Tag Archives: happy

The Warmest Place on Earth

Mar 05, 2013

It’s been a little quiet on my blog for the past few days. That’s because I was on a short but memorable trip to The Bahamas! I’d never been before. I’d never been anywhere in the Caribbean before. And although I’ve never considered myself a tropical kind of girl, I think I’m in love.

So what is it about The Bahamas?

bahamian flag

Well, the weather was next door to miserable the whole time we were there. It was unusually cold, rainy, and extremely windy. The sun barely came out the entire time we were there. We stayed at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island next to Nassau, and there were so many people milling around, both from the resort and from the four cruise ships that were parked in the harbor, that it kind of made me crazy. But I still loved it!

When we arrived on Thursday afternoon and stood in line at immigration for about an hour, there was a video that kept playing over and over. It described The Bahamas as “the warmest place on earth”. I thought it was cute.

Then I started to meet Bahamians.

Folks, The Bahamas really is the warmest place on earth! I was so impressed by the kindness and generosity of every one of the Bahamians I met. They are a wonderful, beautiful people. Everyone I came across was incredibly attractive and ready with a smile and a helpful word.

Of course, my first instinct was to think that of course they were so nice, 60% of the Bahamian economy is tourism. It’s in their best interest to be friendly to the tourists since the money we spend their fuels their economy. And since the Atlantis Resort is a pretty high-end place, of course only the brightest and most attractive locals work there.

Yeah, that’s my jaded Americanism talking.

This is a different culture with a whole different focus. The Bahamian people have a different attitude and a different sense of national pride than we do. Even as we drove through the back roads and local neighborhoods – many of which were poor and run-down by American standards – I felt as though we were driving through a friendly, safe place. Our one tour guide ended up taking us deep into the heart of the “real” neighborhoods of Nassau to avoid traffic, pointing out the school he went to, the church he attends, and where his friends go to eat. It wasn’t dolled up and contrived like the resorts or the docks where the cruise ships come in. It was the real Nassau, and it was beautiful.

I also had a hard time adjusting to having so many bright, dark-skinned Bahamians rushing to meet my needs. Maybe I’m too Yankee or too middle-class, but seeing the racial demographics of the resort at work kind of bothered me. But again, I think I saw all that through my American glasses. I had a chance to talk to some of the staff and there really is a sense of national pride in the way they take care of the tourists and show off their hospitality. This was real hospitality I was feeling, not just a façade put on to look good in the brochures. The kindness was amazing to me.

Okay, maybe there is something darker going on when you scratch the surface, but I really don’t think so. This is a happy bunch of people. Listening to our tour guides and the people I talked to, there is no income tax in the Bahamas, health care is free, education is free, the top 10% of every high school class gets to go to whatever Bahamian college they want to for free, the minimum wage is pretty darn high, and crime is punished so severely that I can’t see why anyone would feel the need to choose a life of crime. One of their biggest criminal problems is illegal immigration, particularly of Haitians trying to sneak into the country. Who wouldn’t want to try to move to this stable, prosperous country?

In the end, it all boils down to the experience of one of those Ah-ha Moments when you realize that not everyone in the world thinks and acts like Americans. The Bahamian culture is unique to anything I’ve experienced. It’s a culture I would love to visit again. Heck, I’d love to spend a significantly longer amount of time there than three days! We’ll see.

I took a lot of pictures when I was down there (lots of them of fish in the aquariums), and as soon as I take them off the camera I’ll post them.

bahamas meme

Why I Love Russell Crowe

Jan 11, 2013

Something happened to me on Christmas.  As I sat in the movie theater watching Les Miserable I thought to myself, “Ah!  This is great!  And I’d forgotten how much I like Russell Crowe!”  And then in the ensuing weeks I started rewatching the best of Russell Crowe’s movies.  I thought to myself, “Man, I really love Russell Crowe!”  But when coworkers and other people started completely and utterly dissing his singing in Les Miz and bringing up his past misbehavior, well, the gloves came off.

I love Russell Crowe, dammit, and I will defend him to the death!

© Sbukley | Dreamstime.com

© Sbukley | Dreamstime.com

Okay, but why (I asked myself) do I love Russell Crowe so much?  He’s absolutely not my type.

When it comes to Hollywood boyfriends I almost always go for the tall, dark, and British types.  Richard Armitage?  Yes.  Jack Davenport?  OH YES.  I’ll even take Daniel Radcliffe in a pinch.  As for the non-British sorts who tickle my fancy, I’ll take Shah Rukh Khan or Michael Emerson, if you please.  (and yes, I do have a major thing for creepy Ben Linus, thank you very much!)

Russell Crowe is not my type.  He’s ‘round about average height, he’s muscly, which isn’t really my thing, and he’s got a tough guy/bad guy reputation.  But I love him.  So how did this happen?

The very first movie I ever saw Russell Crowe in was the deliciously awful Virtuosity, in which he played a computer generated bad guy come to life.  Was it his piercing eyes?  Was it his teasing smile?  Was it the full backal nudity and his shapely assets?  The world may never know.  There was just something about him.  I followed up Virtuosity with another cinematic winner, The Quick and the Dead.  Again, another camp-tastic romp filled with soulful looks and rotten dialog.  I thought to myself, “Who is this awesome Australian and where can I get more of him?”

This was 1995, mind you, and these were the first American movies Russell had made.  Based on those two films alone there was no way to know whether he would make it big or whether I would once again have an obscure, little-known actor to gush over and make people say “who?”  I searched out and watched a bunch of his Australian films, gems like Romper Stomper (I just like to say that title), Proof (also starring Hugo Weaving, and they were both awesome), The Sum of Us (yes, Russell Crowe has played a gay character, and done it well), For the Moment (fair dinkum), and my personal favorite, Silver Stallion: King of the Wild Brumbies (which now has a shortened title for some reason).

And then came L.A. Confidential.  So not my type of movie.  But I dragged myself to watch it anyhow.  And it was just okay, as far as I was concerned.  As far as everyone else was concerned, it was awesome.  Suddenly there was buzz around my stocky Australian Hollywood boyfriend.  That buzz got a whole lot louder after The Insider.

gladiatorWell, then it just exploded when Gladiator came out in 2000.  Gladiator is still one of my top 10 favorite movies.  But Russell didn’t stop there.  I mean, A Beautiful MindMaster and CommanderCinderella Man?  Need I say more?  Five years after I stared at Russell Crowe’s naked backside on a big screen and thought, “Mmm, I like this man!”, the rest of the world caught on to the fact that he was awesome.

But when you are recognized and celebrated you also become a target.  The whispers and rumors started to pour in.  “Russell Crowe has a bad temper”.  He threw a cell phone at a hotel worker.  He roughed up a producer at an awards show.  “Russell Crowe is difficult to work with and tries to rewrite everyone’s scripts”.  He’s a bully and a thug.  And then, “Russell Crowe got married and had kids and it’s really chilled him out”.  Which has recently turned into, “Russell Crowe and his wife are separated”.  Ah, the price of a life lived in the spotlight!

Here’s the thing about those rumors.  The world treats celebrities terribly.  If I told you some of the stories of things that have happened to my cousins, Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, you would be appalled.  Whether you think that celebrities deserve it as the price they pay for fame or whether you think the mob treats them unfairly doesn’t matter.  It is a universal truth that when a celebrity stands up for themselves, the big guns come out.

Actually, forget Russell Crowe, I love the coat!© Featureflash | Dreamstime.com

Actually, forget Russell Crowe, I love the coat!
© Featureflash | Dreamstime.com

From what I have observed in the course of my nearly 20 year obsession, Russell Crowe’s biggest problem is that he’s smart and he doesn’t suffer fools lightly.  I honestly believe the man is incredibly intelligent, but celebrity is so much easier to navigate when you’re dumb as a rock and shallow as a looking-glass.  When you’re smart enough to see the bullshit and strong enough to fight back against it, you’re setting yourself up for a PR nightmare.  I’m convinced that that’s Russell Crowe’s biggest problem.  And I’m equally convinced that when he does something like sing in Les Miz, the critics go in ready to savage him for who he is, not how he sings.

It’s also why I love him.  Because I feel like I know what it’s like to be aware of the crap of the world and to feel compelled to fight against it instead of taking a passive, non-confrontational stance.  It gets you in trouble.  But it also enables you to believe in yourself in your own darkest hours.  And everyone has dark hours, even celebrities.

I have an Australian friend who has met Russell Crowe (or maybe it was her husband) and she reports that he is astoundingly nice and far more grounded than you would think.  I believe it!  If you look beyond the sensational headlines about the man you will see small stories about amazing philanthropic efforts he has made … along with his statement that celebrities shouldn’t necessarily boast and invite camera flashes when they help people out.  There seem to be a lot of people out there quietly saying that people have no idea how much good he’s done for the people and places that are important to him.

But for me the kicker in my adoration of Russell Crowe comes from a statement he made just a few weeks ago after wrapping up a film he was shooting in New York.  He’d been separated from his wife for a few months, shooting and promoting films back-to-back-to-back, and it (probably along with other things) destroyed his marriage.  A reporter asked him what he was going to do next, and he answered, “I just want to go home to Australia and patch things up with my wife” (or something to that effect).

Yep, I love Russell Crowe because he’s just a normal guy with a difficult, high-profile job.  He’s a jerk sometimes, he’s an angel sometimes.  He’s made mistakes and he’s gotten some things very right.  And I will stand by my man through thick and thin and fight anyone who tries to tell me he can’t sing.  He can!  And boy can he act!

crowe apple

P.S.  I’d just like to thank all of the Russell Crowe fans who came out to read and comment on my blog today.  You all are such a great bunch of positive people!  It warms my heart to see so many people wishing well in the world.  =D

My Wedding Speech

Jan 04, 2013

When my wonderful brother Stewart married my best friend Kristine last Saturday, December 29th, I was privileged to be the Maid of Honor.  As the Maid of Honor – not to mention the groom’s sister – I got to give a speech at the reception.  A lot of people came up to me afterwards and said it was a beautiful speech.  I am so flattered by that praise!  Although honestly, I was so keyed-up, overwhelmed, and exhausted at the time that it was all a blur to me.

So since I received so much praise for speaking the truth, and since there were a lot of people who weren’t at the reception, here’s as close an approximation to my reception speech as I can write, complete with the two things I wanted to say but forgot to in the moment…..

Me and Kristine

Me and Kristine

This is a story of Divine Providence.  Yes, Divine Providence.  For why else would a Pennsylvanian with a master’s degree in Theater from Villanova University decide to go to cosmetology school in Huntsville, Alabama?  But that’s where Kristine and I met, in cosmetology school in Alabama.  We became friends and ended up going to work at the same salon (eventually) when we graduated.

I also bought a house in Huntsville, and when I did I asked if Kristine wanted to move in and rent a room with me.  She did, and our friendship got stronger.  Except when things like The Potato Incident happened.  After that we almost weren’t friends anymore.  I’ll tell you about it sometime if you ask.  But even then, potatoes and all, I knew that Kristine was the sister I never had.

After a while Kristine told me that she wanted to go to college, but since she was home-schooled she wasn’t sure she could.  I told her, “Hey!  I know this great college in Philadelphia, Bryn Athyn College, that is fantastic with home-schooled kids.”  She applied, thinking that she’d never get in.  But lo and behold, she did!

It was then that I realized that I didn’t want to stay in Alabama without Kristine.  If she was going to Bryn Athyn, then I wanted to go home too.  So we packed up the house and moved up HOME.

Again, Providence came into play.  It was great to be home, but I’m a morning person.  I wake up early and I go to bed early.  But Kristine is a night person.  She likes to stay up and go out.  But she didn’t know anyone up here that summer.  School hadn’t started and she hadn’t made any friends yet.  The only person she knew besides me was my brother, Stewart.  So Stewart asked her, “Well, do you want to come hang out with my friends?”  And that was how it all began.

gardenStewart and Kristine were just friends at this point.  In fact, when I directed them in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead many years ago and they played Hamlet and Ophelia, people kept asking if they were going out.  Kristine’s response to that was “Eew!  No!  That would be like dating Merry!”  Yep, everyone else always knows before the happy couple figures it out.

Then one day Kristine came to me and said, “Merry, I have something to tell you and I don’t think you’re going to like it.”  “Oh?” I asked.  “What’s that?”  And she told me, “Stewart and I are kind of dating now.”  And I was upset!  No, really I was!  Because what would happen if they broke up?  Who was I supposed to side with, the boy who broke my best friend’s heart or the girl who broke my brother’s heart?

Fortunately, they did the only sensible thing they could do and got married.

[and then I transitioned into giving a “sister of the groom” speech ]

Mom Stewart MeStewart and I have been through a lot together.  A LOT.  We’ve lost a lot of people from our life.  Most special of those people was our mom.  A lot of people here [at the reception] knew our mom and how wonderful she was.  She raised the two of us pretty much on her own.  People also know that our mom was a quilter.  She made the most beautiful quilts!

What people might not know is that Kristine’s mom, Jodi, is also a quilter.

One of the things I inherited from my mom was a big chest in which she kept all of our school projects and mementos and her quilting projects.  What people don’t know is that before she passed away, Mom finished piecing together a quilt top.  But then she put it away because she knew she would never be able to finish it and quilt it and put the binding on and all that.

So when Stewart and Kristine got engaged, one of the very first things I did was to call Jodi and ask her if she would be willing to finish the quilt.  Well, she said yes.

quilt

So at the rehearsal dinner Jodi and I presented Stewart and Kristine with this beautiful quilt, made by both of their mothers together, even though they never met.

I ended my speech there, but there was one other thing that I wanted to say but forgot to:

Okay, Stewart.  I found you the perfect wife.  So now it’s your turn.  You’ve got to go out there and find me the perfect husband!  So get on it!

Congratulations to Stewart and Kristine, the two people who I love most in my life.  May every happiness come their way!

IMG_0611

What to Do With a Random Act of Kindness

Sep 28, 2012

Wow.  So for those of you who were hanging around my Facebook page yesterday, you probably saw me post about an amazing random act of kindness that was perpetrated on me.  A coworker (I’m pretty sure I know who but haven’t’ confirmed it) slipped me a $20 bill all ninja-style and stealthily.  No note, no explanation, she didn’t even own up to it when I asked if it was her.  So how do I know she did it?

Well, earlier in the day I had laughingly said that I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it home that night because my car was almost out of gas and I didn’t have the money to fill it up until we got paid today.  Granted, my car did make it home without sputtering and dying, and I’m sure I could have found some pennies somewhere to pay for gas if I was really desperate.  But that doesn’t matter.  This lovely coworker saw a way that she could help someone and discretely moved in and did it.

Okay, I’ll admit it.  I felt just a little awkward.  My thoughts instantly zipped to “Wait, I didn’t give off the impression that I was desperate or begging or anything, did I?”

But after I thought about it for a while, and after I took a poll of my Facebook family, I shook that thought off.  My wonderful coworker was just being nice.  Super nice.  Oh, and she also brought me a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte because we had been talking about that too.  I feel incredibly blessed to have her as part of my daily life.

And then I started thinking….

We hear about random acts of kindness and the beauty of paying it forward all the time.  We talk about charity in action and treating our fellow men with love and respect.  Everyone knows that it’s good to do kind things for people.  But for all the publicity that doing the right thing and being a good person get, we never really teach each other how to receive kindness.

How many times has someone complimented you only to have you contradict them?  “That’s a great shirt you’re wearing!”  “Really?  This?  It’s nothing.”  “You’re looking good!  Have you been working out?”  “Who, me?  I’m a lazy slob!”  “You smell good.”  “Ugh, I stink.”  You know what I’m talking about.  I’m not exactly sure why, but a lot of us live in a world where we just can’t take a compliment.

But it goes beyond that.  Not only is it hard for us to accept compliments, it’s even harder for us to accept help.  My first reaction when I realized someone had given me money was to protest that I was not that poor.  I’m not!  I swear!  Although I do have to tread a lot of water to keep afloat and I don’t have any help to do it.  I’m proud of my independence though.  I identify myself by it.  This is who I am!

And that’s who my dear coworker is.  She’s a wonderful person.  I’ve known that for four years.  That’s what started me thinking that the best way to honor her kindness and her generosity is not to return the money, which was my first impulse, but to pay it forward.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Have you made a friend today?
© Shailesh Nanal | Dreamstime.com

Still, it’s hard to adjust your thinking from being the do-er of generous things to being the do-ee.  It can feel strange, awkward.  We can feel like we don’t really need it or like we don’t really deserve it.  But if we outright stop it then we’re stopping the flow.  No one wants to stop the flow of good in this world!  We need goodness far too much.So I’m going to take that money, or the spirit of it at least, and be on the lookout for someone who needs a helping hand.  Something might come up tomorrow or it might wait a year.  But the time will come.  And I would encourage all of you to take the spirit of that $20 and pay it forward as well.  If you know someone who needs a boost, then boost away.  Even further, if you find yourself in a position where someone is offering you an act of kindness, accept that act with gratitude.  Hard though it may be, don’t shut it down.  Let’s fill this world with goodness and love!

What Readers Know That This Writer Had Forgotten

Aug 20, 2012

When I was young and still in school, when I had two and a half months in the summer every year to sit in our shady back yard by the pool or on our screened-in porch all summer, I used to read voraciously.  There wasn’t much else to do.  I wasn’t exactly the popular kid that everyone wanted to hang out with.  We didn’t have any money at all for vacations or movies or trips to the mall.  My mom worked and by that point I was old enough to stay home without a babysitter.  We lived with my grandmother, but she and I never got along.  So I would spend all summer devouring book after book after book.

I started reading romance novels during these long, lazy summers.  But I also went through a phase where I read everything that L.M. Montgomery wrote that I could get my hands on.  Yep, I went after the classics and not things like Sweet Valley High or The Babysitters Club.  I spent a lot of time writing too back in those days, but nothing serious.  It was more about reading for me.

My summer reading spot in days gone by

Somewhere in the last couple of years writing took over my life.  I’m sure my writer friends out there will know exactly what I mean when I say that.  I spend every spare second writing something.  That is when I’m not working my day job or going to cricket matches.  The biggest problem that I can see with being a grown-up is that you don’t get two and a half months off in the summer to sit by the pool or on the beach or in the mountains reading.Here I am, doing all this writing.  This summer has been all about writing The Courageous Heart, and it’s been a bit of an ordeal.  This is the most difficult novel I’ve ever written for several reasons (some of which you might be able to see when you read it).  Couple that with the fact that a lot has been going on with my day job.  Good stuff, mind you, but stressful.

Okay, so where am I going with this sob story of how busy I’ve been lately?  Am I going to complain that I haven’t had time to read?  Partially, although I have been dutifully doing my homework and reading novels within my genre.  But that’s sort of the point.  It feels a bit like homework.

So there I was the other day, chatting with my BFF Kristine.  She was telling me all about how she had picked up the L.M. Montgomery book The Blue Castle.  She couldn’t believe that she’d never read it before.  I, of course, gasped and grasped my chest, because The Blue Castle is, perhaps, my favorite L.M. Montgomery novel.  It’s the only novel for adults that Montgomery wrote.  She wrote it in the mid-1920s, long after the Anne or Emily books.  It has a maturity and understanding of humanity that is deeply touching.  And it has one of the best premises of any novel I’ve ever read.  Kristine told me that she had to force herself not to stay up until midnight reading it.

Well, that put the bee in my bonnet.  Because that’s precisely what I used to do on those hot summer nights in our house without air conditioning.  So what did I do?  I whipped out my Kindle and downloaded The Blue Castle on Saturday.  After dinner I stretched out on my balcony (it was a gorgeous night in suburban Philly) and started reading.

And I read.  And read.  And read.  The story captivated me.  The life of Valancy Stirling and all of her oppressive relatives, her sweet friend, and the mysterious and handsome Barney Snaith drew me in.  This wasn’t homework reading.  This was pure joy.  I moved to the living room sofa when there wasn’t enough light outside anymore.  About 10:30 I relocated to bed.  But I kept reading.

Yep, I read that entire book in one sitting.  I stayed up past midnight to do it.  And it was wonderful.  All of the stress and pressure of finishing and editing my own novel dripped away.  All of the tension of responsibility and raising the bar at work relaxed for a moment.  Just for those hours I was back in the summers of my youth, reading for fun.  I wasn’t trying to learn from the writing style or pay attention to structure and detail.  I wasn’t even focused on how I would write a review.  I just read the book, enjoyed the story.

I think that readers who don’t write know a lot more about enjoying a story than we writers do.  They approach it as it is without looking for its warts or hairy moles.  They accept the characters and the world that has been created at face value.  Whether they enjoy it or not is entirely up to whether the author has painted a complete world and not because the three-act structure isn’t pulled off effectively.  It was so good to be reminded of what a reader sees by just being a reader for a change.  I’ve forgotten how wonderful that could be.

So my advice to myself, and to other writers out there, is to take some time now and then to pick up a book, maybe one you’ve already read and love, and read it for the sake of enjoyment.  And as long as we’re offering advice, what books have you or do you read just for fun and to remember why you love books?