November 27, 2014

Snow, Thanksgiving, & Harvey Milk...

Here in the great white north we had our first winter blast of the season today... 30 cm and climbing of snow (that's about 157 inches), so reduced visibility, snow clogged roads, really slow driving, and the occasional truck driving moron endangering all of us cuz who thinks he's cruising on a wide open road in August.

My drive home from the airport after a business trip took three hours for what should be a 45-minute drive. And I stopped counting the cars in the ditch as I drove by. Blech.

Then after a safe return home and the first round of shovelling, fed the dogs and myself and getting caught up online and saw the Snowmaggedon stuff, and the American Thanksgiving stuff, and then in passing saw something about today being the anniversary of the death of Harvey Milk.

Then my three hours drive home and the whining (yet bitingly funny) family feuding stuff about Thanksgiving all mattered less.

Harvey Milk was a key gay activist and now an icon -- go right now and see Sean Penn's Oscar winning turn in Milk if you have not yet --- he was the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, and was assassinated in 1978.

Milk was a visionary, who saw a world of equality long before other people talked about it. And he spoke loud and proud, and become one of the first faces of the equality movement. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Without Harvey Milk I might not have the life I have today... RIP Mr Milk.

November 18, 2014

Best Book Of The Year?

British author Ian McEwan has hit many bestseller lists and won many awards for his novels such as Atonement, Solar, Enduring Love, The Child In Time, and my personal favourite Amsterdam.

McEwan is one of those artsy literary Brit writers who have crossed over and gotten some commercial success and mainstream appeal.

His new novel is The Children Act and it took my breath away.

There have been a fair number of great reads this year, however I gotta say that this one is my absolute fave so far... it is fast and touching and smart and thought-provoking.

This slim novel is about Fiona Maye, a British family court judge whose long-time marriage is disintegrating at the same time a new case shakes her core values, and the intersection of these two prove to be life changing.

Much to her surprise, one night Fiona's husband of 35 years tells her he still loves her but wants to have an affair.

Then later that same night a call comes -- a hospital requests an emergency hearing to force a blood transfusion on a 17-year-old leukemia patient who is refusing the blood that could save his life. Adam and his family are Jehovah's Witnesses and believe the Bible expressly forbids 'mixing your own blood with the blood of an animal or another human being.'

While I think its clear where the author lands on this issue, this is fast-paced, efficient, non-emotional non-preachy writing, and Adam and his parents are not depicted as ignorant bible thumpers; Fiona finds value in them, sees their doctor as condescending, and finds the boy innocent and fascinating.

The Children Act is not really about faith or religious controversy; it is about Fiona's well-ordered quiet life being shaken by young passion and old betrayal.

Fiona is caring, compassionate, fiercely intelligent; she is struggling to do the right thing for a sick boy while struggling with the confusion and humiliation of her husband's betrayal. The crisis at home throws off her emotional balance, and as she is moved by Adam's buoyant spirit, she realizes her next moves could save or sink them both.

While there probably can be no happy endings in a serious novel on this topic, there is truth and humanity here, and yes some unexpected twists. This is an emotional and intense read from one of the greatest writers today ----- read it.

November 12, 2014

You Had Me At WOOF...

Sometimes scanning the real or virtual stacks at the library yields unexpected treasures... last week while looking for something on audio to listen to during six hours of driving in two days, I found You Had Me At Woof by Julie Klam, a book I had never heard of by a writer I had never heard of, and wow, what a find!

I chose it strictly because of the cute Boston Terrier on the cover:

Woof is the true story of Klam's love affair with dogs, specifically Boston Terriers. I listened in my car alone over about five hours, and was enchanted -- laughed, shed a tear, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

This is a book for dog people by a dog person.

At age 30, living alone in New York, single and career bored, Klam adopted Otto, a Boston Terrier she had dreamed about. Their loving and codependent relationship charmed me, and taught her about love and relationships... it was to that point "the best relationship I'd ever been in." I totally get it... that was Alfred coming into my life at just the right time.

Klam later marries, has a child, and joins a Boston Terrier rescue group. Her stories of their work inspired me. Through them she works with good and bad pet owners, finds new homes for rescue dogs, and fosters some herself.

Klam now describes herself a moderate, “between the crazy animal people and the people who saw pets as disposable.”

The author calls this book a "dog-oir"; I would compare it to Marley and Me, with this one being more substantive, and about more than one dog... with a taste of the ugly side of bad pet owners (no abuse is detailed here).

While this book has adorable dog stories, it is not cutesy; the subtitle is “How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness.” Chapters have self-help titles like “How to Listen to That Still, Small Voice.” 

Klam adopted Otto 15 years ago, so (spoiler alert) he has since died, and that is heartbreaking to her and the reader. But dogs have shorter lives than we do, and other dogs come in and out of her home, sometimes as brief foster care pets, sometimes as family member --- we meet Otto and Moses and Sherlock and the surprising Dahlia, as well as Wisteria and Fiorello, mutts named by Klam's young daughter, who comes to view the dogs as siblings, to love and fight with and be jealous of.

You Had Me At Woof has many amusing and some harrowing dog tales, and is a tribute to dog love for all dog people... and I loved every minute of it. Check it out.

November 9, 2014

Annette Bening's 'Secret' Face...

I've always loved super-talented actress Annette Bening, but since her high profile multi- Oscar nominated streak some twenty years ago with movies like The Grifters, Bugsy and American Beauty,  we haven't seen that much of her.

While Bening married Warren Beatty and raised their kids, she worked less... and with the exception of Meryl Streep we don't see much of actresses over 50 anyway, unless they reinvent themselves on TV like Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates have.

Bening resurfaces once in a while, like with 2010's terrific The Kids Are Alright, but we don't see her very often, so it was a pleasure to discover on Netflix a Bening movie I had never heard of, 2013's romantic drama The Face Of Love.

This flick was shown at festivals and a few independent theatres before quickly going to video on demand;  but that doesn't mean its crap... if you want to see Bening in crap, look for her and Kristen Wiig in Girl Most Likely. In this case the low profile means it's low budget and somewhat artsy and slower paced..

In The Face Of Love, Bening loses her beloved husband, played by Ed Harris, in a drowning accident while they are on vacation in Mexico; we skip ahead five years, and she is still in mourning and her life is basically paralyzed while her grown daughter, played by The Good Wife's Jess Weixler, and infatuated neighbour, played by Robin Williams, worry about her.

Bening's character Nikki then meets and romances Tom, an artist who looks just like her husband, also played by Harris. She keeps the resemblance secret from him, and the romance secret from everyone in her life. And Tom keeps his heart condition a secret.

Nikki is lonely and emotionally suffocating to the point of imbalance, and Bening makes her sympathetic while we also see she is too far gone. 

It all comes to a head when her daughter Summer, who was pleased about her mother finding a new love, lays eyes on Tom, which sends her into a rage. Tom, surprised by that reaction, accepts when Nikki asks him to run off to Mexico with him... where he learns about her husband.

And then... okay I will stop there, you gotta see this one. The story is unusual, the acting is amazing. See The Face Of Love.

November 5, 2014

Choose Your Own Neil Patrick Harris...

Actor Neil Patrick Harris, the Emmy-winning, Tony-winning, former child star and future Oscar host, has just published his autobiography, and I whipped through it.

Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun read, mostly because of Harris (aka NPH) himself, with his warm semi-edgy humour and charming storytelling; not sure if he wrote it with or without a ghostwriter, but it sure sounds like him.

Best known for Doogie Howser MD and How I Met Your Mother, even at the relatively young age of 40 NPH has lived a crazy busy yet somehow still sane life and has stories to tell -- of TV and movies, family and travel, anonymous sex and hash brownies.

NPH came out as a gay man about seven years ago, and while it was not a shock to those of us who assumed he -- and most every other celebrity - is gay, it was a brave act and great conversation starter;  I think it's always a good thing when famous people come out, as every person coming out helps 'normalize' gay for people who think they don't know any gay people.

The book's format, inspired by the page-jumping kids' book series Choose Your Own Adventure, which is told in second person ('you do this, then you do that'), lost its charm on me after a while, and I just read straight through. On the upside, the format makes for entertaining bite-size stories from his personal and professional lives.

NPH drops names, not in an especially malicious way, but let's just say that Kelsey Grammar, Madonna, Anne Heche, Patti LuPone and Rupert Everett will not be buying copies to give out as Christmas presents. Elton John will... if there is a version packaged as a bedazzled yacht.

His story about coming out to himself, his family, his TV audience and the world, is honest and touching. And funny... possible (funny, untrue) sources of NPH being gay are naively going back to magician Penn Jillette's apartment late one night, and or a full-on man kiss from 80s era Burt Reynolds. Okay, neither of those work for me, but who are we to judge?

Tossed in for your entertainment are recipes, magic tricks, songs, mini adventures written by friends like Kelly Ripa and Whoopi Goldberg, and a really fun chapter that is copy-edited (and fact checked) by his husband.

The book reads like Harris is sitting around telling stories from his life to his pals, and it works. And then it gets really sweet as it wraps up with a love letter to his kids and husband David Burtka.

Like this guy, and like this book... put Choose Your Own Autobiography on your fall reading list.

November 1, 2014

Tim Cook Comes Out: Why It Matters

This week an unmarried middle-aged man who millions suspected/assumed was gay came out and said Yep, I'm Gay, shocking no one and yet surprising a lot of people... and very possibly changing the world.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, the most valuable company (by market value) in America, came out as a gay man this week.

In an essay for Bloomberg Businessweek, Cook announced that he is gay... and that statement makes him the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.

From his essay (link below to full post):
For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.
While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.
Cook goes on to say that he knows visibility counts, and he hopes his coming out will help others. And that discrimination is simply bad for business.
That this happened is so cool -- and then that there was not a huge social uproar, and no impact on Apple's stock price, tells us how far we have come.  Although a member of Russia's parliament did call for Cook to be banned from Russia for life. Hateful Putin bigot.
And there is still far to go... in 29 states Cook could have been fired for being gay, and in many parts of the world there would be legal and or violent ramifications. 
In many important ways, Tim Cook has just stepped out from Steve Jobs' huge shadow.
Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.
Some in the media are criticizing Cook for not coming out sooner, and I totally get that... maybe if he had we all would have gotten a free Jennifer Hudson or Beyonce album on iTunes rather than that damn boring U2 one....

When I arrive in my office each morning, I’m greeted by framed photos of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. I don’t pretend that writing this puts me in their league. All it does is allow me to look at those pictures and know that I’m doing my part, however small, to help others. We pave the sunlit path toward justice together, brick by brick. This is my brick.


Here is Cook's essay:

Tim Cook comes out.