7/25/2015

Meg Wolitzer and Me!

Who knew that I would find commonality with a well-known, accomplished novelist, Meg Wolitzer, You may wonder how this happened. It was not from her novels or an interview, but from listening to The Moth, True Stories Told Live on NPR. Having not heard the introduction, I missed who was telling the story, but the story caught my attention immediately. I stopped what I was doing, sat down and made listening to the radio my only undertaking. Her story was about her childhood, summer experiences at sleepover camp. Most sleepover camps, she explained, consisted of the all-important Color War and the sappy songs they sang, about how new friends were great and old friends were better and we all get along in all kinds of weather. I laughed, knowingly.

Then, one summer she went to a new camp and she loved it. Her fellow campers talked about such things as philosophy and important events and they shared their hearts and souls. Meg found herself more at home at this camp and she was most excited when she was on the camp's theater stage. As it happened, the acting instructor was a well-known actor who knew lots of well-known people and took her job very seriously. I think it was about this time in the story that I realized it was the author, Meg Wolitzer speaking. Meg loved the acting, but felt, no matter what she did, she could not please this acting teacher. Martha, one of her very good friends at camp, however, could and did please the acting teacher, a lot. Martha was one of those girls who was lovely to look at, wearing long flowing hair and even longer flowing hippie skirts. She would be the kind of girl who inspired sweet woodland critters gathering around her feet and a chirping bluebird perched upon her finger (picture scene: Lily Tomlin dressed as Snow White in the wonderful film, Nine to Five). Martha was pretty much what most of the girls wanted to be, and who most of the boys wanted to date. Meg, on the other hand, was well liked, but not for her looks, rather for being funny, sometimes outlandish and other times, really out there. The acting teacher never did warm to Meg, nor give her the encouragement and accolades she shed upon Martha. The good news is that all these years later, Martha and Meg are still the best of friends. The even better news is that as an adult, Meg is certain that what she most appreciates about herself now, are, among other things, the very same characteristics that the acting teacher dismissed back then.

Such was the story, more or less, that Meg Wolitzer told on the Moth Radio stage. Her voice sounded almost familiar. Her style was warm, self-effacing and funny. She reminded me a little of me. I also went to summer sleepover camps as a child.  Furthermore, I experienced both the more typical kind of camp, as well as the ones with a particular focus and a bit more serious, which was more than OK with me. Additionally, I had an experience where a professional acting teacher put me down as I tried to express my acting passions one summer at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC, though I was a teenager, not a child, at the time.

Meg's story telling often made the listeners laugh and I’m pretty sure they were laughing  with her. She just sounded so normal, like a regular person, not like a famous novelist, whatever that means. I found myself thinking, that could be me talking about sleepover camp and what worked for me and what didn't; what made me feel good and what made me feel jealous and unsupported. I too could be telling a story, making people laugh, after-all, I do that sometimes and when they laugh, I feel good. Maybe now and then, they are laughing a bit at me, but also, (hopefully) they are laughing, mostly, with me. I related to and found commonality with Meg Wolitzer, the Moth storyteller and famous author. What caught me up was that she is this well-known and respected writer. I, on the other hand, am just a regular person and a wannabe writer. But then I thought, Meg Wolitzer is also just a person, a person who lives her life and does her job and maybe, just maybe, Meg Wolitzer is a little like me.

7/07/2015

Lee Daniel's THE BUTLER

I just watched the movie, "The Butler". The way I see it, there are movies I like to recommend because they are good movies and I think my friends would enjoy them. Then there are movies that I recommend because, in my (humble) opinion, they are movies that everyone MUST SEE. These movies are not only good, but also, important. "Selma", "Lincoln" and "The Butler” are all mandatory viewing

“The Butler” tells the life story of Cecil Gaines. It opens in what I initially thought was a slave plantation because of the atrocious way the black cotton pickers were treated by the white owner, but upon googling it, I found the time was 1926 on a cotton plantation in Macon, Georgia and they were share croppers, which seemed to me to be just another name for slavery. Cecil Gaines, then a little boy, sees his father shot dead in the head because he was about to complain that his wife was raped just a few minutes before, by said plantation owner. As it happens the estate's caretaker and owner's grandmother, has in her own way, enough of a heart to take Cecil into the house and out of the life draining cotton fields and trains him how to be a house servant, which Cecil learns very well. He leaves the plantation when he is 16 (which meant leaving his mother behind, but he knew that she would want him to pursue a better life for himself, and so he does. Ultimately he gets recommended for a position in a hotel in Washington, D.C. and by the time Eisenhower is in the White House, Cecil Gaines finds his way there as a butler to the president. Meanwhile he met his wife and they have two sons.

The story proceeds as a study in contrast between himself as a butler and his older son who goes to Fisk College and becomes a part of the Civil Rights Movement, first as a follower of Martin Luther King and, after King’s death, as a member of the Black Panthers. The conflict that ensues between father and son is heartbreaking. Cecil is a witness to history through the presidential administrations of Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, who was the final president that Cecil Gaines serves, as he begins to feel different about this position he has had all these years. He is a witness to the history of his people, as well as a major part of the history. Ultimately, he and his wife, as well as his son who becomes a member of the US Congress, live to see a black president of the United States, Barack Obama. Never did the significance of the first African-American president seem so poignant as in the context of this movie.
 

“The Butler” was directed and produced by Lee Daniels, who is known for "Monsters Ball", "Precious" and recently the television series "Empire". It has a blockbuster cast, starting with Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, Oprah Winfrey as Gloria Gaines, Cecil's wife, David Oyelowo (plays MLK in Selma) as Louis Gaines, the elder son, Mariah Carey as Hattie Pearl, Cecil's mother, Terrence Howard as Howard, the Gaines' neighbor, Vanessa Redgrave as Annabeth Westfall, matron of the plantation, Cuba Gooding Jr. as head butler at the White House, Lenny Kravitz as a co-worker butler of Cecil's, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. The full cast can be seen on “The Butler’s” Wikipedia site.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Butler.

Thank goodness for Netflix, since there are virtually no video (DVD) stores left. It is not on Netflix, but on their DVD rentals. However you get your hands on the movie, “The Butler”, get it and watch it. I suspect it will be viewed very differently by anyone born in the last 30+ years, as opposed to baby boomers, like myself, who lived through much of the time period being shown. It is important that everyone see this movie in its proper context. “The Butler” is a good movie. It’s an important movie, as well.