Monday, June 29, 2015

A Review you can use: Foxcatcher.

Good afternoon!

It isn't often that I write a negative review of a well reviewed, critically acclaimed movie. I don't believe I'm smart enough to feel opposite of what the rest of the world thinks when it comes to a movie.

Oh, wait....yes I do!  

See, reviews are basically opinions.  And everyone has an opinion. Opinions are neither right nor wrong because they aren't based on fact or research. They're based on feelings and tastes.  

Well, except for this time around my opinion is right and everyone else is wrong.  Probably.

I really, really, really wanted to love "Foxcatcher". I have been begging my husband to rent this movie for a long time and he's had no interest in it, so the first time he went out of town I hustled down to the video store and got this.  I popped up popcorn and I settled in.

And about fifteen minutes into the movie I was wondering if I had a load of laundry that needed to be put in the drier.

"Foxcatcher" has everything, and I do mean everything, going for it.  

1)  Steve Carrel in weird makeup and a dramatic role Who isn't cheering for Steve Carrel to make the jump to drama?  We LOVE Steve Carrel!

2)  Mark Ruffalo. He's awesome.

3) Channing Tatum in a wrestling singlet/or shirtless most of the time.  Win.  (I realize Channing's trying to make the jump to dramatic acting, but well, some actors are for looking at and some are for serious drama.)

The content of the movie had me interested:

1) True life drama
2)  Based on Olympic athletes
3) Involving tragedy and family strife.
4) A serious look at the life of a Greco-Roman wrestler, which is interesting.  Many of my friends in high school were wrestlers, and I found their sport and training fascinating.

I WAS SERIOUSLY READY TO LOVE THIS MOVIE.

Until I didn't.  

First of all, the story of the Schultz Brothers and their gold medal wins at the 1984 Olympics is the kick off the movie.  Apparently, post Olympics, Mark Schultz (Tatum) hadn't fared so well and was basically eating ramen noodles and hanging out at his old high school.  

The fact that the story is ultimately a tragedy fueled by a super creepy rich guy (and don't get me wrong, Steve Carrel hits all the marks on his portrayal of John du Pont, the super creepy rich guy) should have been a nail biting, edge of your seat, thriller.

Instead, we got a lot of shots of Channing Tatum eating ramen noodles.  We got a lot of shots of snow and American flags, and Channing Tatum staring off into space.  And by a lot I mean of the 134 minutes of this movie, if they'd cut out just half the shots of snow, flags, and Channing's meaningless/meaningful stares, the movie run time would be in the neighborhood of 90 minutes and still feel like a plodding drag to the finish.

There are moments that are meaningful, to be sure.  Mark Ruffalo, as Dave Schultz, is probably the highlight of the acting.  He's winning, he's steady, and sincere, and in the end, we feel his pain and confusion almost as much as he does.  

Steve Carrel has a career in drama. No doubt. He's decidedly weird and wooden as John du Pont, mostly because I think he's afraid his fake nose will fall off.  He's very uncomfortable to watch because he's so creepy, but again, that's intentional.  Watching him try to impress his mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave, but the part could have been covered by a monkey wrapped in a blanket, they use Ms. Redgrave so little.) is heartbreaking.  

Even Channing Tatum, who is NOT a dramatic actor and mostly likely got the part based on his physical abilities alone, has compelling moments, most of them involving ramen noodles.   There are moments of clarity where we can almost feel his frustration at being the younger brother, at being overlooked, for being the second best.  There is a scene where we watch him eat his frustrations and it might be one of the best scenes in the movie.

Sometimes you can put all the right ingredients together and dinner still doesn't taste good.  That's the case with "Foxcatcher."  Everything should be excellent, and haunting, and suspenseful. Except, well, it wasn't.

On the brighter side, I did get my laundry done.

But decide for yourself. I mean, if you love lots of long shots of snowy farm land and conversations that involve fewer words than film minutes, you may enjoy "Foxcatcher."  


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sneak Peak Sunday: Unsafe at Any Speed

Good afternoon!

This weekend is dedicated to my Elsie W. books, "Not While I'm Chewing" and "Unsafe at Any Speed."  Today I'm sharing an except from the second book, Unsafe at any Speed.   Remember, if you want any, or all of my nine books, you can find all of my titles, and links to where you can purchase them, either right here on this blog or by hitting My personal website.




Meanwhile, enjoy this slice from the middle the second Elsie W. book!




Chapter fourteen:
Elsie:  The Norma Rae of Stuff, Installed.



          
I don’t know if Elsie ever worked for a union. As far as I know, her work history involved working for WalMart  (fired)  working for Sam’s Club (Fired)  working as a telemarketer for an unnamed company  (fired) and for Monuments, Inc. (Business Closed.)  None of those businesses felt like a union gig, but she may have worked in a union in her younger years. She sure did like the idea of unions.     
          She was convinced that if she and I formed a union (what, phone sales drones local 221?) she could tell NBM to step off.
          I don’t know why she needed to be in a union to do that. She did that on a regular basis.
          When I didn’t respond to the idea of forming a two person labor union, I thought the matter was dead. I realized my mistake one day when I opened the phone bill.
          See, one of my jobs is to open all the mail, decide which department it goes to, and if it’s a bill, which billing category it goes to. Then I stamp it and take it to the right desk. But you know, sometimes I take an interest in what I do…especially when it comes to the bills. Especially when the phone bill tops $3000 for a single month.
          I don’t know what kind of phone plan we had, but it make sense to have a big phone bill. We made a lot of phone calls. And when I say “we” we all know I mean “I” because Elsie, though she had NBM make her a worksheet with the numbers one through one hundred typed out on them, was unable to make more than a couple dozen business calls in the course of a day.
          Let me repeat that last thing:  she had the branch manager type out a chart of numbers one through one hundred so she could mark off a number each time she made a business call. I saw the sheets on her desk. The only thing she put on those sheets were coffee stains.
          But the day the phone bill hit three grand, NBM had the first of one I’m thinking were many small strokes. “What the….”
I can’t repeat the rest of what he said…I told my Sunday School class they could read these stories.
          “Who made fifteen calls to the branch in California?”
          I gotta be honest here. NBM liked to burst out of his office and ask random questions of no one in particular. So the import of this question didn’t quite hit me until he asked me a second time.
          “WHO MADE FIFTEEN CALLS TO THE BRANCH IN CALIFORNIA?”
          My response should have cleared up my involvement in the scandal. “We have a branch in California?”
          “Actually,” he was always much calmer once he knew he had an audience, “There are several Stuff, Installed branches in California, and it looks like someone made calls to all of them multiple times this past month.”
          He continued to study the phone bill. “And there are calls to branches all over the country, and a ton of calls to our branches in Memphis and Minneapolis.”
          (Our branch and two others were owned by one guy, BBO. I didn’t call them often. I didn’t need to unless I had to have someone cover our phones on the weekend.)
          “So when were the calls made?”  
          Now I knew the answer to this question. The calls, I would have bet my next paycheck, were made between five and eight in the evenings. The hours, if you’re keeping track, when Elsie worked alone.
          So, I guess she did know how to dial a phone. I honestly didn’t think she had the skills for that.
          “Oh I’m calling Minneapolis about this.”
          NBM was buddies with the branch manager in Minneapolis. It took him about seven minutes to find out what was going on.
          He burst out of his office again. “Is Elsie here yet?”
          “Is it 11:07?”
          He shook his head and glared at me. Oh, like I’m the one in the wrong since I just said out loud what everyone knew. Meanwhile, I could see PM, sitting at his desk, laughing at me.
          “When she gets here make sure she comes to my office.”
          Not a problem. I knew she’d cook a meal and then head to his office to yell about something. It’s what she did.
          Elsie arrived promptly at 11:07, parked her rolling cooler next to the microwave and started to unbag something that looked like half an elk from one of her purses.
          I wasn’t eager to smell microwaved elk. “NBM wants to see you.”
          “What, right now?”
          “I imagine. He told me to make sure you went to his office the minute you got here.” 
          She smiled and smoothed her misbuttoned blouse. “Well, I have been here six months as of last week. I’ll bet it’s my mid-year review.”
          I’ll bet it’s not.
          She presented herself in his office and he told her to close the door. PM and I were very disappointed. The good news is that if I stood in her office with my ear pressed to the wall, I could hear most of what they said.
          I didn’t need to do that. The shrieking started forty seconds after she closed the door. Two minutes later they called BBO at his home in Florida. They put him on speaker phone. It got to be a close call as to who was yelling louder:  Elsie or BBO.
          Turns out, Elsie had been spending her evenings for the past several weeks calling all the ISPs in the whole company, talking about how they all needed to form a union. She even dipped into some of the Canadian branches, although I guess she gave up when her eight words of French didn’t impress our neighbors to the north.
          Some of the ISPs had actually called BBO and informed him of her activities but it wasn’t until she harped on the two ISPs in his own happy family that he got serious. And it wasn’t until we had a $3000 phone bill that NBM even took notice. (BBO thought NBM was handling it. Boy was he wrong!)
          The speaker phone yelling kept up for a solid hour. The long and short of it was that Stuff, Installed was not a union company and was not going to ever be a union based company and if Elsie felt mistreated she could find employment elsewhere.
          Elsie did a lot of shrieking of her own. Her stance was that she WAS being mistreated because the whole company was a “good old boys network” and there was no way for a woman to be treated with any sense of respect or equality. She again demanded two paid twenty minute breaks and a longer lunch.
          A LONGER LUNCH?
          She was making more than $30,000 plus full benefits a year for working an easy job in a very nice office and doing a very, very bad job at it and she was complaining she was being mistreated? And she wanted a longer lunch?
          I, of course, was emailing a play by play to PM, although he could hear most of it through the Tunnel of Sound. It’s not that we were wasting time, it’s just that time seemed to stop for that hour. No one called, no one came in, we had little to do but stare at that door and listen to the battle waging inside.
          Elsie emerged, sweaty, but unbowed, and went to her desk to start her day. She apparently lost her appetite because the food she was going to prepare when she arrived stayed untouched, on the counter.
          For the next couple hours PM and I both stared at the stack of semi raw meat sitting on the counter…and the open container of cottage cheese also left behind in Elsie’s rush to “get her review done.”  We refused to do anything about it, and NBM seemed to ignore the dead animal flesh when he made his lunch-time pizza.
          In fact, when I returned from lunch it was STILL sitting there, only now the fruit flies had found it. Elsie, for the first time in the months I’d worked with her, was not eating a pre-lunch meal.
          I know you’re concerned for her health, but she was still able to take nourishment. She did have, after all, a two pound bag of pork rinds and enough soda to fill a bath tub. She sat there all day, staring at her screen, the picture of a perfect employee.

          Well, she didn’t actually make any phone calls…but I guess that meant she wasn’t trying to unite the women of Stuff, Installed to wage a gender war against management. So there’s that.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sneak Peak Saturday: NOT WHILE I'M CHEWING!

Good evening!

So today I was at the City of Waukesha Farmers Market, signing and selling all NINE  (yes, NINE) of my books.  And someone came up to me and told I should publish bits of my books on Facebook.

She's new to my Facebook feed, so I explained to her about Sneak Peak Saturdays and Sundays, and I'm really hoping she sees this post because she was eyeing up my first Elsie W. book and I'd really like her to read it because she, like many of us, work with people and I think she'd enjoy it.  I haven't posted a bit of Elsie W. recently, so hey, I thought, why not dedicate this weekend to that mammoth disaster of a coworker, Elsie W?

So, enjoy this small section of the first Elsie W. book, NOT WHILE I'M CHEWING!!


Chapter One

If a tree falls on Elsie’s house, will anyone hear the beginning of a brilliant book?


The day I started work at Stuff, Installed, a tree fell on Elsie’s house. Looking back, I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. This was a woman who, in the course of the seven and a half months I worked with her, managed to create as much chaos, disaster, mishap, and unintentional hilarity as any normal person might in a lifetime.
I was nervous about working in an office like Stuff, Installed. It was part of a large corporation, one that had a human resources department and hosted their own conferences and training forums. I’d never worked in an office life that, but I needed health insurance and a steady paycheck. Stuff, Installed seemed to fit the bill.
My job description was fairly ambiguous. “Customer Service” is always a euphemism for “person who takes the angry calls.” That didn’t bother me. The idea of working in an office with other people bothered me. See, prior to this job, I’d worked, for nearly twenty years, either from home or in an office. My job longevity was a selling point to NBM who managed to miss the part where I hadn’t worked with actual people in a very, very long time.
Being on the phone was the number one duty of everyone at Stuff, Installed, except for the actual installers. Those guys were lucky because they got to go and install the Stuff, and rarely had to be on the phone. Everyone else was expected to make and take several phone calls a day. Elsie’s job, I was told, was to make one hundred outgoing calls a day.
“She’s only been here a month,” the Bookkeeper said. “She’s not quite up to speed.”
Truer words were never spoken. The Bookkeeper quit and left the company a week after I started, so she never got to live through the months of Elsie NEVER getting up to speed.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That first day, July 11th, when the tree fell on her house, I felt sorry for Elsie. I mean, who has a tree fall on their house, and comes in to work anyway? I was fairly certain that a tree falling on your house should be a good excuse to not come in to work. She seemed so afraid that if she hadn’t come in to work, she’d lose her job. I’d been on the job three hours…and I was thinking I’d made a huge mistake taking the job.
Turns out, working in an office run by NBM was sort of like working in a circus where the ring leader can’t make up his mind where the elephants should poop. You’re constantly stepping in it when you didn’t even know it was there. It only took me three hours to figure that out, and I hadn’t met the cotton-candy haired clown makeup wearing disaster of a human being that was Elsie W.
The Bookkeeper, the woman who was supposed to train me, hated everyone. Well, not everyone, but she hated NBM and PM, and all the Installers, and the Sales Guys, and...well, everyone. As part of my training, I got to spend three days sitting with her, and mostly what I learned was that she KNEW I would never be able to do the job for which I was training. She knew no one but she could possibly do the job she did, because NBM was a horrible human being and she was the most unappreciated person ever to work for Stuff, Installed. It was no surprise when she walked out five days later, never to return.
I was already questioning my sanity for taking the job, when Elsie walked in. We’d met a couple times before while I was going through the interview process, but I didn’t really know her well. “Good morning Elsie. How are you this morning?”
“Oh not so good.” She brushed a shock of cotton candy hair out of her eyes, parked her rolling cooler next to her desk, set down three of her four purses, and pulled out her cell phone. Elsie, I figured out later, not only looked like a clown with her makeup, she was a walking, talking circus tent of a woman who always looked like she was moving in because of all the purses and bags she dragged with her everywhere. Inside most of them were the components of her lunch. “A tree just fell on my house.”
“A tree just did what?” I was, as most people would be, shocked.
“Fell on my house. It’s storming, you know.” Elsie had this way of talking that really made me feel like an idiot. Since I was almost twenty years younger than she, she always acted like I was a child who had never been anywhere ever, and couldn’t see, hear, taste, read, or find the front door for myself.
“I know…but…are you okay? I mean, is your house okay?” Now, I was trying, TRYING to be nice. Polite. But all I could think was, “Why on earth would you come to work when a TREE fell on your HOUSE?”
“I really don’t know. It fell right on my house and I think it broke a window. I’m not sure if the roof caved in or not. I was pulling out of my driveway when it fell.” She dialed a number. I would later learn that the number for Information was truly the only phone number that Elsie knew. All phone calls, for her, started with a call to Information.
I will explain that little hobby of hers in a later chapter.
Elsie spent about an hour trying to reach neighbors and friends who lived nearby to check on her house. When she finally reached someone, she did not ask them to check her house for damage. No, this was her big worry:
“Can you just make sure that my potted plants aren’t dumped over?”
I sat at the desk next to her, as I did for more than two months, before I convinced NBM to move her into a private office, and I was in shock (as I have been every day I work with her). Who comes in to work five minutes after a tree falls on their house? Who makes frantic calls to make sure that the potted plants are okay when there could be a gaping hole in her roof?
Now, after working with her for a while, I realize that on that day, my first at Stuff, Installed, I should have run. A normal person would have run very far from that disaster of a cotton candy haired clown makeup wearer in the next workstation. But, as some of you already know, I am not a normal person. I am a writer who enjoys making people laugh. So I sat and gleaned comedic gold from a one woman wrecking crew.
True, I may have damaged my own sanity in the process. I’ve come close to sticking pointy things in my ears to shut out the glass-cutting grate of her voice, or the endless sound of chewing as she worked endless cuds of food down her gullet. But I ignored the warning signs of that first day, and I have this book to show for it.

I just need to sell enough copies to pay my therapy bills.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What would you do with a million dollars?

Good evening all!

One of my all time, no holds barred, favorite movies is "Office Space."   Not only is the movie a beautiful, and hilarious, commentary on life in an office, especially a large office at the dawn of the era of "downsizing" it's also includes some great nuggets of life-altering wisdom.

One of the best, and generally over looked, conversations is the one about "what would you do with a million dollars?"  The conversation goes like this:


WARNING:  Salty language ahead!


Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you would do if you had a million dollars and didn't have to work. And invariably, whatever you'd say, that was supposed to be your career. So if you wanted to fix old cars, then you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir Nagheenanajar: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.
Michael Bolton: No, you're working at Initech 'cause that question is bullshit to begin with. If that quiz worked, there would be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.
Samir Nagheenanajar: You know what I would do if I had a million dollars? I would invest half of it in mutual funds and then take the other half over to my friend Sadulach who works in Securities.
Michael Bolton: Samir. Samir, you're missing the point. The point of the exercise is that you're supposed to figure out what you would want to do . . . (reads the printer's display). PC load letter?!! What the fuck does that mean?!!


What follows after that is the far better known argument with the fax machine, a running gag that ends up in a field with the boys destroying said fax machine.  

Another conversation about the million dollars follows a bit later in the movie.  Again, WARNING:  Salty language.

Peter Gibbons: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I'll tell you what I'd do, man: two chicks at the same time, man.
Peter Gibbons[laughs] That's it? If you had a million dollars, you'd do two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Damn straight. I always wanted to do that, man. And I think if I had a million dollars I could hook that up, 'cause chicks dig a dude with money.
Peter Gibbons: Well, not all chicks.
Lawrence: Well the kind of chicks that'd double up on a dude like me do.
Peter Gibbons: Good point.
Lawrence: Well what about you now? what would you do?
Peter Gibbons: Besides two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Well yeah.
Peter Gibbons: Nothing.
Lawrence: Nothing, huh?
Peter Gibbons: I'd relax, I would sit on my ass all day, I would do nothing.
Lawrence: Well you don't need a million dollars to do nothing, man. Just take a look at my cousin, he's broke, don't do shit.


The question about what we'd do if we won the lottery, if we had a million dollars, came up at an informal meeting for work today.  Since I work from home, having a meeting is a question of logistics...as in, which coffee shop and when.  The boss, who is a really good guy and therefore will not be getting any fun nicknames from me, and my other coworker meet on occasion to go over some things from time to time.  Today the idea of having all the money we'd ever need came up.  The boss, it turns out, would open a pizza restaurant.  The coworker would find a spot on a beach and never move.

Me?

I'd be writing.  I'd be doing exactly what I do for fun now because it's what I love. The only difference in my day would be that I would be writing MORE because I wouldn't have to stop for things like laundry, and dishes, and cleaning the bathrooms, and visiting the extended family because i would pay people to do that. 

Oh sure, I'd pay for superb college educations for my kids, and I'd travel, and I'd send my husband to culinary school.  But I'd be writing. I'd be writing, and reading, and watching movies and eating something fun my husband cooked.

In short, my life might not change all that much, except I would be able to relax about following my dreams and not hide it in the corners of the day, writing when everything else was done and no one was looking.  

So, what would you do with a million dollars?  Would your life change dramatically or are you already doing what you love to do, you'd just do it better?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What if writing what you know doesn't give you joy?

Good afternoon!

Every creative writing teacher I ever had told me to "write what you know."  That was a problem for me because when I was growing up my life was so completely boring, nothing ever happened.  What did I know?  I knew about going to church every Sunday and I knew about stressing about math every day of my life.  I knew about my dad being my teacher and I knew my mother was unhappy most of the time, but she covered well and people loved her. They still do.

The highest drama I ever knew about what the time our neighbors shot over their limit of geese and they came over and gave us a dead goose, complete with feathers. My mom has a great story about how we got those feathers off the bird (we didn't, some students of my dad, a good farm family, did) but the drama of "will we eat this, won't we eat this" dragged on for many weeks until we had a drawing at the family Christmas. My aunt and uncle won it.  Family legend has it that they dumped it at the side of the road on the way home.

Writing what you know isn't all it's cracked up to be.  Would there be a Star Wars, a Star Trek, Lord of the Rings or a Game of Thrones if the authors had simply written what they knew about life from their own experience?

Would there be a "Gone With the Wind?"  "Wuthering Heights?"

Sure, we MIGHT still have Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but I doubt even those books would be around if every author held to the law of "write what you know."

People don't always want to READ what they know.  Celebrities have best sellers all the time. Why? Because we can pick up Dennis Rodman's biography and empathize?  Not a chance.  We read to be entertained.  To gain some knowledge.  To escape from our lives and into the world someone else created. 

For me, I write to entertain, and to escape.  I'm in a period of my life where writing what I know gives me no peace, gives me no pleasure.  I turn to a world I built, a world away from my real life.  Sure, I draw on my own experiences, for my characters or for time and place settings.  I don't know the first part of being a musician in Nashville, but I've seen people who want to do just that.  I've thought about what it's like to chase a dream that's just out of reach, and I can translate THAT into any story line.

No one wants to read about my personal problems.  I'm not that interesting yet. I'm not a mega star.  I'm not in People Magazine. Frankly, few care about what I know in my real life.  People what to know if I can tell a story.

Yes.  Yes I can.

I can tell tales of my real life, I do, with my Elsie W books.  I put a funny spin on things because, even in telling the truth, I believe we have to laugh. Otherwise life is too dark and dreary.  But when it comes to fiction, that's another story. Literally.

So when you pick up the books with my name on them, no, I didn't really live any of that.  Sure, I've lived in small town Wisconsin. I've gone to a Rick Springfield concert. I've watched figure skating on TV. I've been to Nashville and a Renaissance Faire and Madison, Wisconsin.  But beyond that, I take a step away from myself and out into a beautiful, wonderful world of imagination where the problems aren't mine and everything has a solution eventually.

Writers often joke about being insane or raging at their work in progress.  Truth is, writing gives us joy.  Solving a plot problem can be the highlight of our year.  Frankly, if writing didn't give us joy, it's doubtful we writers would do it.  Oh sure, my hero, Dorothy Parker, once said, "I hate writing."  But she followed it up with, "I love having written."

So my friends, if you love to write, but you don't want to write what you know in your real life, it's okay.  As long as you're a good story teller, you can build worlds and races and histories and languages all you want.  You can solve everyone's problems...even if you can't solve your own.