Anne with an E (and Other Imaginary Friends)

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to a small, charming town in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I met a number of fascinating people, but one who stood out in particular. She was a girl with hair as bright orange as a carrot, a face spattered with freckles, a smile like the sunrise, and an uncanny knack for getting into trouble.

“Call me Anne,” she said. “With an E.”

Okay fine. I didn’t actually travel to Avonlea. Or even Canada. But I felt as though I had, thanks to L.M. Mongomery’s rich and elegant writing. I didn’t just read Anne of Green Gables. I read every single sequel in the series. Twice. And don’t get me started on how many times I watched the 1985 Anne of Green Gables TV miniseries, starring Megan Follows. I was enamored with Anne, and her dramatic flights of ecstasy over the simple pleasures of life.

I recently traveled again to Avonlea, thanks to the new Netflix series, Anne with an E. Last weekend, when my imaginary friends were busy, and I had way too much time on my hands, I binge-watched most of the first two seasons of the show. I’d been hesitant to give it a whirl, thanks to a surprising slew of negative reviews. But I don’t know what the reviewers’ problem is. Anne with an E was marvelous! Enchanting! Stupendous!

Amybeth McNulty is a wonderful young actress, and much more talented than Megan Follows, in my opinion. Her portrayal of Anne is very much how I imagined her character in the storybooks. The bubbly, talkative Anne with an affinity for large words, with an imagination wider and deeper than the sea. The Anne with a heart of gold who only wanted to love and be loved in return, but was met again and again with rejection as people misunderstood her eccentric ways. The Anne who flung herself into living and loving, always with the best of intentions, but not always with positive outcomes. The Anne who was my childhood kindred spirit, who instilled in me a deep, perhaps unattainable hope that even a girl who others see as different can just keep on being herself, loving herself and others, and that eventually, the rest of the world will accept her and love her back.

I love everything about this new Anne series, from the picturesque setting to the period costumes. I especially love the way the story digs into the lives of the supporting characters, sharing snippets of their histories, and helping us to understand them, and by extension, understand Anne more deeply. The acting is superb — much better than the 1985 miniseries, and anyone who has watched that must know what I’m talking about.

Now if you haven’t watched the show yet, I must warn you — it is quite the tearjerker. I found myself in the depths of despair and had to wash my salt-streaked cheeks a few times during my binge-watch session. But I also laughed quite a bit at Anne’s ridiculous antics, and was filled with warmth at the way she responded to life with poetry, with optimism, and with headlong joy.

I look forward to my next visit to Prince Edward Island, even if it is only in my imagination. I will twirl in my dress with puffed sleeves and skip around Green Gables, reunited with my bosom friend, Anne “Princess Cordelia” Shirley Cuthbert.

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Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

overduestamp1

Overdues! Auugghh!

I’m kicking myself. I mean honestly, I have no excuse. Our family lives within walking distance of the public library. Kind of a long walk, but still. The library even has these convenient drive-up book drops for lazy peeps who can’t be bothered to park and walk a few hundred feet to return their books.

No excuse. And yet…

There is just something about libraries. Returning my checked-out materials on time has been a lifelong struggle. No exaggerating. Somewhere on one of our family’s packed bookshelves, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of books that were due to the El Sobrante Public Library in 1985.

I can’t begin to imagine how high those fines must be by now. *Shudders*

Other than the overdues issue, the public library has been one of the richest parts of my life. When I was a kid, I used to spend long, leisurely summer days in the children’s room, nose glued to a book. Or making sock puppets in the craft room. Or watching family movies on the little projection screen. Or any other special events they had on the schedule. I adored the summer reading program and took great pride in filling up my bingo grid with all the books I’d read while other kids were busy watching TV or playing with friends.

library books

With the public library, there was nothing I couldn’t obsess over. When I was obsessed with learning foreign languages in 4th grade, I checked out every existing library book for learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese. (It’s very hard to learn Japanese from a book, by the way). When I was obsessed with learning how to cook, I discovered a world of colorful cookbooks. Same goes for crafts. Same goes for obsessions with sci-fi, supernatural stories, and books about kids getting kidnapped or hooked on drugs or sent off to summer camp. I even went through a phase of checking out record albums, so I could learn a zillion new folk songs to drive my family crazy.

Finiculi-finicula, Finiculi-finiculaaaaaa!

overdue fines Charlie Brown

But as easy as it was to check out materials, as simple as it was to flip through the card catalogue to find the right Dewey Decimal code, it was really, really hard to return my checked-out books on time. I blamed it on my lack of consistent transportation to the library in those days, which required a long bike ride, or a trip on the back of my stepdad’s motorcycle. In later years, I attributed my constant string of overdues to the books themselves, and their pesky tendency to hide among the hundreds of books in our family’s library, or in dark, hard-to-reach places, like deep under the bed, among spare socks and loose coins.

But I know the truth.

The reason why it is so challenging to turn in library books on time, and why it’s so easy to lose them, is because they do not belong to us.

Think about it. You spend a portion of your hard-earned money to purchase your own shiny new Thing. Then you are far more likely to take care of that Thing. To nurture it. To look after it. To keep it in a safe place, so that it won’t get lost or destroyed. Why? Because it’s yours. You value the things that you feel a sense of ownership for. Or at least, you should. But library books? Those are just worn-out things that belong to everyone and no one. And so, we become careless. We fold down the pages instead of using bookmarks. We read them in the bath, not fearing water damage. We use them as makeshift coasters, or frisbees. (Okay, maybe not frisbees).

Because they don’t belong to us, we don’t cherish them.

Isn’t it kind of the same with people? We tend not to cherish the people who are outside of the little circles we build. We tend not to value the opinions of others. We tend to forget about the feelings of other people. We absorb what we want from people, then we carelessly turn away, leaving them worse than they were when we found them.

Lucky for me, I managed to scrape together my overdue library books and turn them in with a less-than-$10 late fine. Only a small fraction of some of my prior overdue fines. I paid the fees, and get to start again with a clean slate, because that’s how it works with books. People are a lot more complicated. Our carelessness can do irreparable damage. No late fee can mend the human spirit. Only love can do that.

kindness

Like library books, we don’t have ownership of other human beings. We only get to check them out — sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for just a little while. But while they are in our care, we can treat them with all the care of our most valuable treasures. There is no one who is worthy of less than that.

maternity (a poem)

maternity

No one from outside

would ever know that you were my mother

our differences vast

A lush, hidden rainforest birthed from

blazing salt desert

Nervous hare escaping

traps of words, poisoned barbs

flavored with cola and ashes

sepia-tinted memories of hiding in a corner

fingers white with tension, clutching a book

swallowing tears

feeding myself with ideas

lest I starve

on your thin diet of gruel.

The Good Girl

The Stubborn Girl

The girl who knew everything yet nothing

and spoke a language you could never understand.

Even today, your version of love

Is blind obedience

Open your mouth and drink the bitter tonic

rub it into your wounds

or leave the party

if you won’t dance, little puppet.

My best teacher of hardness

invisible shield to hide my deformity

too-tender heart, easily crushed like mint

flees from your heavy brand of love

that smothers every spark.

 

la maternidad

Nadie desde afuera

sabría que tú fueras mi madre

nuestras diferencias vastas

Una selva rica y escondida nacida de

una desierta abrasadora de sal

liebre nerviosa escapandose de

las trampas de palabras, púas venenosas

de sabor cola y cenizas

recuerdos teñidos de sepia de esconderme en un rincón

los dedos blancos de tension, aferrando un libro

tragando las lágrimas

alimentandome con ideas

no sea que me muero de hambre

a causa de tu dieta de gachas aguadas.

La Buena Niña

La Niña Terca

The niña que sabía todo pero nada

y que habló una idioma que jamás podías entender.

Aún hoy, tu versión del amor

es la obedencia ciega

Abre la boca y bebe la tónica amarga

frótala en las heridas

o salga la fiesta

si no bailarás, titerecita.

Mi mejor maestra de la dureza

escudo invisible para esconder mi malformación

corazón demasiado delicado, facilmente machacado como la menta

huye de tu marca pesada del amor

que ahoga cada chispa.

 

Themey Awards (aka: Theme Song Karaoke)

Cameras are flashing. Crowds are cheering. The celebrities have finished parading down the red carpet. Are you ready? It’s time for the Themey Awards!

Yes, that’s a thing. Okay, not a legit thing, exactly. But it should be. With all the buzz over the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys (and oh yeah, Oscars), I just thought I’d use the momentum to throw in my plug for a new award shoe. One that celebrates some of the most entertaining, memorable music in pop culture.

Theme songs.

I have a huge thing for television show theme songs. Half the time, I never even watch the show. But you’d better believe that when the theme song begins, I am right there in front of the TV, singing along. Theme songs are like the Superbowl™ commercials of the TV world, and they deserve to be awarded. So here we go:

The Theme Song Karaoke Award – Given to the opening theme song that inspires the most people to grab their hairbrush microphones and sing along.

“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have THE FACTS OF LIFE! THE FACTS OF LIFE!”

Close contender: “Super-powered mind! But can it go canine as it rescues the day from sheer destruction? This is the theme song of Jimmy Neutron!”

jimmy-neutron-boy-genius

Okay, quiet down, everyone. No more singing. Time to move on to category 2.

The Bruised Arm Award – Given to the theme song that results in the most bruised arms, because our co-watchers can’t help but punch us during that one part of the song.

This category resulted in a two-way tie between the theme song from Friends (“So no one told you life was gonna be this way – PUNCHPUNCHPUNCHPUNCH!!!”) and the theme song to Beverly Hills, 90210 (Original cast).

The Top-of-Your-Lungs Award – For the theme song you just can’t sing – you have to belt out at the top of your lungs. And the winner is:

“Are ya ready kids? AYE AYE, CAPTAIN! I can’t heeeaaar you! AYE AYE, CAPTAIN!”

The Gotta-Play-Airdrums Award – Because there isn’t a single person alive who can hear this theme song without jamming along on airdrums, and possibly air guitar, too.

 

The Unexpected Blast-From-the-Past Award goes to a theme song that lots of you either don’t remember or have happily forgotten:

“Believe it or not, I’m walking on air. I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee!”

(Close contenders included theme songs for The Great Space Coaster, The Patty Duke Show, and Fame).

And finally, we have the OMG, PLEASE GET THAT STUPID EARWORM FROM HELL OUT OF MY HEAD award, bestowed upon the worst of the worst addictive theme songs. First, the runners-up:

  1. “Grab your backpack, let’s go! Jump in! Vamonos! You can lead the wa-ay! Hey hey!”
  2. .”We’re Kids Incorporated! K! I! D! S! Yeah! Kids Incorporated…”
  3. .”I’m just a kid who’s four! Each day I grow some more! I love exploring, I’m Caillou…”

And the winner, by unanimous vote (of one) is:

 

You’re welcome. No, sorry. I really can’t help to remove that earworm. Maybe it only goes away if you find and rescue that poor animal in twouble somewhere.

Anyway, what was your favorite part of the First (and probably last) Annual Themey Awards? I liked that part, too. ¡Adios!

 

 

 

 

Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

Rich Kids Had Disney Channel (aka: I Wanted My MTV)

1980s Television*Old lady voice* Back in the olden days, when boys wore mullets and girls pumped their bangs six inches high, my friends and I were hooked on two amazing new-fangled inventions. No, not the Wheel (very funny, kids). No, not velcro sneakers. More amazing. No, not personal computers…okay, a lot less amazing than that. Give up?

See, back in those days, cable TV is what separated the Haves from the Have-nots. Pretty much everyone watched the same cartoons and sitcoms on network TV, or were maybe lucky enough to subscribe to HBO or Showtime. But at school, we gathered around the rich kids, our envious ears drinking in every morsel of their adventures with the cable channel only rich kids could afford – The Disney Channel. Oh sure, we sang along to Kids Incorporated. But we all knew that it was little more than a shallow imitation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

rich kids Disney channel 80sThen suddenly, thanks to the violent public riots and cries of “I want my MTV!” (Okay, maybe there weren’t any riots. Hard to remember — I was pretty young.) all the not-so-rich schoolkids became hooked on the two best channels ever – Nickelodeon, and his wild-and-crazy big sister, MTV.

At last! At last! We could run home from school and be entertained by green-slime-dumping shows like Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television. And…and…okay, that was pretty much it, since in those days, Nickelodeon had super lame shows, like Spartacus and Star Trek the Animated Series. Then at 5:00 each evening, Nick transformed into this kooky black-and-white world of Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show, and some show about identical cousins.

So yeah…sadly, those were not Nickelodeon’s best years.

I want my mtvMTV, however, was another story. Back then, MTV lived up to its name. It was all about music, all the time. After school meant the hottest music video countdown with V.J.s like Pauly Shore (Yeah buuuud-dy!), Adam “Amazing Hair” Curry, Julie “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Brown, and the other Julie Brown, who was witness to the great Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun massacre of 1980-something. Our fresh, gold-medal-wearing hip-hop crowd got to jump around the Yo! MTV Raps! And my hard rocker friends and I got to rock out to Headbanger’s Ball. And every New Year’s Eve, without fail, my friends and I would flip on the Top 100 Videos of All Time, even though they always ended with Michael Jackson Thriller.

But now, I don’t think anybody really wants their MTV anymore.

Now don’t take me wrong – I’m not the type to look back on the 80’s and call them The Good Ol’ Days, when everything was better. Honestly, every decade has its share of things excellent and bogus. Just look at Nickelodeon’s glorious conversion during the semi-recent Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob Squarepants era. MTV, however, seems to have lost its soul. Turn it on today, and you’re likely to never see a single music video. Instead, it’s all Teen Mom and True Life reality shows. Will this sad state of affairs lead to another violent uprising led by music-starved fanatics? I only have one response to that.

I don’t know. (Cue bucket of green slime).

* My apologies to you clueless rich kids who were too busy watching Disney Channel in the 80s to get that last reference. Wubba wubba wubba!

BOOM! (aka: The ‘Murican Way)

sparkler-july-4If there’s one thing we Americans like to do, it’s give the finger to the rest of the world. This tradition can be traced back to our nation’s early history, when we grew fed up with being forced to pay high taxes without being represented in the British Parliament. So those early patriots set the standard for the rest of us by dumping a boatload of tea into the Boston Harbor. Suck it, King George!

Our patriot forefathers were also fed up with having to bow down to monarchy and aristocracy. “F*$% this,” they said. “All men are created equal.” And so they signed the Declaration of Independence, which was approved by Congress on 4 July, 1776. A rebellious, in-your-face, tea-dumping, gun-toting, anti-traditionalist republic was born.

From that time forward, the 4th of July has been observed as our national Independence Day. Ironically, we celebrate this great day with…well, traditions, like cookouts and baseball games and parades filled with cub scouts and martial arts school demos and tiaraed Miss-Small-Town winners waving from convertible cars like princesses (only not princesses, because that would imply a monarchy).

There is one beloved 4th of July tradition which perhaps best sums up our American patriotic spirit – fireworks. Because what better way to celebrate our nation’s history than by blowing stuff up? The bigger, the louder, the better. Boom! Let freedom ring! Boom! With Liberty and Justice for All! Boom! ‘Murica!

Murica-This-is-How-we-do-itYes, we Americans love our fireworks. And despite the fact that 2 out of every 5 fires on the 4th of July are caused by fireworks, or that in the year 2013, hospital emergency rooms treated 11,400 people for firework-related injuries, we persist in exploding paper things filled with black powder and metal salts every year. Why? Perhaps it is in honor of the original fearless patriots, who looked into the face of tyranny and laughed. In this country, if you’re not encouraging your kids to point blazing 1200°F sparklers at each other’s faces, then you’re not raising them the American way.

I suppose that means that my family was especially patriotic, since when I grew up, we celebrated the 4th with real fireworks, like roman candles, bottle rockets, and M80s. In fact, I have very fond memories of blowing up Barbie dolls and He-Man figures with packs of firecrackers we bought off the kids of Mexican immigrant families down the hill. Okay, yes, it was totally illegal, even back then. But hey – you could say that our family was expressing our patriotic spirit by thumbing our noses at the oppressive anti-firecracker laws. Suck it, Cal. Health & Safety Code! This is ‘Murica!

Happy Independence Day, however you plan to celebrate!

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.

Just to be clear, this is a completely unrelated Independence Day.