Category Archives: fiction

Ten Things Tuesday (Plus One)

Because I was coming up empty for ideas, my best-friend-brother Marc (aka Bowyer) suggested that I make a list of “The ten worst movie interpretations of books starting with the Hobbit” (it should be noted here that Bowyer is a Tolkien aficionado, and has very strong feelings about how his books should be treated for the big screen). This led to a conversation where I told him that I didn’t think I could come up with that list, since I see books and movies as completely different works of art and don’t really mind much when the film deviates from the paper.

Here, then, is a list of ten books-to-movies that I love:

1. The Prestige. I’m starting with this because Bowyer and I have a story around it. One Christmas, he gave me the novel and told me that he’d bought it for himself, too. His plan was that we read it together in time to go to see the movie that was coming out a few months later. This, we did.

About two seconds into the film, though, we discovered that it was going to be wildly divergent from the novel. Undaunted, I left the theatre wildly enthusiastic about teaching this book/movie combination; though the plot and characters were different, the way both treated the themes and big ideas of the story were GORGEOUS, and I’ve had nothing but excellent luck teaching The Prestige to students (some as young as freshmen). If you don’t have experience with this pair, please make the time to read – and then watch.

2. Frankenstein. I’ve always had a soft spot for this novel. I somehow managed to escape both of my college experiences without ever having to read it, so I tackled it on my own as an adult and fell instantly and irrevocably in love with it. I think that it speaks to me as the adult survivor of child abuse; I read the novel from a very specific perspective.

I’ve been deeply (and sometimes ragingly) disappointed with the film versions that have been available, though. Anyone who’s read the novel knows that the monster isn’t some flat-headed green guy with bolts in his neck who wanders around in platform shoes moaning and chasing people with outstretched arms, but most film adaptations are some variation on that characterization. This version, though, is beautiful. It hits all the important points of the novel, it retains the feel of Shelley’s language and cadence, and is pretty to look at.

3. The Secret Life of Bees. Despite my having read extensively before I found this novel, this was the first book to make me literally cry (see above, re; the whole abused daughter thing). I have a confession to make here, as well; the preview for this film wrenched tears from me. Once I saw that Queen Latifah was cast as August, I was done.

4.  I Am Legend.  I’ve had really good luck teaching this short story/film combination. Despite the fact that the film is very different from Richard Matheson’s short story in a number of ways, both work equally well at investigating the ideas of solitude, fear, guilt, responsibility, and humanity.

5.  The Hunt for Red October.  Even though I’ve never had occasion to teach this combination, I have a deep and profound love for both Clancy’s novel and the film inspired by it.

6.  Atonement.  This was a hard one for my seniors (though, to be fair, I figured it would be before I even started).  The main character of this novel is complex and difficult to muster sympathy for.  There’s not a whole lot of action; this is a story about feelings and behavior more than about movement and happening.  Despite that, though, both the film and the novel are compelling, and I could tell how deeply many of my students were invested in the work by how bitterly they complained about Briony.

7.  Hamlet.  Though this one is kind of cheating (as I don’t make my students actually READ Shakespeare because I believe that Shakespeare’s works were never meant to be read), I really do love almost all of the versions of Hamlet I have on film (yes, even the Mel Gibson production).  Each of them showcases something different in what I think is the Bard’s masterpiece, and I love giving students two or three versions of the film and watching them argue for the merits of their favorites.

8.  Harry Potter and the….  Really, EVERY Harry Potter film is a delight, though the only book/film combination I’ve actually taught was The Order of the Phoenix (though, to be honest, I have no idea why I keep going back to that one; Dolores Umbridge gives me PTSD flashbacks – see #2).

9.  A Dry White Season.  This can be a tough one to teach.  The book isn’t readily available and high school students (in my experience) have absolutely no background in Apartheid history, so teaching this requires a lot of foundation-building on my part so that the students have an idea of what it is they’re looking at.  Once they get that, though, this is a powerful combination; the novel is stark and no-frills (making it that much more horrifying), and Donald Sutherland in the lead  as a conflicted but ethical man in a nearly impossible situation is stunning (I think this is my favorite of his roles.  I also loved everything Zakes Mokae ever did, so there’s that).

10.  A Time to Kill.  I remember the first time I trotted out this John Grisham novel.  The kids were kind of stunned; I don’t think they expected to see “popular” books in class and, as a consequence, I had pretty good reading compliance with the novel (and with good reason; I really do think it’s one of Grisham’s best.  It starts off strong and really never lets up).

The film is its own kind of powerhouse, as well, and Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson are perfect in their roles.  The story asks us to question what “justice” really means, all while forcing us to contemplate issues of race, poverty, ignorance, and our own ideas of who we are (and how other people might see us).  I will absolutely teach this book/movie combination again; the kids were completely sucked in, and they produced a lot of really good critical thinking as a consequence.

Bonus: 11.  The Golden Compass.  I love teaching this book.  For a young adult novel, it asks some really difficult and nuanced questions about faith and honesty, about family and loyalty, and about the way we form and maintain alliances to work toward a common goal.  Though the film version of this was a commercial dud (so much so that the rest of the trilogy was never even made), I think it’s stunning (though, again with the PTSD flashbacks; Nicole Kidman’s character, like Umbridge, is a classic abuser, and there’s one scene that gets me every time, no matter how many times I see it).

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Filed under admiration, art and culture, books, critical thinking, fiction, fun, movies, teaching

Snow White Saturday

Yeah, we did it.  We ponied up the cash to see this film in the theatres.

It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t good, either.  I’d been reading a lot of buzz about how the movie really drops some pretty important balls, and I can’t say I disagree with any of the negative assessments I’ve come across.  I would add to these criticisms some enthusiastic English-teacher scolding about how good stories are crafted; background for characters is important, interaction between characters that tells the audience important things about their histories or personalities is important, and for the love of all that is good and holy, we need to be able to relate (or, at least, sympathize) with characters.  Oy.

I will give it this, though; it was a fascinating movie to look at.  The visual effects were engaging, the costumes were complex and interesting, and the landscapes were convincing.  I don’t really feel that was enough to make up for the poor storytelling, though, and I’m kind of wishing I’d stood my ground in insisting we wait for the DVD release of this one.  There was SO much potential in this film – opportunity for the story to ask us important questions about power and relationships and loyalty and sacrifice – but all that potential was squandered in a flurry of feathers, tired cliches, and a few throw-away one-liners.

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Filed under critical thinking, duh!, fiction, frustrations, ideas and opinions, movies, politics, ruminating, social issues

Thought for Thursday

Weren’t we JUST talking about this?

“Correcting something when you put something out there that’s false seems like a matter of honor…”

“If someone who he thought was credible gave him information that he felt was credible, and he felt that he misspoke, he’d be the first person to say ‘I was wrong.’”

Except that he hasn’t done it.

Exactly who has to tell him, and exactly what does that person have to do to convince him that the FACTS are TRUE?  All that demonstrably wrong is still out there, uncorrected.

I guess, if someone doesn’t feel like being honest, well, then, who are we to tell them otherwise?

from here. The relevant bit is at the end of the clip.

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Filed under critical thinking, dumbassery, fiction, frustrations, politics

Quick Hit: Reading

I purchased Stephen King’s latest, 11/22/63, as an ebook yesterday! And I’m completely hooked.  I’m enjoying reading so much that I’m skipping blogging today.  I’m sure you’ll all understand…

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Filed under books, celebration, fiction, fun, my oh-so-exciting life

Thought for Thursday

I’ve been listening to and watching and reading the news about the election (though not exactly by choice, I’ve got to say; it’s just kind of hard to avoid lately).  One of the things that continues to strike me about this process – aside from the incredible fucking dumbness of it all – is the money involved.

MILLIONS, People.  There have been MILLIONS of dollars spent in this election, and there have only been 4 contests so far.  I can’t even begin to imagine how much more will be pointlessly spent before this particular round of dumbfuckery is over.

Even though this isn’t new – there has always been obscene money in elections – but there’s something about this cycle that feels even more icky than usual (if that’s even possible).

Mr. Chili and I were talking about it the other day, and the conversation cycled around to the fact that it’s highly likely that not a single person’s life was improved with that money.  We’re willing to bet that not a single job was created with that money.  Whose lives were improved with those millions?  How has this ridiculous sum made anything better?

Eventually, we worked our way to a fantasy; it’s never going to happen, but we got pretty jazzed up about the possibility.  Imagine, we said, a candidate who took all the campaign contributions s/he collected and, instead of spending the money on hotels and buses and parties and advertisements, spent it on schools!  What if the candidate spent money on books for schools or libraries?  What if the campaign spent the money it received on hospitals or clinics or research or infrastructure?  What if they used that money as grants to small businesses or for scholarships for promising students?  What if they used the money not to promote themselves, but used it to make other people’s lives better?

I know for sure it’ll never happen, but I also know for sure that WE’D vote for that candidate.

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Filed under compassion and connection, critical thinking, fiction, frustrations, GLBTQ/Ally issues, ideas and opinions, My husband rocks!, politics, ruminating

Monday Meme

A T.V. meme, stolen from one of my former students (whose blog doesn’t let me comment.  GAH!).

Pick your five favourite tv shows (in no particular order) and answer the following questions about them. Don’t cheat!

1. Sons of Anarchy

2. Justified

3. Private Practice

4. Grey’s Anatomy

5. The West Wing

Who is your favourite character in 2?

I’m overly fond of Raylan Givens.  He’s smooth and cool, he’s handsome, and he’s got a wickedly wide swath of snark that I really, really appreciate.

Who’s your least favourite character in 1?

This is HARD, because they all have so much going for them.  I really like Jax, but I’m fascinated, in a train-wreck sort of way, with Gemma, Clay, and Tig.  Really, though?  Bobby is my favorite; a gangster-biker accountant who wears reading glasses and bakes banana bread.  HOW can you not love that?

What’s your favourite episode of 4?

I thought that the episodes involving the shooting last season were really well done.

What is your favourite season on 5?

Pretty much anything that Sorkin wrote – the seasons where he was gone were decidedly less well written.  The first is probably my favorite, though.

Whats your favourite relationship in 3?

I am kind of loving the Addison/Sam relationship (though I haven’t watched the latest episodes, so I don’t know what the status is of that after Addison issued her ultimatum).  I’m also having fun with the Cooper/Charlotte match.

Who has the bad relationship in 2?

It wasn’t romantic, but I think it still counts: until it all worked itself out, I was trying to figure out what the hell Jax was doing with Stahl…

How long have you watched 1?

I have been with this show from the very first episode.  I own the first two seasons on DVD and will get season 3 from Amazon as soon as it’s released.

How did you become interested in 3?

It was a spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy, which I’d been watching since it premiered.

Who’s your favourite actor in 4?

Sara Ramirez as Callie

Which show do you prefer, 1, 2, or 5?

If I had to choose only one, I’d probably go with West Wing; it was smart and funny and vaguely educational all at the same time.

Which show have you seen more episodes of, 1 or 3?

3, but only because it’s been on longer.

If you could be anyone from 4, who would you be?

I don’t know that I’d want to be any of them; they’re all pretty damaged.

How would you kill off your favourite character in 1?

Oh, there are about four opportunities every episode for any of the characters to die, either in a hail of gunfire, a high-speed motorcycle accident, or some sort of Shakespearean treachery.

Give a random quote from 1.

“I leave you two bad boys alone for two minutes, and it all goes to shite!”

Pair two characters in 3 that would make an unlikely, but strangely okay couple.

I think they already did that in pairing Violet and Pete.

Has 4 inspired you in any way?

Only in that I’m glad that my life isn’t anything like any of theirs.

Over all, which show has a better cast, 3 or 5?

West Wing, without question.

Which has better theme music, 2 or 4?

Grey’s is kind of all about the music in the episode, but its theme isn’t particularly memorable.  Justified’s opening theme is catchy, but I’ve listened to the whole song and wasn’t really impressed.

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Filed under fiction, Little Bits of Nothingness, meme, television

Thinking Thursday

Among all the finger-pointing that’s been going on politically for the last few weeks (months, years, whatever; it’s been going on for a while, really, but it’s gotten a lot more fun (not!) over the last few weeks), I’ve decided to point a finger, too.

At myself.

One of the things I’ve promised myself is that I’m going to be better informed about things that matter to me.  I don’t know that it’s going to matter a bit to the people who’ve already decided that I don’t know anything because I’m a bleeding-heart, lefty, pinko, frothing, hysterical, (and my favorite) evil progressive, but I don’t give a shit about those people anymore; I’ve come to accept that there are some people who are never going to be able to come to the table, and that it’s not my job to try to reason with them.  MY job is to educate myself, and I’m working pretty hard to do that.

One thing that I have always understood – ALWAYS – is that it is the very rare incident that is this or that, black or white, right or wrong.  There are precious few occasions where something is ALL good or ALL bad; most of our lives are lived in the spaces in between, and I think that may be where we’re falling short (though I suspect that’s another musing about our collective failure to think critically that’s best left for the teacher blog; watch that space).  I think we’ve forgotten how to accept a little bit of downside for a larger – or eventual – gain, and I don’t think that this is anywhere better illustrated than with the new health care law.

I’ve done some research, and I’m not at all surprised by what I’ve learned.  I tried to go to places where the information I’m getting is non-partisan, mostly because I am sick unto death of people telling me that my facts (which they put air quotes around) are left-biased.  Facts are facts.  Wrong information – that is, information which doesn’t square with the facts – is wrong.  Here’s what I’ve found:

According to the non-profit, non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, here are five things that have already happened under the new Affordable Care Act:

1. Insurance coverage for young adults. The Affordable Care Act requires insurers and employers that offer dependent coverage to allow parents to include children up to age 26 on their insurance plans.  This year alone, 1.25 million young adults are expected to benefit (Chili says ONE POINT TWO FIVE MILLION, People!).  In the past, most insurance companies dropped children once they turned 19 or if they weren’t students.  That’s one reason why a third of all young adults lack insurance — a larger share than any other age group.

2. Free preventive care. Forty-two million seniors in Medicare and another roughly 41 million Americans with private insurance can now get free preventive health care services because the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to provide it.  Preventive care includes screenings for chronic illnesses like diabetes and cancer, vaccinations, and regular doctor visits.  Better access to preventive care will help millions of families with their budgets and likely produce other benefits, such as fewer unnecessary deaths from disease, less spending on costly and avoidable illnesses, and a healthier population overall (Chili says if my mom had had access to preventive care, I’m certain she’d still be alive today. She wasn’t able to afford screenings and regular preventive care, so by the time she was sick enough to suck it up and go to a doctor, she was already terminal, and that’s the truth. Just sayin’.).

3. Protections for children and adults with serious illnesses. The Affordable Care Act bars insurance companies from denying coverage to children with pre-existing health conditions like cancer, autism, or diabetes.  As a result, for the first time in most states, families with children with serious illnesses, chronic conditions, or special health care needs can buy coverage for their children in the individual health insurance market.

Also, insurers can no longer cut off care for people with serious illnesses who need expensive medical care.  The Affordable Care Act bars insurers from imposing “lifetime limits” on benefits.  Now, people who get cancer or another illness that requires expensive treatments won’t have to worry that their benefits will run out or that the expensive treatments will push them into bankruptcy — or worse, that coverage limits will prevent them from getting lifesaving care. (Chili says I work with kids. I know a lot of families who have kids with special health care needs; one of students has a heart condition for which she needs a pacemaker, and she’s had several surgeries. My point is that we ALL know people for whom this law is making a significant difference).

4. More affordable prescriptions for seniors. The Affordable Care Act has begun to close the “doughnut hole,” the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage that many seniors experience for drug costs beyond their first $2,840 but before additional coverage kicks in when their costs hit $6,448.

Before the Affordable Care Act, seniors paid 100 percent of prescription drug costs within the doughnut hole.  Last year, seniors received a $250 payment under the Affordable Care Act to help with these costs.  This year, seniors are getting even more help — a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs and a 7 percent discount on generic prescription drugs while they are in the coverage gap.  The law will close the entire doughnut hole by 2020. (Chili says I’ve got a grandma. Do you have a grandma? If not, do you know one? ARE you one? These are provisions that are going to affect everyone, directly or indirectly, and just because this particular benefit may not matter to you now, I wish you a life sufficiently long enough that, someday, it will.)

5. Tax credits to help small businesses buy coverage for their employees. Starting last year, an estimated 4 million small businesses, covering as many as 16.6 million employees, became eligible for a tax credit under the Affordable Care Act to help offset the cost of buying health coverage.  It costs small businesses much more than larger firms to provide health insurance with comparable benefits, both because they have higher administrative costs and because small businesses with older or sicker workers pay higher premiums.  The tax credit will help small businesses that are struggling to provide coverage to their workers and encourage more small businesses to offer coverage. (Chili says I work for a small business. Right now, we have no health care provisions. None. The only way literally ANY of us is able to have health care is because we already had it (and the boss – the director of the frickin’ school – is entirely uninsured… and so are her two teenaged children). While I’ll continue to access my health care through my husband’s employer, it may well be that someday, I’ll need my small business to provide health care for me. This matters.)

I heard this on my local NPR station today, and I’m pretty convinced that the noise that we’re hearing about this onerous and destructive this bill is so much bullshit.  Is it perfect?  No; nothing is.  Is it better than what we had before this bill was passed?  Even if no other good comes from it than the five things that I listed above, I give it a resounding YES.

So many of us are one accident or one illness away from bankruptcy.  I have some personal experience with chronic (and fatal) diseases with no health care, and I have seen how little time it takes for someone to be completely devastated – really, a couple of rounds of chemo and a few MRIs are enough to do it, and forget long-term, skilled care; unless you’ve got some serious coverage, that ain’t happening, and you’d better have some loving family with flexible schedules if you expect to have any comfort at all as you end your life.

Sorry.  Got a little bitter there.

I’d like to end with this.  I know it’s not non-partisan, but I think that Anthony Weiner of New York is spot-on with this.  Some things are true.  Some things are not true.  Let’s all stop making stuff up.

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Filed under compassion and connection, doing my duty, dumbassery, fiction, frustrations, General Bitching, health, Home and Family, learning, on death and dying, politics, social issues, technical difficulties, this is NOT a drill, weirdness, Worries and Anxieties, WTF?!

Ten Things Tuesday

Ten things I have purchased as a result of spending time with my geeky English teacher colleagues writing workshop community:

1. Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus. This is a collection of essays, several of which formed the launching point of our adventure. The book is out of print, but Amazon has some good, used copies, and I got myself one for something like six bucks with shipping.

2. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. This isn’t my favorite Will story, but one of the writing group spoke incredibly high of it and, since Romeo and Juliet isn’t one of her favorites, either, I took her word for it.

3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Everyone I spoke to – and even a few people who overheard those conversations – piped in to tell me how much they love this book. I am eagerly anticipating its arrival and am taking my time getting through my current read (The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in case you were wondering) so that I can dive right into it when it finally gets here.

4 & 5. This Boy’s Life. I’m counting this one twice because I purchased both the film and the memoir. I may figure a way to work it in to next term’s curriculum, but I haven’t had any experience with the story at all, so I’ll have to wait for its arrival from Amazon before I make any decisions.

6. Hamlet. I’m almost sure that the arrival of this DVD (it came today) pushes Hamlet into the top spot for films for which I have the most interpretations.   Now that this is part of my collection, I have 4:  this one (duh), Mel Gibson’s version, the play as imagined by Kenneth Branaugh, and the most recent (that I’m aware of) production of it which stars David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.  I’ve got the Olivier version on my wishlist…

7.  The English Patient by Michael Ondaatie.  This book wasn’t so much recommended directly as I overheard someone talk about teaching it (and, just as an aside, that picture of all the words on the board that I posted on the first night?  Those were all words that students associated with the novel).  Knowing that was enough for me to pick it up today, along with the next three books (and several more besides) on my trip this morning to my favorite used bookstore.

8.  The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.  As a scholar of the Shoah, I was told that I “had” to read this.  I’ve been led to believe that it will inspire a great many fruitful conversations in my classroom about morality and justice, and that, even if I choose not to read this with a group of students, I will find it well worth my time to read alone.

9.  Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.  This is another book – this time, a memoir – that I had heard good things about before coming to the writing workshop, and had the claims reinforced by my friends and colleagues.  I think this might end up near the bottom of my “must-read” pile, though, because I don’t see it being useful to my curriculum this year.

10.  The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  I have to admit that I didn’t love this film.  I saw it while visiting with Kizz, and I don’t know whether I just wasn’t in the right space for it, or if I was fatigued from the trip and all the excitement that came with it, but I remember not being overly impressed with the movie.  During a dinner at which a bunch of us were talking about books-to-movies (as I’m getting ready to teach a film and lit. class at CHS – go here to see a first draft of my syllabus for that class), someone said she didn’t love the movie, but the book moved her – and then someone said she didn’t love the book, but was captured by the film.  I figured, what the hell; I’ll pick up the book for 3 bucks and see where I fall on that continuum.

Auntie’s coming to visit in a bit; we’re going to go to the outlets to seek out nice (cool) wedding attire.  Have a lovely (cool) Tuesday, Everyone!

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Filed under books, compassion and connection, fiction, Friends, movies, reading, remembering

Care to Join Me?

WAAAAY back in September, Success Warrior planted a bee in my bonnet about starting an online book club. I was terrifically excited, and in a burst of excitement, I opened a blog and got ready to read.

Yeah… well… um…

Nothing happened. We all got caught up in our business and sort of let the idea drop.

Well, I’m picking it up again, and I’m inviting you all to join me in a little summer reading. I’m trying out books for next September’s curriculum, and I’m looking for a community to read with me.

I don’t learn nearly as much in isolation as I do when I share an experience with others; I recognize that my own boundaries, limits, and prejudices keep me from seeing as broad a vista as I do when others are around. When people redirect my view, challenge my assumptions, and make me back my shit up, I come away from an experience (particularly a literary experience) feeling that it was much richer and complete than I could ever have managed on my own.

Head on over and check out the inaugural book. I’d be delighted if you’d share this with me!

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Filed under books, celebration, fiction, Friends, fun, learning, reading, teaching

Don’t Feed the Trolls

So, a few days ago, a girlfriend of mine (who happens to be a retired Army officer) posted a status update on her fb page in which she urged her friends in her state to contact their congressman to push for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  Long story short, I ended up in a (very brief) exchange with one of her “friends” who was insisting that the military leaders should have input in the decision whether to rescind this lovely little bit of political cowardice.

You all know how much I love how the Universe puts stuff in my lap, right?  Well, I decided to copy this quote on her page in an effort to illustrate my point that sometimes legislation, not common consent, is required in order for people to start doing the right thing.

What I got in response was the assertion that “a story concocted by Hollywood moonbats shouldn’t really be considered a source for the discussion” and that my point was irrelevant.

image credit

I spent several days constructing responses to this, most of them starting with the fact that, as a teacher and an academic, the study of literature as a mirror/metaphor for life is central to much of the work that I do in terms of teaching students how to be active and careful critical thinkers.  I don’t feel that a story concocted by anyone – moonbat or otherwise – should be so easily dismissed or disrespected, particularly when it comes to the practice of opening up a discussion involving an experience that a number of people haven’t actually had.  That’s one of the big points of literature; that we can all share in an experience and have a common vocabulary with which to speak about it.

I decided, however, to keep my peace when it came to this person (and, really, I’m glad that I didn’t engage this guy because, according to my friend, he invited her to a rally to show support for Arizona’s new immigration legislation a few days later).  I kept quiet mostly out of respect for my friend; I wasn’t interested in starting something on her page that, given the abrupt and dismissive tone taken by my adversary, would likely get ugly in a big fat hurry.  I’m also trying to heed Twain’s advice when he told us to “never argue with fools because onlookers won’t be able to tell the difference.”  I’m learning, however slowly, when my input, however well-meant, will meet with a brick wall, and I’m trying to find better places to spend that energy.

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Filed under duh!, dumbassery, fiction, Friends, GLBTQ/Ally issues, messages from the Universe, politics, WTF?!