Why I Cried at Beauty And The Beast

emma belleMy son had turned one when Disney released its original Beauty And The Beast in 1991. I was enthralled with the fact that Belle – the main character in a mainstream animated movie – was intelligent. In fact, it was her primary characteristic! It gave me hope that my son would grow up in a different world than mine. in my world, my first boyfriend dumped me because my grades were higher than his, the biggest hope my parents had for their head-in-the-clouds daughter was to marry someone to take care of me, and bonuses and raises I earned through hard work and being smart in my former legal career were allocated to my male counterparts. In the world I had lived in, being intelligent, as a woman, had no value.

Andrew is now twenty-six and, unfortunately, incidents like those and a thousand others still frequently occur. Yet, it isn’t the same world as the one I birthed him into. In that world, we remained silent to avoid being driven out of our careers, marriages, and social connections. It was a man’s world and women were to be grateful for mere existence. That has changed. Now, women and men can speak of the unfairness, the injustice, and the counterproductiveness of treating women as lesser than men. And for those who remain voiceless, others have stepped up to speak for them – people like Emma Watson and her HeforShe campaign advancing gender equality.

So why did I cry as I watched Ms. Watson reprise the role of Belle? Because this Belle wasn’t simply an echo of the animation. Both by script and Ms. Watson’s portrayal, Belle has more depth: she is fearless and in control. Her father respects who she is and does not suggest she marry Gaston as did the animated Maurice. The story, of course, remains a romance, but this Belle’s adventures do not end with finding her prince. This Belle will seek out challenges in the “great wide somewhere” and now has an ally to cheer her on. Thank you, Disney, for the updated Belle.

Yet modern Belle, alone, didn’t bring me to tears. It’s just fiction, after all. It isn’t real. Yet I sat in a theater and watched this character brought to life by someone who has fearlessly used her intelligence and leveraged her status to speak for those who are not heard and advance the causes of social justice. That moved me more than my tear ducts could handle. Animated Belle revealed a potential for the world to be different, more accepting, less petty. Now fearless Belle and the actor who played her say nothing can stop that world from becoming a reality. Thank you, Ms. Watson.

And so I cried as I watched the new Beauty and the Beast. Of course, I loved the movie, just as I loved its animated precursor. Then again, “I want so much more than they’ve got planned” has been the refrain for my life. But that’s another story …

Make a Difference

We enter this season of thankfulness for all that we have, in the midst of cries of “Not in my back yard.” No matter where you stand on accepting Syrian refugees into your area, they desperately need your help. This is a link to a list of vetted charities assisting Syrians in need. Some organizations provide resources for families to stay in Syria. Others provide assistance in the places where they flee, having nothing left behind them.

Words of concern and outrage are cheap. It is time to put your money where your mouth is. This holiday season, I will be making donations on behalf of my children to the organizations of their choosing. I ask that you consider doing the same.

We CAN make a difference.




The Talent Myth in Creative Writing

When I was practicing law, no law student said to me, “I’m going to get listed in Best Lawyers of America.” It takes seven years of higher education to become a lawyer, months of intensive studying to pass the bar exam, then more years of unrelenting work to build the kind of reputation and satisfied client base that gets you noticed. Most non-lawyers are impressed when they hear I’m listed in Best Lawyers.

On the other hand, when a group of people finds out I’m a published author, someone usually pipes up, “I’m going to write a novel. I’ll be joining you on those bestseller lists.”

Although lawyers are not held in the highest esteem in this country, there is a profound respect for the time and effort it takes to become one. For authors, it is exactly the opposite. We adore authors. We follow them on Facebook, we show up at conventions to get signed copies of their books, and we sit in rapt attention listening to them read. But at the same time, there is little appreciation for the time, effort, sacrifice, and sometimes brute force it takes to write a novel. As a society, we believe that writing is a matter of talent and if you have it, the words flow out all at once, with little practice or preparation, and in perfect form and order.

For far too long, I believed this talent myth, and given how much effort I put into my novels, I thought the bucket I’d dipped from the talent pool was drier than the Sahara Desert. But talent is mostly a myth. Sure, you need an innate sense of when your words flow together and a touch of imagination but, otherwise, writing – like any other skill or expertise – is about long, time-consuming, hard work. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, Outliers, it takes 10,000 hours to achieve complete mastery in any field.

I didn’t make it into Best Lawyers in America until well after I had 10,000 hours of practice under my belt. Writing fiction set that clock back to zero, but I’m nearing 10,000 hour mark of studying writing and actually writing. I’m more comfortable with my skills and understanding of what works and what doesn’t than I was when I started. The talent myth doesn’t play games with my head anymore. I’m too busy writing to let it.

But the next time you read a novel where the words flow effortlessly off the page and you find yourself marveling at the author’s talent, stop for a moment and appreciate the hours of sheer determination that went into it.

Gang-based societies and immigrant children

In my research for the novel, Choices, I became familiar with the horrors of gang-based societies – of the atmosphere of constant murder, rape, and torture of and by those we consider children, of parents extorted out of their meager resources so their daughters will not be taken, of mothers sacrificing one child to protect the others. While the details of the society in my novel are extrapolations of actual facts, they are, if anything, softened to suit our comfortable, safe sensibilities. The reality in some areas is far worse and spurs the flood of children illegally entering this country.

I read posts that we, as a country, should not be assisting the children who were sent to violate the law by entering the United States. I see people posting that we, as a country, should not be providing aid to any other country as long as people here in need – even if it is need for relief from taxes so they can afford to send their children to college. I can understand that position as well.

But put yourself in the place of a mother or father – being demanded to turn over a child to be raped and killed. What would you do to save your children? Would you break the law? Of course, you would. If a child came to your door, hungry, exhausted, having escaped certain rape, torture, and death, would you turn them away? Or would you handle it in a way that you, as a parent, would want your child treated? That is the question all of us face but often choose to ignore.

I know from my research that the dangers and horrors they are trying to escape are real. I cannot unsee the child on my doorstep. I cannot simply close the door. I know whatever I do as an individual won’t solve the problem but, just perhaps, it will make a difference in one person’s life.

Day 120 of Gratitude – Being Different

Many people surround themselves with those who are substantially similar in race and cultural attitudes. I have never had that option. At the moment, I can’t think of a half-Caucasian, half-Asian person I know other than four I’m related to. Nor do I know of anyone, other than my brother, raised in an amalgamation of midwest, white middle-class and Japanese-American cultures. I’ve never had the option of surrounding myself with people who look like I do, have the same notions of what is polite and what is forbidden, or share my deeply ingrained beliefs about how I, as an individual, fit into society.

I see people cling to what is familiar and say that people who don’t look, think, or act like them are abnormal, weird, or sometimes even evil. They don’t attempt to understand anything else – they have no reason to. And I am glad that was never an option available to me. I enjoy the perspectives of others – Scottish, Somalian, Chinese, Croatian, Nigerian, Italian, Vietnamese, Russian, Irish – you name it. Their family customs are rich and, more often than not, have some core values at the heart of them that reinforce my own beliefs or at least allow me to understand them better.

I’m not sure why I thought about this today, but being different – growing up around people who were not like me – has been a blessing for which I am grateful.


Day 100 of Gratitude – a Spring Evening

The sunshine played with the ends of my hair and the spring breeze cooled my cheeks. And I walked. I walked silently along sidewalks and cut through lumpy grass mounds the newly green lawns. The crystal blue sky above me was calming. Birds flutter past and called from distant trees. Children squealed on the school playground while others readied their bikes for a new season. Other walkers smiled generously and nodded as they went their way. My husband’s hand folded around mine as I walked, surrounding not just my hand but all of me with warmth and comfort. And we kept walking, noticing each moment and the joys of spring it held.

Day 76 of Gratitude – The stillness of the soul

I was never one to panic. No matter what the situation, I determined what needed to be done immediately, rallied the people and resources necessary to accomplish it, and kept everything moving. It wasn’t until afterwards that I’d sit back and let the stressful thoughts of “what would have happened if” wash through me. At one law firm I became known as the one who would remain calm in a crisis and was sought out for that purpose.

There was nothing special about how I did this; it was simply a matter of quieting my mind and working from the stillness of my soul. The brain gets flooded by future thoughts and disasters while the soul remains calm and steady. It leads me to what I need.

Last week, I forgot that. But over the past few days, I listened to my soul rather than my easily diverted brain and rediscovered what I needed – a loving husband and good friends who bring me back to the center that is always there but easily forgotten without the stillness of the soul.


Day 66 of Gratitude – My bowl-shaped life

I’m not an environmentalist, feminist, humanist, capitalist or much of any kind of “-ist.” I believe in some of the principles at the core of some of the -ists listed above, but if called on to shout or crash cymbals or wave banners in the faces of others, I shy away. I’ve thought that meant I lacked conviction – that I was weak. But it actually reflects something very different – it reflects a basic outlook and attitude toward other people.

Everyone sees themselves at the center of the disk of their personal universe – we lack the omniscience to avoid that. The contours of that disk vary, however, from person to person. I came to realize this through a friend who sees life as a constant battle. His disk rises up to form a pinnacle on which he stands, using words, actions, and any tool at his disposal to fight off those who grab at him from below. On his disk, those people are evil or misguided, trying to defeat his superior path of truth. He fights the noble fight and hopes it will lead to others seeing his truth and joining him. This view, I suspect, is typical of an -ist. But the shape of that disk is very different from my own.

My disk is shaped like a bowl. The center forms a base. Not only is the base accessible from the entire bowl, it supports it.  The base doesn’t fight the sides, but rather accepts whatever they bring into the bowl and remains unchanged. That is closer to my approach to life. I accept others as they are rather than demanding they become something else. For me, it doesn’t weaken my beliefs, but it often strengthens them. And I share my beliefs with them in quiet conversation of mutual listening.

Neither approach is right or wrong and neither indicates a greater or lesser commitment to a belief. Rather, they are simply different approaches to others. I don’t lack conviction in my beliefs, but rather my nature drives me to express them in a manner different from that of  an -ist. This understanding allows me to enjoy the benefits of being a bowl.




Day 61 of Gratitude – Silliness

Some people approach life as a battle. They trudge along with every thought and action weighed down by the seriousness of the consequences to themselves and others. This is an outlook I’ve learned as an adult and employ it too often. In fact, I find myself coming out of a long period where I couldn’t find my way back to the joy of life. But now I have and there is one key – silliness.

20140302_124455Silliness isn’t a sign of immaturity or irresponsibility. Rather, it is a celebration of the gifts we’ve been given and a recognition of the impermanence of this life. Troubles will pass, regardless of whether I bury myself in their weight or rejoice in laughter. I choose the grin when I see ridiculous six-foot fake fish hanging across the room, the warmth of the sun I drew on the wall when I hadn’t seen the real one in days, and the squealing fits of uncontrollable giggles when my husband tickles me. Silliness is good.

Day 59 of Gratitude – Back to writing

Today I executed an evil man and did it slowly, relishing every moment of his terror.

Today, I met an important person disguised as a bum caught in the freezing weather.

Today, I discovered that dreams of belonging somewhere and of being someone important do not die easily.

Today, I got back to writing. And that is where I belong.