A Post about “The Post”

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Today, again, I am combining two assignments into one post. In the first, I am to write about a place where I have spent time observing my surroundings. In the second, I am to critique a piece of artwork.

 

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing The Post at the Woodstock Theatre—Classic Cinemas. I arrived early for the 11:25 a.m. show so that I could watch, listen, and soak up my surroundings for this assignment. It was a pleasure to spend time in this recently renovated and expanded theater. Like other buildings in our town, it maintains its historic charm while using renovations to stay current and comfortable.

Woodstock Theatre has not jumped on the bandwagon of recent changes that may or may not be popular with movie-goers. Unlike some chain theaters, it does not make you select a seat when you buy your ticket. You can walk in, look around, and sit where you please. And the heat is actually turned up. You do not have to keep your coat on throughout the movie; your feet stay warm. The seats do not recline but are new and cushiony.

There were more movie-goers present than I expected on a Friday morning. The majority of us appeared to be of retirement age. Some, like me, sat by themselves but looked unconcerned about being there solo. Others were in pairs, quietly chatting. We didn’t have to be told to silence our phones or to be quiet during the movie. I had the impression that we had all come, not to kill a couple of hours, but to experience this particular film.

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I looked forward  to seeing The Post when I first heard about it, and more so after seeing the trailer. I love newspaper movies, at least partly because I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. This is not to imply that The Woodstock Independent is much like The Washington Post. But my time at the paper strengthened my appreciation for our First Amendment rights, which lie at the heart of the film. Though the  events took place in 1971, I expected the film to speak to our current times. And it did. Having two of my favorite actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, lead the cast was a bonus.

So I was prepared to love this film, and I most certainly did. All of the clichés apply. I laughed and I cried. At times I had to remind myself to breathe. Occasionally, I wanted to call out, “Don’t believe that. It’s a lie.” I thought that I remembered the events of 1971. But I had forgotten some details and did not appreciate the significance of others at the time. The film entertained me while it educated me, from its opening scene in Vietnam to its closing scene, with its great irony.

I was so engrossed in the movie that I forgot I was supposed to be observing my surroundings for an assignment. There was one time, though, that I did glance at a woman, a stranger around my age, sitting near me. It was during a scene of protestors demonstrating their support of our First Amendment rights. I thought her face reflected my feelings—a grim satisfaction at seeing people standing up for a just cause.

On our way out of the theater, she turned to me and said, “I wish that everyone would see this movie.” And that is exactly my conclusion. If you have an opportunity to see The Post, I hope you will.

Need more convincing? Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

 

A Letter to the Past

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Today’s assignment is to write a post in the form of a letter. I am writing to my maternal grandmother, Hilda Hagen Hahn (1892–1957).

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My Dear Nana,

You chose to end your life in 1957. I was 10, old enough to understand some of it, but not as much as I do now. Craig was 7 and has only vague memories.

Though it was 60 years ago, I remember our phone ringing early in the morning. Your next-door neighbor kept an eye on you because you lived alone. She was calling Mom, worried that lights were on in your house when she woke up very early. Mom and Dad rushed Craig and me off to school and then went to check on you. I worried about you all day at school.

When I got home and asked Mom if you were okay, she looked rattled and said, “Why do you ask?” Then she and Dad sat Craig and me down and told us that you had died. I don’t remember her specific words, but by the time she finished, I knew that they had found two notes from you on your kitchen table. The one on top looked like it had been scribbled in desperation. It read, Don’t go down to the basement. How do I know that? They showed me the note. I saw it.

Mom and Dad told us that sometime during the night, you had hanged yourself in the basement. When I asked why, I learned for the first time that you were not feeling well and had been tested for cancer. Mom was going to take you to the doctor to learn the test results that day.

Even at 10, I knew that didn’t make a lot of sense. Why kill yourself if you weren’t even sure you had cancer? Mom and Dad didn’t know. It was then that Mom read me the second note. All I remember is the way you repeated the words I don’t want to be a burden on you. You didn’t talk about your fears of pain and death. You made it sound like you killed yourself to spare us from the difficult job of caring for you while you became sicker and then died.

What you apparently didn’t consider was the aftermath of your suicide. It would have long-ranging effects on your family. Your funeral was the first one Craig and I ever attended. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. Mom showed your suicide notes to the pastor who performed the service. He cried too.

One day shortly after, I came across Mom crying as she sorted through your jewelry box. She wiped her eyes and told me that one day I would do the same for her. Thinking of Mom dying too scared me so much. Luckily, it was 59 more years before that time came.

But here’s the thing. After a couple of months, Mom stopped talking about you entirely. A small photo of you stayed on a table in the living room, but you were not mentioned. Dad, Craig, and I didn’t say your name because we thought the memories would hurt her. Later Mom rewrote the story of your death. She told anyone who asked that you had died of cancer. Maybe she had convinced herself.

Following Mom’s example, I didn’t talk about you either. I didn’t have to. I was carrying you with me, buried as unfinished business in my head and my heart, though I didn’t realize that until much later. I had learned your unintentional lesson all too well. I interpreted your suicide as a sacrifice for your family — I don’t want to be a burden to you. Your example showed me that you have to sacrifice yourself for anyone you really, truly love. Otherwise, you don’t really love them.

If literally laying down your life wasn’t required, other huge portions of your time and your happiness might be. And I wasn’t willing to do that. I had my entire life ahead of me. I wanted to live it, to enjoy it. I knew feeling that way made me terribly selfish, but I couldn’t change.

I believed the only way to avoid giving up large parts of myself for others was to avoid taking on loved ones. I would do my duty to my parents when they needed me, but that was all. The rest of my life would be for me. Never did I consider the possibilities of compromise, of two people both willing to give up a lot for each other, so that things balance out to the benefit of both.

If you had lived, you might have been able to teach me that. But you didn’t. I don’t mean to blame you for my not having a husband and family. It’s more complicated than that. And I have had a good life. But I can’t help thinking it might have turned out better, or at least very differently, if you had chosen to live.

Rest in peace. I love you.

Oprah Speaks Her Truth

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Today’s blogging assignment asks me to respond to a tweet. Since I am pretty much a Twitter addict, this will be both fun and a challenge. I have “favorited” 252 tweets over the past few years. How could I choose only one? I ended up not using any of them but going with a timely one posted last night.

When I began this blog, I had two self-imposed rules: don’t get too political; don’t get too personal. I think I have, for the most part, followed those rules. In order to continue to, I’m going to have to bite my tongue —or I guess, my typing fingers—as I write today.

In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes last night, Oprah gave a speech that many in her audience were hungry to hear. She did what she encouraged us to do: she used the most powerful tool at her disposal by speaking her own truth.

Ms Winfrey is a very wealthy, very powerful person, yet she seems to remember that she has not always been either. She used her own intelligence, drive, and courage to earn all that she has acquired in her life. And I admire her for that.

I also admire her desire to make the world a better place for girls who begin their lives like she did. And, of course, doing that would make the world a better place for all of us, despite race, gender, economic class. I applaud her vision and compassion.

Her words remain in my memory. I woke up this morning happier and more at peace for having heard her speech last night.

Brushing Up My Shakespeare

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Note to my readers: I’m finding that creating a post worthy of publishing every day is more time-consuming that I expected. So I am going to spread out the assignments and take some days off. Today I’m going to take another liberty and combine yesterday’s topic, which was to write about a photo, with today’s, which is to write about a quote.

 

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You are looking at an original copy of the First Folio of the plays of William Shakespeare, printed in 1623. Scholars consider it one of the most influential books published in the English language; I think of it with a reverence second only to the Bible.

Last year, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. toured some of its First Folios for display in all 50 U.S. states. I was able to see this book in a small display located less than an hour from home, in a park in Wauconda, IL.

The First Folio was amazingly approachable. There was a short line to stand before the book in its clear protective display case. I was allowed to photograph it, though without a flash.  I was only inches away, close enough to read these pages from Hamlet. The book was open to Act III, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”

I love the poetry of this passage. And I like way the reader feels Hamlet’s painful place in life, that he is desperate enough to consider taking his own life. I like it even more when he makes the courageous choice to live rather than die. In the end, he does die, but bravely, on his own terms, and not by his own hand.

“Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Andrea’s Choices

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To my readers: Today’s assignment is to pick one word from a list of six and to write a post inspired by the word. I selected the word choice, but I’m not going to apply it to myself. Today I’m writing about Andrea Jackson, the main character in my new novel. Note: There will be NO spoilers in this post.

 

Andrea’s choices in Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike

Andrea, a high school English teacher in a small Northern Illinois town, begins the third year of her career with a huge choice hanging over her head. A teachers strike is looming. Will she choose to take part in a strike, risking the job she has grown to love? Her parents don’t want her to. Her boyfriend, a police officer, tells her that striking is illegal. Her conscience asks if she would be turning her back on her students. But she knows she must decide for herself, and she knows how much is at stake. What should she do?

Andrea has been dating Tom for nearly three years and is hoping the relationship will progress. But when she gently nudges him, he says he is not ready yet, that he is happy with things as they are. Should she accept the status quo and hope that the relationship will grow more serious in the future? Or should she choose to move on?

Andrea has learned a lot of about the art of teaching during her first two years. But there is always that ONE kid in THE class to contend with. Andrea has to choose how to handle the discipline problems presented by a rude, disruptive student, as well as the friends who encourage his antics and the parents who claim he can do no wrong. How can Andrea keep the peace in her classroom?

A good friend of Andrea’s asks her a huge favor, one that could jeopardize her romance with Tom and her standing with her principal. Should Andrea choose to put friendship above all else, or should she consider her own needs first?

Another close friend and a fellow teacher has made a risky choice. When Andrea finds out what he is up to, should she keep his secret, confront him, or turn him in?

All choices come with consequences. Andrea has her hands full making decisions and living with the aftermath. It’s a good thing she is a resourceful young woman.

Note: Anyone who would like to read this novel will find it for sale here. If you live in my area, you will also find it at Read Between the Lynes and the Woodstock Public Library.

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