LA Femme International Film Festival showcases films by women producers, writers, and directors. This year my sister Jill Michele will be hosting the ceremonies. The only depressing part about it is that I won’t see her do what she does best: Rally the crowd around a topic with the humor and grace of a writer, producer, actress, and comedian, all of which I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.
Take a look at what women are creating. You’ll find enlightenment.
When your dog gets sick, you feel helpless, especially at times when you want to rush her to the doctor but the office is closed. The closest emergency clinic is hours away, so you search the Internet for answers.
In our case, our Golden Retriever who’s not even a year old yet started acting as if she was hallucinating, almost convulsing.
Her head jerked around. She flinched.
Her eyes searched for something with every flinch, darting around with the jerking motion of her head, closer to the floor than usual. Then she swung her head back to her side and bit at herself.
She stopped for a second then repeated this jerking and searching, flinging her head around to her side.
So believable was her search that we looked for bugs, fleas, wounds, anything.
We bathed her and hugged her. We searched her body with our eyes, our hands.
The last time I’d searched for something my own eyes couldn’t see but someone else could I was in my grandmother’s one-room home when she asked me why the little girl was looking at her over there by the door.
I told her that she was just watching over her.
This time, my 11-month-old Golden Retriever searched for something, and couldn’t tell me what she saw. But, just like the little girl, I knew whatever it was, something was wrong.
This time, I also knew that this Golden was experiencing some sort of hallucination and it had nothing to do with an aging mind.
I promised to get her help though, just like my grandmother.
This time, however, the doctor gave us good news. She would be fine.
The bad news was that our Golden, Bailey, had licked a poisonous toad.
Our own form of paranoia set in.
I had a nightmare that giant frogs were climbing the walls to get to her and I was yelling for help. In fact, in our area, Miami-Dade County, Marine Toads are dangerously commonplace. According to the Florida Wildlife Extension’s website, the Marine toad, which is sometimes referred to as the Giant Toad or the Cane Toad, is most prevalent in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties in Florida.
When it is touched or feels threatened, it produces a toxic substance from its head. Dogs and cats can die from this.
Figuring out whether or not your dog or cat was poisoned starts by noticing a change in their normal behavior. Our dog very quickly showed signs of paranoia and convulsive movements. You can also check their gums, which turn red.
Rinse the poison away.
When attempting to relieve your pet of the symptoms or rid the progression of them, you should take a hose and rinse their mouths being careful to let the water run out of their mouths, rubbing the gums, teeth, and tongue.
Not much else can be done once your dog is exposed to the poison. Some people say you should give them milk. Others say that feeding them peanut butter helps. I gave my dog a bath thinking that something had bitten her, but when she continued the erratic behavior, I knew we needed to have her checked.
Preventing poisoning in the first place.
Know what’s lurking in your surroundings. After taking her to the doctor and confirming that this wasn’t a bite or even an injury to the head. I realized that we often visited a lake that was about half a mile away. Those toads were all over there.
How did they get in our backyard?
The Marine Toads are able to climb walls and burrow under ground. Since this is Florida, every thing is basically a lake because of the rain. Water and insects provide them with perfect breeding grounds.
My whole family admonished me for letting her out in the backyard without a leash. I simply bit my tongue, having warned them that we shouldn’t get a dog, knowing that I’d be the one to care for her, knowing I would be blamed when things went wrong, loving her just as much or more than they would and having to endure the guilt that came with it.
Then, holding her in my arms through the night and after the effects of the poison had worn off, I found a love I’d thought that I’d lost so many years before. She breathed with me and lay her head next to mine, a comfort I’d last felt with my grandmother who passed a few years ago.
My mother worked hard and smart. I missed her all the same.
The 24-hour shifts paid more but meant that we’d see her less. She made up for it by taking us on road trips to Disney World for a day. That meant donuts in the car on the way and midnight car rides while we slept and she drove.
For her time, she worked as smart as she could, given the circumstances. She was a tough, single mom who was as pretty as she was smart.
Today, we all work smarter in many ways. Our smartphones make it easier for us to multitask and stay in touch. Our technology seems to improve our lives. We all appear to even have our own personal assistant named Alexa or Google.
And yet, we feel overwhelmed often enough.
We seem to have turned what should make our lives feel easier and freer into a tool to make our lives harder. Our smartphones are overloaded with apps for everything, even apps that will organize our apps. And, stress, oh the stress of perhaps losing that phone that encases everything we hold valuable.
Our computers allow us to create and communicate within seconds what may have taken days or years to accomplish less than 20 years ago. The internet is nothing less than a superhighway taking us anywhere we desire.
But, here we are: Stressed.
Shouldn’t we be working less? Shouldn’t we be happier?
Some may argue that they are, but as I see children grow up, I see more stress and tension. I see a more insidious sort of self-deprecation that keeps us from seeing who we really are and who we actually want to be.
Our demons are summoned daily with a tap on the f app or a scroll down in Instagram. We aren’t working less. We’re working more, being told what to be, our minds overloading instead of focussing.
Those white shoes walked away so many times that the little girl who watched them resented them. She hated that they needed to work, which meant they rarely stayed in the closet where she wanted them to be. They took her mother somewhere too far away.
Now, with technology, where would her mother be? Close or far? Or walking around in an app?
Our secret desires often stay hidden away until death or until we just can’t take it anymore and go crazy, delivering spurts of truths until death–the luxury of finding solace in an insane asylum wavering somewhere between picking up the kids and drinking the next Starbucks coffee.
So much of our lives are full of secrets because we’re afraid to tell the world who we really are and in many circumstances we’re right to stay quiet, but I love stories about people who find a way to express themselves anyway.
Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye recently spoke about not hiding from who you are.
We all love to announce who we are when we’re little, before maybe age seven, maybe eight. Then, we notice the disapproval, the stares, the outright punishments if we push it too far.
Then we become teenagers and, well, we all know that changes everything, even if it’s momentary.
My husband donned a mohawk that rivaled that of a horse’s black mane. I drove across country and back again by myself just to prove I could do it. Both of us could dance at the hottest clubs in Miami almost every night and still show up to class or work the next day.
Did we change? A lot.
The vast majority of us begin to hide our real feelings in order to acclimate to the social norms that make us the good, upstanding citizens who are allowed to participate in going to a good college, finding a good job, renting an apartment, and maybe, just maybe, buying a home and keeping it.
But, it’s the remarkably brave ones like Karamo Brown who remind us that sometimes we don’t have to hide and it turns out a whole lot better than being like everyone else.
When the days bleed together and feel like a blood clot pulsing in your leg, you know you need to take a moment to do something, anything to relax. Nowadays, people often turn to YouTube, Netflix, or television in general.
I turn to Conan, Team Coco, anything Conan O’brien.
I recommend his show for adults who are stressed out of their minds, who are having a crappy day, who just need to laugh, a genuine, guttural laugh that leaves them wondering what the hell they were upset about anyway.
Right now, I’m watching The Invincible Conan San Diego 2018, where he conducts his show in the midst of the yearly Comic Con held there.
My children sometimes sit and watch it with me, sometimes roll their eyes and retire to their phone zone, but I bellow the kind of laughter that usually sends me scurrying from a room with someone of similar noise level.
He is my hero. He has saved my sanity ever since I spent my days breastfeeding my newborn daughter at 11, then 1 a.m. I would sit and watch him to keep me awake but mostly to make me cry tears of such therapeutic laughter that I was not only able to continue the bootcamp conditions of motherhood but do it happily and sometimes even with grace.
I’m not only writing about this at the moment because of his current special at Comic Con but because I want to highlight heroes in our lives who help us stay brave, smart, and bold.
After reading Philately. Lately. on Discover, I began to realize that I’ve missed the mark when writing here at WordPress. I created this blog/website to explore the ideas of being brave, smart, and bold, and yet, I ended up writing about those moments without focusing on any one element except for writing itself. Philately. Lately. zeroes in on one topic and sticks to it.
That’s what I hope to accomplish here, more often, mostly, all the time, I hope.
If you have suggestions, if you’d like to be interviewed as one of those heroes, if you just want to chat about what a hero really is, please take the time to comment and continue this dialogue.
Plunging into LA has been a summer indulgence that I’ve learned how not to live without. I crave the perfect weather, and when I mean perfect weather, I mean perfect weather. The consistently bright sky free of dark clouds, which translates to little if any rain, which translates to no mosquitos, no racing inside and yelling “Go, go, go!” to anyone in front of or following you, no mildew smells, none of it.
This summer wasn’t any different when it came to the weather, but other things dug under my fingernails. Really, just one thing got stuck in there. It was the degree to which the people in LA can fake it. In fact, they fake it so much that you can feel their nerves splitting as they speak.
They talk a lot about energy and crystals and energy and, really, I agree, energy is there, everywhere. So, when we went to a restaurant, a party, or even just for a walk, I felt it, even saw it.
“HHHHiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy,” she would say in such a high-pitched voice that I could feel her frayed nerves followed by the shrill lies muted by her hand shake that she tried to cover with the steadiness of an extra hand on the outside. Ouch! It stung a little.
And, it went on and on, daily, hourly sometimes.
I still enjoyed it. I still chilled with my sister, my family, but it felt strangely different. Even the Elvis impersonator who I loved catching on his way to work had left us. Not surprisingly, he had moved away, maybe to Vegas, a whole other story.
I doubt it if he would head on over to New York, but it’s still a place for impersonators. I mean, New York, in particular, New York City has its share of the inconceivable and the outright bizarre, but the fake? Absolutely, emphatically NO.
Do I want to live there? Not really, but I don’t necessarily want to live in LA either, no matter how much I love to visit.
I think an actress who was interviewed on Conan O’Brien said it best.
Although, I don’t want to live in New York either, I have always preferred the rough-edged realism of New York to the giant teeth shining behind often-oversized lips in LA.
There are those days when I wondered if I should’ve encouraged them to be doctors, lawyers, scientists, anything but artists.
“You know, Ya Ya always says, ‘That’s why you need to be a doctor papito. So you can take care of me,” my son said the other day. “She says it to all of us.” He’s referring to all of his cousins, her grandchildren.
My son and I were in the car outside a doctor’s office. “Yeah, doctors have it easy,” I said.
“What do you mean? It’s really hard to be a doctor,” he argued, which has become a regular routine lately.
“Yeah, no, I mean, they have to work hard, but they make so much money. You saw your cousin’s house. You know what I mean?”
He nodded but continued to talk about how difficult it is to be a doctor.
I reluctantly agreed and accepted my fate: to add another artist to my household.
I think every parent feels conflicted about encouraging a child to take the artistic route. It’s more unpredictable in our eyes.
You’re so smart. Be a doctor, a dentist, an engineer, a scientist, a lawyer, they say. Many parents I know outright announce that artists make no money. You can draw, even paint, but don’t try to make it a career.
And, what’s most disconcerting is that many teachers announce that students can’t do anything with a degree in art, let alone make a living with one in the fine arts. So, parents waver and our kids waver, sometimes they even give up on the whole idea.
I didn’t tell my kids to be a doctor or lawyer. I taught them to explore their worlds. I actually encouraged my children to be as creative as possible, not as a hobby, but as a way of life.
A once-white sink full of blue paint sits clogging one of our bathrooms. Drawings on walls are commonplace. Clothes splattered with paint seem expected.
But, when I want to hang a painting on the wall, I’m met with protests that it’s just not good enough or friends will think it’s stupid. You’re reminded of how fragile such creativity can be.
Yet, there’s a magic to living with artists that surpasses the often stressful or methodical worlds of academics or athletes.
Artists live on the brink of ecstacy or the edge of insanity more often than not, so when you live with them it can feel just like you’re in the swirling winds shot from a magic wand.
My daughter left for a pre college art program and, because I share her heart of an artist, I sit wondering what to do without her and hoping she has a good time while worrying that she’s so fragile she could break under her guise of strength.
Then I remember that guise is not a disguise at all.
It’s actually her reality.
She bears a resemblance to a Greek goddess in the midst of a tumultuous highway of mindsets bent on nearly crashing into her.
She stands, sword in hand, striking the sounds of doubt from her stance, sometimes, often, receiving their criticisms, wounded, in pain, dropping her sword, lowering her head, lying down.
She heals eventually and returns to her power.
The number of times she has stood her ground when she fought with me has increased over the years. The power with which she uses and doesn’t use words can set a room on fire. The intensity of her work puts shame to anything I’ve ever accomplished.
That’s magic mixed with a power so intrinsic to an artist.
And, we are all artists.
Accepting that makes our lives easier to manage and enjoy. Otherwise, we’re sent plugging away in drudgery at the daily confines of tasks to be finished and jobs to be done.
Those not just content but happy doctors, lawyers, and engineers are creatives in their own right.
They stand over patients and inspire them to fight for their lives and wellness.
They plunge into difficult cases emerging with solutions to difficult problems.
They sift through data and documents creating new ideas out of old structures.
Parents living with teenage artists find solace in their art.
Our artists are abstract and concrete all the while leaving us breathless with what they can conjure up for us, what they can pull from nothingness.
And you writers, well, you tell us the stories to keep us going when we find ourselves lost in worlds that have abandoned the idea of being artists.
So, as a parent of two artists, I watch in awe of their resolve, saddened by their wounds, hoping for their healing, and waiting for the next burst of magic, bound to love them through it all.
There she is, a child laughing, sugar her best friend. There she is, dreaming, wanting more than this. Her transformation moved quickly then slowed then sped up again.
She found her voice in comedy as she explored the world of acting, becoming herself on MADtv, Reno 911, and too many other projects to name. Most recently, she wrote, produced, and starred in This is Meg, based on her wild ride called life. Soon she’ll be releasing her one-woman show.
In between, the laughter came tears and growth. She left the sugar behind, finding the thrill of exercise instead, finding herself on a spiritual journey as well.
As her older sister, I see her as a child at the same time that I see the transformation. When she came to us, she brought so much joy and happiness and now she shares it with the world.
Oftentimes when reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the classroom, students giggle when stumbling upon the first “inappropriate” word.
By ages 10 and 11 nowadays, students have heard and said all of those words at some point. In fact, a lot of those kids have heard their parents shouting those words while driving through morning and afternoon traffic.
Because I teach in Miami, many of the students volunteer during class discussions that their parents say very colorful words in a couple different languages.
Just a side note: If you’ve ever had the pleasure of driving in Miami, you would probably say them too.
So, when students giggle about those words, it’s because for one, they’re in school. And, for another they know it’s wrong to say them. Their parents (guardians) and teachers have told them this.
For the most part, when students’ eyes run across the “N-word,” they stop, stutter, and say “N-word” or skip to the next word. Some students say the word and just keep going.
It’s not too far into the book that we have a Socratic Circle on the topic of censorship.
It gives them a sense of enlightenment to be given the opportunity to take control of their education and decide what they think is right or wrong.
The students boldly talk about the importance of using those words in this book and to remember how terrible the word really is. These young students, who hear all types of inappropriate words on YouTube and when they’re playing video games, speak about censorship intelligently and almost sound like little parents.
I, as their teacher, never interfere with their viewpoints. I only offer questions about it.
Why do you think people would want to censor “inappropriate” language from books?
Who decides what’s “appropriate” or “inappropriate” for whom?
Why do we feel the need to censor anything, in any type of media?
These questions are difficult to answer. We adults know that we go to great lengths to protect our children from any number of situations let alone what may or may not be “inappropriate” language in a book. What about the content of the book itself?
Banned Books Week ended already, but there are other issues involving the internet that leave us all stumped in one way or another, especially those with children or those who are teaching children.
How do we solve these issues? Do we look to our history of banning books and censoring art to guide us into the future?