A good thing coming in 2018

Writing is a funny endeavor. So much of it is done alone, just you and the blank page. And yet in spite of that, or maybe because of it, there’s a strong sense of kinship between writers, a vast and supportive community.

Over the years, I’ve been very fortunate to find great friends within that community, people who inspire and encourage me. One of the best of them is celebrating a birthday today, and I’d like to use that occasion as an excuse to shout her good news from my rooftop:

Ingrid is such a wonderful person and a gifted writer. I couldn’t be happier or more proud of her success! And her book, ALL OUT OF PRETTY, is beautiful and wrenching and powerful. I can’t wait for it to be on shelves.

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Recently viewed: Stranger Things, Moonlight, and Lion

“Recently” is a relative term. I keep starting blog drafts, getting interrupted (#momlife), and then forgetting to finish. So my thoughts on these aren’t as fresh anymore, but I liked all of them and thought they were worth discussing.

Stranger Things is a Netflix darling, and with good reason. Every aspect of the series is top-notch. Writing, cinematography, acting, etc. I think it’s particularly impressive given how many of the main roles are played by kids.

That said, I was most affected by Winona Ryder’s portrayal of a fragile mother desperate to save her son. Probably in part because we watched this just a couple months after IB was born. I also thought her character’s trick with the Christmas lights was clever, and cool-looking.

Andy and I watched this one together, which I always enjoy doing, because (1) bonding time, and (2) discussion. With Stranger Things, I think what we debated most was whether Steve was a good guy, and whether the various stuffed tigers were the same, and if so, coincidentally or on purpose.

Subtleties and mystery. Stranger Things was full of both.

In some ways, this movie reminded me of Boyhood, another former Oscar winner. Moonlight too follows one young man through the formative years of his life. But the two films are like inverses, with Boyhood showcasing a “typical” white middle-class coming-of-age, and Moonlight focusing on the experience of a queer black kid in the projects.

Moonlight’s breakout star has been Mahershala Ali, who I first knew and liked from House of Cards. Ali does a fantastic job with his role here, but considering all the hoopla, I was surprised he wasn’t actually in the movie more.

To me, Moonlight felt like a literary novel brought to life. What I mean by that is, the story has structure, and a narrative progression, but it unfolds quietly, in poetic vignettes. It’s not a book that you stay up late at night to read, tearing through pages to find out what happens next. It’s one that you take your time with, savoring each word, each scene, because they’re rich with flavor and significance.

Also, it doesn’t answer all your questions, because it’s the asking that matters most.

Some of the other movie posters for Lion drove me mad, because they made it look like a romantic drama, which it most certainly is not. Lion is the true story of an impoverished boy in India who becomes separated from his family, survives the streets of Kolkata through a mix of luck and scrappiness, gets adopted and moves to Australia, and eventually searches for his birth family by trying to match his foggy childhood memories to images on Google Earth.

The main themes are identity and belonging. Saroo can’t let go of the family he was born into, but his adoptive parents and country have become a part of him too. I thought actors Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman mined that emotional territory beautifully.

And although the scenes of Saroo’s online search dragged a little bit for me, it was refreshing to see technology depicted as it really is: a tool. Not inherently good, nor inherently bad. Just powerful.

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Carole King and Beautiful

A few weeks ago, I saw Beautiful, the musical about the life and career of singer-songwriter Carole King. I really enjoyed it on multiple levels.

Before the show, I basically only knew Carole King from the Gilmore Girls theme song, which I sing to my daughter all the time. Where you lead, I will follow…

Turns out, King was sort of Taylor Swift before there even was a Taylor Swift. Her career began in her teens, and she wrote tons of oldies hits that I love. “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “One Fine Day,” and many more.

At first she was primarily a composer, writing the music on her piano, while her husband penned the lyrics. Other artists and groups recorded their songs. Later in life, King and her husband divorced, and she began to write in a deeply personal style and record those songs herself.

I think what struck me most was that, despite working in pop/rock and roll, King was always a self-described “square,” and very comfortable with that. She had extraordinary talent and a healthy level of ambition, but she was also very down to earth. She didn’t want to be stylish or sexy or cool, she just wanted to be herself. A good wife and mother. A successful songwriter.

King’s story reminds me that you can do both.

(Which isn’t necessarily the same as “having it all.” I think the musical does a good job of showing that it isn’t easy. There are sacrifices and costs.)

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Mothers and daughters

Dear IB,

Today especially — my first Mother’s Day — I have been thinking about my Ama. All the little memories that I have of her. All the things that my mother has told me. The small details that paint a larger picture. The stories that become legend.

You will hear about my tiny hands reaching for her as she boarded a plane back to Taiwan. The way we traded “wo ai ni”s over crackly long-distance phone calls. The disappointment on her face when I didn’t do as she asked. The crinkle of her eyes, and the softness of her cheeks.

I don’t really pray, but when I was pregnant with you, I spoke to my Ama a lot. She was a midwife for many years, and in my broken Mandarin, I asked her to help me through this, to keep you safe. I believe that she heard me. I believe that her spirit walked with ours.

Today I have also been thinking about your Ama. Everything she has done and continues to do for me, and now for you too. All the memories you will have of her. All the stories I will tell.

You will hear about her hand squeezing mine like Morse code, and me repeating the pattern back. The time she she tried to make Velveeta mac and cheese, but substituted mayonnaise for sour cream. Her exceedingly high expectations, and her unwavering support for my writing. Her love of Dairy Queen, Ralph Lauren clothing, and baby oil. Her laugh. Her art.

Part of the reason I feel that my Ama was watching over us is that your Ama happened to be visiting when I went into labor with you. Your father was away on a business trip, so without her there, I would have been alone for most of it. Instead, I had her by my side the whole time. She held my hand and fed me ice chips. She was there when you were born, and she wasn’t even mad that you stole her birthday. She said that you were beautiful.

And of course, I have been thinking about what you might one day tell your children about me. It’s hard for me to imagine you fully grown, me old and gray. But I look forward to it. I look forward to everything with you, the good and the bad. I hope you’ll have many fond memories and interesting stories of me. I’ve already got so many of you.

Love,
Your mother

And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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Six months, a lifetime

IB 5 months 001

My little IB is 6 months old today. I don’t know where the time went.

Or maybe I do. It’s weird how time works now, at least in regards to my daughter. She is always and everything.

She is always going to be the little wiggleworm I carried inside me for nine months. She is always going to be the sillywill that chomps on our knuckles and smiles at everybody. She is always going to be the girl who asks me to French braid her hair and snuggles with us while watching football. She is always going to be the middle schooler who does homework at the kitchen counter while her dad cooks dinner. She is always going to be the teenager who I drive to soccer games and movies with her friends. She is always going to be the college student who texts instead of calls, and brings her boyfriend home for the holidays.

She is then and now and someday. Every moment all at once. Everything that has already happened, and everything that is still possible.

I didn’t know it would be like this.

It’s funny how normal, and how miraculous, this is.

 

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