Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:


Witches (a Question of Character
& a Fiction Round-up)

What is a witch, anyway?  When I was a kid, I knew that witches wore black, had tall pointy hats, rode on brooms, and didn’t exist.

Later, I learned that there had been witch hunts, and that historically people had been convinced enough of the existence of witches to execute those who were convicted of such a thing.  Incredibly, it seems that many of these accused witches were actually charged with healing, rather than harming.  Later still, I learned that there are people, today, who are persecuted under accusations of witchcraft (or some translation thereof).

Sometime during high school, I read Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, and the witches that lived in my imagination have ever since been independent women living on the edge of society – but integrally a part of it – who practice “headology and herbology” on a daily basis, and deeper magic with discretion.  No one to be trifled with, these nonetheless are good witches…at least, as good as any of us flawed human beings can be.  When they do practice magic, they tend to stick to the practical and effective kind (eschewing the showier methods of wizards).

Historically, the title of “witch” has been something someone else called you, not a title you claimed for yourself.  That’s changed, of course, and many folks – including some of my favorite bloggers – self-identify as witches, people who are brave enough to practice magic in a world that doesn’t really believe in it.  I love the idea of taking a word once used as an insult and owning it, reforming it, and claiming it as one’s own.  There’s a great book entitled A History of Witchcraft, that covers both historical and modern ideas of witchcraft.  It notes, if memory serves, that modern, self-identified witches have no direct lineage relating to the medieval or colonial accused witch.  Still, I would hazard to say that the word was chosen with good reason:  Many accused witches were folks brave enough to buck the established rules of society, and even today, it takes guts to choose a different path in a culture that is dominated by the big three monotheistic religions and, otherwise, a steadfast lack of belief in the supernatural.

Now, I’m going to let history and current events do their own thing, and just tell you about a few of my favorite fictional witches.

Wee Free Men and the Discworld Series, by Terry Pratchett
In the Discworld, witches are known for being independent, eccentric, observant, and for doing what needs to be done.  Also, they do magic and ride on brooms.  The thing with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is that it’s wickedly funny, frighteningly insightful, and manages to take a foundation of satire and develop it into brilliant characters and well-crafted, moving stories.  These are books that you can take on a miserable transatlantic flight and laugh through the whole thing, halfway through realize you’re being told a story that will live on in your imagination for years, and only half an hour after finishing the book realize that you’ve also been inspired to think about important concepts and maybe even learned a life lesson.

The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry
This story is not necessarily about a witch, as Barry walks the line between realistic fiction and magical realism.  It does take place in Salem, and the book has a rich sense of place, with a consciousness both of the history of the town and its current reclamation of witchcraft (in part fueled by the tourist industry).  The echos of witch hunts are haunting, and the book as a whole is a subtle, complex, beautifully-told story.

Under my Hat, short stories selected by Jonathan Strahan
I’m in the middle of reading this book right now.  With a slew of witch-themed stories from writers like Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix, it was irresistible.  So far, all the stories have been entertaining, with a few real keepers.

 

 

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris
Is Vienne a witch?  I don’t recall if she’s ever referred to as such in the book.  But she is certainly an independent woman who creates healing magic in the little town into which she wanders…  The film of the same name is gorgeous, a feast for your eyes.

 

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
Alice Hoffman has written multiple books with witches as characters, but this is the only one that I’ve read so far.  While it’s not my favorite of Hoffman’s novels, it’s still a great read.  I love Hoffman’s ability to make fairy tales hauntingly realistic, and this one doesn’t disappoint.  The movie of the same name is a lot of fun, too.

Which brings me to movies and…unfortunately, other than the two mentioned above, I can’t think of any good movies with witches in them.  I’m not a big horror fan and, anyway, characters like those in Season of the Witch (why, Nicolas Cage, why?) don’t have much to do with witches in my opinion.  This is a great season for witch flicks, so please chime in with recommendations for good witchy films!

Q:  What defines a witch to you?
Q:  What are your favorite stories featuring a witch or witches?


Romancing Charlotte, by Colin Scott (Book Review)

Click through to buy local.

I’ve been lucky enough to snag a copy of the new novel Romancing Charlotte, by Colin Scott.  On the most obvious level, this is a charming page-turner of a romance set in modern-day Ireland.  With well-developed characters and touching but realistic familial relationships complimenting the various romantic plotlines, this is a great book to cozy up with on a chill evening.

That being said, there’s a lot more to this story:  Scott’s hero and heroine are no ingénues, and it’s refreshing and all too rare to read a romance about folks in their later years.  With a Downton-Abbeyesque twist, Charlotte is the lady of the local manor, while PJ, recently returned from living in the States, is descended from a humbler family.  This division is a tricky one anywhere, and it’s made even more complex in an Irish setting, what with issues of religion and politics.  Scott also weaves in a strong sense of place, and a subplot involving illegal turf-cutting in peat bogs, an issue that is similarly layered and three-dimensional.  While “Colin Scott” is – according to his own twitter profile – a pseudonym, it’s obvious that this Irish author is writing from inside the culture:  Romancing Charlotte takes place in the nuanced, complex world of modern Ireland, not some “top o’ the mornin'” Hollywood version.

The Verdict:  Romancing Charlotte is like a good raspberry cordial:  It’s sweet and goes down easy, but nevertheless can be quite nuanced and much more nourishing than you might think.  It’s a perfect choice for anyone interested in the subtleties of modern Irish culture, for anyone who’d like to take a trip abroad between the pages, and really for anyone looking for a good read that will neither traumatize nor patronize.


Book Review: The Angel Makers, by Jessica Gregson

December sure is flying by!  I’ve been having a blast writing stories for Looseleaf, not to mention taking care of the usual holiday preparations.  But I wanted to make a quick stop here and point out a great novel that was just released this month.

The Angel Makers is the story of a small village in Hungary during the early 1900s.  Sari is the daughter of an herbalist, and when he dies she partners up with the village midwife.  When the men of the village go off to war, the women experience unexpected freedoms.  Then the men return, and Sari’s fiance becomes abusive.   Without, she feels, any other recourse, she poisons him.  But when the rumor spreads, the other women of the village want help with their husbands too…
This book is based on a true story.  You can read more about that here.

When I first read the back of this book, I thought it sounded pretty nightmarish, but it’s actually a very human story.  Author Jessica Gregson does a wonderful job of developing memorable characters and a distinct sense of place but her greatest achievement in this book is managing to neither vilify nor justify Sari’s actions.  This book is a wonderful read and ideal for discussion.

PS:  You can click on the cover image to find this book at an indie bookstore near you.


Book Review: The Night Circus

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Imagine, if you will, a circus.  Or maybe a carnival, since you walk through it from act to act.  This carnival has the artistry of Cirque du Soleil, is completely in black and white, only opens at night, shows up unannounced – and some of the acts might be real magic.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, has an interesting and compelling story with a satisfying ending, but the real reason I kept turning the page was that I wanted to spend just a few more sentences in the richly-textured world of this carnival.  This book has as strong a sense of place as any story I’ve read – and you won’t want to leave.

The Night Circus has been getting a lot of buzz, and is already a bestseller, so maybe it doesn’t really need more attention.  But this book is the most delightful novel for adults that I can think of, so I’m posting this anyway :)

Why’s it particularly boho?  Who hasn’t, at some point, at least daydreamed of running away to join a circus?  (Extra points if you or a friend has actually done this.)


Lord of the Rings as Chick Lit

I proclaimed my geekdom (again) by “liking” LotR, The Hobbit, and Peter Jackson on Facebook.  Plus, I got all teary when I watched a video from the set of The Hobbit.

My one gripe with Tolkein – and it’s not a unique one – is the lack of chicks in these stories.  Here he created a vast mythology, encompassing multiple ages, cultures, and peoples – but his women seem to be an afterthought.  It’s as though he figured that in any medieval setting, we’d just assume the women were stuck inside embroidering while the world ended.  What gives, J.R.R.?

Samuel Beckett (stay with me now) strenuously objected to casting women as Vladmir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.  The justification I’ve heard for this is that he wanted the play to be about a human situation and – like it or not* – in our society the default human is male.  That is to say, Lord of the Rings isn’t just about “warrior-bonds** between men,” it’s also about a human struggle to maintain hope in the face of despair.  It follows that women don’t need to limit themselves to identifying with Eowyn – we’ve also got the full company of the Fellowship.  Which is nice, really – they get more screen time.

It seems like people often limit themselves to identifying with characters of the same gender.  I wonder why?  I like Eowyn because she, as a woman, takes the risk of fighting in the guise of a man, but I also like Boromir because he struggles with knowing which is the right course of action.  I know at least two men who love Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books, which have a female protagonist – so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in being able to identify with opposite-gender characters.  I still believe that it’s important to have strong female role models in literature (and film and theatre), but after all, Tolkein created a vast mythology, encompassing multiple ages, cultures, and peoples.  Maybe I should give him a break.  Maybe it’s enough that he created strong human characters.

*I don’t.
**Genuine or parodied.


Dear Yoga Journal,

Dear Yoga Journal,
Please don’t become yet another fashion magazine disguised as a health mag.  I was cool with your features on yoga wear, though I’m kind of attached to the comfy-yet-flattering sweats that I also wear to bed on extra-cold nights, and I don’t feel a need to be trendy while sticking my butt in the air and trying to keep my hands and feet from slipping in opposite directions.   

But I’m just bummed that you used up paper to tell me that that “This season’s tall boots and structured jackets take you from studio to street without missing a beat,” as you explained on page 32 of this month’s issue.  In fact, though I’m a very amateur yogi and have so far only learned about the yogic principle of aparigraha, or non-jealousy, from you, this fashion spread seems (with its slender, coifed models and fancy, flattering outfits) calculated to cultivate a feeling of jealousy (and thencely consumerism).  And a wise publication once told me that “Jealousy means that we desire to be what someone else is, or to have what someone else has. Rather than finding who we are, we look at someone else and say, ‘I want to be that.’ Aparigraha, in its essence, helps us discover our own selves so that we no longer feel the need to covet what someone else has, or be what someone else is.”

So I hope you’ll show me some yogis with style, and forget about the fashion models.
Yours in regular readership,
Rambler


Puck, Pennsic, and the Man of la Mancha (A Frivolous, Festive Friday)

This cartoon, from xkcd, always cracks me up.  For being both green-related and creative, it’s earned it’s place this Frivolous Friday.  Here’s to the Man of la Mancha: I will always get teary watching that film, no matter how much of a sap it makes me.

It is, perhaps, not a non sequitur to segue from Don Quixote into announcing that I’m now 99% sure I’m going to visit Pennsic this year.  (What’s Pennsic?  This is Pennsic.)  That’s right, I will be reporting from on the ground at Cooper’s Lake, though with a several-day delay because, my friends, I am leaving my Glowing Rectangle safe at home.  This is some festive news, which makes this a Festive Friday, too.

A (somewhat belated) Happy Midsummer to all.  Here, we celebrated a laid-back St. John’s Eve with a fire in the firepit and fresh strawberries with cocoa scones.  Now, goodnight and a puckish weekend to you.


Robin Hood (2010): Movie Review

The new rendition of Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, is not about Robin Hood, Marion, Friar Tuck, or any other of the Merry Men.  It is a slick, swashbuckling, lotta-fun popcorn flick with characters of those same names.  Fans of the period genre are advised to go in a lighthearted mood and enjoy the inside jokes (e.g. a Princess Bride reference), plus a hodgepodge of cliched plot devices including traumatic childhood flashbacks (First Knight), uniting the country against a common enemy (Braveheart, The Patriot), and little lost boys in the woods (Peter Pan).  Also, try not to get too hung up on historical details.  Russell Crowe is winning, and you can’t beat Cate Blanchett as a more-worldly-than-usual Marion.  Several of the supporting characters are intriguing, but could be better developed.  Go for fun, but don’t hold your breath for any merry men living in the woods; we might see more of that in the sequel the producers have set themselves up for.


How I Wrote a Book, By Popular Request

Megan asked:

Did you say you wrote a book? I’d like to hear more about that. I’m very interested in writers and how they do it.

 Hmm…I did write a novel.  It was an on-again-off-again affair for a few years, until I decided I was going to go bonkers if I didn’t finish it.  So rather than going to Pennsic last August, I took advantage of the apartment being empty and set myself up with a DIY writer’s retreat.  I cooked up pots of food and oodles of scones beforehand, and stowed them in the freezer.  I canceled pretty much all of my commitments, and I became an urban hermit for about a week and a half.  Having given up a couple of weeks of sylvan festivities was somewhat depressing…but made it all the more important to Finish the Freakin’ Book.  And I did.

So far as ‘writers and how they do it,’ it seems that there are countless methods writers use, often contradictory.  I-can’t-remember-which-writer takes hours to write each sentence, but then that sentence is perfect and never needs revision.  I write first drafts by hand, always, so I know no one else will ever (be able to) read that piece of paper.  Then I revise again and again, depending on the work.  I’ve also found that techniques from other disciplines (e.g. theatre) are a whole lot of help in writing.  But instead of waxing poetic for far longer than the average internet-attention-span is likely to last, I will plug my other blog, Storytraining: Techniques, news, and inspirations for all disciplines of storytellers…  Granted, I haven’t posted there since I moved in November, but never fear, it will soon be resurrected.  Really :)