While stuck inside due to the snow yesterday, I indulged my fascination with Benedict Cumberbatch by watching an older TV movie of his, Hawking. It was absolutely incredible. Hawking was the story of young Steven Hawking’ s diagnosis and battle with motor neuron disease, and his desperate attempt to make a mark on the world of science that he thought he would be forced to leave too soon. He proved to a skeptical, atheistic science that the universe had most definitely had a beginning, despite the belief of the time that this couldn’t possibly be true. Before him, the Big Bang theory was a term of derision; after him, it was and is considered by most to be fact. I’m a Creationist, but I still appreciate the passion behind his work and the way that it changed how people look at the world.
Benedict Cumberbatch proved himself to be one of the best actors of our time in this under appreciated film. His depiction of Hawking’s shock over his diagnosis, his fight against the disease, and his gradual succumbing to the illness that was supposed to kill him was intensely believable, heart-wrenching, and inspiring. I have never seen any actor communicate the effect of such a disease as Cumberbatch did. His shakiness, inability to properly control and use his hands, the dramatic changes of his gait, and the rapid decline of clarity in his speech were unbelievably convincing. His face while trying madly to communicate with a cabby was heart-breaking. Even though it’s 10 years old, if you haven’t seen Hawking, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s only $1.99 on Amazon Instant Video. Go watch it! Now!
Thursday night something very strange happened in the state of Louisiana: it snowed. And I’m not talking about sleet or any other freezing precipitation we like to think of as “snow” in the South. We got close to six inches of beautiful, powdery, honest-to-goodness snow. So yesterday morning, for the first time in my life, I awoke to a blanket of white overlaying absolutely everything. It was blindingly beautiful.
So, yesterday morning Chris and I went exploring and trekked down to the creek behind our house. The goats had blatantly refused to leave their hut until PawPaw coaxed them with corn; they can’t even stand rain, much less snow. Watching pregnant goats pick their way gingerly through all that cold wetness was hilarious. Chris was definitely not a huge fan of the snow. To him it was pretty much just a cold wet mess. But as we entered the woods, even he couldn’t help but say something positive about it.
“It looks like Narnia,” he stated as we ducked under limbs and hopped over fallen branches.
Might not sound like much, but he didn’t need more than those four words. Because he was absolutely right. The snow-covered woods looked exactly like the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Lucy steps through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia. It was breathtaking. The distant sound of the rushing creek in the background and the occasional birdsong were the only sounds we heard above the compaction of snow beneath our feet. I don’t know exactly how to describe the sound of snow underfoot. It’s not quite a crunch, is it? Minutes later our Black Lab, Selene, disrupted all that quiet with her wildly enthusiastic scampering. Somedays I wonder if her manic enthusiasm hasn’t crossed the line into utter doggy madness. But you just can’t help but laugh whenever she’s around.
We stayed outside for about an hour before coming in and shedding our multiple layers of clothing. We Louisianians aren’t exactly equipped to handle that level of cold or any level of snow. Our entire area shut down for the day. Today, our world is a big, slushy mess. But sometimes beauty is worth the messiness it brings with it.
I watched an incredibly well-acted movie last night. As a girl with a degree in English and History, I sometimes feel compelled to read or watch something with a bit more cultural importance than the fantastically fun things that I generally prefer to consume. This compulsion generally leads me to read a classic of some sort, but I was feeling too lazy to put in that kind of mental effort. So, when I went to the library last week I checked out “The King’s Speech.” I remembered hearing about it winning or being nominated for a slew of awards, and I love Geoffrey Rush, so I decided to give it a try. And also, my degree concentration was in British History, and Dr. Culpepper (one of the best history professors EVER) would probably be disappointed if he knew that the only Britishness I am currently consuming is BBC’s Sherlock.
It was very well done. Colin Firth was incredibly convincing as a royal with a horrid speech impediment. His wife (Helena Botham Carter) finds a very unorthodox speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who befriends her husband and helps him to heal from the ridicule-induced stutter he received from his father (Michael Gambon) and the rest of his family. The transformation of the Duke of York into King George VI and his fight to overcome his fear of public speaking in birth of the age of radio broadcasting was incredibly moving as portrayed by Firth. Carter, Rush, Gambon, and others all acted impeccably as well, but my inner nerd couldn’t keep them paired with the characters they were portraying. They’re Barbossa, Bellatrix, and Dumbledore to me, and always will be, it seems. But the movie was intensely moving and a very insightful look into the life of a British monarch, and deserves every award it received.
I absolutely adore 80s music. It just makes me so happy. I sing Foreigner and Journey songs at the top of my lungs when I wash dishes. Styx, Boston, and Dr. Hook get me through the torture that is laundry. Knowing the lyrics to “Bohemian Rhapsody” is part of my friendship test. Asia and Toto are among the few things that can convince me to work out. I might not have experienced very much of the 80s, but their musical legacy has helped shape me into who I am.
My parents loved 80s rock, and thus my brother and I were raised with a deep appreciation for it. I learned to harmonize by singing with Collective Soul on trips to town. We had cassette tapes with the best songs from each year of the 80s, and the saddest part of getting a new car with a CD player was that we couldn’t listen to them anymore. I remember dancing in the living room with Justin when we were tiny, screaming the words to “Rock On” and “Bad Company” and seeing our parents just grinning at each other. Because we were incredibly cute, obviously.
One of the first songs I learned to play on guitar was “We Belong” by Pat Benatar. Justin would play the bongos and djembe and we would sing the crap out of that song. It was probably the first song we ever played and sang together that made us really believe that we could really do something with our music. Lynyrd Skynyrd and CCR were what we really got our start playing. And even today when we write our own music, a tiny part of everything we create gives homage to the music that shaped us.
I remember dancing with Chris at my senior prom to “Angel Eyes” and “Purple Rain” and smiling because I knew I was going to marry him. The music for our wedding was a mix of all the 80s rock love ballads we could find that were mostly free of euphemisms. Which means we said yes to Journey and Firehouse and no to REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. “Faithfully” was the last song I heard as a single girl, and “Love of a Lifetime” was the first song I remember hearing as a married woman. Chris and I will both burst randomly into song if someone says anything remotely close to an 80s lyric in conversation. He’s a phenomenal bassist, and will play the bass lines for “Money” or “Billie Jean” when people are walking into church, just to see who catches it. Which just goes to show me that I married the right man; he’s almost as goofy as I am. So, yeah, the music of the 80s is a huge part of my life. It reminds me to never stop believing.
I know it’s not Christmas anymore, but Chris was adamant that I needed to have this poem up on here. I wrote it for our church’s Christmas program last year. So, let me know what you think!
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the world
There was no one up praying but one little girl.
She prayed for a family and prayed for her friends.
She prayed that all the world’s suffering would end.
And then she began to list, one by one,
All the great things that her God had done.
He’d given her life, He’d given her breath,
And if she should die, He’d see her in death.
Though she’d never been loved by parents below,
She knew God loved this orphan; her heart told her so.
So for all of the things she had or had not,
She gave thanks to God right there in that spot.
She climbed into bed and shut her eyes tight
And told herself, one day, God would make all things right.
She heard a soft thump and decided to see
What in the world such a strange noise could be.
When what to her wondering eyes should appear
But the Savior who loved her and held her so dear.
She jumped to her feet and ran through to the room
And hugged tightly Jesus, who banished all gloom.
He told her she was special, He loved her so much!
So He decided to give her a small Christmas touch.
He knew she was lonely, but told her to wait.
He had made up a plan, and it would be great!
Her parents had died when she was quite small.
They were with Him in heaven and loved her most of all!
They watched her each day and watched her each night.
They saw every tear and they cried at her plight.
They wanted to give her the love she deserved.
So Jesus had come down from heaven to serve.
He had been with her each step of the way
And had found her a family. Tomorrow’s the day
that the family would come for the ultimate gift.
A child they had longed for, small body to lift.
And so for this Christmas, a family was born
from heartache and struggle, from knees all prayer-worn.
The girl hugged Jesus once more with great force.
For her life tomorrow would be changing course.
“Oh thank You!” she cried as He walked to the door.
A bright light now shone from the orphanage floor.
He turned and He smiled and stepped into the light:
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
This is what I wrote last year to show my 5th grade class how to write flash fiction.
Anna raced down the corridor. Breathless and terrified, she veered dangerously close to one of the imposing marble columns. Everything within her line of sight was black. Black ceiling, black floor, black columns… She couldn’t even find the origin of the eerie light that gave her the fleeting hope that she might find a way out. The sound of her heart pounding filled her ears, leaving no room for her to hear the approach of her pursuer.
The crimson ball gown that she had found so lovely earlier that evening twisted around her legs like coiling snakes. As she tried to shake the dress away from her calves, Anna stumbled. Thankfully she had already abandoned the delicate black shoes that she had donned when given the dress. She might have broken an ankle otherwise. She righted herself and continued rushing through the hall. There was a door looming ahead. Perhaps she had found her means of escape!
Anna flew through the opening and down an even darker corridor. She paused for a moment. Had she made a mistake? Should she turn back? She knew that her likelihood of finding another exit were slim, so she stayed her course. She resumed her heart-pounding pace, lest her pursuer should find her once more. Her escape was imminent; she had to hold on to that hope. The hallway before her forked. Making a split-second decision, Anna veered right in search of freedom. She collided with something terribly hard. After her vision cleared, she looked up and screamed. And screamed. And screamed…
I absolutely despise doctors’ offices. The chairs that seemed to be designed with discomfort in mind, the sterile smell, the masses of sick bodies, the awkwardness of revealing intimate details of yourself to people you don’t really know… it all sucks. Now, I know that it’s not the doctors’ fault that coming to see them is so horribly uncomfortable, and both of my doctors happen to be very decent guys. But I hate it.
Despite my immense hatred for doctors’ visits, I had to go see both of my doctors today. I’ve been dealing with an incredible amount of pain for a long time now, and I finally gave into Chris’s demands and made myself appointments. I already knew that I had endometriosis. I’ve already had surgery for it and taken various treatments to minimize it. What else can they do? And I had my suspicions about the causes of the rest of my pain. I have a hip that pops out of place on a much too frequent basis, a slipped disc and pinched nerve in my neck from a car wreck, and other pain that just comes out of nowhere and invades random parts of me. I found out today that I have fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain disorder, and also arthritis in my shoulders and hips in addition to my slipped disc in my neck. My other doctor told me that, in addition to my endometriosis having returned, I seem to have developed irritable bowel syndrome due to the endo. In other words, at not quite 25 years old, I am falling apart.
I’m relieved to know that I’m not crazy. I had this terrible fear that I was just making all of my pain up, that my mind had decided that it hated me and wanted me to suffer for some reason. So, yeah, glad none of that is actually true. But now I’m kind of ticked. I mean, I’m only 24, but I have the physical issues of a septuagenarian. It sucks. A lot. I’m too young to have to deal with this crap. I feel like it’s my fault in some way, because a woman my age should not have to deal with this, so I wonder if I am somehow responsible for making myself sick. But I know that’s not actually true. I did nothing to deserve this. But these are things that will never go away, no matter what I do. I will struggle with these problems for the rest of my life. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to fight it. I will reclaim my body to the best of my ability. I will move even when it hurts, learn Tai Chi and Yoga and whatever else might help me get my body under control. I will lose weight, not to look better, but in hopes of feeling better. I will write everyday, because my mind needs to stay healthy, too. If I can’t get rid of these problems, I will shrink them and take control of them. I’m tired of them controlling me. I am more than any disease. I am bigger than my pain. I will fight.
And I. Will. Win.
The body you are wearing used to be mine.
So begins The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, one of the absolute strangest books I’ve ever read. A woman wakes up surrounded by corpses in latex gloves. She has two black eyes, countless bruises elsewhere, and absolutely no memory of who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket that begins as I typed above. This is the start for a story of government intrigue from the point of view of the Checquy, the supernatural secret government that protects England from countless evils. Most of the people of the Checquy are powered individuals, meaning that they can do anything from secreting poisons from their pores to turning themselves into metal to walking into dreams. Some of the abilities are so bizarre that part of me wanders to what lengths O’Malley might have gone to create them.
I have read thousands of books in my lifetime, but I have never read anything like The Rook. It was an impressively creative and complex world, and yet managed to be incredibly funny. If you put X-Men, Ghostbusters, Harry Potter, 007, and the Bourne Identity all in a blender with a dash of snarky British humor and a touch of Memento, you would still be missing the special, unnamable something that makes O’Malley’s book so special.
Myfanwy Thomas is an amazing complex duo. Yes, duo. The former Thomas was a gifted but desperately shy and awkward administrator. The present Thomas is a phenomenal detective and actress, trying to find out who she was while convincing everyone around her that nothing unusual is happening. She is suspicious, sarcastic, and fiercely intelligent. Not to mention that she becomes a total bad-A as she figures out her powers (the ability to reach into and control the bodies of others) and leaves the safety of her office and heads into the field for the first time. She goes from being a joke among the other members of the Checquy to being feared and respected by many. And she was such a layered character that I cared what was happening to her, which sucked me further into the story than I might have ventured otherwise. All in all, fantastic book. I give it 5 out of 5 stars on Celeste’s meter of bookish awesomeness.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, has got to be one of the most unique stories I’ve read in a while. I was reading it in the living room while Chris (my awesome husband) was changing the strings on my guitar. I must have been so into the book that I forgot he was there, because I generally try really hard not to talk to the book I’m reading when other people are around. I got to a crazy plot twist, gasped out loud, and said “Dah dah dah!” in this deep, kind of creepy voice. I then looked up because I could feel Chris’s confused stare burning my hair folicles. After a sheepish grin and apology for forgetting he was in the room, I returned to my reading. Less than ten minutes later, I did the exact same thing again. This time Chris just rolled his eyes and kept tightening his B string.
The Shadow of the Wind is not within my usual genre of book. I read a little of everything, but I generally read fantasy when I’m happy, Nora Roberts when I don’t feel good, and classics when I start feeling like I’m not as smart as I used to be. However, I’m a sucker for books about books, so I adopted The Shadow of the Wind from a used book store when I happened across it. A boy named Daniel finds a book by the same name and becomes obsessed with finding out everything he can about the author. His search radically changes his life and the lives of everyone else involved.
It was one of the best magical realism books I’ve ever read. And, as I’ve pointed out through my gasps in the first paragraph, the amount of plot twists was unreal. I generally guess plot twists way before I read them or see them, but Zafón shocked me at almost every turn. If you want to read something that will keep you guessing, and possibly talking out loud even when you’re not alone, give The Shadow of the Wind a try. It scores a 4.75 out of 5 on Celeste’s scale of awesome fiction.
The first book I read this year was The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. She’s not one of my favorite authors, but her books always keep me intrigued. The Hero and the Crown was about a misfit princess of sorts named Aerin and her rise from a near leprous reputation for her lack of Magic to becoming the most powerful dragon slayer in the entire realm. Aerin was a pale redhead in a world of tan brunettes. Her father’s subjects considered her mother a sorceress who had bewitched the king into loving her, and refused to see Aerin as his true heir. After consuming a deadly plant to hush the ridicule of a malicious cousin, Aerin disappears almost completely from the public eye. She tames her father’s lame horse and, together, the two begin to heal. After much research and testing, she finds a salve to block dragon-fire and runs away with her horse to slay dragons. Through many errors, much pain, and an endless will to live, she wins the land back from the dragons and gains the love of her people, marrying the mortal man that she loved and becoming Queen.
This wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. It got boggy in places and the most endearing character in the story was the horse. I mean, Talat was about the most epic horse in the history of literature, but still. I just couldn’t develop much connection to the human characters. However, it was a quick read and an interesting story. If I was judging it on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most interesting thing I’ve ever read (Harry Potter) and one being the least (The Virgin Suicides, eww), I’d give The Hero and the Crown a 3.