Friday, July 25, 2014

THE CEPHALOPOD COFFEEHOUSE: THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

It's time for this month's meeting of The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, hosted by The Armchair Squid. To join us or to visit other participants, please click on the link in the previous sentence and you can get the info. I don't put the sign-up list on my blog because every time I do, it comes out wrong and I don't know how to fix it and sometimes I'm so tired of fixing things, like I repaired my own toilet recently, that I just don't want to fix anything else. Furthermore, it is not a simple task, this being The Queen of Grammar. I'm held to a higher standerd than other people because I hold myself to that standerd, and does anyone know why the word standerd has a red line under it? 

Ah, it's because it's such a good word. Am I right, or am I right?

Here's what we do in The Cephalopod Coffeehouse:

The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same.  In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.


All righty, then. The best book I finished during the past month is The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With HARPER LEE. This book is a can't put it down book. If you have other stuff you need to do, like if your toilet is broken, then don't start reading this book. You'd better fix the toilet first. 

I started Mockingbird about ten minutes after my mail carrier delivered it last Thursday, and I finished it the following afternoon. I took time out to do stuff I had to do, but I took no pleasure in my usual tasks. I wanted to read, and I wanted the book to go on forever.


The cover photo is of Harper Lee and Mary Badham,
who played Scout, on the set of To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962.

In The Mockingbird Next Door, former Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills presents a tender and touching portrait of two very unusual sisters: lawyer Alice Finch Lee and author Nelle Harper Lee. 

Mills traveled to the Lee sisters' hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 2001 to work on an article about the town, which is the model for Maycomb in one of America's most famous and popular novels: To Kill A Mockingbird, published by Harper Lee in 1960. Mills was pleasantly surprised when Alice Lee agreed to speak to her, and gave her a tour of the Lee sisters' modest home. 

Mills was even more surprised when publicity-shy Harper Lee asked to meet with her.



In 2004, Mills rented the house next door to the Lee sisters. She went to McDonald's for coffee with Harper, fed local ducks with the two sisters, helped them watch movies from Netflix (they thought she was a technological genius because she could order movies and operate the remote control), and, best of all, listened to their memories––recollections of Monroeville and of their lives. They were particularly eager to have Mills debunk some ridiculous rumors that had spread about them over the years.

Their mother was not mentally ill, they point out, and she did not try to drown Nelle Harper, which childhood friend and neighbor Truman Capote claimed Mrs. Lee attempted on two occasions. Nelle Harper denounces Capote as a sociopath. Their friendship ended long before Capote's death in 1984. 

Although Mills states that Nelle Harper told her stories that she should include in her book, and pointed out insistently that some stories were off the record, Mockingbird  isn't a biography of Lee. It's more of a memoir about the time Mills spent with the sisters and their friends in and around Monroeville. She delighted in Alice and Harper's companionship, intelligence, ability to use words precisely, and their kindness.

I now enjoy knowing that Alice calls her younger sister Nelle Harper, but some friends call her Nelle, some call her Harper, and some use the nickname "Bear." I like it that the Lee sisters value achievement over celebrity. Harper Lee is proud of the Pulitzer Prize she won for her cherished novel, but she doesn't like people fawning over her or asking her for interviews and money, while they seek ways to exploit her. I like the anecdote about Truman Capote spending so much time at their house when they were children that their father, A.C. Lee, often asked if anyone had put Truman out for the night. 

Mills reveals a couple of unpleasant facets of Harper Lee's personality, but does not dwell on them.

Sadly, Harper Lee had a stroke in 2007 and never regained the ability to walk. She became a litigious person. She also said she had never authorized Mills' book. Alice Finch Lee, still practicing law at 100 (the age at which she retired; she is now 102), issued a statement that they had indeed cooperated with Mills. Alice and some other old friends say that Nelle Harper is mostly blind and deaf and will sign anything put in front of her by someone she thinks is trustworthy. We don't know, however, if someone convinced Nelle Harper, for nefarious reasons, to try to kill the book, or if Nelle Harper just plain changed her mind, as she has long been wont to do.

It's sad to observe the life of Nelle Harper Lee after reading such a charming book, but I wouldn't trade reading the book for not knowing that Harper Lee is elderly, confused, and less than perfect. I've read and seen some interviews with Mills. She doesn't seem the con artist type. Besides, if she wanted to cheat the Lee sisters, all she'd have to do is repeat the lies that have followed them for years. Concentrating on the negative aspects and rumors about their lives would probably make for a better selling book than one that tells about little trips to Scratch Ankle, Alabama, and eating at a diner called Wanda's.

I purchased my copy of Mockingbird from Amazon at http://goo.gl/SN2LXA.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With HARPER LEE earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Can't Put Down That Book Approval.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Note: Alice Finch Lee and Nelle Harper Lee now live in separate assisted living facilities. If you've never read To Kill A Mockingbird, then hop to it. There's a reason I have a dog named Harper Lee and used to have one named Scout.

And have you noticed that Harper and Atticus have joined the lists of the most popular current names for girls and boys? Most students read the book in high school. Obviously, the characters stay with them. Gregory Peck played the part of Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird. Peck remained friends with Harper Lee until his death. His daughter named her son Harper. 

Shockingly, To Kill A Mockingbird was not included by the editorial board of the Modern Library in their list of the one hundred greatest books of the last century. It continues to sell thousands of copies and brings in about $1.5 million in royalties each year. Mills says that Harper Lee used her wealth generously, but quietly, providing support to charities and educating a number of people who never knew that the famous author took an interest in them.









Thursday, July 24, 2014

MOVIE WEEKEND: GRAVITY

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

I wasn't going to watch Gravity (2013, Rated PG-13, Available On DVD). It's just a boring movie about a couple of people floating around in space, right?


But then Gravity won seven Academy Awards, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron (the first Hispanic person to win the award), and I decided I'd better check it out.

I'm glad I did. It's beautifully made.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer, is on her first space shuttle mission with astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) in command. During what should be a routine space walk, the shuttle is destroyed. Stone and Kowalski float off into the blackness of space, seemingly without any hope of rescue.

The special effects and lighting in this movie are gorgeous. The Internet Movie Database explains:

Alfonso CuarĂ³n, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber decided they couldn't make the film they wanted using traditional methods. For the space-walk scenes, says Webber, "We decided to shoot (the actors') faces and create everything else digitally." To do that, Lubezki decided he needed to light the actors' faces to match the all-digital environment. Whether the characters were floating gently, changing direction or tumbling in vacuum, the facial light would need to perfectly match Earth, Sol and the other stars in the background. "That can break easily," explains Lubezki, "if the light is not moving at the speed that it has to move, if the position of the light is not right, if the contrast or density on the faces is wrong." Lubezki suggested folding an L.E.D. screen into a box, putting the actor inside, and using the light from the screen to light the actor. That way, rather than moving either Sandra Bullock or George Clooney in the middle of static lights, the projected image could move while they stayed still. The "light box", key to the space-walk scenes was a nine-foot cube just big enough for one actor.

More important to me, though, are the themes in the movie. The director and many other people seem to focus on the theme of rebirth. I can understand that, but I see Gravity more as a film about uncaring nature. The romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, focused on the interaction between the pastoral and the individual. Remember Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality?


Though nothing can bring back the hour
          Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
              We will grieve not, rather find
              Strength in what remains behind

Later poets focused more on nature being nature and not something that relates to us. Let's take Wallace Stevens' The Snow Man as an example:


"One must have a mind of winter/To regard the frost and the boughs/Of the pine-trees crusted with snow . . . . "


In other words, we impose order on the natural world. The making of a snow man is an act of imposing the imagination on nature and giving it shape and form.


For all the beauty that Stone and Kowalski see in space, nature does not care about them:


[opening title card]: At 600KM above planet Earth the temperature fluctuates between +258 and -148 degrees Fahrenheit. There is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.
I wouldn't show this movie to young children. I think it would frighten them. But it should be okay for older children and teens. It has some profanity, but nothing they don't hear at school. :-(
I felt a little glow and a touch of magic after I watched Gravity, which earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval.

Happy Viewing!

Infinities of love,
I don't know why these great big spaces are here between my valediction and name and I can't get them to behave and I want my breakfast, so this post is staying the way it is.
Janie Junebug



Monday, July 21, 2014

BULLY FOR YOU: RICK WATSON, MIGHTY GENTLE

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Our BULLY FOR YOU guest poster today is Rick Watson from Life 101. I've never met Rick in person (although he and his wife Jilda were in Jacksonville once and FAILED TO LET ME KNOW but of course I forgave that long ago), but I know he's the kind of person who doesn't bother to open his mouth or tap on his keyboard unless he has something intelligent to say.

Read and learn:

I was born in rural Alabama in the early 1950s. Being small for my age, I was the target of bullying from time to time.

When I was in the fourth grade, one of my classmates was a gentle giant. I’ll call him Jack. Jack was big enough to whip all the boys in class at the same time, but for some reason he always walked away from confrontation.

Spring came a little early that year and we all had spring fever. That afternoon a group of kids lingered on the playground playing dodge ball with a ragged basketball. Afterwards we sat around talking about all the things we’d do when the last school bell rang turning us loose for summer.

The conversation ended abruptly when a kid who was a notorious bully started picking on Jack. The taunting got ugly, and soon the bully was hammering away on Jack’s head with his fist. There were no teachers or adults around so the bully was having his way.

I stepped in to break it up. “Look, that’s enough.” The bully, who outweighed my 30 pounds, wheeled and punched me in the face, knocking me backward. I struggled to maintain my balance. The fist felt as hard as a hammer. This was the first time I’d ever been struck in the face. The punch he threw cut my lip and I tasted blood in my mouth.

Before I found my footing, the bully jumped on my back and clamped his arms around my throat.  It was hard to breathe. Just like in the movies, kids gathered around. Some were shouting for him to stop, and some egging him on.

He wouldn’t turn loose of my throat. Anger flared from somewhere deep inside and I found strength I’d never known. Reaching over my shoulders, I grabbed his neck, and flipped him over my shoulders.

He landed flat of his back hard enough to knock the wind out of him. The throw surprised him, but it surprised me even more. Blood oozed from the corner of his mouth where he’d bit his lip. I thought for a second I had killed him, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I could feel my heart beating in my temples.

What’s interesting is that I didn’t experience a feeling of triumph, or satisfaction, as one might expect. It was almost as if I were embarrassed. Some of the kids who had gathered around to watch the altercation came up afterwards to congratulate, but I was so upset that I had tears in my eyes and I didn’t know why.

I left him whimpering on the ground.  Squatting down by the oak tree in the yard, I picked up my books and lunch kit and headed down the railroad tracks toward home. Jack grabbed his books too and walked home with me. Neither of us said a word.

The next day I feared the bully would team up with his friends and corner me to get revenge, but it never happened. In fact, the bully never bothered me, or Jack again.

That incident taught me something basic about human nature. A bully will never pick on someone strong enough to kick their ass, they seek the weakest one in the herd. It’s how they feed their ego.

I also learned that standing up for yourself is necessary, and often it’s the right thing to do, but don’t expect to walk away feeling like Rocky.


Thank you, Rick. You're right: winning the fight, no matter what kind it is, doesn't always feel good.

Rick has three books available on Amazon, or you can purchase them directly from Rick at Life 101.  They're compilations of his newspaper columns. The titles are Remembering Big, Life Happens, and Life Changes. Read and relax and learn. Rick is our Alabama philosopher.

Please leave Rick some bloggy love in a comment, and I urge you to visit his blog.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Sunday, July 20, 2014

RICK WATSON & THE SHEER YOGA PANTS

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

I can imagine your brains clickety clacking away when you see the title of this post. What does Rick Watson have to do with sheer yoga pants? you'll ask.

My answer: nothing. I want to tell you about Rick Watson, and I want to tell you about sheer yoga pants. I put the two together because this blog is mine and I can do as I like.

Everybody's favorite boyfriend, Rick Watson––the amiable Alabamian––will be tomorrow's BULLY FOR YOU guest poster. I always appreciate a visit from Rick, who blogs at Life 101. He has a new book out called Life Changes.



You can purchase it from Amazon at http://goo.gl/f4rR8h. Rick's three books are compilations of his newspaper columns. Reading them is as relaxing as eating a good Sunday dinner and then taking a nap, knowing that everyone you love is safe and secure.

I know you won't want to miss his guest post tomorrow, so be there or be square.

Now for the yoga pants. Willy Dunne Wooters told me not too long ago that he read in the news about a new line of yoga pants. They were newsworthy, I guess, because they are sheer, as in see-through. Good God, I said, or something to that effect.

I didn't see any of these new yoga pants until last night. Some things when seen cannot be unseen.

Willy Dunne Wooters took me out to dinner. We were very hungry so we went to a buffet, something we usually don't do because buffets tend to lead to overeating.

I hoisted myself from the table to get more of the delicious broccoli and baked fish and, yeah, okay, a roll or two with honey butter, and on my way from the broccoli to the rolls I darn near dropped my plate because there in front of me were a pair of these sheer yoga pants. The woman wearing them definitely had booty. And she did not have underwear.

I did not tell Willy Dunne Wooters until we were out in the parking lot because I knew the news would put him off his feed. He's quite squeamish.

This woman seems to be wearing a thong.
Not much help.

If for some reason you have accidentally purchased a pair of these yoga pants, then please rid yourself of them immediately. Rip them up and throw them in the trash.


If for some strange reason you purposely purchased a pair of these pants and you like them, then please do not wear them outside of your home so that other people can keep their dinners down.



See you tomorrow.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Thursday, July 17, 2014

MOVIE WEEKEND: GIRL MOST LIKELY & ABOUT TIME

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Today I have two movies for you that Willy Dunne Wooters and I love. They share the theme of the importance of family loyalty and love.

The first is Girl Most Likely (2012, Rated PG-13, Available On DVD And Netflix Screaming).


This movie is a hoot. It was Kristen Wiig's first after her huge success with Bridesmaides, which WDW describes as lowbrow humor. Although I won't say that Girl Most Likely is a highbrow film, it's certainly a lot of fun, and the acting is excellent.

Imogene (Kristen Wiig) is a native of Atlantic City who now lives in New York City and tries to fit into her posh boyfriend's life, but it's obvious that she's different and his friends look down on her. After all, Imogene didn't go to Andover or Spence. However, when she finished college, she won a grant that was meant to allow her to become a playwright.

But she didn't. She frittered away the money and avoided her family. When her New York-life takes a sudden turn for the worse, she finds herself back in Jersey . Suddenly she's forced to live with her brother Ralph (Christopher Fitzgerald), her loony mother Zelda (Annette Bening), and her mother's even loonier boyfriend George (Matt Dillon). Imogene also finds a man named Lee (Darren Criss, who plays Blaine on Glee and is so hot in this movie) sleeping in her bed because her mother has rented out her room.

Although I love Wiig and Fitzgerald and Criss, it's Bening and Dillon who make Girl Most Likely an absolute riot. Dillon's character isn't just George. He's George Bousche––pronounced Boosh––and he's a CIA operative who can't tell anyone his real name. Bening is great because she plays her role as Weird Mother and Girlfriend of the Year completely straight; she believes The Bousche is what he says he is. And The Bousche will not drop his CIA cover story for a single second. You'll love seeing what happens with Zelda and The Bousche.

This movie is funny and smart and silly and well made. I revel in the devotion that Imogene and Ralph show toward one another, and in the progress that Imogene makes in her life. I love a happy ending.

Girl Most Likely earns The Willy Dunne Wooters and Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Approval. Just go with it and have fun. I don't think it's for children, but teens might like to watch with you.

And now I have a movie for you that brought tears of joy and sadness to my eyes. I think Willy Dunne Wooters might have sniffled a little, too. About Time (2013, Rated R, Available On DVD) has a delightfully clever screenplay, beautiful acting, and one of the sweetest love stories ever––and it's not merely a love story between the two main characters. It's the story of a family's love for one another.


When Tim (Domhnall Gleason) turns 21, his "Dad" (Bill Nighy) informs him that the men in their family are able to travel in time. They can't go forward in time. They can only return to events that have already occurred, and they can't change history. When Tim leaves his rural home to work in London as a lawyer, he meets and falls in love with Mary (Rachel McAdams). Tim uses his gift to win Mary's heart, to create the perfect romantic proposal, to make sure he has the perfect best man's speech at their wedding, to spend extra time with Dad when it's of the utmost importance, and to help his sister, to whom he's wonderfully loyal.

Best of all, Tim learns from his time travels to enjoy each day, to appreciate his family, and to cheer on his friends. He knows how to fill his relationships, or simple chance encounters, with love and joy.

Tim: We're all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.

I like About Time so much that I ordered it from Amazon. I don't buy many movies, but this one is a must have. I know the Wooters man and I will watch it once or twice a year while we hold hands.

About Time is not for children. I would allow teens to watch it. This movie earns The Willy Dunne Wooters and Janie Junebug Highest Seal of Glowing, Loving Approval.

I wish you all a delightful weekend, filled with pleasant pursuits.


Infinities of timely love,

Janie Junebug

Monday, July 14, 2014

BULLY FOR YOU: THE ARMCHAIR SQUID TEACHES US ABOUT WONDER

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Today I'm delighted to welcome The Armchair Squid to BULLY FOR YOU. Mr. Squid is a teacher, a tough job, and he's also the recent host of The Songs of Summer bloghop. He's always up to something, and I suspect he says the same thing about his students.

Wonder Bullies



            Recently on my blog, The Armchair Squid, I reviewed Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a novel that has dominated the Middle Grade book world for the past year.  Janie graciously invited me to write a post for her BULLY FOR YOU series and I felt the book would be a good launch point to discuss the larger issue of bullying.  If you haven’t read Wonder, I give fair warning: there will be MANY SPOILERS in this piece.

            A quick synopsis: Auggie, a boy about to enter the fifth grade, was born with severe facial deformities.  He has always been home schooled before but is fully aware of the social challenges he is likely to confront.  Not surprisingly, bullies are an important part of Auggie’s story.  Two kids in particular – Julian and Eddie – loom large.  The manifestation of bullying is very different between the two and the storyteller’s judgments of them are also divergent.

            Julian is one of three students at Beecher Prep who are encouraged by the school director to take Auggie under his wing.  He turns out to be a very poor choice for the job as he can’t resist picking on Auggie and works actively to turn other kids against him.  Julian is a verbal and social bully – never physically threatening.  We learn the apple doesn’t fall from the tree as Julian’s mother, a power within the parent community, is also offended by Auggie’s presence in the school - photoshopping him out of class pictures and writing letters to the director encouraging his removal.

            Ultimately, the tide turns against Julian.  Auggie is accepted – even celebrated – at his new school while Julian is marginalized for his offenses.  At the end of the year, Julian leaves the school.  In an interesting turn, though an appropriate one to the overarching theme of the book, Julian is granted a small moment of redemption at story’s end.  Over the summer, all of the students are encouraged to send postcards to Mr. Browne, their English teacher, with precepts.  Julian’s is “Sometimes it’s good to start over.”  We are left with hope for Julian.

            The story of Eddie is another matter entirely.  Auggie and his buddy Jack have a scary encounter with Eddie during a class trip.  Eddie presents a greater physical threat than Julian.  For starters, he’s older: a seventh grader.  More to the point, he has clear violent intent.  Luckily, Auggie and Jack are rescued by other boys from their school before serious bodily harm is done.  Auggie loses his hearing aids in the scuffle.  They are found later in Eddie’s locker, destroyed.

            Mr. Tushman, the middle school director, encourages Auggie to press charges against Eddie, or at least to talk the matter over with his parents before dismissing the idea.  Auggie (and through him, the author?) does not express much hope for Eddie.  When Mr. Tushman suggests that Eddie and his accomplices might learn from being held to account, Auggie says, “Trust me: that Eddie kid is not learning any lessons.”  So ends the story of Eddie.

            Full disclosure: I’m a teacher.  I teach elementary and middle school, music and drama, grades 5-8.  Not all of the venom our little dears direct at one another qualifies as bullying but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.  The power disparities are clear in the world they inhabit.  It’s easy enough to sort the Auggies from the Julians and Eddies.  When bullying emerges, one’s sympathy naturally goes to the victim.  In my own youth, I found myself in Auggie’s place enough that my heart turns against the “mean kids” quickly.  But here’s the rub for the educator: the bully is my student, too.

            I have great sympathy for Mr. Tushman in the Eddie chronicle.  Even though Eddie is a student at another school, Mr. Tushman knows what I know: the Auggies of the world are the life-affirming heroes who make your entire career worthwhile.  The Eddies are the real challenge. The Auggies get you out of bed in the morning.  The Eddies keep you awake at night.

            Palacio does not grant us a back story for Eddie but it’s a safe bet that it’s not a happy one.  Bullying - like abuse, neglect and harassment - is often cyclical.  At the very least, it’s reasonable to assume that a kid like Eddie lacks positive social role models in his broader life.  Bullying is a patterned behavior and a difficult one to break.  It’s easy to be dismissive – “that boy’s gonna end up in jail one day” – but punitive measures rarely fix the underlying problems.  The USA’s high incarceration rate is hardly a badge of honor or a sign of our health as a society.  Eddie is no easy fix (for that matter, neither is Julian).  Stern warnings, suspensions and even criminal charges are mere tactics in an ongoing, painful, discouraging struggle.  The overarching strategy requires patience and resilience from all parties involved - a tall order.

            I offer no answers.  If the answers were easy, our world would be a very different place.  But I know we have to keep trying.  In the day-to-day battles, we are obliged to protect Auggie.  But we lose the war when we give up on Eddie.


            Thanks, Janie, for this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.  I look forward to engaging with all of you in the comments section.

I hope you'll leave The Armchair Squid some bloggy love in your comments, and remember to thank him for being a teacher. Please consider visiting his blog, too. He's very interesting.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Sunday, July 13, 2014

LOOK FORWARD, ANGELS

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Please be sure to join for tomorrow's BULLY FOR YOU guest post by The Armchair Squid.

I haven't know Mr. Squid very long, but I assure you his post is worth reading, as is his blog.

Happy Sunday!


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug


From fishducky, of course: