My Love for Philadelphia Soars

Champions PhinallyWhen the Eagles won the Super Bowl, there wasn’t a question as to whether or not we’d attend the parade. We went for the Phillies in 2008* and of course we’d go for the Eagles. After all, I’d married a devoted Philadelphia sports fan and we’d raised two sons who were also fans. The question was not if, but how. With millions of people expected, road closures planned, and limitations imposed on public transportation, my husband proposed a plan. He suggested that we ride bikes down to the Philadelphia Art Museum where the parade would end. Initially, I rejected his plan outright. I couldn’t imagine riding bikes in 31-degree weather over paths iced over by Wednesday’s heavy rains. But the more we discussed our options, the better the bike plan seemed to be.** Before 9 a.m. on Thursday, we headed out. The whole way there, people walked in groups – all headed to the same place. As we rode by, groups erupted in cheers at the sight of my son and husband sporting their jerseys.*** After parking our bikes, we walked the rest of the way, working our way as close as we could get to the front where the speeches would take place. By 11:15 a.m., we were wedged shoulder-to-shoulder with more of my fellow Philadelphians than I’d ever seen. We had 2 hours before the parade would arrive. With nothing much happening and no space to move, the crowds chief source of excitement was the random dudes who would attempt to climb the few sycamores that lined the area where we stood.

Deciding that being in such tight quarters wasn’t worth being up close, we tried to leave. But that was easier said than done, as the crowd pressed close and didn’t want to give way. Finally, we got out, regrouped at a coffee shop and returned to a different location. By this point, it was 12:40. Music blared from speakers. People danced and partied all around us. We found our nephew and his wife and hung with them. The electric slide came on and I danced with a group of strangers. The theme to Prince of Bel Air played and everyone sang along.

Then the parade arrived. Bus after bus of cheerleaders, front office personnel and players. We cheered for them and they cheered back. The crowd was dancing and so were the football players. One guy next to me snapped photos with his phone, telling me how lucky he felt to be there.

Parade arrives

After the parade passed by, we walked back to the boathouse to watch the speeches. The boathouse was packed and - as if we were all still outside watching it live - we cheered and clapped at the TV. And when the Eagles theme song came on, you better believe we sang at the top of our lungs.****

On the bike ride back, the crowd was quieter. Even so, as we rode by a large group, they cheered at our jerseys and we cheered back. Maybe Philadelphians don’t always live up to the city’s motto, but yesterday, Philadelphia was indeed the City of Brotherly Love.

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*Our boys were 8 and 11 in 2008 and when I tell you we walked miles, I mean miles.

**Riding bikes turned out to be brilliant.

***I was sporting Dawkins #20, but it was under my parka

****Jason Kelce’s passionate speech in his Mummers regalia was the obvious highlight, despite being bleeped for a full minute or more

 

Amazing Grace

Two weeks ago, on Martin Luther King, Jr Day, I was running errands when the radio announcer stated that "Amazing Grace" would be played at 11:00 a.m. on radios everywhere. As the song began, I pulled over. It was the version by Joan Baez, recorded live. I listened to the first verse and then joined in, singing alone in my car. My voice wavered with emotion over the beauty and power of Dr. King's life and death and my worry that our new reality would not extend the dream that he'd begun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRsr6OGH990

On Friday, President Trump was inaugurated and on Saturday I marched in Philadelphia. You've heard all about the marches - how many women turned up with signs and pink hats and children and friends (many of whom were men!). The march was peaceful and positive, joyful and affirming. The march was about women's rights and immigrant rights. It was about respecting our fellow humans - all of them. It was about healthcare and choice and access. It was about standing up against negative rhetoric. It was about demonstrating that this administration does not reflect our hopes and dreams. It does not reflect who we are.

philly-march

On Saturday morning, when I read the news about the executive order that President Trump had signed stopping immigration from specific countries, I wept in confusion and anger over an action that could harm men, women and children already traumatized by war. On Sunday in church, in response to the question of what we can do, our priest invoked the last line of the first reading of the day from Micah 6:1-8: "...do justice...love kindness and walk humbly..."

Later that day, while baking (because I tend to bake when I don't know what else to do), I listened to On Being with Krista Tippett. This week, she'd re-broadcasted a 2015 interview with Representative John Lewis. I'm sure you remember Donald Trump's recent tossed off tweet stating that John Lewis is all talk, no action. John Lewis was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He literally led the walk across the bridge in Selma and was beaten unconscious. On the Civil Right Movement and nonviolent action he said:

rep-john-lewis

"The movement created what I like to call a nonviolent revolution. It was love at its best. It’s one of the highest forms of love. That you beat me, you arrest me, you take me to jail, you almost kill me, but in spite of that, I’m gonna still love you."

I have not been beaten, arrested or jailed for my beliefs. I have not almost been killed. I cannot yet feel that love that John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr called for.

John Lewis also said, "When you pray, move your feet."

That I can do. I can move my feet.  I can call my representatives. I can state my beliefs. I can stand and be counted.

(video from YouTube, photo of Rep. John Lewis from OnBeing.org, Philadelphia Women's March photo my own)

More Alike Than Different

Maybe you’ve seen the iPhone commercial featuring Maya Angelou reciting her beautiful poem, “Human Family.” Some people seem to think that the use of the poem to sell iPhones somehow diminishes the poem. I disagree. I love hearing Angelou’s distinctive voice over the many images of human beings during the course of the commercial. Over the weekend, I was reminded of that poem. My husband and son were running the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in support of the Alzheimer’s Association. The morning broke clear and crisp and I rode my bike through our glorious Wissahickon Park to the area where the race was taking place. cresting-the-hill

Finding an excellent viewing spot just after mile 7, I parked my bike and waited for the first runners to crest the hill. Before the first runners, were the paralyzed athletes using handcycles to propel themselves up the huge hill. We cheered them on. A bit later came the leaders: three slim black men running 5 minute miles like it was no big deal. We cheered them on. Later, more runners climbed the hill. Young men and women like my son and his friend, well-conditioned from cross country season. We cheered them on. Then I jumped on my bike and parked myself at mile 12, just 1.1 miles from the finish.

zach-and-friend

Soon, I saw my son and his friend. Then my trainer. Next, my husband. I cheered them on. As I waited for my son and my husband to join me, I continued to cheer. I had watched as the participants morphed from ropey runners in tank tops and shorts to, let’s say, more round runners in running tights, long-sleeved shirts and headphones plugging their ears. The front of the pack runners made it look easy, like they could run that pace all the way to New York, if need be. The runners at the end of the pack were fighting for every step.

 

But every person out there was there for the same reason: to complete 13.1 miles that day in Philadelphia. Black, white, brown, beige and pink. Tall, short, thin, fat. Running on two legs, running on two blades, running while juggling. Propelling themselves on recumbent bikes, walking fast, walking slow, hobbling on a sore leg. Wearing race gear, wearing tutus, wearing a Captain America costume. Kids in middle school, adults well past retirement age and everyone in between. They all showed up to do the same thing. In these post election weeks fraught with fear and anxiety, I was struck by the common purpose of these 12,000 individuals and I cheered them all on. I agree with Maya Angelou. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

drummers

Human Family

I note the obvious differences in the human family. Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity, and others claim they really live the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight, brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas and stopped in every land, I've seen the wonders of the world not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women called Jane and Mary Jane, but I've not seen any two who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different although their features jibe, and lovers think quite different thoughts while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China, we weep on England's moors, and laugh and moan in Guinea, and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland, are born and die in Maine. In minor ways we differ, in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences between each sort and type, but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

The Hydrangea Tree

This tree sits in the middle of my backyard. This morning is cool and clear for August. As I sit on the deck of my new home, my line of vision is caught on the old hydrangea tree with its graceful draping branches exploding with blossoms. My neighbor has lived here all his life and he’s also a landscaper. He estimates that the tree might be 75 years old. He’s said that he hasn’t ever seen one so big.

Yesterday, after the painter left, after more furniture had been delivered, after the cleaning person finished her work, when there was only the carpenter and me remaining in the house, the doorbell rang. I was upstairs at the time, chagrined to realize that most of my comfy summer clothes were apparently downstairs in the laundry room. A minute and then another ticked by as I pawed through my dresser drawer. The carpenter called up to me.

“Laura, there’s someone here with a connection to the house.”

I tugged on a shirt and found my way down the stairs. I had no idea what to expect. Someone with a claim on the house? Someone looking for the previous owner?

A lovely young couple stood politely on my porch waiting. They introduced themselves and the woman explained that her grandmother had grown up in the house. The couple lived in Florida and were visiting the area on vacation and they wondered if they could take pictures of the outside of the house to share with the grandmother, who was the only remaining relative who’d lived there.

Of course I invited them in. I’d made a similar trip as this young woman after my grandmother’s sister died. I’d gone to my grandmother’s house and walked all around it, seeking the connection I’d had to my grandmother, pulling my memories of her from the wraparound porch, the gardens and the old cherry tree. Some of you will remember that my grandmother’s house featured in a book I wrote a couple of years ago.

The young woman entered the house, took one look the stairway and pulled in a deep breath. She explained that she has a photo of her grandmother on her wedding day tossing her bouquet down those steps. I pointed out the original aspects – as much as I knew them: the huge old windows, the carved baseboard moldings, the fireplaces and their intricate mantels. She sighed over all of it. She pointed to the hardwood floors in the dining room and remarked that they must be new. I said they were. She told me that there used to be a button on the floor to call the servant.

They went outside to take photos and just as they were pulling out of the driveway, I ran out to give her my email address.

“Would you share that photo of your grandmother with me?” I asked. “The one on the stairwell?”

She smiled and said she would. I don’t know if I’ll hear from her or see that photo of my house from the 1950’s, but that’s all right. I look at the blooming hydrangea tree, which was a young plant when that grandmother was a girl growing up in this house, and I feel an invisible thread connecting me to that grandmother across time and space. This house was a home long before that grandmother lived her and it might be a home long after I’m gone. For now, I’m entrusted to make it as happy a home for my family as I’m able. And I plan to do just that.

The Stanton Effect: Write from Experience

L. Marie invited me to post on a series of blogs focused on Andrew Stanton's TED talk Clues to a Great Story. My post is linked below the video of Stanton's talk. (BTW, there is some graphic language in the beginning of his talk. It's a great joke, though.) [embed]http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_stanton_the_clues_to_a_great_story?language=en[/embed]

The Stanton Effect: Write from Experience.

Unexpected Visitors

We’ve had our lake house for three years now. We love being up in the middle of the Adirondack Park on a cool lake framed by mountains. It suits us. But one thing we’ve joked about is the fact that we rarely see any wildlife. In fact, I’ve seen more wildlife on my early morning runs in suburban Philadelphia than I’ve seen in weeks of time at our camp. Last week I saw two foxes and one hedgehog — or maybe it was a groundhog. I’m really not clear on the difference. Anyway, this week at the camp, the lack of wildlife changed. While sitting on my deck, typing away at my laptop, I heard my husband exclaim from dock, “Laura! Come down here! Bring a camera!”

Not wanting to miss whatever he’d seen, I scurried down the steps sans camera. Beside the dock, three little heads bobbed in the water.

“Beavers?” Tom asked. Our neighbor had seen beavers. He’d also seen a bear meandering our property while we were not there.

“I don’t think so,” I said. Though I don’t recall ever seeing a beaver up close and personal, these guys didn’t have those famous buckteeth. The three made a clicking noise and then dove beneath the water with the grace of a selkie, dark pelts gleaming wet in the sunlight.

“They can’t be seals, right?” he said.

“Otters!” I said, as they surfaced again and dove once more. “They’re otters!”

Then they were gone. Disappeared beneath the dark waters of the lake leaving us with nothing but wonder.

otter

The next day, as we started a late morning run, I was startled to see a brood of wild turkeys waddling down the road like a gaggle of women shuttling children home from church. They paid me little mind before returning to their walk. Of course I didn’t have a camera that time either. Later, I remembered that my friend, Linda, met up with a few wild turkeys in a different mountain cabin far from here. She was smart enough to have a camera.

Yesterday we went for a long hike and I wondered if our wildlife luck had change enough to give us a glimpse of something interesting on our hike. I brought my camera just in case, but the most we saw were three tiny frogs, each smaller than a quarter and the color of autumn leaves, hopping across the path. In retrospect, that’s probably for the best. I’m not anxious to meet mountain lions, coyotes or bears while walking in the woods. Instead of wildlife, I’ll leave you with the view from the top of Owl’s Head. (River otter image from mylonglake.com, view from Owl's Head my own.)

View from Owl's Head

 

Mumuration, Synchronization and Symmetry

The other day I listened to a bit of David Dye interviewing Bell X1 on their newest release, Chop, Chop. David Dye asked the band about the inspiration for the first track on the album, Starlings Over Brighton Pier. Songwriter Paul Noonan said that seeing a mumuration of starlings inspired him to create a song that would sound like the birds' movements. Bell X1 captured the sense of murmuration beautifully in their song. I'd never heard the word murmuration and I was charmed both by the gorgeous word and the fact that it was given to the seemingly inexplicable air dance of starlings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k

Noonan mentioned in his interview the need for the human mind to attribute meaning to a coordinated event. This made me consider how I am moved by birds flying in concert, individuals assembling as a flashmob, orchestras playing complicated pieces, or voices raised in Om. I know I am not alone and I wondered why we seek synchronicity. 

Mathematician Steven Strogatz in a 2004 TED talk states that sync may be the "most pervasive drive in all of nature." In this article for Wired, Brandon Keim, informs us that computational modeling of the starlings reveals that the source of their coordinated movement is attributable more to physics than biology. As one bird moves, so they all move. No one knows how exactly they maintain this near instantaneous response. Keim suggests that the answer "hints at universal principles yet to be understood."

Now I'm going to add a profound spin to this entire concept. On Radiolab's recent podcast entitled "Desperately Seeking Symmetry," they opened with a 2400 year old story from Plato via Aristophanes about why so many of us seeks our "other half." In their final piece, "Nothing's the Antimatter," Neil de Grasse Tyson and Marcelo Gleiser explain the relationship of anti-matter to matter in order to complete the search for symmetry.

Now bear with me because I am far from a physics expert. One of the reasons I love Radiolab is because it allows mind-blowing concepts to become accessible. Okay, so Marcelo Gleiser explained that when an electron and a positron meet, they will annihilate resulting in mostly nothing -- except for radiation. If half the universe is matter and the other half the universe is anti-matter and we all bump into each other, we would not be here.

But we are here. So...why?

Marcelo Gleiser explained "...an imperfection in the laws of physics that we know of now, which explains this bias. To every billion particles of antimatter, we had a billion and one particles of matter. That tiny excess of one in a billion is enough to create everything that exists now."

In other words, we owe our very existence to asymmetry. Maybe Plato was onto something. Maybe we are moved by mumuration -- and all of the other examples of sync -- because at our fundamental core we are seeking a sense of unity in whatever form that may take.

Blame it on my MBTI

ENFP_Motivational_Poster_by_ConnMan8D After watching a couple of television shows in which characters ended up in very difficult situations, it hit me why it's so darn hard for me to create conflict between characters. I choose to blame it on my MBTI type. Surely you are familiar with MBTI? The Myers-Briggs Personaltiy Inventory (MBTI) is used for many reasons -- marriage counseling, team building, leadership training - but I use it for career counseling. Hence, I know an awful lot about type. The MBTI is made up of four dimensions with poles on either side and each dimension looks at a specific aspect of personality. An individual's type is made up of four letters, one from each dimension:

Extroverted - Introverted (Where we gather energy)

INtuiting - Sensing (How we take in data)

Thinking - Feeling (How we make decisions)

Perceiving - Judging. (How we are out in the world)

See, I'm an ENFP and one of the outstanding characteristics of my type, or really anyone with a preference for Feeling (F), is a desire for harmony. This is a person who would rather tell you that the dress looks great on you rather than risk you being upset by the truth. This is a person who is more likely to find a way for *all* the kids to play, rather than leave anyone out. Now you can see how a need for group harmony could impact a writer's willingness to place her characters in harm's way and/or watch them fight. Inevitably, I'm the person who, while watching TV, will call out to the fictional people on the screen,"Oh, but just talk to her. You can work it out. Tell her how you feel!" Now that might be good if I'm counseling a friend through a fight with someone, but it doesn't make for good drama. If everyone talked through their feelings told their 'truths' in our fictional worlds - man, how boring would that be?!

In terms of my writing, what I need to do is get in touch with the opposite of 'Feeling.' The Thinking (T) preference is characterized by being analytical and logical. This is the person (*cough* boyfriend) who will tell you the truth about how your butt looks in those jeans because, for Pete's sake, you asked didn't you?? And this is the person who will pick the *best* players for the game because -- hello? We're in it to win it, right?

INTJ-wallpaper

If I tap into my Thinking side, I can remember that what I'm trying to create is good drama. I can be analytical and logical about the drama, not all touchy-feely about who's getting hurt and who is misunderstood. Good drama means people lie, they make bad decisions, they argue with one another and they assume the worst. Not all of the time because that would be...Real Housewives. Ha! What I meant to say was annoying. That would be annoying.

There are other ways that my personality type influences my writing. My Extroversion (E) means that it's hard for me to spend days alone in my house writing. To combat that, I sometimes work in cafes with writer friends. The Perceiving (P) preference tells you that I'm not a planner, but I have to fight against that if I am to carve out time from my week to write. The one area that works with my writing is the intuiting preference. Where the N (intuiting) indicates a desire for creating things, the S (sensing) suggests a preference for implementation. It's common for creative writers - or artists of any kinds - to show a preference for intuiting. But remember girls and boys, we are complex people who can do things a variety of ways. A person with a preference for Sensing could be a fiction writer, too, but that person would probably approach writing differently that I would.

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to get in touch with my Thinking side and create a fracas in my story. I can always go back to my Feeling side when I'm finished writing. How about you? What is your type? How does your personality impact the way that you come to the page? Or the way you go about life in general?

When Not to Show the Crappy Date

They look so young, don't they?! Two very good writer friends (good friends and good writers), Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison, recently introduced me to Gilmore Girls. I know, right? How could I have missed this wonderful show? At least I finally found my way to it.

Because these wonderful friends know how much I enjoy Supernatural, they suggested I start with Season 3 so that I could see a young Sam Winchester, ahem, Jared Padelecki, as the love interest of Rory Gilmore, the teen in the show.

It's weird to me that this guy took second fiddle to Jess.

That my good friend saw my main character as similar to Rory is just too much of a compliment for me to take in. There's a lot to like in the show, but I don't need to tell you that, right? So, let's get to the reason for this post. I watched an episode in which Lorelai goes out on a date with the very yummy Don Draper - man, I keep doing that - Jon Hamm. The scene cuts as Lorelai and the Jon Hamm character leave for the date. The next scene is Lorelei entering Rory's room to talk about the crappy date.

Now, I probably would have shown the crappy date - the awkward moments, Lorelai's boredom, Jon Hamm's complete lack of awareness that it was a crappy date, plus his impossibly square jaw. As a writer, I was intrigued by the decision not to show the crappy date. See, I'm in (what I hope to be) final revisions on my young adult novel and part of the revision process for me right now is to evaluate whether or not my scenes are holding their weight. If they aren't, they need to go. I've read a couple of fantastic posts on evaluating scenes and I use them in my evaluative process. Check out Coe Booth's post of a David Mamet memo on Write at Your Own Risk here and Catherine Linka's post on pacing  here.

When I thought about the Gilmore Girls episode, I understood why they didn't show the date even though it had great comic possibilities. The show is first and foremost about the relationship between Rory and her mother, Lorelai. Showing Lorelai waking Rory to talk about a crappy date offered the viewer more insight into the closeness of this mother/daughter relationship. And because Jon Hamm would not be returning to the show (which I only forgive because of a later, even more yummy appearance by Billy Burke), it didn't make story sense to show the date. Now, for all I know, they shot the date scene and simply didn't have time to include it.

Revolution has successfully erased images of him as Bella's mustachioed father.

What I choose to take away from a craft standpoint is the reminder that drama alone is not enough reason to keep a scene. Even drama that feels like it's related to the overall story is not enough. In this case, Lorelai's dating is an important aspect of the show - she's single and she's like not to be.  The scene must also -- in some form -- build on what the reader knows of the characters, their relationships to one another, the overall theme of the story and the forward momentum of the plot. Man, that's a lot to expect of each little scene, isn't it? But hey, if the scene isn't up to the task, he shouldn't have walked into the story to begin with! So, how do you evaluate your scenes? What helps you figure out what to keep and what to cut?

Gettin' My Poe On

The Following The creepy new series, "The Following," has achieved something noble for television, at least for me. It inspired me to return to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Admittedly in the last couple of episodes, good old Poe has taken a back seat to the shenanigans of the cult-type group carrying out the macabre plans of the convicted serial killer, Joe Carroll. Nonetheless, in the earlier episodes, all of the characters made references to Poe's stories, so I thought I'd return to the Tales of Terror and remind myself of what Poe created during his tortured existence.

I was disappointed that the audiobook was not narrated by James Purefoy (who plays the serial killer on "The Following"). I mean, obviously, I knew it wouldn't be him, but wouldn't it have been fantastic if it was? He's pretty cute for a serial killer, right? And that accent...At any rate, you can imagine my surprise to hear a narrator with a decidedly southern gentleman's lilt. Despite the unexpected accent, I was engaged by the very first story, the well-known Tell-Tale Heart. I'd sort of remembered the story, but what I'd forgotten over the years was the manner by which Poe builds toward the inevitable conclusion.

Recently on the interwebs, I saw this quote attributed to Poe: "A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”

Boy oh boy, does our man Poe follow his own advice. By the end of the story, I was practically begging the narrator to just rip up the darn floorboards, confess and maybe even commit hari-kari to stop the infernal beating of the heart.

Another nugget of wisdom I read within the last month was in this post in the New York Times by suspense writer Lee Child. Child says he's often asked how one creates suspense in stories and he notes that the framing of the questions suggests a sort of if-then construction akin to asking "How do you bake a cake?" This construction, he says, directs writers to look at their ingredients: sympathetic characters and proceed to follow directions on how to place them in impossible situations But, Child says this:

"'How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”

And the answer is: You make them wait four hours for dinner."

Don't you love that? You make them wait four hours for dinner. As I work through the final revisions of my current work-in-progress, I'm thinking about the promises I've set forth in the beginning of the novel, what Orson Scott Card would call the need in the reader. I'm looking at the characters, the choices they make and their impact on one another, and I'm looking at how I'm building suspense toward an exciting climax and a satisfying conclusion. Now you might be wondering if I'm writing a suspense thriller like Lee Child. I'm not. I'm writing a realistic young adult novel set in contemporary Baltimore. But the point Child raises pertains to all writers, in my opinion. It's a matter of how we make readers turn pages. We all need suspense in our stories. In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe forces the reader wait during the long hours that the narrator is just watching the old man. Poe creates a need in the reader to see what not only what will happen but how it will happen. "The Following" encourages us to tune in each week to find out if and when the ever-flawed Ryan Hardy will find the boy, whether or not the mother will get herself in trouble (is she a cliche of a damsel in distress or what?) and whether that 'virgin' acolyte will ever be bring himself to commit murder (his psycho friends won't give up on him, how cute is that?).

Impatient by nature, I have a tendency to throw an obstacle before my main character and then allow her to leap over it fairly quickly. Through this revision, I'm learning to slow down, allow my character to wallow in discomfort for a while and force my readers to wait four hours for dinner. What are your thoughts about suspense in stories? What have you seen or read that creates excellent suspense, in your opinion?

The Perks of Watching a Movie with Heavy Themes

MV5BMzIxOTQyODU1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDQ4Mjg4Nw@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_ Over the long weekend, our family watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower. There is a lot to like about this movie, not the least of which is seeing Logan Lerman (of Percy Jackson fame) further develop his acting chops as Charlie, the depressed lead character of the movie. Also, Hermione Gra...er, Emma Watson is wonderful as his quirky crush, Sam. I especially loved Ezra Miller as Patrick, who, though comfortable as a gay teen, struggles with the fact that he must hide his relationship with the quarterback of the football team. I wasn't familiar with Miller and the movie makes me want to watch We Need to Talk about Kevin.

The strong acting in the movie helped to bring home the heavy topics presented in the story. The main character, Charlie has struggled with depression after his best friend committed suicide some undisclosed time earlier. It is also revealed that Sam was molested by her father's boss when she was a child, which led to some promiscuity during her early years of high school. In addition, Charlie witnesses his sister being slapped by her boyfriend and he feels confused and worried when she decides to stay with him. All the while, the viewer sees flashbacks to Charlie's childhood around the time that his aunt died.

During the course of the movie, Charlie learns about himself and his peers, he experiments with drugs and has his first failed relationship. Very late in the movie, Charlie has a psychotic break when he understands that his aunt molested him when he was six.

While it seemed that Chbosky threw an awful lot into Charlie's life, the movie handled the issues with grace -- at least in my opinion. The high school experience felt real to me -- especially that weird no-man's land where teens try to deal with major life questions and problems and the right song can make everything okay -- at least for a little while.

This is why I write for teens. I love to explore that middle ground between childhood and adulthood where adolescents are trying to navigate very real life and death issues (sex, drugs, mental illness) while they are also trying to define themselves. They have so little control in their lives, so the definitions come from the type of music you listen to, the clothes you wear, the group you choose to hang with and whether you take school seriously or not.

I also have a couple of teens living in my house. The morning after we watched the movie, my husband asked the boys what they thought of the many issues that Charlie faced in the story. It led to a discussion of our sons' experiences in their schools and how they've dealt with transitions as they try to find their places in the social structure of their schools.

The movie's strong themes stayed with me for a few days, leading to a great talk with my kids. And to think that I just wanted to watch a feel-good movie during the long weekend.

Are you following The Following?

PortraitofEdgarAllanPoeOkay, so who is watching the new drama 'The Following' starring Kevin Bacon and that pretty chick from 'Justified'? And who among you screamed like a little girl during the last episode? Me too! Full on screamed out loud. Not just a little squeak, mind you. A scream.

What I like about this show: the delicious Poe connection feels original. And the literary references don't end at Poe. Did you catch the nod to Joseph Campbell's hero's journey in episode one? The fact that the psycho killer calls Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) a flawed hero somehow makes his role seem less cliche. And in the recent episode, Claire, the ex-wife recounts the books her sons is reading and she mentions Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others. I found this amusing as I have two avid reading sons and neither has read Melville or Robert Louis Stevenson.

I am curious how the writers will maintain the tension throughout the season and how they are conceiving of future seasons, but for now -- I'm hooked. How about you?