers the fact that Ash's life had been meant for her, if she had not rejected Ethan at age 15).  Ash doesn't experience wild success, but she is able to keep working in the arts because her husband is so successful she not only doesn't have to make money, she can even invest it in her work. Ash and Ethan also continue to be nice, nice people, and very generous. It might be possible to be jealous of them, but nobody could ever begrudge them what they have.

Now, I know I've given away some key points in the book, but believe me there is a lot more, so if you want to read it I haven't ruined it for you. I went into detail on this particular point because it made me think of my daughter. You know, even if you are successful, acting is a difficult business. As she expressed it recently, you get yourself into the depths of an emotional scene, and the director calls a halt to it and tells you to take it from the top, which means going back to the start of the scene and getting into the emotion all over again. I'm not an actress, but I know that in the height of activity in my daughter's kidnapping case, I have had to go through interview after interview after interview in the course of the day, the week, the month, and honestly by the time I was asked the same question for the 20th time, I had trouble summoning even my own emotions. Johnna's boyfriend is also in theater, although I think he is interested in writing and directing more. They are young, but they have something very special and I can see them building a life together. Two dreamers. Well, may their dreams be sweet and may they all come true. And may they have the strength to handle the challenges along the way without ever losing their joy, their love, and their faith in themselves. (Johnna's boyfriend made the stop action video featured in a recent entry on this blog, and it's so good I think I'm going to include it at the end of this one also!)

I also thought about my own life. How has life stacked up against my expectations? Well, hey, I have never had really materialistic expectations. When I was younger, it was the small and cozy that appealed to me over the grand. Of course, there are many things in life that do not meet my hopes and expectations. Most of those things are right here, in me. Have I fulfilled my dreams? Well, from first grade I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer. And hey, here I am, writing! Seriously, I'd like to have a nice cozy home surrounded by nature where my job was to stay home and write all the live long day. And I haven't completely given up on that idea. At the risk of feminist flagellation, however, I have to tell you that what I wanted to be more than anything else in the world was a mom. I wanted to have kids, and I wanted to be able to stay home and take care of them myself. I'm here to tell you that the latter is not an easy thing to do in today's world, but for the most part I did it. Well, actually, neither parts of that aspiration were easy to achieve. I had to take fertility pills to get to be a mom in the first place, and well, I had a pretty high price to pay as well. Being a mom has brought me the greatest joy in life, but it has also brought me devastating grief. You know, even if nothing terrible happens, even if you never lose a child, I think it's always that way. I have felt deep inside my own heart my children's heartaches and disappointments. Someone said being a mom is like having your heart walk around outside your body, and that's a fact.

The Interestings doesn't provide any real answers. In fact, if anything, I'd say the theme is that dreams don't usually come true, that life is difficult. The one person who achieves success also loses. He has creative and financial success, true. He has a beautiful and loving wife. But he doesn't have the woman he really loves. He has an autistic son he has trouble dealing with. And he, the only character who is successful, is also the only character who dies in the book. (Sorry, but it's not such a huge spoiler, cause everybody dies, right?) I guess the author wants to make sure that we understand that nobody's dreams all come true, nobody is completely successful, and whatever you accumulate in this life you give up when you leave.

Sounds depressing, but it's not. Life will always have good and bad. Sadly, this book doesn't have any spiritual insights into this fact. If someone else gets something else from this book, I'd like to hear it, but there was a depth it didn't quite reach. Nevertheless, when I got to the end, I had to go back and re-read the last part. I can't remember ever doing that before, and I can't tell you exactly why I did it this time. But I did.

Anyway, as I promised, here is the stop action video that my daughter's boyfriend made:

And let me also share this video, which is my son, Robbie, singing a song he wrote. It's called "Home," and I think it's very good.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Medical breakthrough of the year!

In recent years, I have developed allergies. My nose gets so bad from time to time that I am pretty much unable to function and there is nothing to do but take Bemadryl and zonk out for awhile. For awhile they got a lot better, hardly bothering me at all, and then they started getting much worse. I thought it was Springtime, but I began to notice a correlation with my diet. As long as I'd been following a strictly vegan diet I'd been good. But then I started consuming dairy products kind of regularly. There was a protein bar that had milk in it I really liked, and I was eating cheese and yogurt for awhile there, and my allergies were more or less bothersome. Then on my son's birthday I ate lots of dairy. I had pizza, quite a lot, and buttercream frosting on the cake, and a little bit of ice cream as well. And the next day my allergies were so bad I could not stand it. There wasn't any way to avoid wondering if the extreme dairy consumption was related to the extreme allergic reaction. So I started experimenting, and there definitely seemed to be a relationship.

I have to tell you, I am more than happy to never eat a dairy product ever again in my life if it means never suffering an allergy attack like that again. Pizza? No longer a temptation. I look at dairy and I turn away in disgust.

But this got me wondering. I have already told you all that I have a problem with food. I may happily and easily quit consuming dairy because I know it will cause me to suffer. But the fact is that I continue he to eat in a way that can cause me to suffer far more in the future. Those really bad "allergic reactions," better known by names like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, are not generally immediate reactions to a food we eat. We can't actually feel the damage those foods are doing to our bodies until it's too late.  I was thinking, if they want to invent a pill that will actually cure diabetes, they should simply come up with something that makes you just plain FEEL AWFUL if you consume too many calories or carbohydrates.

I know, I know, don't get your knickers in a knot. I'm aware of the fact that this would not be a best selling pill. Well, unless they lied, said it did something else essential and that you will die if you don't take it, and sorry about that nasty side effect. But my point isn't actually this pill. My point is our own stupidity. Well, my stupidity. If I KNOW the effect these foods will have on me, why can't I be intelligent enough to not eat them? Yes, it's the concept of delayed gratification, but honestly why oh why oh why does that even enter into it? The good part of eating these foods, the part where their taste or texture is giving me good feelings, is extraordinarily tiny.  How long does it take you to eat?  Not long. Then it's over and there is no more enjoyment. But the bad effects will last a lot longer, a lifetime even, a lifetime perhaps cut short.  The enjoyment of good health in each moment is far more gratifying, and lasts far longer. It is just plain good sense.

If I can happily give up dairy products because I can't stand having a stuffy sneezy nose, I should be able to give up the foods that will clog my arteries, raise my blood sugar, and perhaps make my cells want to misbehave. Right? Right. It is simply common sense.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Adorable Video

Created by my daughter's wonderful boyfriend, Kane Ashton, starring his hand and her hand! I love it!