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 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.   

 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.     

Monday, February 15, 2016

Days 4 and 5 - Giving Up Impatience and Retirement

Saturday's aspect to give up was impatience.  So I resisted the temptation to fire off a quick post and decided to ruminate on it.  (See what I did there?  Sometimes I crack myself up.) 

God is always working on my patience.  Always.  I have kids.  I have a spouse.  I encounter people.  I need patience!  (For the record, I HATE lessons in patience.  I don't know anyone who does. It means that you are called upon to exercise patience.  It's maddening.  It's painful.  And it's just not fun.) 

I feel that I have made great strides in my education in the field of patience.  Being on this side of the lesson in several areas of my life, I can see how He worked even when I felt that He was being silent and idle.  I see where He was working and guiding me and I can see how I was fighting tooth and nail, not listening and . . . well, generally being a brat.

We own our own business.  We started that business in November of 2006.  Yep, just about a year shy of the Great Recession.  I will spare you the gory details, but it has not been the best ten years for us financially.  My prayer journal is FULL of prayers asking for relief.  But you know what, MY idea of relief is not God's idea.  My idea came with abundance in the checking and savings account.  It came with shopping for pleasure, pedicures and weekly dates nights.  God's idea of "relief" was that we never missed any payments on anything and we always had something to eat, something to wear, transportation and a beautiful house in which to celebrate our wonderful marriage and raise our healthy children.  God's provision was to strip us down to the basics - and continue to provide those basics in abundance - and have us (me!) rejoice in those provisions.   

A couple of years ago I finally started learning this lesson.  I finally started to loosen my white knuckle grip over the financial things I have no control of anyway.  Ten years into this journey, I now have ten years of hindsight.  And in ten years we've had some close calls, but God has been faithful and our business has thrived. 

Yes, we have debt, but we did not take on any debt that we felt we could not pay.  We prayed over any debt that we chose to take and we ran the numbers to make sure that we could fulfill those obligations.  Again, God is faithful and we are now in a position where we have been able to continually make payments toward that debt for a long time now. 

I'm not saying that I have arrived.  I'm not saying that I have completely let go of impatience and, woo hoo, I'm free!  Nope.  It's just that God has been so faithful in the big, huge picture these past ten years that it's MUCH easier to let go (well, at least to loosen my grip a little) now.

Today's aspect - retirement - I don't think we have to worry about that.  First of all, we're YEARS away from even thinking about that.  Secondly, read this post again about owning our own business.  I'm praying that we can save enough to someday retire, but I am certainly not sure about that.  And, thirdly, neither my husband nor I are idlers.  We can't NOT do something.  We'll be meddling about in something until we can no longer meddle in anything, I can assure you of that!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Day 3 - Giving Up Your Feeling of Unworthiness

Today's message was not a difficult one for me.  I am very confident in my identity in Christ - that He died for me not because of any action of my own, but because of the Father's love for me.  For some reason, that isn't difficult for me to accept.   I know that there's nothing that I can do to earn that love.  I know that I will never be perfect and that I can only do what I can do and do it with the right heart. 

I think that one of the reasons that it's easy for me, is that I had a lot of affirmation from my parents as I grew up.  Approval and love were not conditional in my house.  When I screwed up, I got consequences, but I never doubted my parents' love for me.  They accepted me and they continually made me a part of their lives.  If Mom or Dad had a rehearsal or a meeting or something to go to, it was always an option for me and/or my brother to go along.  We knew we had to behave and that we had to occupy ourselves and not ask for attention or cause a distraction.  But we knew that our company was always welcome. 

So today is an easy one! 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Day 2 - Giving Up Your Comfort Zones

Have you ever had a friend or family member who continually complained about something, yet when a solution was offered, they rejected it?  They found all the reasons that the solution wouldn't work - and maybe they made up some reasons along the way.  They could just be difficult people.  But they could also be afraid.  Afraid of failure (see yesterday's post), but also afraid of change.  Afraid to get out of their comfort zone and find a new path.

Sometimes our comfort zone is uncomfortable and we're so comfortable with that, we resist the change.  I'm guilty of this sometimes.  Even if an outcome is painful or uncomfortable or annoying or whatever, I KNOW what that outcome is going to be.  I can prepare for it.  I can see it coming.  I know what to expect and how to deal with it.

BUT . . . if I choose a different course, take a different path, change one little thing . . . the outcome is not assured.  I won't know what's coming and I won't have time to prepare. 

The website today asks if there is anything in my life that I want to change and what is keeping me from making that change.

I want to write more.  I compose blog entries all the time in my head, but when I sit down . . . nuttin.  I find other things to do - some legit like making dinner and doing laundry, but some not legit like playing a game on my phone or feeling that I'm wasting my time.

I want to read more.  But sitting down to read for pleasure makes me feel guilty for not doing something "legit".  (See above paragraph.)

I want to see more art - more stage, more films, more installations.  But don't I have other things to do?  (See above.)

My comfort zone is normalcy - taking care of what needs to be done, keeping up with friends on Facebook, filling the interim time with texts and getting to a new level on Paint Monsters.  I know how to do that.  And when asked (IF asked) why I don't read/write/view more, it's because I have so many other obligations.  I don't have time.  And pick up the foot and move it forward . . .    

Two years ago I took a step out of my comfort zone.  I auditioned for a production of Fiddler on the Roof.  That step has led to more steps.  I've now done three productions with Austin Jewish Repertory Theatre (the company that produced Fiddler) and I serve on their executive committee.  The invitation to serve there nudged me to apply to the Board of Directors for the kidsActing Foundation.  They accepted my application and I've been on the board for over a year.  I now have ties with several theatre companies in Austin and go to see at least one play a month.

I have a history of success with stepping out of my comfort zone.  Well, with one comfort zone.  I know I have others.  I need to be prayerful and look to see which ones are in the crosshairs now.

Day 1 - Fear of Failure

Today I've got a two-fer because I signed up so late yesterday for "40 Things To Give Up For Lent"

Yesterday - Day 1 - was Fear of Failure

So why do I say that I'm "making myself" blog (or at least journal) about each of these aspects I'm challenged to give up?  Because I haven't blogged or journaled consistently for at least three years.  And it's not necessarily fear of failure (but that is some of it), but it's just fear of what will come. 

THIS POST still kind of stands as my norm.  But boiling it all down, I think that my lack of writing is rooted in fear.  Fear of what I will uncover - pain, anger, numbness, anxiety, truth, lies.  Also there is a fear that if I put myself out there in a blog . . . will anyone care?  Will my experience, my words, my point of view about anything resonate with anyone or am I . . . insignificant? 

Artists constantly struggle with this fear.  Will people want to hear/see/experience what I have to share?  Will it be worth the time for someone to invest in my words/music/painting/whatever?  And then there is the fear of trolls.  (Not that I have enough readership of my little blogs to attract trolls!  But . . . what if I did?) 

The verse associated with today's aspect is Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

God is walking with me all the time - not just when I'm doing things that I feel are safe.  Psalm 23:4 confirms that:   
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. "

So I shouldn't be afraid.  But I still am.  But I'm ignoring the fear and walking on ahead.  Soon, I will click on "Publish" and then . . . one step at a time.

What About Lent?

I'm not Catholic.  Growing up I had a brush with Catholicism because my mom converted when I was about 5 or 6.  My dad and brother and I continued in the Presbyterian church while Mom went to mass.

I never learned much about what being Catholic means.  I remember Mom making the sign of the cross after we'd bless our dinner.  She volunteered at the soup kitchen at the church some holidays when we were in town.  One Thanksgiving she had to get stitches because she cut her finger while slicing turkey! 

One time we went to a huge church with a beautiful garden to drop something off (a meal?).   I was running around the garden smelling all the roses and I saw one of those huge "locust killer" wasps flying around.  I was terrified of those things and reacted as such.  The young priest who greeted us reassured me that it would leave me alone and that I had nothing to worry about and he kind of waved it away.  This was a Man Of God with a White Collar and Priest Stuff . . . he was in the KNOW about things like that.  I had a feeling of peace and protection and after that day I was only mildly concerned when one would fly near me.

One day a year my mom would come home with a big black smudge on her forehead and that meant that until Easter all Catholics ate fish on Fridays.  That's all I really knew of Lent.  I think I had an idea that she gave something up, but I'm not sure.

Since then I've obviously become more informed about what the season of Lent means to Catholics and how it ties in with Protestant Christianity as well.

For the past few years I've made a conscious choice to observe the "fasting" that Lent encourages.  I have given up something that I enjoy as a small token of worship to the One who gave up everything for me.  In the past it's been things like chocolate (probably in the top 5 of what people give up), Diet Coke (the three day headache was a sacrifice!), chips, etc.  Small things, but things that I enjoyed on a daily basis to remind me of for Whom I am living my life.

This year I contemplated what to give up.  Chocolate?  Chips?   Chocolate chips?  I don't drink diet sodas any more so that's out.  Coffee?  I even toyed with weird things like giving up mascara or driving (that would actually kind of be a blessing . . . "Nope, Mom can't take you to yet another practice/get together/game/etc.  I gave up driving for Lent").  Should I give up something intangible like time or something that would seriously impact my life like giving up the internet?  It just all seemed empty or ridiculous or, worse yet, stretching.  I prayed about what God wanted me to gain from fasting.  What is it that would make Him happy and bring me closer to Him? 

Yesterday - Ash Wednesday, the start of the season - a friend posted a link on Facebook "40 Things to Give up For Lent".  I think that's my answer.  I read the list and it contained things like "negativity" and "distractions" and "over-commitment".  Now THIS is something that I can get behind.  This list is something that I think God has been working on in me for a while.

I subscribed to the emails.  Each day I'm going to get an aspect of myself to give up.  And I'm going to make myself blog about it - or at least journal about it.  I say "make myself" . . . and that ties in to the aspect from yesterday:

Fear of Failure


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas!  Thanks for coming back for the 2015 edition of Falk Talk.  This year has been a great year full of family, friends and all around good times.

This summer we took a trip to Estes Park, Colorado with Milaka's brother and his family in June.  We hiked, rode horses, walked around Estes Park and just chilled out.  It was so much fun!

The Falk family and the Myers family in Estes Park, CO.

Hubs and me in Colorado.

Smiling even though we see a storm rolling in over the mountains!

Taken on our favorite hike, Emerald Lake.
We also had a new addition to the family.  Milaka's sister-in-law's sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  We all instantly fell in love and she's going to be the most spoiled baby ever!

Hazel contemplates the goggles. 
With my new niece-in-law, Hazel. 

Princess and Hazel love to cuddle. 

Once again we spent a wonderful Thanksgiving week in Michigan with Gordon's family.  We missed his sister, Maggie, but we got to hang out and bond with everyone else. 

Hubby and three of his four siblings at Thanksgiving.

Buddy and I commiserate after the big Michigan game.
Buddy, Luke and Princess at the sundae bar!
Finally Grace was still enough to get a picture with Princess!

Princess and I take a selfie after Thanksgiving dinner.
Buddy is deadly with a crossbow!  Thanks to Uncle Walt for letting us try it out!
Aunt Bec and Princess after yet another wonderful meal!

The next picture needs nothing more than the caption.

Princess got her permit!

In other news . . . having Milaka's parents in town has been such a blessing.  We've enjoyed many great family times and Milaka and her mom have gotten to have several girls' nights!  Neil Gaiman in November and Dracula in December!

In November Milaka and her mother got to meet one of Milaka's
favorite authors, Neil Gaiman!

Speaking of theatre . . .

Milaka was in two musicals this year - both directed by Adam Roberts.  The first (top) was a musical review called "Stars of David" and the second (bottom) was a production of "Into the Woods".  

Another photo that needs little introduction:

Our goofy pup, Ruby Soo, in her Halloween hat.


Princess is having a blast as a sophomore.  She's the manager of the soccer team (state champions for 2014-2015 and well on their way to another title).  She's also played on the volleyball team and is looking to run track again in the spring.  She's on the Blu Cru - the spirit club that makes all the signs and run-throughs for the sports teams.  She sometimes spends time at home. 

Buddy is a 7th grader and just made the basketball team at his middle school.   He fills his time learning skateboard tricks and honing his basketball skills.  

Hubs is hard at work growing our business, GradePower Learning.  We've had a fantastic year and have helped many, many students reach their scholastic potential.  Milaka worked as an academic coach during the summer and had a great time helping kids.

Milaka has had a full year as a wife, mom, middle school drama teacher, high school academic coach, as well as being asked to be on the board of directors for two non-profit theatre companies.  She sometimes sleeps.
We certainly hope that this blog post finds you happy and healthy and looking forward to 2016.  Please drop us a line and let us know how you are doing!

Many blessings and Merry Christmas

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:

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."