Monday, February 15, 2021

In Remembrance of Momma

My mom died the morning of Groundhog Day of natural causes. She was 64.

Her obituary was tiny and expressed her joy of being a mother/grandmother. My older brother claimed that nothing we say would do her justice. I agree... but I want to try.
Linda Sue was born in Milwaukee to a weatherman-sergeant-turned-factory-worker and a factory worker/gender activist. She was the middle child and only girl.

She always wanted to be a mother and would often babysit other people's children. In fact, when her mother told her how babies were made, she felt cheated because she knew there had to be "a catch". Doctors told her in her teens that she'd never have children... she was heartbroken but stubborn.

She worked through social services to provide care for families who needed help between her factory jobs and bookings. My mom was a semi-professional singer for about twenty years; she was an amazing vocalist and a semi-okay bassist. She worked for free as a teacher's aide for a couple years with one of my classmates who needed one-on-one attention when I was in preschool.

Mom loved animals and had a calming effect on them. I'd call her Saint Francis because of it. She had a variety of pets in her lifetime and was an amateur expert on "domestic" birds (parakeets, cockatiels, finches, and canaries).

She had a complicated and beautiful sense of spirituality and taught her kids to seek their own truths.

Mom had untreated ADHD her whole life and would often fragment her conversations due to so much going on in her head. She had her own way of speaking when she couldn't focus that my brothers and I called "Momese" or "Mommaese" which was a combination of spoonerisms, spliced thoughts, and pauses.

Cooking at as young as four years old, my mom was an amazing cook/baker her whole life. She could eyeball amounts of ingredients and modify recipies on the fly. My older brother learned much of what he knows from her.

She could draw/paint, crochet, do beadwork, and jerry rig objects (especially with duct tape, which she loved). She never pursued creative endeavors outside of singing and cooking with any real gusto because her attention never stayed put. Proficiency was just good enough for her liking, but her talent was evident in nearly any project outside of card making (she was pretty hopeless at it).

A Christmas fanatic, mom started playing Christmas music in September. She had Bing Crosby's holiday CD when I was a kid and would play it on loop while she slept. Decorations would always go up before Thanksgiving.

She had a wicked sense of humor and plain way of speaking that people either loved or hated. She refused to pull punches and swore a lot.

Mom liked old shows like Gunsmoke (which she called "Buns" because of the ass shot at the beginning of the show), The Flintstones, Mama's Family, and The Carol Burnett Show.

She adored Italy (even learning bits of Italian) but never travelled.

Mom was honest, faithful, and kind. Her family (primarily ex-brothers) often took blatant advantage of her giving nature; it hurt her to cut their toxicity from her life, but she was better for it. She gave to strangers and spoke to them as though they'd known her for years.
My three brothers (we adopted Jacob), husband, little nephew, and I sat in a room at a dark wood table and looked at urns on a screen less than thirty-six hours after she died. We discussed the pros and cons of materials and if the urn should be her favorite color. We looked at totals for handling her body and reducing it to ash, wondering if we could pay. My brothers went to see her body while Brandon and I kept our nephew company in the conference room because I want to remember my mother alive.

We will have a private service for my mom in the spring or summer. There will be less than ten people in attendance.

My mother raised my brothers and me on her own and taught us so many things... except how to handle the loss of her.

Monday, January 25, 2021

The Criticism Around Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman became the youngest poet to read at an inauguration on January 20th. "The Hill We Climb" has received incredible praise from some prominent people in the poetry community (like Jericho Brown) and beyond. Its rhymes and accessibility make the piece immensely quotable, especially since it speaks to the state of our nation fairly well.

But, beneath the glowing praise and interviews, there are a number of trolls bashing everything from the poem to the poet herself.

Claim one:  Picking a Black female poet is pandering.

Every time a person from a minority group is picked for a job or task, someone cries affirmative action or pandering. Amanda is the first Youth Poet Laureate of America. She graduated from Harvard with honors. She isn't some unqualified child picked at random over other legitimate candidates. She has the education, skill, and presence to fully inhabit the role. She is young, but "gen z" is our future, so...

Claim two:  The rhymes and accessibility made it a terrible choice.

The poem was written to address a nation that is comprised of all backgrounds. Most people who watched the inauguration probably haven't interacted with poetry since high school. Rhyme and rhythm make things easier to remember and make more sense to the human brain than a jumble of free verse. It welcomes listeners. Heaven forbid a poem written for a country be easily understood by the citizens!

Claim three:  Performance pieces aren't poetry.

Slam/performance is an utterly traditional mechanic of poetry dating back to when oral storytelling techniques were the norm. Each generation might tweak or spin it, but performance poetry existed before every writer had a notebook in their pocket.

Performances are more engaging for large audiences. Reading like a statue with minimal emotion is a recipe for restlessness and tuning out. This isn't your MFA mixer night, Tim! If Amanda would have read without passion, they'd criticize her for that, too. "She phoned it in guys! So boring!"

If performances don't belong in poetry, we'd better take microphones and contracts from singers and rappers.

Claim four:  She's going to become a diva like Maya Angelou.

Why? Because she's a Black poet? Because she read at an inauguration like Ms. Angelou? I see no evidence... merely surface comparisons to support a wild theory about Ms. Gorman's future behavior. Is the person "concerned" about this going to be working with her in the near future? I'm unsure what race the person was who speculated this, but it almost sounds bigoted.
People are allowed to dislike rhyming poetry or what they consider trite.  However, diminishing someone's accomplishment for arbitrary reasons doesn't validate petty (at points, bigoted) opinions. And, policing poetry and all its possibilities is the mark of an absolute amateur who is thrilled to wallow in faux superiority (I know this because I used to do it). 

Monday, January 11, 2021

My Writing Year in Review

While everything else was going to hell last year, my publishing progress was fairly decent. Out of the 70 responses I received, 16 were acceptances. I didn't track personalized feedback on rejections, though I probably should have. If my (admittedly bad) math is to be believed, I had 22.86% success rate. It's technically one of the best years I've ever seen.

Two acceptances were for flash fiction. The figure isn't any better than an average year for stories, but one actually gave me a bit of pay... and that's unusual for me. Especially since it's just past the line of a pro-rate sale.

One of the biggest surprises is that I had more literary than speculative poems accepted. There was a time in my early career where I thought I should give up writing literary poetry and just stick to the aliens and zombies. 

So far for 2021, I've received two rejections and an acceptance.


Since a year in review post isn't complete without shilling the published pieces everyone's already seen, here are the links to a good chunk of the works that had birthdays last year!

"Tengu Lament"
"Selkie Maiden"
"Intergalactic Missionary"
"Severing Scars"
"Frozen Heart"

Other accepted works from last year are either forthcoming in 2021, or came out in various media that can't be easily linked to.

How was your acceptance record last year?

Friday, December 25, 2020

Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas

This movie is one of the few Looney Tunes interpretations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

First, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. The colors are brilliant, the characters are expressive, the Christmas decorations are plentiful, and the scenery is lively and fun. It's animation the way it should be done, and there needs to be more of it in Western shows and films. Flash animation and similar art styles have plagued a lot of cartoons, even as far back as the early 2000s.

Daffy was a good choice for Scrooge, and the main characters were given the correct roles as well. Bugs Bunny is forever the instigator. Porky Pig makes a good Cratchit. It was fun to see the other characters working around the department store (even if the store setting is one we've seen in other Christmas Carol retellings).

There is a lot of trademark slapstick in this. It's still very much a Looney Tunes production. The setups, while not being the most unique, are still entertaining punctuation to the story.

The threat from The Ghost of Christmas Future was not one of damnation after Daffy dies, but rather what his death and selfishness meant for his employees and himself. He realizes he doesn't want to die a lonely duck. I think it's a more interesting and concrete "punishment" than a vague reference to hell.

I definitely recommend you watch this one.


I hope you enjoyed The Twelve Days of Christmas Movies! May you have an incredible holiday season, no matter what you celebrate or who you celebrate with.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Four Movies, Four Reviews, Four Sentences

Christmas Cabin

Sammi gets away to the family cabin for Christmas, but Seth also has a claim on the property... they clash. There was plenty of Christmas in this movie with tree decorating, snowshoeing, and cocoa by the fire. The couple was decent together, but I felt they had more spark when they were at odds (those scenes were a bit more fun). It turned out to be a passable watch with meh actors.

Hometown Christmas

Noelle comes back to her hometown after medical school with plans to save the live nativity scene, only to find that her old boyfriend is back in town as well. Though there is one main couple, the film features two other couples in Noelle's family at different stages of their relationships; I thought the side characters' relationships were much better done than the main couple's, but all were serviceable. Noelle and Nick didn't have the normal argument or device that separated them for a bit... a rarity. There is a fair amount of Christmas and heart to this film, it ended up being quite decent. 

Christmas in the City

Wendy, a single mom, goes to work at a department store around the holidays with the hope to raise enough money to save her late father's candy shop, but the department store may have even bigger problems than Wendy does. The villain in this movie was the cliche evil business woman, but she was effective enough. It was pretty Christmassy, and I suppose the romance got the job done. It's not the greatest film, but it turned out okay.

Pink Panther: A Pink Christmas

The Pink Panther is homeless and hungry on Christmas. The story is told with almost no dialogue, but there is a children's choir featured throughout most of it with original songs that were not good or entertaining. The amount of hardship the protagonist goes through to get a meal or a warm place to stay is not funny. The ending promises to be only happy for a little while, so watching everything take place was simply not worth it... skip this.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Christmas Ever After: A Merry Muddle

Izzi is a writer on a deadline who has a severe case of writer's block. When she goes to her normal vacation spot for Christmas, she meets a guy who looks exactly like the love interest in her novels. 

I wanted to absolutely love this movie. It's the first romantic Christmas movie I've seen with a disabled heroine! Unfortunately, this film missed the mark in so many ways.

Izzi is an inconsistent main character. When the movie first starts, she seems erratic. Her personality then shifts about a third of the way through the film and becomes just bubbly and upbeat. Watching her in the beginning was bizarre, and the change didn't help the incongruity of it all. I like the way the movie showed her navigating through life as a wheelchair-user, but it really felt like they glossed over a lot to do with disability in general; I understand not wanting to make a big production out of the fact that she's not a typical protagonist, but not addressing it in any way in regards to a romantic relationship struck me as disingenuous.

The love interest was bland, though they tried to give him a backstory. Of course, his past would have been incomplete without a dead wife... a cliche I'm tired of. His daughter was cute and his father was kind and boisterous, but the other side characters were mostly cardboard.

The score was not memorable in the slightest, and the cinematography wasn't the best. I acknowledge the way it was shot may have been due to the pandemic.

What temporarily splits the couple is beyond ridiculous. At first the viewer thinks it may be a misunderstanding trope, but it seems like Izzi's real issue is insecurity. I understand insecurity is a big thing during new relationships, but the way it occurred and was resolved just seemed like it was a non-issue.

There is a twist in the movie many viewers won't find a revelation at all. Since it is a supposed selling point, it was a major letdown.

It was still awesome to see a disabled woman in a film like this, and I have a lot of respect for Ali Stroker, but this was a disappointment. We deserve better than just a bargain-bin plot with stale characterization. This was a roll in the right direction, but it fell horribly short of being something I'd watch again.

End note: Izzi doesn't ever have accessibility issues... even in a small town. It might've cracked my disbelief meter.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Hitched for the Holidays: Perfect Marriage of Comedy and Romance

A man and a woman meet on a dating website and agree to pretend to be the other's betrothed during the Christmas holiday to fool their families. Synopsis from Google.

Reasons why I love this film:

1. The male lead isn't just a bland, fantasy projection. He has wants, flaws, and equal screen time.
2. Character development exists for both people. They grow because of their relationship.
3. Chemistry. The couple engage each other a lot. They kiss about five times... possibly hinting at more than smooching.
4. It's funny for the right reasons! The comedy hits home almost every time.
5. It covers Christmas and Chanukkah... a rarity. The holiday scenes are plentiful.
6. The families are complex and chaotic. You get to know them (especially Rob's).
7. The thing that splits the couple briefly isn't an ex or a misunderstanding (exactly). It comes from a past issue.
8. There is a "text epilogue" that almost makes it seem like the characters are real people.
9. The film starts at Thanksgiving and ends on New Year's Eve. Most movies feel like they take place in a couple weeks.
10. It avoids most of the pitfalls of its genre. No insta-love, no misunderstanding plot, etc.

This is one of my favorite rom-coms of all-time! I liked it even better the second time I watched it. If you ever wanted to watch a holiday romance (but find most as boring as I do), this should be your first pick.

You can find it on Hallmark Movies Now or on DVD.