Fruitvale Station glimpses Oscar Grant’s last day

fruitvale stationI had a hard time coming up with the right headline for this post because I felt there was much to say but no way to appropriately describe Fruitvale Station in just a few words. Usually a film has many aspects that can be critiqued: the screenplay, the acting, the directing, the cinematography, etc. And  on all these accounts, the film was beautifully done. First-time director Ryan Coogler deserves great kudos for his thoughtful handling of a difficult subject, and Michael B. Jordan turned in an understated, multi-tiered performance as the ill-fated Oscar Grant.

But to discuss plot points or argue specific facts that may or may not have been included in the movie would be to ignore the raw emotion that many of us felt in that dark theater just miles from where this national tragedy took place.

During the scene in which Octavia Spencer, who does a great job portraying Oscar’s mom, is encouraging Oscar to take BART over to the city instead of driving, all of us in the audience are cringing. Because we know.

When Oscar’s little girl, Tatiana, hears fireworks and thinks it’s gunfire and she’s afraid, Oscar responds as any parent would, assuring her that he’ll be back before she awakes—that there’s no danger. But I know I wasn’t the only one sobbing through that scene. Because we know.

And when the all-too-familiar hospital waiting room scene plays out, audience members know there’s no use in his family praying for him. Because it’s all already happened.

And I think that’s what made me feel as if I’d been punched in the stomach when I watched the credits roll. And why it was silent in the waiting line for the restroom afterward.

I’ve cried at plenty of movies. I couldn’t leave Philadelphia until long after the Tom Hanks character had died. I cried three separate times in The Notebook. And don’t even get me started on Old Yeller

But after watching those movies and my tears dried, I could always be comforted that they weren’t real—they were just very sad stories.

But Oscar Grant was a real person who lost his life. Not because he sold drugs to the wrong guy or contracted a life-threatening illness or even fought in a stupid war. Oscar Grant died because an overzealous BART cop shot him point-blank while he was unarmed and restrained. And there’s no doubt about what happened because multiple onlookers caught it all on their cellphones. And to those of us in the Bay Area who recognized that BART platform and were nearby on that New Year’s Eve, it  was especially uncomfortable and excruciating.

As the movie ended, the audience sees footage of the real Tatiana at a recent event that paid tribute to her dad, which really drove home the truth—that the cop served eleven months in prison, but Tatiana lost her daddy forever.


Bullying Antidote offers hope and explores options

bullying antidoteBullying has been around as long as there have been people, but it is not an inevitable condition that we as a society have to give in to. New approaches are starting to make headway as schools and parents tackle this issue that will not go away.

Last week I attended a book launch at Laurel Books for The Bullying Antidote: Superpower Your Kids for Life, written by my friend Kristen Caven and her mother, Dr. Louise Hart. It was a warm, muggy night in Oakland, so the door was opened in Luan’s cozy little bookshop to allow the occasional breeze to provide some relief. A small but engaged audience of parents and teachers listened to the authors present ideas based on both science and experience.

Kristen & Louise
Louise Hart & Kristen Caven

Hart is a community psychologist who has studied school environments and is an expert in self-esteem development. Caven is a writer who is actively involved in the parent association where her son attends high school. (She also happens to be an active member in the California Writers Club, which is how I know her.) Together they have compiled information that explores the topic quite thoroughly. One major aspect of this issue has to do with different parenting styles. Nobody sets out to raise a bully or a victim (or at least I hope nobody does!), but any sort of extreme parenting, whether permissive or autocratic, leaves its mark on our children. Through positive parenting, the authors suggest that we can help turn the tide on a trend that has contributed to the bully/victim dynamic. Recognizing patterns, understanding motives, and focusing on effective communication are all part of a multi-pronged approach to dealing with this prevalent problem.

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, a young man shared his recent experience as a substitute camp counselor. Neither a teacher or a parent, he hadn’t known about the book event. He just happened to be walking by and impulsively entered the open door. Then something about the topic piqued his interest, and he stayed. His own father, he admitted, was less than an ideal parent, but rather than putting energy toward resenting him, this young man seemed bent on breaking that cycle and taking what he learned to heart.

It’s possible that, as it often is, the authors were mostly preaching to the choir, considering those assembled. But even if just one young person really understood the advice being offered that night, perhaps it will influence his choices and actions, spurring a ripple effect that will touch many. It may be a romantic notion, but hope thrives on such notions, doesn’t it?

Mac Barnett–children’s author and manifesto writer

Mac Barnett & me
Mac Barnett & me

I’m so behind in recounting all the fantastic book events I’ve attended!

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to sit in the back when Mac Barnett was doing a presentation for a children’s writers’ conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera. I went to the conference a few years back, and it’s great; but I can’t afford to go every summer. Luckily this particular event was open to the public, although conference attendees got to sit up front.

extra yarn

I’d actually seen Mac Barnett before when he emceed a San Francisco Library event with Chris Van Allsburg and Daniel Handler celebrating the publication of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick a few years back. And I had just heard him on West Coast Live the weekend before. In addition to being a great author, he’s a great speaker—very funny and thoughtful.

I really agree with his whole philosophy surrounding children’s literature. He’s written something he calls “A Picture Book Manifesto,” which has been signed by several children’s authors and illustrators. Apparently he got the idea from one of his college professors. (It turns out he went to my alma mater, Pomona College, although twenty years later. Hmm, I wonder which prof came up with it…) Check out his manifesto below, and if you want to read more about it, go here:

He shared some of his favorite picture books (including one from his own childhood, a Sesame Street paperback featuring Grover), pointed out the beauty of the page turn,  and read his latest book, Extra Yarn, which is a lovely story that I highly recommend.

kid lit proclamation

Isn’t soap supposed to have at least a pretense of cleanliness?

greenWe have two sets of bathrooms on the floor of my office building that both have liquid soap containers. The bathrooms on the east side have soap that most people would consider pretty ordinary, but the bathrooms on the west side dispense a vile yellowish-green substance that looks like the stuff that comes out of your nose when you’ve got a major sinus infection.* As far as I can tell, both soaps do the job that they were created to do. But the soap in the west end makes me feel slightly ill when I start rubbing it between my hands.

I know, I know—why don’t I just use the bathroom in the east end? I usually do. But I know that there’s actually no substantive difference between the two, so I tell myself that the green stuff won’t hurt me and try not to let it bother me. And then just to prove that no mere soap dispenser will get the better of me, I use the bathroom in the west end. But it still grosses me out a little.

And it makes me wonder. Given the miraculous technology at our fingertips, why would any company create a product that is supposed to be the epitome of clean and make it visually interchangeable with unhealthy snot?

And my second question: why do bathrooms on the same floor have different colored liquid soap anyway? You’d think the whole building would use the same liquid soap, yet on the second floor there appears to be a schism in the world of restroom supplies.

I know now my mission next week: I will sample the soap dispensers on every floor and get to the bottom of this. I wonder if there’s a variety of paper towels as well…

Note: I searched images and considered many possibilities. (You’d never guess how many images Google matches to “green snot.”) In the end I decided that subtlety fit the bill.

* from the Home Remedies Directory: Green mucus color means that you have been contaminated and is generally seen in cases of pneumonia and inner micro-bleedings. The phlegm is green due to a chemical known as myeloperoxidases (MPO), that is green in coloring. It is present in bright program tissue and bacteria appeals to more bright tissue than infections. For more on the color of your mucus:

Sometimes hodgepodge is the way to go…

women's symbolYesterday our daughter called us at the office (where we both work) to ask our opinions about getting a tattoo of the symbol for women on her neck. My husband responded that since she already had our names on her wrists and a large cherry blossom branch across her back that perhaps another tattoo that wasn’t even connected to the others would seem a bit hodgepodgy but passed the phone to me for my input. I pointed out that it was fairly apparent to all that she was indeed a woman, so there was really no need to don an identifying symbol. She decided not to do it, at least for the time being.

But it got me to thinking about hodgepodges.

I usually try to write posts that have some sort of point or at least stick to one topic. But there are many moments in my day when I think of something that I think might be of interest to readers of my blog, and I vow to file it away for future reference, either to expand into its own post or to tie it in to other items that are related.

But I find myself with a lot of bits and pieces that don’t easily fit into either category.

And this is how a hodgepodge is born. I’ve decided not to hold back these little snippets. I may start sharing them regularly in bunches or I might just publish mini-posts to get them into the world and out of the recesses of my mind (where they may not be entirely safe, given my current issues regarding memory loss). Or they may not last beyond today.

Today’s hodgepodge items include something for everyone (or possibly nothing for anyone, I suppose):

A) By the water fountain at my gym, there is a little shoebox wrapped in cheery blue paper with the sign “Take a Poem, Leave a Poem” and some blank paper. Since I didn’t have a printed-out poem readily available tucked in my sport bra, I jotted down the only poem I know by heart:

Mrs. McTwitter the babysitter—I think she’s a little bit crazy

She thinks that a babysitter is supposed to sit on the baby.

 –Shel Silverstein

Then I took out a poem all typed up (obviously someone came to the gym more prepared than moi) and eagerly read it. It was “Be Angry at the Sun” by Robinson Jeffers, which is, of course quite different from the humorous little gem that I contributed. But it was certainly a fair trade. The poem I brought home was deeply philosophical and evoked big concepts, such as truth, power, and free will;  the one I offered would surely bring a smile to its recipient. Both poems serve worthy purposes.

This made me think about tradeoffs, which will be my second hodgepodge topic.

B) We engage in a plethora of tradeoffs every single day. Here are examples from my own life:

Tradeoff number one has to do with how I spend the hour before I go to work in the morning—writing or going to the gym. One will be more satisfying creatively, and the other will contribute more to my physical health. (Then there’s secret choice number three—playing Words with Friends on my phone while I figure out what to do.)

Tradeoff number two is the continuous conversation in my head regarding what I put in my mouth. Yes, the morning bun is delectable and my tongue will be happy, but the oatmeal will satisfy my hunger for longer and provide more nutrients and fiber. Luckily I can add nuts and blueberries to the oatmeal so that it can also make my tongue happy.

Life is a constant balancing act in so many ways. It’s a miracle I get anything done at all…

What do you do when you wake up at 5:30 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep?

BisquickAfter tossing and turning a bit and petting the dog (who is in bed under the covers until my tossing and turning annoy him enough that he gets out of my bed and retires to the doggie bed) I decide to get up. Blueberry pancakes sounds really good, but we’re out of Bisquik. I go online to find out when my local Safeway opens, and guess what? It’s open 24 hours, 7 days a week! I walk to the store a little bit after 6:00 and I’m amazed that other people are awake at this hour. Someone has parked haphazardly in front of the ATM on the corner, knowing that it’s not necessary to park within the painted lines when no other cars are vying for the space and meter maids have not yet even had their morning coffee.

As I walk into the Safeway parking lot, I count the cars. There are FIFTEEN! Even if that’s just employees’ rides, that is an unthinkable number of people who have already started their day, in my opinion. On the ground near the shopping cart stable is a lone children’s sized slipper. Is there some poor five-year-old wandering the early-morning streets with only one shoe on? Or did said child have to be awakened from  deep sleep to accompany a parent on a midnight run for cough medicine, and the slipper a propos of its name slipped off the foot of the groggy child being carried by the hacking parent who is desperate for relief from a stubborn summer cold.

I maneuver through the aisles that are partially blocked from cereal shipments that await shelving to find the Bisquik and the organic 2% milk that my daughter drinks by the gallon. At the checkout stand, I ask the cashier how long that Safeway has been open 24 hours. She said she’d been working there 20 years, and it was open 24 hours before she started there.

How could I have lived in this neighborhood for eight years and not know that the Safeway around the corner from me is never closed? Actually it probably closes for Christmas and Thanksgiving, so there must be some point where a manager has to track down keys to lock up the shop. But maybe not.

It’s amazing the things one discovers being up and about at 6 a.m. And blueberry pancakes taste great at any hour.

A clerihew is fun to do

edmund-clerihew-bentley-jpgYesterday when I was writing about what I learn from public radio, I mentioned Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the chap who wrote two books of clever little biographical poems that came to be called clerihews.

Which of course made me want to write one.

According to Wikipedia, a clerihew has the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; it pokes fun at mostly famous people
  • It has four lines of irregular length and meter (for comic effect)
  • The rhyme structure is AABB; the subject matter and wording are often humorously contrived in order to achieve a rhyme, including the use of phrases in Latin, French and other non-English languages
  • The first line contains, and may consist solely of, the subject’s name.

So here goes…

Bentley, Edward Clerihew

Found a most wonderful thing to do

He wrote couplets with a goal—

Gently mock a famous person and be droll

I have to say that purposely going against the meter in the last line was quite difficult for me personally.


Well, that’s it for today’s clerihew.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll write one anew.

Until then I’ll do my best to abstain

from writing in short, poetic refrain.