Maggie Smith: The Lady in the Van by Choice

 Many Faces of Maggie Smith

Many faces of Maggie Smith, not just an old lady or a 50s It-Girl.

Maggie Smith is one of my favorite actresses, but I watched her last weekend in one of the slowest movies ever shot: The Lady in the Van. The good thing about watching a slow movie is that it gives me time to think.  I began to think of how Miss Shepherd was like Lady Violet of Downton Abbey,  both women who  managed their lives as much as possible given their circumstances. It’s a typical story line for several of her movies, such as Travels with My Aunt, the story of a man who learns that his bad girl aunt is really his mother, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, about a teacher whose unusual teaching methods and politics ostracize her from her peers.

Maggie Smith as Elizabeth I

Maggie Smith as Elizabeth I

An Inspiration for Everyone

Maggie herself is a remarkable woman, working on the Harry Potter movies while being treated for breast cancer. Her acting career spans decades, starting just after the year I was born. She’s a year younger than my mom.

So as I watched the movie with my mom, both of us feeling less than up to par on her 84th birthday, I got to thinking about having control over my own life, and whether I would choose to live such a crappy life just to some control.  In some ways my life is not ideal. I can’t quite make it on social security, so I am still teaching part time, but that does allow me to live a fairly middle class life.

The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the Van

My internet, my house, my car, my smart phone, and especially my own bathroom with hot running water and a toilet are important to my happiness. Despite my lack of gentry  privilege, my life is much more like Lady Violet’s than Miss Shepherd’s. I hope I am less abrasive than either of these characters, yet both of them stand up for their own perspective of life.

Queen to Bag Lady

The lady in the van has the mistaken idea that she murdered a biker who ran into her car, and she has escaped a mental institution, after being rejected as a nun. One of her quirks is that she can’t abide to hear music. When the reasons are revealed, we learn what was taken from her,  leading her to give up everything else except her marginal freedom.

Professor McGonigle

Professor McGonigle

Like Professor McGonigle, I want to be able to transform my life, to make my life magic. The professor makes her choices, and I make mine, and each choice leads to a change in my life.

I am choosing more of a crap life than is necessary, not just out of ornery contrariness I hope, but out of a sense of doing things my way, which might be just a rationalization for contrary orneriness.

Maggie Smith, inspiration

Maggie Smith, inspiration

What Choices to Make

The more I think about this movie, the more I think about living my life the way I want, not in relation to other people’s expectations. Looking up to Maggie Smith and her continued acting career, unusual for anyone her age, and for her excellence of craft, I can continue to work on my craft of writing, despite my age (65) and my relative lack of interesting experiences to draw on. I can make my priorities my own, doing what I must to keep the cash coming in, but doing what is important to me to live my life on my own terms. My choices, either conscious or by default, are my choices. Thanks, Maggie.

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J. A. Cipriano: Jet-My Brother’s Keeper

JA Cipriano: Jet My Brothers Keeper

JA Cipriano: Jet My Brothers Keeper – a novella

J.A. Cipriano’s Jet: My Brother’s Keeper reads like  Nikita  of Division met Agent Melinda “The Cavalry” May of S.H.I.E.L. D. and their love child, Jet, is Ziva David  of N.C.I.S. Oh, and she has a brother. Separated as young children, she’s in Moussad, and he’s in college.

Murder. Death. Kill.

If you love non-stop action and mayhem,  you will love this novella of a bad-ass agent with sibling issues.  I think she takes out three dozen assailants in the same number of minutes it takes to read the novella.  Much kicking of various body parts glosses over the less well-developed plot and characterization issues.

As  a teaser for a longer piece, or maybe as part of a series, it works. All action-adventure requirements and tropes you could ever want fill this novella. Christian Kane couldn’t take out this chick.

Not a lot of Characterization–Typical of Genre

I prefer to learn more about why the character does what she does, worries about going soft, and risks everything. It’s either a bit too long or half the length it needs to be to tell the salient part of the story. I think the whole first chapter could come out. I’m used to action novellas, but I still want to know who she is and why she cares.  Not satisfied.

Cipriano  writes well, with well described, logical action for the main character, with only a few spellcheck typos. The POV stays in place well after the first shift that comes after the teaser opening. I’d rather see it all from Jet’s POV. How did she get into this predicament ? Why is her long-lost  trust fund brother worth it?

Fast paced, quick read, all action. If that’s your bag, you and Cipriano may be new BFFs.

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Guys, Dresses and White Male Privilege

Sam and Al

Sam and Al-who looks sillier?

Guys. Dresses. Why Not Share the Experience?

Netflix is a magic window into the past, the present, and maybe, the future. My most recent binge was Quantum Leap, a show from the 90s with Scott Bakula (as Dr. Sam Becket, a boy scout) and Dean Stockwell (as Al, the womanizing been-there-done-that guy).

In case you are too young to remember, or if you never watched it (I hadn’t), the premise is that Bakula “leaps” into the lives of various people who need to have their lives changed, mostly people in the 1950s and early 60s. He shows us a nostalgic America, with some of the grit left in, and in the last season, played some real people, from Elvis, to Lee Harvey Oswald, to Dr. Ruth (They were running out of ideas and needed better ratings…it didn’t work).

Such a pretty face

Such a pretty face–not happy though…where’s the smile?

The Premise

Each show deals with some social issue: college hazing, racism, the Cuban Missile Crisis, mainstreaming adults with Down syndrome, rape, sexual harassment, single parents, chain gangs, mental health, children’s TV, rock-n-roll, even experiments on chimps. About one of nine leaps, the character is a woman. Bakula never plays the character as being in drag, just as a female character. To be fair, Al (Stockwell) wears much sillier clothing, glam-metrosexual-on-steroids, while spouting  the most sexist and male chauvinist pig drivel that a five-time married character could imagine. Think Elmer Fudd when Bugs Bunny is in drag. Al is a foil to Becket’s caring gentleman, as well as supplying advice from experience and the AI named Ziggy. But that is where male privilege shows up, although in a light-hearted, and totally-sensitive-guy way.


Beefcake manliness…

At first it was odd and mildly amusing that a man was in a dress, wearing 60s makeup, struggling with stockings and heels–the usual comedy stuff, though played more for drama. Bacula wore dresses tailored to fit him, and he wasn’t bra-stuffed or padded. As you can see, he has the pecks to need a bit of darting in the bodice–B cup easy. By the end of the first female leap, I started to wonder why men didn’t wear makeup and dresses. He looked attractive and adorable, if a bit sad. What do women want?

Thinks that make you go hmmmm

Thinks that make you go hmmmm

Historical Precedence
for Guys in Dresses

There’s no logic to women’s clothing vs. men’s clothing except we just don’t do it that way right now.

Men have worn sheets, robes, kilts, loincloths, tights and heels, brocade, plaid, buckskin, wigs, makeup, long hair, short hair, beards, clean-shaven, ties, overalls…. Prince and Johnny Depp showed us how adorable a bit of eye shadow is, not taking their masculinity away, but adding that same mystique as smoky-eyed women have. Kohl, anyone? So it’s not the dress…but what makes the male outlook?

Emperor Wu of Jìn, by Yan Li-pen (600–673)

Emperor Wu of Jìn, by Yan Li-pen (600–673)

Louis XIV of France By Hyacinthe Rigaud

Louis XIV of France By Hyacinthe Rigaud

Former 3rd Duke of Fife wearing a traditional Scottish kilt. (1984) By Allan Warren

Former 3rd Duke of Fife  (1984) By Allan Warren


In the first woman episode, Dr. Becket  actually solved the sexual harassment problem by telling the harrasser that he was, in fact, a man, which grossed out the bad guy. America is still very homophobic, at least to a lot of men, an interesting take on the subject,  I thought.

What Price Gloria?

What Price Gloria?

In another episode, as a 15-year-old black girl, he kicked a local tough across the sidewalk, saving not only himself but the girls with him. He shooed them down the street like a mother hen, keeping them literally under his wings. He was in deep trouble when he went into labor as a pregnant teen. Lucky for him, he leapt out just as he was in the stirrups. He could not lie and deliver.

As the show went along, I saw more and more that he didn’t get what it was like to be smaller, weaker, less educated, marginalized by clothing, expectations, and opportunities. He was always so relieved to get out of the shoes and the bra. Aren’t we all?

gratuitous Boob shot

Gratuituous boob shot

But the show’s premise also included the idea that the actual person was in the future, in a waiting room. While Sam Becket appears to be the person, he is physically present in his (yummy) male body, with his height, his martial arts training, some of his knowledge from his MD and several PhDs. He also acts like an alpha male, protecting the weak, defending himself, and generally acting like an alpha male in his own culture.

Comfortable in his skin, he is aware of the rights and privileges of citizenship, which he often forgets that the person into whom he has leapt does not enjoy…hence, the changing of history in a better direction.

Pink Sequins

Pink sequins make everything better

The Thrill is Gone…

The binge is over, and I am still in that post-binge phase of looking for the next show, and missing the characters just as if I had known them. I’m sure there’s some kind of “opathy” or syndrome associated with Netflix binge-watching, so maybe I’ll withdraw for a few days. Or I could go back and watch Enterprise again.

I am still thinking about how blind, insensitive, and unconsciously offensive I must be to minorities. Whitesplaining. I hope that I am becoming more conscious and aware, and that I am using my white female privilege for good….like Sam Becket. And maybe Scott Bakula, too. He is just so darn cute…when will NCIS:NOLA be on Netflix?

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Dinesh D’Souza: Capitalism and the Theft of the Left

Stealing America by Dinesh D'Souza

Stealing America by Dinesh D’Souza

I stole a book today. It wasn’t Abbie Hoffman’s Steal this Book. No, I didn’t take it out of the store, but I read it without paying for it, sitting in a comfortable chair at my local B&N for several hours. They worked; I “ate.” That makes me a thieving liberal, much like the progressives described in the book Stealing America: What My Experience with Criminal Gangs Taught Me about Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party by Dinesh D’Souza.

I confused this D’Souza with another one, Sean D’Souza of the PsychoTactics website. . I’ve read a number of that D’Souza’s articles, and contemplated taking some of his classes, so I thought it would be interesting to get his perspective…but it was a completely different, much older man who wrote the book, one who lives in the US, not New Zealand, the one with no sense of humor, and no cartoons.

Until I got home, I wasn’t sure they  were two different men from India with the same last name (How likely is that given the population of India?), I thought perhaps I had misread the marketing guru’s messages. Silly me. Yes, I’m white, and all brown people look alike. Mea Culpa. My bad. No whitesplaining here…just a bit of transparency…(don’t go there with the colorblind comment).

Dinesh D'Souza

Dinesh D’Souza

Dinesh D’Souza, producer of the Hillary’s America documentary,  made a strong argument that the Democratic party has been steadily and conspiratorially driving the theft of the wealth of America by the left progressives lead primarily by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. He compared them to the convicts with whom he spent eight months in a detention center afer being convicted of breaking campaign donation laws. He wrote little about Republicans, except to say that they had not done enough to stand up for the values of capitalism.

He had some interesting thoughts: “Capitalism works by putting the energies of the capitalist entirely at the service of the actual and potential customers. In order to serve customers, the capitalist must always be thinking about them: their wants, their needs, how to make their lives better” (p. 133)

He continues on the idea of capitalism: “Capitalism makes us better people by limiting the scope of our vices.” (p. 135)

I am still processing what I read, but the main message was progressives are creating the end of America, based on envy. He says we never operate from the motives we espouse, but nearly always from envy, the desire to take what someone else has…lik e Iago.

Hillary's America

Hillary’s America: the Movie

I tend to believe that D’Souza  was targeted because he speaks out against the Obama administration at length, at least if his version of the trial was accurate, if written in somewhat emotionally loaded language. He admitted to breaking the law, a stupid mistake made to help a friend but done in the wrong way, and punished very harshly compared to others who made the same mistake.

His descriptions of the stories of men in the detention center were fascinating, and he exercised his journalistic skills during his nightly incarceration there to build his argument. I found their stories much more interesting than his comparisons to the Democrats. Understand, I don’t think any politician hung the moon, not even Saint Bernie.

I tell my students that it is easier to deconstruct an argument written by someone with whom one disagrees. I have been a Democrat all my life, and I am now currently involved in the “Ponzi Scheme” D’Souza calls Social Security (I’m semi-retired at 65) . Since I was unable to find full-time work after losing my job last year, retiring seemed like the thing to do, even at only 90% of the benefits I would have received had I been able to hold out for March of 2017. It’s not like I haven’t worked at least part time since 1968. So I found D’Souza’s claims difficult to read. He did not have a lot to say about Trump, except for the approval of hitting back, of standing up to say what many people think.

Have I been duped all my life? Am I truly a bleeding-heart, crunchy-granola, pinko progressive liberal thief? I mean, I do wear Birkenstocks (42r), no makeup, and stretchy waist pants (3X). I’m also a college instructor…yep, looks like I fit the profile.

I bewail the idea my students have of going to college to get a piece of paper that to them is just a license to work, much like a driver’s license…or more like a pilot’s license. In truth, however, that’s why I went to college, to get a teaching license, my ticket into the middle class and to avoid the secretarial pool. My other option would have been health care, and I dislike working with body fluids as much as with spreadsheets–not that spreadsheets were a thing in 1969.

I did not write back then, my true dream that was subsumed under “you can’t make a living as a writer,” or learn how to create wealth from writing, as I am working to learn now. I did buy into victimhood, (poor me, I’m a woman from the South), failed perfectionism, playing it safe (I didn’t realize how easy it was for a teacher to be fired) and trying to feel my way through life, rather than doing some critical thinking. Yep, guilty as charged.

I have always worked for the government, both in public and private schools who were heavily funded by tax money either through direct taxation or through Pell grants and student loans. Even for-profit colleges depend on student loans for a large portion of their income. I’m not a wealth creator. Not a job creator. I think of my teaching as community service, another government idea. A government sponsored leach.

What an interesting point of view. I can either align and agree with this point of view, or I can defend against it, but either way, I get stuck in the judgement of myself based on someone else’s view of the world. Conversely, I can allow that person to enjoy his point of view, and I can be aware of it, and even observe the verification or rebuttal to his arguments, without buying and selling it to myself.

I can also be aware of my own assumptions, my own unexamined points of view, which this book has rattled quite a bit. I can lose my judgement of myself for buying the opposite points of view, seeing big business as the evil empire, rather than big government. I can be more aware, and I can allow myself to know and perceive the contradictions and spin that each person, but especially political campaigners put on their messages.

Red States vs. Blue States

Red States vs. Blue States 2000-2012

Who will I vote for? It remains to be seen, and in South Carolina, the chances are slim that my vote will even make a blip in the red sea. Despite the large percentage of black voters in SC, the state went heavily Republican in the last two elections. I’ll vote, but I would be very surprised, like the Brits who voted for Brexit, if it made a difference.

At this point, it is more important to me to  examine my own assumptions, be more aware of what I have bought and sold myself on both sides of any issue and to operate from consciousness.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. I can work on being aware instead of being right…in any sense of the word.

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Bellarosa by Katharina Gerlach

Bellarosa by Katharina Gerlach

Bellarosa by Katharina Gerlach

Katharina Gerlach’s Bellarosa

“Once upon a time in a world where magic and technology collide with unexpected consequences…”

The sixth book in the series Treasures Untold, Katharina Gerlach’s Bellarosa is a new take on Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the princess. The heroine takes an active role in her awakening, much different from the usual passive princess tale. The reader gets a new look at what has occurred while she was sleeping and a different point of view from the uninvited fairy. While all the necessary pieces of the story are present, they are only the backdrop for the revelations Gerlach provides.

Bellarosa finds that she can sometimes communicate with people in her dreams, but not under her control. Only a very few, like the young boy being bullied by his older brothers can hear her and answer back. She helps him to escape them, giving him clues he will need later. They build a life-long friendship as she slumbers through the years. He becomes more than a princeling, a strong fighter and a good man. This leads him to have to make a difficult choice.

It’s well worth the read especially for some inverted fairy tale tropes and characters. For one, there’s a robot, and for another, the youngest child becomes the heir, not the eldest, creating a perfect storm for sibling rivalry. Behind the scenes there is the game of politics that exist between any two kingdoms, especially those intended for union by marriage, one that the spell has affected.

The ending has a bit of a twist which makes the story that much more enjoyable. If you like fairy tales, I recommend this one as a quick and relaxing read.

Transparency Notice: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Writer’s Hedge



The following is a flash fiction story based on a prompt at a writers group meeting Saturday a week ago. The prompts were randomly generated around the table, each of us adding a word and then passing it along to the next writer. My list contained bra, airplane, hedgehog, author book signing, garbage disposal, Scotland.  I liked the idea of a hedge to The Question.

I have polished it a good bit, but it was very much fun to write a whole short story in 20 minutes from scratch. I’ll try this again some time. I wonder if it makes a difference to be in the presence of other writers?

Writer’s Hedge

Maxine adjusted her bra strap again. It cut into her sore shoulder, keeping her from relaxing into a nap on the airplane. Only a short trip from Dublin to Glasgow, but she needed to rest before the author book signing. Her hand was already sore from the Dublin signing, thank goodness for all her fans. That she could manage with a bit of tiger balm and an aspirin, but she’d wrenched her shoulder stuffing the remains of the hedgehog down the garbage disposal.

How the nasty animal had gotten into her hotel room, she had no idea, but it had frightened her so much that she smacked it with a frying pan, leaving a bloody mess on the tile floor. She couldn’t leave that for the cleaning crew, so she chopped it up as well as she could with the limited cutlery available and used the broom to push it down the sink.

Such a smell! She thought she would never get the blood off the floor. Thank goodness it wasn’t on the carpet. She could still hear the grinding noise…it was a wonder no one had come to check on her then. She’d plunged the broomstick at the sink over and over, and the grinding would endarken her nights for weeks. She grimaced to think of the sweet old lady persona she would present to her fans in Scotland.

She rolled her shoulder again, wincing in pain, and disturbing the woman next to her, trying to read. The woman gave her a cold glance, then stared back at her book.

Maxine wondered if human parts would fit down the disposal. No, it would take too long for her perpetrator to chop them up.  A bigger disposal might work, maybe one from some industrial kitchen, or slaughter house. She’d have to research it.

She rubbed her hand, working out the soreness, and it began to seep a bit of blood. She must have scratched herself in the confusion.  The motor of the plane grew louder, reminding her of the grinding, grinding, grinding. She’d use that in her next novel, wherever it took place. She wiped the blood with her thumb.

“You’re bleeding,” said the woman next to her. She handed over a napkin.

“It’s just a scratch,” Maxine said. “Thank you. That was very kind.”

The woman looked her over, clearly too interrupted to go back to reading. “So what do you do? First trip to Glasgow?”

“Yes, I’m going to a book signing. I’m an author.” Maxine said, pressing the napkin tight to her hand. “I write thrillers.”

“How interesting.” The woman’s face broadened into the smile as she asked The Question. “Where do you get your ideas?”

“Mostly while I’m in the kitchen.”

I’d love to know what you think. Share a comment below.




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Rape Culture

 screw it rape culture

f*ck it – an IT problem?

Penises don’t rape people. People rape people.

Rape is about the physical violation of a person, power over the person. It’s about dominance, punishment,  and humiliation. It’s a very personal one-on-one kind of terrorism, not always but mostly perpetrated (and penetrated) by men. Just like mass murderers and terrorists.

This is not bashing men. It’s bashing the culture with the  concept of rape as integral as marbling is to a rib eye.

The most colorful expression of rape I ever heard came from a man complaining about a waitress: “I’d like to jerk off in her ear.” It was not about sex. It was not about “getting some action.”

He expressed his frustration as a desire to rape her–at least her ear–a punishment for not meeting his expectations. She didn’t fill up his drink or bring the meal fast enough.

rape culture a fucking book

Read a f*cking book – erotica?

 Rape Culture Embedded in Language

This past weekend I finally saw how much rape is part of Western Culture,  using the word F*CK. Some people are working steadily to make the F-bomb just another word with no shock value. People who don’t use such language will still say “screw it.”

If we don’t like something, we want to physically violate it. Our very language uses f*ck  to vent our emotions–women as well as men. How far is that  from that to actually raping or killing someone? People who are peaceful, like me for example, are willing to imagine the violence, even if we mean it metaphorically. What about people with less impulse control?

I don’t want to f*ck (eeeewwww) or violate or kill Donald Trump, no matter how much I dislike him. Yet the thought crosses my mind that someone should “take him out with extreme prejudice.” That thought puts me in the same category as any terrorist or mass-murderer, at least according to the Good Shepherd.

Do we really have to say WTF?

Do we really?

Rape culture objectifies victims

Add this to the misogyny of the use of language (compare “sissy” to “buddy” as names for siblings) , and you have a language that is white cis-male dominated. The people who complain about “political correctness” are the ones who don’t want to show common courtesy or respect to non-white, non-male people. Some of them do not see non-white-males as people at all. Every rape victim is suspect, even after the conviction of  the perpetrator/penetrator of three felonies.  Rape culture portrays men as unable to resist women, and therefore, it is the woman’s problem. Even in school dress codes, girls get sent home so as not to “distract” boys.

So it is with f*ck. I am not shocked by the word. I have used it often in my life. The idea of rape that the word reinforces even in my mind offends me, whether in full Anglo-Saxon or euphemism. Until we can erase the idea of physical or mental violation of a person or idea that we don’t like, we will continue to have rapes and mass murders.

Can we change the rape culture embedded in our use of language? It will take more than “f*ck it” to change our minds.

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