Monday, November 23, 2009

Your Holiday Survival Manifesto and Mantras

The holidays are coming, and they usually entail spending a great deal of time with family members you may not see on a regular basis, perhaps because you choose not to. For some, holiday time with the fam is a blessing; for others, a curse. For those of you feeling cursed right about now, BWB's got your Holiday Survival Manifesto and accompanying mantras to get you through the holidays without your having to ask someone to post bail on your behalf.

First, the Manifesto. There are some simple realities of family life that we all need to remember around this time of year. In the words of my sister, The Writing Diva, I'd like to think of each of them as a holiday "slap upside da hed." Here goes:

1. To borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, you don't go into the holidays with the family you want; you go into the holidays with the family you have. Spending countless hours huddled around a large table over a perfectly (or imperfectly) roasted dead bird and cholesterol-enhancing side dishes isn't going to change your family into the Cosbys, which leads me to my next slap:

2) Past is prologue. If Aunt Sadie Mae acted a fool last Thanksgiving, well, guess what? She's probably going to act a fool this Thanksgiving. For you, it's drama; for her, it's an encore performance. Either way, it's coming. This leads me to my next slap:

3) Expectation is the mother of disappointment. If you expect people to act differently than they always have, you're doomed to be disappointed. No expectations, no disappointment. See how that works? I have a relative who once complained to me about another relative he didn't want to have over for holiday dinners because she always got drunk and it annoyed him. My response: Stop expecting her to do anything other than what she's always done. If you stop expecting her to be sober, you won't be disappointed when she isn't. Not serving any alcohol might help, too.

4) Unless you raised them or or abused them, your relatives' dysfunction is neither your fault nor your problem. During the holidays, in the spirit of charity and good cheer, we often take on the problems and dysfunction of folks not of our own creation, often to our own detriment. Stop with that. Right now, I said. Besides, even assuming these dysfunctional folks could be fixed, you sure ain't gonna fix them over the holidays because there's simply not enough time.

5) You are not "Save The Children," and you don't have to feed the world. Money is tight and time is even tighter. Everybody needs to pitch in and help to make Thanksgiving dinner "accessible" to everyone who's coming. Instead of footing the bill by yourself for some mondo Thanksgiving dinner, hold a potluck and make everybody bring something, even if it's just two liters of Coke. It's a recession, you ain't Donald Trump, and neither am I, so let's stop fronting, shall we?

Now the mantras. Invariably, there are situations that will occur during the holidays that will make you want to take your guns out of the gun safe (You do have a gun safe, don't you?). Don't do that. Instead, recite and live these mantras or the duration of the holidays:

1) I will prepare myself as much as possible. That means having a game plan going into Thanksgiving, in particular. If you're hosting, plan your menu, stick to your plans, be the biyatch, and tell everybody else what they're going to do or bring in language that makes it sound like you 're asking them to do it. Starting off with the Southern sweeteners such as "sugar" and "honey" might help, as in, "Sugar, you make the best damned sweet potato pie. Think you might be able to bring one to Thanksgiving dinner? I'd surely 'preciate it if you could. You know Mama just loves your pie." Or, "Honey, could you help me clear the table so we can play Pokeno?" You know how to do this, especially if you're a married woman. Do your thing.

2) I will not let the perfect get in the way of the good. Mess up the turkey? So what. When's the last time you cooked a turkey, anyway? Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. Do what you can to fix it (one year, I had to roll through Boston Market at the last minute because I totally blew the turkey, but they hooked me up), but get on with the holiday and enjoy yourself. There are no medals for a perfect dinner, anyway.

3) I will not take personally anything anyone says about me. Inevitably, Cousin Shanice, whom you suspect has an eating disorder and/or a weave but you can't prove either, is going to make some comment about your weight, your hair, etc., that will usually start off with the falsely familiar endearment "girl," as in "Girl, you sho have put on some weight. Hmm, hmm, hmm!" You will show Cousin Shanice grace and not take personally anything she says about you. Remember that most snarky criticism comes from people who have far more severe personal issues than you can even imagine, e.g., inability to keep down food or grow their own crop of hair. Your happiness just kills them, so smile in their faces and party like it's 1999.

4) I will not respond negatively to stupid stuff. Then again, there's always that one person who decides that Thanksgiving is the time to share news of stuff they should not be proud of but don't have the good sense to be ashamed of. For example, people who should not be repopulating the earth tend to break news of an impending birth around this time. You know these people -- men with more baby mamas than they can count on one hand, women whose children have been taken away from them by the state. Your natural instinct is to slap them upside the head and say, "Fool, you need another child like you need a hole in the head." The problem is that, deep down inside, they know this. You telling them this and responding negatively is only going to raise your blood pressure, not theirs, because they're too stupid to know they shouldn't be proud. In fact, I'm counseling you to do the opposite: Indulge them. Yep, I said it. Indulge them. Ask about the baby's due date, whether they've chosen a name, if they're having a baby shower. Join in their misguided excitement. But don't you volunteer to host that baby shower or I will personally come and slap you upside da hed.

5) I will not let anyone mistreat my children, especially in their own home. This comes with some caveats, however. During the holidays, people who have not seen your children for a while might feel free to make undue comments about their appearance, etc. Now, if these comments are directed to a girl entering puberty, you definitely need to play defense and play it fast, especially if they're coming from an older adult male. Give the offending party notice that your child is sensitive about whatever -- her budding breasts, his growth spurt, etc. -- and that you'd appreciate it if they'd leave the topic alone. If the offending party keeps coming with the remarks, you need to pull them to the side and tell them to shut the eff up and, if you're in your home, tell them they need to go home. No child should be verbally assaulted in his or her own home.

Now, there are some caveats. If you're a guest and a parent, you don't get to take a parenting vacation and let your children run wild in someone else's house, and I don't care whose house it is. You need to keep your children well-behaved and under control because they aren't anyone else's responsibility but your own. Bring books, games, whatever, but it's your job to keep them occupied. As my mom used to say, "You laid up and made them kids. Kids don't ask to be born." So, if someone disciplines your bad-ass child because you didn't take care of it first, well, shame on you.

6) I did not create the dysfunction, and I cannot fix it; therefore, I will sit back and watch it like really bad dinner theater. Chances are, the eff'd up things about your family are not of your own creation. Chances are, you can't fix the dysfunction. Since you didn't cause it and you can't fix it, you might as well pretend that you're at some really bad dinner theater, fill your plate, and sit back and watch as if you don't know these people. Pretend you're invisible and detach yourself from the situation. Trust me, you'll have some good stories to share with your co-workers the following week.

With that, you're prepared for the holidays.

P.S. Happy Birthday, BMNB!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Girlcotting" the 2010 Winter Olympics

Some boys take an athletic girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world . . .
Girls wanna be the ones to jump at the sun
Oh girls, they wanna ski jump
Oh girls just wanna ski jump . . .

- a parody of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," with apologies to Cyndi Lauper

The person with the record for the longest ski jump at the Vancouver Olympic facility will not be competing in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Women aren't allowed to compete in the ski jump, one event that has been in the Winter Olympics since its inception. And according to the Christian Science Monitor, the person who holds the ski jump record for that facility, Lindsey Van, an American, will not be competing. Because she's a woman.

So, let me get this straight: Women can lead nations, die in combat, compete in Olympic boxing -- but they can't ski jump? The IOC says there aren't enough nations and competitors to justify including women ski jumpers.

But they still include curling not only as an event, but an event for both sexes? Who watches curling, anyway?

I call B.S. And I call for a "girlcott" of the 2010 Winter Olympics by every woman who has ever told her sister, mother, daughter, or granddaughter that they can achieve whatever they want if they put their hearts into it.

So, as much as I love ice skating and men's speed skating (I'm sorry, but for heterosexual females, men's speed skating is acceptable porn -- love those tight catsuits! Thanks for the, uh, memories, Eric Heiden!), I'll be turning the channel and sitting out the 2010 Winter Olympics along with Lindsey Van's ski jumping. Until women can compete in any event they choose alongside men, I'll be girlcotting any international sports event that excludes us.

'Cause girls just wanna to ski jump.

To sign a petition to include women's ski jumping in the Olympics, visit here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Greatest Concert That Never Was

Something very, very good came out of something very, very bad.

The very, very bad thing? That would be the movie "Couples Retreat." BMNB and I don't always agree on which movies to see. I wanted to see "This Is It," but he wanted comedy on the same plane as "The Hangover." Despite the bad movie reviews, he wanted to see "Couples Retreat." I agreed.

It is the only time I have ever not only walked out on a movie, but demanded my money back. It is the first time BMNB and I did this as a couple.

The movie is produced, co-written and starring Vince Vaughn. It starts with a scene in which one of Vaughn's buddies, an overweight brother who has just gone through a painful divorce and has taken up with a twenty-something year-old, is in a motorcycle dealership trying to convince Vaughn's character over the phone to co-sign a loan for him to buy a motorcycle to please his girlfriend since his divorce has wrecked his credit. To persuade Vaughn's character to co-sign, the brother proclaims the purchase of the motorcycle to be "a black thing" that Vaughn's character "wouldn't understand." Vaughn's character chides him: "Don't go playing the race card with me."

Ugh.

By the time the four couples involved get to the couples retreat on a tropical island, the brother and his girlfriend (how they could afford a couples retreat when the brother couldn't afford a motorcycle because of bad credit is beyond me) are the racial foils in a poorly written script. The girlfriend, a stereotypical ignorant hood rat, doesn't know that "wahoo" is a fish and, when informed, refuses to order it and starts spouting off about the "Mexicans" in the back cooking, only to be corrected about her racism by one of the white wives who is "1/12 Latina."

Ugh.

"Why we gotta be the ignorant ones?" BMNB asked. I suggested, for the second time, that we not only leave, but that we ask for our money back and go see "This Is It." He agreed. And we got our money back.

Maybe Vince Vaughn doesn't know how to write comedies in which black people are funny without being the stereotypical butt of the jokes. It can be done, Vince Vaughn. Maybe you need to see some funny black films like Boomerang, Brown Sugar, and the like.

Anyway, we left. And I am so grateful, because "This Is It" was a treat. It is, without a doubt, the greatest concert that never was.

"This Is It" is not just footage of rehearsals for Michael Jackson's last tour -- it includes behind-the-scenes footage of how the concert tour was going to be put together -- all the special effects, the costume design, the stage design, the choreography, everything. With every glimpse into these facets involving people who are the best of their respective crafts from around the world, I kept saying, "WOW. That is COOL!" You see how Michael Jackson wanted to give his best performance ever and leave his fans mesmerized. I was mesmerized by the film itself.

I was amazed by Jackson, not because the rehearsals represented his best performances ever -- they didn't, and they weren't intended to. What amazed me was that Jackson, presumably because he was trying to preserve his voice, sang at what can be best called "half-throttle" -- and even then he was better than most singers, rarely missing a note. And the moves. At age 50, Michael still had the moves. They were in his freakin' DNA. He didn't have to rehearse all the choreography from his videos. It was in his DNA, and he could tap into it at any moment. And he did. Spontaneously, at times. Despite being surrounded by dancers half his age, even as good as those dancers were -- and they were -- you could still tell that Michael was the master and they were still the students. Brilliant students, but students nonetheless.

The singers and the musicians brought it, too. And in one scene, a woman guitarist doing a solo is encouraged by Michael to shine. "I want to hear your highest note. I want you to shine. And we'll all be right here with you." How many stars of his caliber are that generous to want those around them to shine as much as he did?

To a person, each and every artist involved in this production was a die-hard fan determined to give his or her all to this effort. The costume designers talked about working with other designers and even the folks at Swarovski to create one-of-a-kind electrical costumes that had never been created before for a concert tour. The special effects folks re-filmed parts of Michael's videos (I won't tell which) in 3-D, catapulted dancers from below the stage floor, and even had Michael on a cherry-picker high above the audience. The musicians appreciated that Michael knew what he wanted, knew his music, just knew, with one begging Michael to do his own sound checks because, in his words, "Only you can see it, Michael." One aspiring dancer took the next available flight from Australia upon hearing of auditions just two days before. Another who was chosen from the audition chorus line to be part of the tour dropped to her knees and cried when she was chosen. The dancers chosen for the tour, many of them fans of Michael since their childhoods, were determined to be, as director Kenny Ortega dictated, "extensions of Michael Jackson himself."

One thing you'll notice is that Michael was a benevolent perfectionist. He knew exactly what he wanted things to sound and look like and would give direction with clarity and an overabundance of love, often saying, "with love," after giving instructions. The closest he ever comes to being a divo is when a musician assures him that, with respect to a particular song, that "they'll get there," and Michael responds quietly but firmly, "Make sure that we get there." No tantrums, no yelling. More often than not, what you'll hear when someone messes up is Michael saying reassuringly and calmly, "That is why we rehearse," with the patience of a father teaching a child. More than the exceptional talent of Michael and those around him, what shines in this film is Michael's kindness and childlike joy in what he was doing. At times, when he's busting a move, a wry, child-like smile emerges, like he can't help but take joy in what he's doing and can't contain himself. At one point he even starts singing at full throttle, only to reign himself in. His musical director tells him, "That's okay. You were feeling it, Michael." Because he was. And you will, too. Sometimes his own dancers and staff would break out into applause just watching Michael. They couldn't help it. You, too, might find yourself waving your arms from side to side when Michael sings "I'll Be There," for what probably was the last time.

But for the fact that I was sitting in one of the middle rows, I would have gotten out of my seat and danced, too. I applauded loudly as if I were at a concert. And I appreciated Michael's environmental message, which was unexpected, and, most of all, his message of love for all.

If you're a Michael Jackson fan, you need to see this movie to appreciate all that would have been. You should also see it as a tribute to those excellent musicians, singers, dancers, choreographers, special effects artists, aerialists, costume designers, stage designers, makeup artists, and the like who, as Michael asked of them, "gave their all" to put on a show that would have been second to none, that would have pushed the boundaries of what a concert could be, just like Michael pushed the boundaries of dance, music, videos. And kindness.

Because that was how Michael Jackson rolled.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not of God

The shooting at Fort Hood is sad, puzzling, and disconcerting. What's also sad is that leaders of Muslim communities around the United States had to immediately speak out and distance themselves from the acts of the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, and clarify that his alleged acts did not represent the Muslim community or the Muslim faith.

Was there ever any doubt?

Why is it that when someone of a "marginalized" group goes batshit crazy and does something tragic and fatal, Americans tend to go all Pearl Harbor on the group the crazy person is part of -- whether it's race (Japanese) or religion (in this case, Islam). Don't we know better by now? Don't we know that - or at least I believe that -- there is no faith that would call for or condone the mass slaughter of innocent people? It pains me to know that Muslim places of worship received threatening phone calls within hours of the Fort Hood massacre. Don't we know better by now?

What Major Hasan did, or is alleged to have done, was not of God. Plain and simple. Acts like that are not of God, no matter how many times man or Satan wants to pin evil on God with shouts of "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) or its equivalent. Not of God. Plain and simple.

I would have thought that a so-called "Christian nation" would know that by now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Witnesses and Accomplices

I haven't written about the gang rape of the young girl at a high school in Richmond, California that was not only witnessed by many, but was recorded on cell phones but not reported. Words fail me. In my mind, these "witnesses" are also "accomplices." Words fail me. What kind of animals could watch someone be brutalized and not hit even three buttons on a cell phone -- "911" --that might have stopped it?

My friend and protege, The Outraged Citizen, has provided some extremely thoughtful and well-written commentary on this tragedy. You should read it.

Say a prayer for the girl, her family, and for the souls of those who watched, recorded, and failed to act. Their souls are in need of healing.

Reminds me of that Stevie Wonder song, "Love's In Need of Love Today" . . . .