Do You Remember?

Do You Remember?

Durham, North Carolina, 1971. Do you remember where you were that year? I was finishing my first year at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, not that far away. And yet it might as well have been on another planet. 

When I watched the movie The Best of Enemies the other night, my first reaction to the opening line was, “Where was I at that time?” Being just finished my freshman year in college that summer, I was probably at home in Wheaton, MD, hundreds of miles away, but the center of my life had shifted to the Tidewater area of Southern Virginia when I started college, and it never returned to Maryland. 

Yet, in spite of living so close to North Carolina, in spite of numerous camping trips to the Outer Banks and attending an annual conference of zoologists in the mid-70s on the coast of North Carolina, in spite of living in an area with a high percentage of black residents, I never once had personal experience of the racial tensions, anger and violence that is shown in this movie. Now in my 60’s, I am surprised that so much of this went on so close to me without having much more than an intellectual impact, and yet that is how life seems to go unless you are smack in the middle of a conflict of this sort. You watch it on the news; you may sympathize with one side or the other; you may even sign a petition or take similar action like voting your beliefs. But seeing movies like this bring home how far most of us live our lives from such dramas and how little impact they have on us or us on them.

Movies are not like books, in that they cannot hope to really set the stage for a complete understanding of all the historical and cultural factors that contribute to a conflict. Books are far better at that sort of thing. Critics’ reviews point out that there are lacks in the story, and yet, for a movie, I felt it was incredibly powerful. It focused on one aspect of the racial problems rampant through the South: personal conviction, courage and integrity. 

The movie is based on a true story, and although I’m sure details have been changed to create more drama and compress the action, it was so lovely to see pictures at the end and a few videos of how the two main characters continued to work together until they died to help change the way blacks and whites saw each other. This is the kind of story I like, one that takes a real situation and shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things–make dramatic changes–just by taking a stand and following their beliefs.

Rotten tomatoes only gave it a 54% rating. The critics pointed out deficiencies, but seem to have missed that the story the movie chose to tell was well told. It’s hard to show how a person changes their mind about a lifelong prejudice. That is a very personal thing, and because it is an internal shift, it’s very hard to show on film. It’s much easier in a book. Yet, I feel that The Best of Enemies succeeded. It really got me thinking about how so much is going on around us, near and far, and in spite of mass media, it doesn’t really touch us. I’m not saying it ought to. Just the opposite.

I feel that we each have our challenges, opportunities to stand up for what we believe in, without adopting a crusade from another location or culture. It’s pretty easy to get worked up about the abuse of women in fundamentalist societies, about poverty in places that don’t even have clean water. But what about the problems right under your nose? Why not look at the challenge of things locally in your state or country? 

For me, this means looking at issues like government intrusion and the taking away of our freedoms since 9/11. Or how corporations are taking over the government and using that power to limit the spread of truth and the ability to choose or discuss options. It’s easy to overlook what we accept as ‘normal,’ just as folks in 1971 in NC accepted segregation as normal. So much of what is normal around you is not ethical, not healthy, not compassionate and not fair. 

I see movies like this not simply as a call to erase racial prejudice; I see it as a call to wake up and realize that what you accept as normal in many cases is wrong, dangerous, or unfair. What in your life do you not notice, because it seems normal, or you are lulled by media into thinking it’s normal? Laws that mandate vaccination? GMO foods? 5G? the proliferation and addiction to technology? the attacks on holistic medicine?

Diversity used to be celebrated more in America. Freedom of choice for all was the goal. These ideals have changed radically since I was a child. But it’s hard to be aware when you’re struggling to pay your bills and take care of your family. I think movies like The Best of Enemies give us an opportunity to stop and ask ourselves what in our lives that we accept as ‘normal’ is really unfair, wrong or dangerous, and what are we willing to do to change it? Don’t just think this is about racial problems. This is about how people sleepwalk through life, accepting prejudices and false truths and perpetuating hate and violence as a result. It isn’t just about race. It’s about the natural human tendency to accept the norm as ‘right.’ And how courage can create positive change, but it demands that we awaken to the truth and have the willingness to act.

 

Book vs. Movie

Book vs. Movie

We recently went to the theater to see the movie Book Club. Have you seen it?  We enjoyed it tremendously. The acting was superb, the writing was above average, we had a lot of laughs and the message was upbeat for people our age. What more could you ask?

Why aren’t there more movies like that for people our age? For that matter, why aren’t there more books like that for people our age?

When Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came out, we loved it. The sequel wasn’t as good, but it was still fun to watch. I liked the original so much that I got the book and read it. The book on which the movie is based was a bit darker, but as with good books in general, it was able to go into far greater depth on its subject. I have always felt that if forced to choose between a good book and a good movie, the book is usually the better way to tell the story. How about you?

Don’t get me wrong. I love going to see the next Mission Impossible movie, but probably would not read a book on which those movies are based. For us, those kinds of movies are a great escape and fun time. We don’t expect realism. In fact, maybe we don’t want realism. We just want to be entertained. But when telling a story that supposedly reflects real life, we want believable characters and story lines.

Book Club was a fun movie, and I’d be happy to see it again, but like most movies, it couldn’t plumb the depths of life after retirement. It chose one subject and presented it well, but so many others were glossed over, probably because they are depressing. Yet, in a book, you have time to tell a more complex story and find a way to resolve problems. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was better that way, as it dealt with death, finances, love and health, not just sex and relationships. But that, to me, is the difference between a book and a movie, and it is rare that a movie translates into a rich, multi-layered story.

If you like my Autumn In The Desert series, you’ll probably like the movies Book Club and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I’d love to hear what you think of them, and how you feel about books vs. movies. Please comment below.

What Do You Think Of Retirement Communities?

What Do You Think Of Retirement Communities?

Is Age Restriction A Plus Or A Minus?

Back in the 1990s, I lived in a retirement community in Arizona. It was the one my parents had moved to years before, and I’d enjoyed visiting them each year and dreamed of living there. I loved the warm weather, the sunshine, how neat the community was, the southwestern flavor of the newer home designs. I especially liked the tropical plants, because they promised a life without winter.

The outward look of the place was delightful to me, but after living there, I did notice drawbacks. Maybe they weren’t all about the age restrictions, but some were. Children were a rarity, and since they visited mostly in summer, you didn’t see them outside a lot in the blistering heat and punishing sun. I realized that everyone looked old. I was in my forties at the time, probably one of the youngest residents thanks to my husband being much older than I was. I’d always liked being around older people, perhaps partly because growing up, I had no close relatives outside of my parents and siblings. And I sure didn’t miss having little kids riding Hot Wheels up and down the sidewalks, yelling and screaming bloody murder. But after a while, I came to feel that having only retired folks gave the community an ossified feel. My own mother used to comment that it was like living in a mausoleum.

And one of the things that hit me as my parents aged is that the older residents get in a bind when they reach a certain age. They can’t drive anymore or have health issues, but their kids live far away and rarely get to visit. So they end up moving into assisted living, downsizing. The snow birds sadly give up the annual migration when they reach that age. Ultimately, many choose to move back nearer their children at some point in time. It becomes a strange cycle that makes it hard to keep a real feeling of family. I was fortunate to live close by my parents, but most had no family nearby to help them.

What About Covenants?

Rules that Homeowners’ Associations make you agree to are intended to preserve the property values and the look and feel of the community. Some are no brainers, but it’s funny how carried away some HOAs get. Even the best-intended ones can lead to conflict. I recall a good friend, a fellow biologist, who lived in a community where the HOA had rules about keeping your yard looking good. He had one portion of his property that had native grasses, a rare commodity in his area, and he let them grow tall and go to seed so they’d come back the following year, like a sort of living museum. But the HOA sent him a notice saying if he didn’t cut his grass, they’d come do it for him. That led to some unpleasantness.

Shouldn’t you be able to do what you want with your property? It’s hard to draw the line between what is best for the community and the personal freedom of the homeowner. A retirement community near the one I lived in was so restrictive, my business partner and I, who owned a landscaping firm, called it “Little Russia,” and we didn’t really like working there. It was surprising how many residents complained to us about the covenants and how stupid and strangling they were–and that was mostly about their plants. Yet they had bought property there.

Golf, Anyone?

Golf seems to be the central theme in most of the retirement communities in the Sun Belt. Yet many residents don’t golf. My parents didn’t. Nor did I. The HOA charges fees that cover the amenities, and early on, the annual fee was surprisingly low. But in the years after I left, my parents were struggling and complaining about the fees, because they had gotten so old, they used few of the amenities, but the price kept going up each year. Water is always a challenge in the desert, and the use of pesticides is pretty high on golf courses, and keeping them resown each winter so that there’s always grass is pretty costly. So even though the residents know when they buy a home what the deal is, they aren’t always happy when prices start creeping up, forcing the HOA fees higher and higher.

My experience with HOAs led me to believe the best HOA is hands off. The fewer restrictions, the better. The lower the fees, the better. But I know that isn’t how everyone sees it. What is your personal opinion about retirement communities? What pluses and minuses have you experienced?

Where’s The Age Diversity In Books?

Where’s The Age Diversity In Books?

Why aren’t there more books with mature characters? Not just the token grandmother, but main characters, heros, if you will, who are retired. Most bestsellers have young people as their main characters. Now, that isn’t too surprising if you’re writing about Jason Bourne. To do what he does, you need to be young and in superb physical condition. But not all stories are about secret agents/assassins.

No matter what your age, you still face the same challenges as your younger counterparts. Love, family, money, health, fulfillment: these subjects are not the exclusive property of people under 40, but with few exceptions, books and movies have you thinking life ends at retirement. One exception I particularly enjoyed was Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, both the movie and book. Most of the characters were seniors, and it was delightful to see them facing and overcoming problems with ingenuity, humor and courage.

One of the most frequent comments my readers make about Autumn In The Desert is that they are thrilled to finally see characters their own age who aren’t stereotypes. I believe there is a huge untapped pool of readers out there who would love to see more books written about seniors, that reflect the truth that age does not automatically put one beyond romance or a desire to live a happy, fulfilled life. The problems we face as mature adults have interesting twists to them, and I like reading and writing about them.

What’s your age group? Do you enjoy movies and books with seniors in key roles? Please comment below. I’d love to hear what you think.

An Author Is Revealed In Her Writing

An Author Is Revealed In Her Writing

I love to read, always have. I am sure my love of reading is part of the reason I love to write. Reading stories was a great escape for me as a kid and a way to entertain myself that cost no money. I have continued to be an avid reader throughout the years. I read both fiction and nonfiction, and I enjoy reading most genres. I am always thrilled when I find a new author I like who has written a ton of books. I gobble up every one of them. Heaven!

If you read many books by one author, you are going to get to know the author, because the stories an author writes come from within herself. The world she creates and the characters that populate it are all projected from the viewpoint of her experience and beliefs. I think that’s because it’s hard to write a good story using a viewpoint that is vastly different from your own.

When you read a book–like so many modern ones–that is filled with depressed, disaffected and evil people, you know that the writer sees the world that way. I personally find it hard to like books that have not one single character I can identify with (not being depressed, disaffected or evil). It’s not that I think such characters should not appear in a story; I just feel that a story is more fulfilling if it uplifts one. Even if there is only one character who strives for something better, that’s enough. But you see, that attitude is a reflection of my viewpoint and how I see the world. And technically, my viewpoint isn’t any more valid than anyone else’s. I’m the person who went to the movies to see The Deer Hunter, walked out of the theater shell-shocked afterward and went straight into a screening of Superman to get a dose of positivity. I tend to ‘pick up’ negativity and need to avoid too much exposure. I’m curious to know if my readers have similar preferences.

But getting back to how a writer’s work reflects a lot about their personality and outlook, have you noticed that to be the case? For example, can you guess about how Lee Child and Nelson DeMille feel about women and relationships by reading their works? Now that book 2 of my Autumn In The Desert series is out, I realize I populate my books with a preponderance of certain types of people. The reason for that is, all my characters eventually come from me, and they all will reflect who I am, and it’s easier for me to write what I know, as it is for all authors. Can you tell about me from reading my books? Feel free to post in the Comments below. I’ll try to be honest and reply. No nasty comments, please!

Getting Old Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

Getting Old Doesn’t Mean Giving Up

My “Autumn In The Desert” series takes place in a retirement community. All the main characters are 55 and older. Conventional wisdom says that retirement is a time for golf and steadily declining health. But that is a shallow and invalid viewpoint. And the worst thing you can do if you are 55 or older is to buy into it.

The media and our unfortunate culture on the one hand ply you with golden pictures of a happy retirement to keep you locked in a job you don’t really like during your middle years, wishing your life away. Then, when you arrive at retirement, the reality of it is rarely as rosy as you’ve been led to believe. That same media and culture convince you to buy into decrepitude and decaying health. They scare you into buying all kinds of insurance, none of which gives decent coverage. Then they give you a health care system that can’t fix you.

Aging is inevitable. But you would be wise to wake up and look critically at the picture of aging that you’ve been handed. Is it the way you want to live your Golden Years? From adult diapers to assisted living, aging is painted as a time of loss, constriction and giving up. You give up the dreams of fulfillment you had as a younger person. You let go of the idea you could be healthy as you age. You face financial and physical challenges that force you to downsize and give up hope.

It is my hope that readers of my “Autumn In The Desert” series will be able to see there are other ways of looking at life after retirement. You are a human being, with dreams and plans and the ability to make things happen. Yes, it can be late to start at age 60, but that’s the beauty of life. It’s never really too late to go after your dreams, to make a good life choice, to be the person you always wanted to be.

I wish there were more books with heroes our age. We need role models to remind us that retirement shouldn’t be a ghetto lifestyle filled with gloom and regret (even a gilded one), but an ongoing journey of discovery and fulfillment. What do you want to do with your Golden Years? Please let me know what you think in the Comments section below.