Sunday, May 28, 2017

Doc's to Watch

I've been in the mood for documentaries lately, and there are definitely some good ones to choose from.

I watched Blackfish, which is the story of killer whales that kept in captivity in places such as Sea World.

The film begins with the 911 call that was placed when Dawn Brancheau was killed by Tilikum, a whale that had already been involved in the deaths of two other people. The film shines a harsh light on for-profit attractions like Sea World, and how they exploit the animals that they claim to care for: from separating the babies from their mothers, to training them to perform unnatural stunts in artificial environments, sometimes using cruel methods such as food deprivation. I'm already uncomfortable with for-profit entertainment that relies on captive animals such as circuses and some other establishments, so this just reaffirmed my decision to stay away from places such as those. I love to visit zoos, but now I find myself researching any place I might be tempted to visit because I want to ensure that it is a non-profit organization that has a stellar reputation.

I also recently watched Mommy Dead and Dearest.

This chronicles the story of Gypsy Rose Blancharde, and the abuse she suffered under her mother Dee Dee. Dee Dee used the guise of a loving, devoted mother to fool almost everyone into believing that her daughter was very sick, and the ailments ranged from hearing and vision problems to leukemia. She shaved her daughter's head and controlled nearly every interaction her daughter ever had, social or medical. In 2015, Dee Dee was found murdered in their home. The police quickly discovered that Gypsy was not who she appeared to be; instead of a frail wheelchair-bound waif, she was on the run with her boyfriend, whom she had met online and asked him to kill her mother. This is certainly the most well-known case of Munchausen by proxy in recent memory, and it has everyone buzzing, speculating about what 'should' have happened.

And I also have two other documentaries started, but I haven't had a chance to finish them yet, so I'll postpone writing about them:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Love Warrior

I just finished reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.

 Melton's memoir was inspired by the break-up of her marriage following her husband's infidelity, and she writes that it is the story of a marriage, but I think it focuses more on her struggle to define herself on her own terms; her own essence rather than a role she plays in relation to other people.

She writes that when she married her husband, as soon as the minister declared them Mr. and Mrs., she thought "It's done. I am a new person. I hope I will be better as her. I hope I become."

Rather than viewing her wedding as a day or even a life event, she saw it as a portal to a new identity. Now she was a married woman, and as a wife she would be __________. Whatever word filled in the blank, it had to be better than what he had been previously (bulimic and alcoholic).

The conflict of course is that we are not transformed by titles. Going from Miss to Mrs (or to Ms.) doesn't really change a person, it just changes the salutation used in correspondence or in formal introductions. It may seem obvious, but I think pretty much any woman can relate to this conflict. Who we are on the inside versus the role we think we should be performing.

I know at certain pivotal points in my life, I have struggled with the question of "Who am I?", when maybe I was actually asking, and answering "Who should I Be?":

Now that I'm in grad school I should ___________________

When I get married, I need to ______________________

I'm pregnant, so shouldn't I be feeling ____________________?

Coming to understand who we are at our inner-most cores instead of who we should be because of certain roles or statuses can be an intense and painful process. Melton thought that becoming a wife and mother deleted her previous identities as a bulimic and an alcoholic, and realized that although those struggles might not be all that she is, they are still a part of who she is. They didn't just get shuffled away, neatly and quietly like winter clothes getting stored in the attic. As painful as the struggles were in their own times, it is also painful when we realize we cannot escape our own past.

"Pain splits us in two. When someone who is suffering says "I'm fine" it's not because she is fine, it's because her inner self told her outer self to say the words "I'm fine."

I really liked the first half of the book, because it was all about her past struggles and how they related to the conflicts in her marriage and the conflicts she had with her own mind and body.

I admit that I glossed over much of the second half of the book because she started talking about God and yoga a lot: two things in which I have little interest.

But I like her conclusion that "growing up is an unbecoming", and it's when we're courageous enough to peel away all the layers we've built up nd the titles we've accumulated that we can know who we are.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Clouds Illusions

Last night I took a painting class that was offered through Dover Adult Learning. I love to paint, but I've never been good at painting realistic scenes, so I always do abstract. But one of my New Year's resolutions this year was to try some different types of art, and this was a good opportunity to develop a new skill.

The course was called Paint Clouds Step-by-Step, and the description read:

"Whether stormy, or soft and fluffy, clouds are always an interesting subject to paint. Join us for a relaxing evening out as you learn step-by-step how to show the mood of clouds."

I figured that since clouds have no definite shape, this would be a good way to transition from abstract painting to realism.

The reason I love using acrylic paints is because they dry so quickly that it's easy to layer them without the colors running together. While I was in class, I kept thinking about the scene in Girl with a Pearl Earring in which the artists Johannes Vermeer asks Griet what color the clouds are. At first she answers "white" but then she considers them again, and answers "yellow, blue, and gray."

This scene in the film (and book) shows how painters accomplish the depth of color- by layering colors on top of each other. Last night was like a crash course in mixing colors and then layering them in order to achieve depth.

(sorry the photo is so blurry)

Last night I thought my clouds looked awful, like random splotches of paint, but looking at them again I think they look okay. I wish that my 'sunrise' looked a little better, but I've never been able to make nice horizons.

I also forgot to paint a door on the house, so I'll have to go back and add one.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Keepers docu-series

After I binged on the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I started flipping around on Netflix for something a little more thought provoking. My interest in true crime was piqued by a new Netflix docu-series titled The Keepers.

Netflix had huge success in 2015 when Making a Murderer was released, and the response to it from many people was a visible shake in our faith in the justice system. When we’re kids, we’re taught that if we do something bad, we’ll probably get caught, and there will be consequences to face. This series stirred up a lot of conversation in the audience about our justice system, and if it victimizes people who are easy targets, people who have prior offenses, or people in a certain economic/social classes, or people who have below average intelligence.

Most of the people I talked to about the series had hesitations about the central character Steven Avery; maybe he didn’t do it, but maybe he did. But almost everyone who watched the series seemed to feel that his nephew Brendan Dassey was tried and convicted for playing a role in a murder that he was innocent of. Dassey's confession was ruled as involuntary in 2016, and his conviction was overturned, but he remains incarcerated.

The Keepers isn't really the same type of true crime story; this one focuses more on the various kinds of cover-ups that occur when powerful institutes such as the Catholic church are involved. The Catholic church has been in the spotlight the last couple of decades for the widespread incidents and allegations of sexual abuse involving priests and young parishioners, and the first half of the episodes are mostly interviews with the victims of Father Joseph Maskell, a counselor at the Baltimore all-girls school Archbishop Kenough High School. The victims allege that Sister Cesnik, who was beloved by her students, knew about the abuse, and was murdered in order to prevent her from coming forward with the information.

The number one suspect seems to be Father Joseph Maskell, but as the series progresses, a larger cast of suspects emerges, suggesting that even though a handful of people knew who was responsible, nobody wanted to come forward for fear of being targeted themselves, or from being excommunicated or alienated from a religious community.

The murder occurred in 1969, so almost 50 years have passed, and yet a dedicated group of people, some former students, are seeking justice.

The interviews with the Maskell's victims are disturbing to listen to, so if you're the type of person who can't stand to watch The Magdalene Sisters, then this isn't a recommendation for you.

Right now, there is no physical evidence that links the priest to the unsolved murder. However, there does seem to be a significant number of allegations against Father Maskell, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore does have records of large sums of money paid to his accusers, and when the case gained interest again in the 1990's, he fled to Ireland. He stayed in Ireland until he died there in 2001.

I recommend this series for anyone who enjoyed Making a Murderer, or is a fan of true crime stories, or anyone who has an interest in the Catholic church: the iconography of it, as well as the scandals that have come to light in the past couple of decades.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of doctor good

After neglecting the dollhouses for a couple of months, I started getting back to them. Last week I was at Salvation Army, cruising for treasures, and I picked up a piece from a Christmas village set. It's not the usual, New England-type village with ice skaters and snowmen, it's from one of those sets that's meant to look like Bethlehem. I'm assuming it's supposed to be a rug seller's stall at market:

I had no interest in collecting the rest of the set, but I thought it'd be perfect to turn into a fairy house or gypsy hang out. And then a couple days afterwards, I was at Savers and  I found some little porcelain dolls that are about 1:12 scale so I scooped them up, too.

I finagled a little mattress out of some foam and leftover materials, and sat the little doll down, and gave her a pet kitten. I added a gold glitter banner with some extra flowers, and some lace to the sides of her tent to make it  a little more feminine. After all, it's supposed to be a bohemian love nest, so it needs lots of plush bedding and overstuffed pillows. She also has a little bedside table with some wine on it; I wish I had my own life-size version of this!

It's still a work in progress (that's pretty much my motto in life) but sometimes it's fun to have such a small little world to breathe life into with lots of accessories, the perfect character, and of course my own imagination.

And the whole time I'm working on this fun little scene, I'm singing this song:

Not in my head, either.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Mothers and More 13 Reasons Why

This past weekend was Mother's Day, and it got me thinking about a lot of stuff.

First of all, I am very lucky. My husband made the day wonderful for me, and I got to spend time with him and our beautiful, happy, healthy son. I know that Mother's Day isn't as simple as breakfast in bed/flowers/handmade cards for everyone, though. Some people never knew their mother, some people have strained or estranged relationships, and some have been abused by mothers. And the day can also be hard for mothers, such as mothers who have outlived their children, or women who desperately wanted to be mothers but were never able to. Whoever you are, reader, I hope the day meant something to you.

I just finished Jodi Picoult's book Change of Heart. Ever since I first started reading her books, I have maintained that she is gifted at describing the mystery of motherhood. I don't know how she manages to capture the essence of the bond over and over again in ways that are so relatable, and with words that are sincere and not cliche.

"We pretend that we know our children, because it's easier than admitting the truth- from the minute that cord is cut, they are strangers. It's far easier to tell yourself your daughter is still a little girl than to see her in a bikini and realize she has the curves of a young woman; it's safer to say you are a good parent who has had all the right conversations about drugs and sex than to acknowledge there are a thousand things she would never tell you."

The plot of the book isn't important right now because I want to focus on that one paragraph, and how it relate to a very hot topic right now: Thirteen Reasons Why. The 2007 YA novel by Jay Asher was recently adapted into a Netflix series, and it has schools and parents in an uproar.

I have read numerous Facebooks posts and blogs and articles that decry this tv show because of the suicide storyline. Hannah Baker slits her wrists, and the scene is intended to be raw and disturbing. But before she did that, she recorded her experiences on audio cassette tapes, and bundled them all together in a box. Each side of a tape narrates an incident or relationship with a specific friend or schoolmate, and the people on the tapes are all given the opportunity to listen to them, and learn what role, deliberately or unwittingly they played in Hannah's high school career.

Critics of the show say that it's romanticizing suicide, and that Hannah blames others for her decision to end her life. I read the book, and watched the show, and that's not the way I see it at all. She's not blaming other people, she's just exposing the conflicts that teens face in the hidden worlds they navigate. I was a teen; there was a lot that I never told my parents. And now that I work around teens, and I watch how they interact with each other, I know they are not inviting adults into every aspect of their lives. Even the best kids, who are smart and nice and responsible and come from good families and get along well with their parents are not telling their parents everything. Sometimes they're embarrassed, sometimes they're ashamed, sometimes they just are starting to desire privacy, even about silly things like listening to music alone, and sometimes it's because they think they should be able to "handle it" (whatever it is) by themselves.

Whatever their reasons are, they are real, and they are often valid. All teens have secrets. Some teens also struggle with issues such as depression or PTSD or other circumstances which might make them vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. But I still fail to see how schools and parents banning the show, or the book is going to help. If a school library removes the book from the shelf,  it just means the teens are going to find it someplace else. And rather than have someone to talk to about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor or even a librarian, (if they choose to talk about it) they're going to end up going it alone.

It's easier for us to say that we should not allow teens to watch this show because it might give them ideas, rather than admit to ourselves that the ideas might already be there. We like to pretend that as adults we remember accurately what adolescence was like, when of course we don't. We also like to pretend that teens are overdramatic and lack a firm grasp on reality, believing everything they see on a TV or computer screen, when in fact adults are the ones creating the content they are watching, and marketing our products to them, flooding them with technology and tornadoes of mixed messages and misinformation.

It's easier to remove a book from a shelf, or post something on Facebook about why we shouldn't let kids watch the TV show rather than reflect on why the story is attracting so many teens in the first place.

If none of them watched the show, nobody would be worried.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Working Stiff

My latest non-fiction read: 

I've always enjoyed topics that most people find macabre or disturbing or just plain gross. 

*If you do not enjoy similar topics, you might not want to continue reading.*

I was talking with one of my friends recently, and we both shared how we came to accept death when we were children. It's inevitable, for every living thing, and maybe that's why it has interested me for so long. It's the great equalizer.

Judy Melinek thought she wanted to be a surgeon, but realized that a life of endless 36 hour shifts would eventually be the death of her, so she began investigating the deaths of others. She's not a death-obsessed ghoul; she simply determines a cause of death and assists the police in deciding the manner of death so that the family and loved ones can begin the healing process.

I was a long-time fan of the show Bones, which centers on a forensic anthropologist who solves crimes with the help of her FBI agent partner/love interest, and I think the process by which these doctors and scientists work in order to solve crimes is fascinating. Although Melinek is quick to point out how unrealistic those shows are, the processes and methods she uses in her work are equally intriguing.

I will admit that reading chapter after chapter about individual deaths and John/Jane Does got a little monotonous, but just as I felt my eyes starting to glaze over, I came to Chapter 10.

Chapter 10 was actually a little difficult for me to read because it recounts her experiences documenting and identifying (or, attempting to identify) people who were killed on 9/11. In our school, the students do projects every fall on 9/11, but these kids weren't even alive in 2001; to them it's just another piece of history. But for so many people, that day is still a blur of nightmarish images. I had never even been to New York City before, but I distinctly remember the eerie feeling I got as crowds of college students gathered around the small TV in the cafeteria. I was in a World History classes, taught by one of my favorite professors, when someone popped his head in and said we'd better turn on the television. So there in a lecture hall that seats 500 people, on the gigantic projector screen, we watched the Twin Towers fall and students' faces froze in horror as we realized what was happening a couple hours away downstate.

I knew then, and I know now, that the events that occurred that day were so large in scale that comprehending them would take years. I know that millions of people live in NYC. I heard the death tolls announced, along with the photos of the missing posters that plastered the city for months. I knew people at college that lived in the city, and I heard them speak about what they saw or heard. I guess I'd always imagined the victim's bodies being pulled from the rubble in tact; my imagination seems to want to award them some dignity since they were killed in such a merciless, inhumane way. But Melinek writes that very few bodies were brought for identification, speaking instead of the trucks that drove to the makeshift labs. She writes :"A tractor trailer can hold alot of body parts."

Melinek concludes her memoir by reaffirming her passion for her work, and when people ask her how she can do such a job, she replies "To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living."