Some movies we saw. A breakfast date I’ll never have.

This week, Dan and I went to the movies twice.  On Sunday, we saw Looper. On Tuesday, we saw Intouchables.

Looper is a dark story about the future. The Intouchables is based on a true story  and so warm and fuzzy you just want to roll around in it. 
Looper made me wonder what I would say if I sat down with my younger self over breakfast, just like the main character, Joe, sits down with himself at a diner over steak and eggs.  Older Joe tries to explain to young Joe what will matter to him in the end. He tries to warn him about the mistakes he’ll make, and the dangers that are yet to come. But young Joe doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to knock old Joe off because that’s what he’s supposed to do according to his contract. He cares about himself, now. “This is my life now,” says young Joe. “You had yours already.”
young Joe, old Joe
Sometimes, I go into a headspin about the choices I made. How I blew all my money on travel. How I didn’t take the time to build a career in the traditional way. In my twenties, I prided myself on these things. Would I tell her not to do what she did?
young Sky
Of course I wouldn’t. Those travels still define me. And even if I did ask her to just change a few things, she wouldn’t listen. She would be just like young Joe, full of pride and hope and naiveté. That’s ok. Sure, she made a few things more difficult for 31-year-old me, but things are pretty good, and I love her for who she is—innocent and wide-eyed and drunk on idealism.
Isn’t that how we become the people we are? By screwing up? By doing irrational but wonderful things? By offering ourselves up to the world? By fucking up a little and succeeding a little and then doing it all over again? 
old Sky
 It gave me this weird idea to start a blog of my adventures in South America (seven years ago now,) drawing from journals and old emails and blogging about it as if it were happening now. Day by day.
What would I do? Could I let young Sky just be who she is/was, or would I be tempted to re-write her? Would I love her, hate her, envy her, be embarrassed by her?  How strange it would be to write as 24-year-old me in the morning, and spend the rest of the day as a 31-year-old. Maybe she could even teach me a thing or two.
I wonder: would I—even though I know what happens—be surprised by going back there?
Would you if you went back?
But if you’re not in the mood for time travel, The Intouchables is perfect. Even the trailer will make your day.

Adaptation/The Orchid Thief

Last night, Dan and I watched Adaptation. I’ve wanted to see the film ever since I read its source material, The Orchid Thief, for one of my MFA classes a few years ago. Plus, I love Charlie Kaufman
It’s funny how you wait years to read/see/do something you’ve always wanted to read/see/do, but then you when you read/watch/do it at the moment you do, you’re glad you waited. Timing can be everything when it comes to encountering a book, a movie, a song, an adventure.
You see, I’ve been bumping up against myself lately. Or rather the evil, self-doubting, you’re-destined-to-fail-you-talentless-wannabe-writer voice in my head. I know in my heart she’s just a voice, but she sure can be a noisy one.
Rather than tackling the bitch, I often give in to her. I let blank pages remain blank pages. I let a week go by, and then another. And the more distance between me and my computer, the harder it is to return to it. (Just look at the dearth of entries here.)
When I’m not writing, I feel less dug into the world. More apathetic.
So what does this have to do with The Orchid Thief/Adaptation? Well, Adaptation is about a writer struggling to write his film. But more than that, these two works are about passion: about loving something so much you’d do anything for it. You’d give up a piece of yourself for it.
Susan Orlean envies her subject John Laroche because he loves the orchids so. He’ll wade through alligator/snake-ridden swamps to find them; he’ll break laws to bring them home. 
The real Susan Orlean

 In one passage, she drives with him along the swamp:
I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not huge and empty, but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this space as sad-making and vacant—I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.
The idea of an author as talented and successful as Susan Orlean envying a person as odd (and toothless) as Laroche startled me, but I completely understood. 
Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean
 I wish I came to writing with the determination that Laroche went after the orchids. I wish I would do anything for it…that my desire outweighed my fear and doubt.
There is a rare orchid called a Ghost Orchid that Orlean wishes to see throughout The Orchid Thief. She follows Laroche into the swamp searching for it.
It’s almost a too-perfect metaphor for passion, life, art. Wading a mucky swamp, swarmed by mosquitoes in stifling heat, sharing the space with unsavory reptiles and who-knows-what-else in search of one tiny perfect white piece of beauty—a ghost.
Chris Cooper as The Orchid Thief, wading in the swamp.
 That’s art. The process is not always pretty. Sometimes, it’s downright miserable.
At times, I feel like I really am doing this in life. Trying, straining, waiting to stumble onto that piece of beauty and suddenly feel at want for nothing. I love how the book and the film address this flawed idea.
In the book, Orlean never sees the orchid. “I realized it was just as well that that I never saw a ghost orchid, so that it could never disappoint me, and so it would remain forever something I wanted to see.”
In the movie, she does find the ghost. She looks over the tiny white orchid for a long moment. “It’s just a flower,” she says. 

Getting Old(er)

I’ve been thinking a lot about getting old lately.

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday. Maybe it’s because I was just at my grandmother’s 90th birthday. Or maybe it’s because Dan and I went to see the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel last weekend.

My grandmother is quite a character and I wish you all could meet her. She’s a hardcore conservative, ravenous Fox News-watcher, and a god-fearing Catholic. (After my dad divorced my first wife, his parents purchased him a retreat weekend. My dad arrived, unpacked his bags, went to the first meeting, and realized that the topic of the weekend was ‘A life of celibacy.’ Cause, you know, divorce is a sin or whatever. Dad promptly packed his bags and left.) And while my political/social views could not be more opposite, Grandma Ernie is one of my heroes.

My adorable family with Grandma Ernie

Her greeting is positively the best: “Oh my Sky! My beeeaaautiful granddaughter.”

She’s had the same couch for probably 35 years.

She managed several apartment buildings single-handedly well into her eighties. 

She issued a groan of joy upon receiving our gift–a simple calendar with all of the family birthdays written in. It was the kind of genuine over-the-moon disbelief-sound most people reserve for things like a new car.

Grandma’s tough, stubborn, frugal, she prays every morning and every night, and sincerely overflows with love. For her, it’s all about family.

And there we were–all her sons and their children and our spouses in one room for the first time in many many years. “This is the best birthday I’ve ever had,” she said.

The Hornig Clan

I guess when I think about getting old I can only hope that’s how it goes. I’m all filled up the brim on my 90th birthday thinking ‘it just doesn’t get any better than this.’

I know it sounds crazy (and probably a little bit stupid) but I don’t think I really realized I would get old until I turned 30. I mean I knew I would get old, but I didn’t really believe it.  It kind of crashed down on me like a tidal wave.

It’s partially why I wanted to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel–a movie about seven Brits who make their way to India for retirement. The film is superbly acted (can’t go wrong with Judy Dench, Bill Nighy or Maggie Smith), heartwarming, a feast for the eyes, and funny. There are nuggets of wisdom throughout. My favorite perhaps is when a crotchety lady asks one of her comrades how he ‘can bear India.’ What does he see that she doesn’t.

Even the trailer will warm your heart.

“People here see life as a privilege, not a right. I think I can learn something from that.”

I’ve been having totally unreasonable panic attacks that my life is over. That whatever I haven’t already done I will never do.  Yes, I know- crazy talk. But I guess I’m saying I appreciated the stories of these older folks and the little lessons…that our lives are constantly evolving, that adventures lie in hidden corners, that is never too late to do something, or to change your life or your self.

How’d I land such a cute guy? I shall never know…

Turning 31 was sweet. It was so far from my 30th birthday with oodles of friends camping out on the coast of California, and getting drunk enough to plant my ass on a styrofoam cooler around midnight, (true story). It was cake with my nieces and nephew. A long, fancy dinner with my husband. Shopping with Mom at Target. And toasting my grandmother on her 90th.

My sweet nephew and niece! Georgia and Will

So the world turns and on we go.

The Five-Year Engagement

Dan and I went to see The Five-Year Engagement on Friday night. I’m a real big fan of pretty much everything Jason Segel does- Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets. He’s willing to go over the edge (full frontal while getting his heart broken onscreen,) is great at off-the-wall humor (Russell Brand singing ‘I want to be inside you’ while thrusting his hips explicitly at a five-star resort in Hawaii, + every single moment of the Muppets), while also being down to earth and totally relatable.
I, for one, could relate to Five-Year Engagement. Violet (Emily Blunt) and Tom (Jason Segel) move away from San Francisco so that Violet can pursue her academic dreams. Tom’s not too thrilled about it, but he’s up for it, because that’s what people who plan to spend the rest of their lives together do for each other. 
There’s a flash from sunny seaside San Francisco to bitterly cold and snowy Michigan and I laughed out loud. I just moved from San Francisco to Canada.  
Blue Bird San Francisco
 Winter in Calgary 
Tom, a chef at a swanky restaurant in a city where food is practically religion, goes looking for a job in Ann Arbor. “You’re a chef and you left San Francisco?!” the restaurateurs cackle and laugh. “You idiot!” they howl. “Are you crazy?”  I get some raised eyebrows in Calgary when I tell them I moved here from SF.  “Why?” is everyone’s inevitable question.
But what I loved most about this movie was it’s willingness to explore what it really means to be in a long-term relationship.
At one point, Violet and Tom have broken up and Tom’s having dinner with his parents. He says to them, “We’re just not sure we’re 100% right for each other.” His parents sort of snort with laughter.
“Your father and I aren’t even 90% right for each other. Not even 60% right for each other. But he’s the love of my life.”
Violet and her sister have a hilarious verbal duel in which the sister’s daughter asks them to speak in Elmo and Cookie Monster Voices. 
Violet and her sister
“Coooookie thinks he just wasn’t the perfect cookie.”
“Well Elmo says there is no perfect cookie.  At some point you just have to pick a cookie!”
Ok Guys, let’s get real. There is no perfect cookie! At least I know that I am not a perfect cookie. I briefly, when I was first falling in love with Dan, thought that I might be a perfect cookie. That was when Dan thought every little thing I did was so cute. Even when my suitcase exploded in his bedroom on my visits. But guess what? When we were living together for reals, my messiness was not that cute. It was a plain old ugly mess, just like every other mess in this world.  Turns out I’m more stubborn than I thought I was; I really like to get my way. I stain every white shirt that crosses my body. I could go on and on. Being in a long term relationship not only means getting all of your most wonderful qualities mirrored back at you, it also forces you to confront the less than shiny things about yourself and the person you’re with. It’s really easy to hate a person who forces you to see things you don’t like about yourself. Trust me. But then. This is how we grow.
I read an article that speculated whether marriage is obsolete. I feel like there is this ongoing battle between married women and single women. Married people think they know where it’s at. Single people think married people are crazy and sacrifice too much. I think this fight is silly. As is true with everything, people should do what they want. I don’t think marriage is obsolete- clearly, a lot of people want to get married. What’s obsolete is the idea is that everyone should get married, or even should want to, and that you’re some kind of lesser human being if you don’t get married. That’s absolutely stupid. Marriage is not for everyone.
You have to be willing to love your partner even if they turn into a deer hunting, unkempt chops sporting, ugly knit sweater wearing version of themselves (like Tom does.) You have to be willing to forgive each other—(Tom and Violet both give up wayward kisses.) And you might have to be up for leaving a place you love for the person you love. In other words: it’s not always pretty, and it’s not always fun, and it’s most definitely not easy or perfect. 
The sweaters get worse as the movie goes on. There’s even a knit tuxedo that makes an appearance.
But in Tom and Violet’s case, it’s worth it. And I can honestly say that even though Dan left the yogurt on the counter yesterday for me to clean up and he hates it when I don’t pick up my feet when I wear my slippers, I love him in a way I could not have understood before we got this far. It’s less glossy than I thought it would be. But it’s better than gloss. Like anything worth doing in life, we’ve had to fight for it, and we’ll continue to have to fight for it. Our love–our us-ness–is as imperfect as we are, and that’s what makes it real and true.

More notes on my love for The Hunger Games


So. The Hunger Games blew my mind right out of the water.

Where to begin? The film was every bit as good as I hoped it would be and maybe better. No, it’s not as good as the book and some things are missing. But it’s as good and true to the book as film can possibly be.

Jennifer Lawrence is perfection as Katniss, and somehow conveys all the complexities of our heroine. I have such a girl crush on this actress right now. Her talent is raw and true, and not at all reliant on being beautiful—but she is beautiful, in a subtle yet startling way. Jennifer Lawrence is the real deal.

Woody Harrelson all but steals the show as the maddening and hilarious drunk with a big heart that is Haymitch.

Lenny Kravitz looks sexy in gold eyeliner.

I have to admit that Josh Hutcherson pleasantly surprised me. Perhaps because of all of the press photos lately taken of him that beg me to think of him as a brooding stud (a la the utterly talentless Robert Patterson). But Josh’s Peeta was just so loveable, I wanted snuggle right up to him.

The severe fashions, garish make-up and ridiculous hair-dos as well as every single impeccably styled set at the Capitol are a feast for the eyes. Peeta and Katniss are dumbstruck when they board the train and are greeted with crystal chandeliers, colorful sleek furniture and a buffet with riches of fruits and desserts. A stark contrast from the grays, browns, muted perpetually dirty color of their clothes and coal mining district where much of the population teeters on starvation. Effie Trinket, their escort from the Capitol, says (something along the lines of,) “I think its so wonderful that the tributes get to see and experience all this,” implying that seeing ‘all this’ and dying in the games is much better than living back in District 12 and never seeing it at all.

I read a review on the Village Voice that criticized: “Collins…through her very premise, astringently articulates her anger at a culture—ours—indifferent to inequity and war and besotted with its own stupidity. But the book’s rage and despair are diluted here, focusing too much on the high-tech gimmickry of the Gamemakers…” I completely disagree with this. Take the example above—how could you miss Effie’s stupidity—that to experience high fashion, style and luxurious food trumps the very right to life? Was this reviewer not filled with rage and despair when the gamemaker, Seneca Crane’s, produced a self-satisfied smile as he sent in lethal mutts to chase after and kill these teenagers in one of those “high-tech gimmickry” scenes?

Books aside, here’s the Panem I saw in the film:

A culture in which there are the very rich and the very poor.

The rich are obsessed with beauty, glamour, big lights and spectacle—oh, and violence and reality TV. The night before 24 teenagers are sent off to fight to the death, they crowd the streets delightedly chanting Hunger, hunger. They feel entitled to everything they have, and don’t give a second thought to at whose expense their wealth is won. And the poor? Well they don’t have much say or choice in much of anything at all. Hmmm…sound familiar?

I was on the verge of tears for the entire first half of the film. I kept thinking: Why is the story so affecting? Why can’t I stop thinking about it? Why do I want to read the books all over again and see the movie 10 more times? Maybe because it holds by the throat and shakes you awake. Because it rouses those deep human emotions–fear, hope, rage, despair…and love. The ones that make us feel alive.

And then there’s Katniss. My hero. My brave-but-afraid, strong-but-vulnerable, ordinary-but-extraordinary, tender-but-kick-ass hero.

Right back at you girl.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games movie comes out today and I will be one of the hundred millions of people who go to see it- I CANNOT WAIT!!! (I do not use all caps lightly, my friends.) My heart is a-pitter-pattering with excitement. I just watched the trailer for the hundredth time and got chills yet again.

Dan’s been teasing me to no avail about my excitement over this film (and repeated trailer-viewing). The teasing took a turn for the worse when I sprung $6.99 to buy the People Magazine Hunger Games collector’s issue. I’ll admit: this was a low point. I like to think of myself as above celebrity magazines. But I am not above the cheesy interviews where the actors all pat each other on the back or the behind-the-scenes shots of Elizabeth Banks getting that crazy-awesome make-up done. No: I am down on the same level with all the other collector’s buying the COLLECTOR’S SPECIAL and I’m proud to be there.

I disappeared into these books. They engulfed me. When I finished them, I stared at the ceiling and clutched the Mocking Jay to my chest, not knowing how to leave them behind. I wanted to talk to everyone who had read them, but then I tried and realized that what I really wanted was just to read them all over again and go back that place, back to Peeta and Gale and Katniss and even Haymitch.

I worship authors that can create a reading experience like this, who inspire millions and millions of people to read. Suzanne Collins- you go sister! This is a great essay by Carolyn Ross on The Millions about the pleasure of reading YA novels, and the important purpose they serve for adults and children alike.

Katniss is a complicated heroine and she is rendered so well. She is brave because she has to be brave, and she is also afraid because she lives in a society that breeds fear. She is vulnerable, often in a state of despair, and yet she gives hope to everyone around her. She tries to hold on to her humanity while being forced to kill people or be killed.

My sister told me that Suzanne Collins came up with the idea for these books while flipping between Survivor and a news story about the Taliban, (or something along those lines.) Given this, it’s not hard to see why these books are not only great book to read, but also scarily relevant.

I look at the world and I look at Katniss and I wonder: would I…could I be so brave? Things are going on at home that deeply disturb me, and I keep asking myself: what are you going to do about it? Reading these novels reminded me that you can’t win if you don’t fight—if you don’t take a risk.

Happy Friday everyone. I’ll report back on the movie. For now, I raise a glass to brilliant authors, good books, real life heroines and heroes, the risk takers, the fighters. May we all be as badass as this: