Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

Dear BSA, 

I just read your official statement that I assume is related to Donald Trump's speech yesterday.  I'm sure that your office is inundated with emails both for and against that speech and your statement.  Count my email in the "against" column.

I understand that it is tradition to have the sitting president of the United States given the title of honorary president of the BSA.  I also understand that there is a standing invitation to the sitting president of the United States to speak at the Jamboree.  You gave this sitting president a chance to embody and emulate the ideals and the character of the BSA as stated in the Oath and the Laws.  It is no surprise that he failed.  

Do you need a reminder of the Oath and Laws? 

Scout Oath

On my honor I will do my best
to do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times;
to keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.


On the whole, Donald Trump's speech was reprehensible and contrary to the core values of your organization.  He cursed in the first 90 seconds of the speech.  He referenced situations upon which he could not elaborate because there were "Boy Scouts" in attendance.  What??? 

However, there are some nice themes in the core of the speech.  His speech writer obviously coached him on what he SHOULD say and what the tone of the speech SHOULD be.  He mentioned confidence and responsibility in passing.

The main idea of the chunk about Levitt was "don't lose your momentum".  That's a good piece of advice to young people who are just starting their journey.  Of course, the way it was framed was inappropriate.  And Trump contradicted himself and said that if you don't have momentum, it's still okay.  What???

But Donald Trump cannot resist making it all about himself.   At every turn he went on tangents that stroked his ego.  He could NOT stick to the script and applaud the BSA and their accomplishments. He could NOT make it about them in any way at all.  EVERY time he started to, he interjected a statistic, an aside, a comment, what have you about HIMSELF.  For goodness sake, he even brought up Hillary and the election again.

AND he incited the crowd - mostly of young, impressionable boys - to boo his foes.  A grown man felt the need to encourage young men to join him in disparaging people with whom he has a beef so that HE could feel important.  And they followed.  I'm assuming that the adult leaders in the crowd got swept up and booed too?  Or were the children who were carried on the wave of hatred just too loud and drowned out the admonitions of the adults to maintain their integrity and not to boo other human beings.  

What about the fact that this man, the man standing in front of thousands of young men, is a known adulterer, and a sexual predator who bragged about sexual assault?  How many of the young men in the audience have a mom who has been assaulted, harassed or generally persecuted in some way because of her gender?  (How many themselves have been victims of adults who just take what they want and not worry about the aftermath?)  How many of the young men in the audience will be faced with a choice of how to treat a member of the opposite gender in a situation where there is an imbalance of power?  How many will be BRAVE and resist the culture and do the right thing, and how many will use the behavior of this man - the president of the United States - as an excuse to make the wrong choice?

Now it's up to YOU, the Boy Scouts of America, to be BRAVE and distance yourselves from the attitudes, words and behaviors of this man.  You need to stand up, buck tradition and revoke his honorary president of BSA status.

Show these young men what it means to be men of integrity.

Sincerely,
Milaka Falk

Friday, June 24, 2016

Free State of Jones

This week I was sent by Grace Hill Media to an advanced screening of Free State of Jones starring Matthew McConaughey and written and directed by Gary Ross
Free State of Jones tells the true story (with some Hollywood embellishments) of Newton Knight (McConaughey), a Mississippi farmer who, during the Civil War, deserted from the Confederate army and led a rebellion against them.  It’s a fascinating story - especially since I was raised in the South and can trace many of my ancestors to the Confederate army (and a few to the Union - we were a family divided).  The movie prompted me to do my own research into Newt Knight, his story and his legacy.



I love pockets of history.  The wide, sweeping stories of huge battles and the politics that cause them don’t really catch my attention and usually leave me empty.  But tell me the story of one person and how history affected them and their family - and continues to affect their descendants - and I’m all in.  The Smithsonian.com has a very interesting article on Knight’s story as seen in Mississippi during present day.  It will come as no surprise to any person who keeps up with current events that racism is alive and well today - especially in the deep South.  Jones County is still deeply divided in its opinions of Knight, his life and his beliefs.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-free-state-jones-180958111/?no-ist   

 As for the film depicting the man in question, be warned - it is a rough.  The opening scene is incredibly hard to watch.  I would compare it to Saving Private Ryan’s D-Day opening - it just drops you in the middle of horrifying battle and doesn’t pull any punches.  You see faces blown off, you see limbs ending in stumps, you hear weak moans and anguished screams.  You can almost smell the gunpower, the blood and the filth.  The brutality never stops happening to the people of Jones County, but director Gary Ross starts to pull back in exactly what he shows of any of the subsequent instances of violence - often leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks themselves, showing just enough to inform, but not enough to make you leave the theater.  (This is MILES away from Quentin Tarantino who may have single handedly kept the fake blood industry in business with Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight!)  

The cast is superb and, under Ross’ direction, communicates many layers of their story through their silences.  I was especially touched by Rachel's (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) reaction to being offered her own bedroom with a feather bed.        

Technically, the film was outstanding.  Stand back and let the Oscar race begin because the art direction, the costumes and the make-up were fantastic.  I could feel the stickiness of the swamp, not only through the cinematography, but through the grime on the men’s faces, the oiliness of their hair, the way their shirts hung and sometimes stuck to them.  Of course, they did film in Louisiana, so they had a lot to work with anyway, but all the artists worked together to really convey the actual FEEL of the swamp.

Another nod to the technical artistry that was in play to bring this film to life - I noticed the dirt and grime and filth all over everything.  Almost everyone looked as if they needed a long soak in a hot bath.  Two things that stuck out - the dirt under and around all fingernails, and the condition of everyone's teeth.  Newt in particular had some serious dental grossness going on.  I love that attention to detail.  However, in the aforementioned scene where Rachel strokes the feather bed, her hands were beautiful.  They were clean and they looked soft.  That small detail - that she was free, she was clean, she was starting fresh - was beautiful. 

I highly recommend this film.  However, this film is disturbing.  It's disturbing because it is true.  There are fictionalized elements (in my research, I found that Moses - played with great depth by Mahershala Ali - was not a real person, but an amalgam of different people from that time), but all of the brutality is is real.  Those things happened to real people of flesh and blood.  And they were perpetrated by other real people of flesh and blood.  And the sentiments behind those actions are still alive and well today.  Knowing that makes my stomach turn and my blood boil.  But knowing that also makes me want to ensure that things like that don't happen again.  And that is why people should see it.  

(On a side note, my husband is from Michigan - a Yankee!  He said that he had no idea some of the things this film shows about the post-war South went on.  That surprised me.  He's well read and loves history, but there's a lot that we as a nation have buried.  Yet another reason that this film is important.)
  
  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Catching Up . . . A Little

I have not been posting my thoughts on the 40 Things To Give Up For Lent as they have come to my inbox.  I have been reading them and ruminating on them, though. 

Right now is a very busy time for me.  Just about everything that I've said "yes" to is culminating in an event NEXT WEEK.  No, not just one event - three events in successive days.  Busy may be an understatement.  I'm having a good time, learning a lot, and (hopefully) making a difference, so I do not begrudge the time I'm spending.  I just wish that I had had all the dates in front of me when I said yes!

The events are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Sunday will find me in my pajamas on the couch watching the Oscars.  A perfect end for a busy and arts-filled weekend!

So the aspects of the list that I was presented with the past few days are:

People Pleasing - I'm better at giving this up than I used to be.  With age maturity comes at least SOME perks!  I'm blessed to have a family that is pretty happy and easy going so this is not an issue on the personal front.  It's been more of a challenge in the professional front.  I think the key thing I learned here is to fulfill my obligations.  If I do what I need to do with integrity and with a good attitude, I have done what I need to do.  A supervisor (or even a student) still might not be a happy person, but my job is done.  I have done what was expected (sometimes more) and that's all I need to do.  I have more to say about this because I have run into this during a school year, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Comparison - This can be difficult in the performing arts.  Every time I go for an audition, I have to compare myself to the others in the room.  I pick apart their abilities, their looks, the way they walk . . . everything!  And I do the same to myself.  I try to convince myself that I am what the director wants for that role.  I list all the ways that I can bring that role to life.  And then, as the dice rolls, when I don't get the role . . . well, again, age maturity has its perks. 

Yes, I am still disappointed when I don't get a particular role.  But I have been around long enough now - and been on both sides of the casting process - to know that it's (almost) never personal.  There are things at work that are seriously beyond my control - height, age, vocal range, etc.  And the roles that I've lost in the last couple of years since I've been back in the game . . . well, they weren't for me anyway.  The person who got the role did a much better job than I could have.  I fulfilled my obligation in the role in which I was cast and had an utter blast doing it!  I would not have had it any other way. 

Again, I have more to say about comparison in relation to parenting, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Blame - A lot of times blame is my go-to.  Well, I could have had this done if "x" hadn't happened.  Or I wouldn't have been late if "y" had gone well.  It's SO hard to take ownership of my own shortcomings.  As one of Negan's henchmen said last week on The Walking Dead "Bite, chew, swallow, repeat."  Yep.

I have more to say about blame in relation to parenting, but I can't spend that kind of time on a post right now.  But oh, yes, I have a lot to say.

Guilt - I'll just leave you with this: "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."  2 Corinthians 5:17  That's what sustains me when that condemning voice starts in my head.  I messed up in the past.  A LOT.  I mess up every day.  A LOT.  But I keep coming back to Christ.  His forgiveness and grace is big enough for my old and new mistakes.  And they are big enough for everything that I will do in the future. 

So . . . those are my quick responses to the past few days.

I notice in the list that tomorrow's aspect is Giving Up Overcommitment.  Hmmm.  Timely.  Well played, Lord.  Well played.     


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - Part III

For the past two nights I have had dreams of death.  I looked up what that means - the theme of death means the end of something or the beginning of profound change.  When I shared this with Hubby this morning, we both said, "(I'm/You're) killing Atticus!"  I was.  I did. 

I just finished the book.

I read that this draft is just that - it's another draft.  This article fleshes that theory out:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-alice-franklin/go-set-a-watchman-a-draft-not-a-novel_b_7805658.html

But I must say that a Harper Lee draft is still head and shoulders above many novels that have made it to the publishing stage.  The book is very well written.  The characters are believable.  The story flows.  It's very, very good.  It's not To Kill a Mockingbird good in terms of prose and flow, but it's very good.  I was not disappointed.

Nor was I disappointed in the story or the character arcs.  The characters are true.  They are true to themselves and to the times, I believe.  As difficult as it is to reconcile some of the choices made, I am not surprised nor am I as dismayed as I thought I would be.   

It's interesting that it's come to light at this point in history - at another crossroads in racial relations.  I hope that it will spark many, many conversations.  Honest conversations.  We have way too few of those.

The book takes place in the 1950s when race relations and civil rights were SO new, SO raw.  It takes place when people were still figuring out where they stood and where they were going to stand.  It asks of its characters, "Who are you?" and "What do you want your world to be?"  These are incredibly difficult themes.  These are themes that we are still wrestling with today.

I will read this again.  I will study it.  I think it is difficult and important and relevant.

And to Atticus, I will say, "I think I love you very much."  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Go Set a Watchman - Part II

WARNING - SPOILERS

I am now on page 168 - over halfway through the novel.  I have been weeping off and on for the last 60 pages.

It's my own baggage.  It really is.  Or is it?  My reaction to the revelation that Atticus is . . . not what I thought him to be (I can't type it, I just can't), is very similar to Jean Louise's.  My stomach turned.  I didn't throw up, but I was rattled to my core.  I wept.  My mascara actually ran.  And I had another revelation that we should all consider. 

To Kill a Mockingbird is told from Scout's point of view.  During the course of the book, she only ages from six years old to nine years old.  Those are still the ages at which we are idolizing our elders.  So . . . Atticus defending Tom Robinson is the noble act of a flawless man who is ahead of his time - to the Scout who is in grammar school.  We all know that real people are more complex.  Should I be surprised that Atticus has flaws?  No.  Am I?  I'm as surprised (and scarred) as I was when I found out that my own parents had/have flaws.  It sucks. 

But it's real. 

I'm going to wipe my eyes, wash my face and go to bed.  I'll settle in with Jean Louise again tomorrow evening. 

Go Set a Watchman - Part I

I didn't realize that I'd be this emotional about a book.  Yes, I've cried as I've read pieces of literature, felt invested in the lives of fictional characters, had my day made or broken by the fate of a hero/heroine.  But this goes deeper.  It's a little unsettling.

There are many articles bemoaning the fact that Atticus is a racist in this book.  I have barely gotten to the part in the book when that starts to surface.  I'm worried that I won't like Atticus anymore.  I'm worried that the grown-up Jean Louise will not be Scout.  I'm worried that this book - this story of these characters - will cast a shadow over To Kill a Mockingbird and all I feel toward that book.

I voiced my fears to my husband who had some very wise thoughts.  This book was written BEFORE To Kill a Mockingbird.  Harper Lee knew where it was all going to wind up.  She had the character arcs cemented.  None of this is new.  We can certainly take To Kill a Mockingbird and set it alone.  We can block out Go Set a Watchman and pretend that it has never been found.  But it has.  And now we know what Harper Lee has known for these past 55 years - for better or for worse.  She knows how life has treated Atticus and Macomb.  She knows what Jean Loise is been up to.  She went back and filled in the story and THAT was Mockingbird.  The original story was Watchman.  

This whole experience is unique and almost surreal.  For 55 years, To Kill a Mockingbird has stood head and shoulders above most other literature.  Most of the reason for that is because it's just THAT good.  But also because it is an only child.  There is nothing else to which you can compare it.  It was Harper Lee's only baby.

Now we've found a long lost sibling - a fraternal twin, even.  NOW what do we do?  For an entire lifetime we've had a stand alone work and now . . . it's not an "only" any more.  Cue the sibling rivalry!

I know there will now be camps - Team Mockingbird and Team Watchman.  TM will be purists and want to forget that TW even exists.  But TW does exist.  And I'm so conflicted.  I don't want to like TW.  I don't want to even admit that there is a TW.  But I love and trust Harper Lee enough to try - to give it a chance.

I am now on page 107.  So far my favorite part has been a flashback to the days when Jem, Scout and Dill were terrorizing the neighborhood.  There is a charming account of a boring summer day that ends with Dill in a sheet, Scout completely naked and all three of them in Ms. Rachel's pond.  I laughed out loud and embraced my friends again. 

I can understand why Harper Lee's editor requested more flashbacks.  The rest of the story is written well.  Jean Louise is a complex and likable woman.  Henry is charming and the two have chemistry.  The "modern" Macomb is written lovingly, but with a tinge of bittersweet loss of the old ways.  It's nice.  It's engaging.  I want to continue reading and know more.  But the flashbacks really come alive.  They are written with heart.  With vibrancy.  It feels as if the words flowed from Ms. Lee effortlessly.  For that portion of the book (so far), I was home.       

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book.  I go back and read it every few years - whether I need to or not!  I feel like I grew up with Scout, Jem and Dill.  In a way, I did.  As a child, summers at Cabin 77 shaped my character.  I spent the months between grades roaming the dusty dirt roads of White River Lake, catching minnows and tadpoles, jumping off the dock when we got too hot, and worrying the adults by wandering too far.  I could identify with Scout on more than a few levels. 

My Bigdaddy was my Atticus.  Bigdaddy was my moral compass, in a way.  He taught me that family was the most important thing on this earth.  He taught me that silence is as important as a well timed word of wisdom.  He taught me practical things like how to bait my own fishing hook and take a fish off the line.  And he taught me the value of a good practical joke. 

But . . . Bigdaddy grew up in a time when racism was the norm.  And Bigdaddy was not immune to that mindset.  I don't believe that I ever heard him speak hate (if I did, I must have blocked it out), but I did hear him speak to the inferiority of other races.  He used the "n" word freely, but it was cultural, not a moniker loaded with ire.*  As the times changed, his use of that word diminished.  I'm not sure that he ever accepted full racial equality, but I know that he did mellow with age and with the times.  Or, at least he did around me.

I haven't reached the point in the story where it's evident that Atticus is racist.  As I have titled this post "Part I", I shall promise to address my emotions surrounding that revelation when it arises.

Now, it's late and I have to get up and read more tomorrow!   



*I'm not defending the use of that word.  Nor am I defending the mindset of white superiority.  I am trying to make a distinction between ignorantly following the culture and taking the racial divide to a violent and hate filled level.  Bigdaddy was racist.  That hurts me to write, but he was.  However, he was a cultural racist and as the times changed and he became at least a little more educated, he tempered his view.  I never saw him be mean to anyone nor treat anyone rudely or with disrespect - black or white. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

So . . . What's Up?

I’ve been busy performing (two plays in 12 months!), serving (1 board of directors, 1 committee), teaching (5th-12th grades) and going to Colorado with my family.

But I haven’t been blogging.

I compose blog posts in my head all the time.  I have things to say about so much – gay marriage, the Confederate flag, health care, Celiac disease, Harper Lee, El Nino and many, many other things.
But I can’t sit down and write.  My brain is going ninety miles an hour and I can’t stop it.  Which topic do I pick?  What do I have to say?  Does anyone care what I think?  Why do I want to blog?

I look at my writer’s dam (I don’t see it really as a block – I can see the ideas on the other side, there is also a tiny trickle making its way out now and again, I just can’t knock the whole dam down and get that beautiful, steady flow) and . . . well, I can actually tell you when it appeared.  I can tell you what was the final straw/branch/limb placed there by the busy little beavers in my mind.

I just can’t write about it.

I have written a couple of semi-private posts and shared them with an inner circle.  But still, two years later, I’m not really ready to open up and tell more.  As much as I have healed (or as much as I think I’ve healed), the wound is still too tender, too easily opened up again.

To continue the wound analogy, I don’t believe that I have developed an infection.  I don’t feel that there is something festering, taking hold and eating away.  As a Christian, I honestly feel too grounded in the Word of God for that.  But I still feel pain.  I feel the pain, the tenderness around the wound site and, like a paper cut on a joint, the flesh keeps opening at the most inopportune times.  A song, a joke, the way an adjective is used – all of these things can cause the bleeding to start again.  Sometimes I actually find myself putting my hand over my heart and pressing in on my chest.

But, like a flesh wound, my wound is slowly diminishing.  Each time it is opened, it’s less deep.  There is less blood.  The routine of it has taught me how to tend to it.  Well, for the most part.  Sometimes it stops bleeding instantly.  Sometimes it weeps for a few days.  But it’s healing.  Slowly.

Slowly.

Some days I don’t even remember that it’s there.  Happily, those days are becoming more frequent.  I don’t know if there will ever come a day when I will boast a scar that never opens.  I may.  But I doubt that the pain will ever take its leave. I’m not sure that I want it to.  If there is no pain, then that means that I don’t remember the loss.  And if I don’t remember the loss, then I don’t remember the good.  And there was good.  Because when it was gone, there was loss.  And then pain.

Why has this wound dammed up my writing?  I don’t know fully.  I have a feeling, as I’ve been analyzing the snot out of it, that it has to do with identity.  So much of my identity was formed because of the cause of this wound.  (I’m still not even ready to put a name/face with it publicly.)  As a result, whenever I try to write a blog post that is an opinion/commentary piece, I question who I really am.  Are these my views or am I a puppet – a ventriloquist’s dummy spouting views that may not be my own?  Was I formed or did I really find my true self because of this experience?  Was I showed freedom that I didn’t know I had, or was I molded slowly into a shape that was comfortable, but really not me?  Are my words, my writing style, my “voice” really mine?  I think I know.  But then . . . maybe I don’t.

So that’s where I am right now.  I have a lot to say, but I don’t know if I’m saying it.  I try to write, but then another branch slips into the opening and stifles the flow.  I have tried to start posts online and I have tried to start posts with pencil on paper.  This is as far as I’ve gotten.

One last wound reference.  When I was a kid, I had a screen door close on my foot.  It left a large scrape on the back of my foot/leg just above my heel.  The scar that formed was very keloid-like.  For years it stuck out at least a quarter inch from my normal skin.  Certain shoes rubbed it so that it would itch or become inflamed.  I never told my parents about it because I could manage it.  I just put band-aids on it or chose shoes that wouldn’t rub it wrong.

I managed it.  I told no one.

I don’t remember when it resolved.  I don’t remember when I stopped noticing it.  When I went to look at it just now, I even looked on the wrong foot first!  Now it has faded to a small square that is about half a shade lighter than the skin around it.  It looks like a small, normal scar.  The only reason it entered my mind was that last week my nephew showed me a scar on his knee that has turned into a keloid.  I was able to tell him that it’s not permanent.  It will fade.  It will never go away completely, but it will look almost completely normal again.  And eventually, he won’t notice it for years.

Eventually.

I know that at some point I will need to tell my story – fully and (possibly) with names.  And I know that it will be because I want others who have similar scars and wounds to know that it’s not permanent.  It will fade.  And eventually, they won’t notice it for years.

Eventually.

Update 1/15/16
Going back and looking at past blog posts on the ridiculous amount of platforms I have going (and I'm Cabin77 on every one of them), I noticed this one written in February of 2014 is eerily similar.  I am still progressing one day at a time and I've noticed that there are days when the words flow again.

I am approaching "Eventually".  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Falk Talk 2014

Merry Christmas!

We certainly hope that as you read this, your family is healthy, happy and wrapping up the best year yet.

Our highlights:

Princess started high school and is loving it!  She's incredibly social, has great grades, is involved in the spirit club and swims on the swim team.  Sometimes she sleeps.  



Buddy started middle school and it totally suits him!  He plays the trombone in the beginning band (and doesn't have to be reminded to practice -what?), makes fantastic grades and has become an avid reader of graphic novels and book series.





Milaka made her Austin stage debut as Fruma Sarah in a production of Fiddler on the Roof during August.  It was the perfect introduction into the Austin theatre world - and a reintroduction to performing after a fairly long hiatus.



The production was nominated for a B. Iden Payne Award - Austin's local version of the Tony's (on a very local scale) and won for Best Musical Director (Adam Roberts).  It was a great time for Milaka and Gordon to have a date night, get dressed up and walk the red carpet (on a very local scale).






Gordon's business, GradePower Learning is still going strong.  He topped 100 enrolled students this year!  On weekends, he finds time to kick butt at board games and work on his backyard landscaping project.  He also finds time to torture himself watching Michigan football and then retreat with his Kindle on the back porch.  And successfully elude the camera 90% of the time.

One of the biggest pieces of news from this year was the arrival of Milaka's parents as full-time Austin residents.  We are SO blessed to have them 8 minutes away instead of 8 hours!    

We pray that your family has had a wonderful year and that 2015 will be even better.  Please keep in touch and let us know how we can pray for you - or when to expect a visit!!!

Many blessings for 2015,
The Falks