Work Clothes


This happens at least once a week, but usually more. I drive my youngest to Chess Club in my slippers and pick up my older teens from their friends houses or school in my fuzzy pajama pants. Usually, I’ve got my work clothes over regular clothes when they come home from school. My ten year old says, “You really like that robe, don’t you?”

It might sound crazy, but this is how I work. My favorite days start with me up before dawn. Coffee brewed, wrapped up in thick pajamas and robe, and I sit down to the desk to write. And write. And write. When I’m working on a first draft or even a revised draft with lots of new details, I work best in the comfiest, frumpiest clothing you can imagine. I don’t shower, I don’t put on make-up or my contacts, and I don’t dare leave the house unless I’m summoned by a kid or have to buy food. If I’m in the middle of something, I keep going until it’s done. Usually. Life doesn’t always cooperate, and that’s precisely when I have to show up in public looking slightly homeless.

I sometimes feel bad about myself, like “Why can’t I just put on normal clothes to write? Is it really that hard to put on a pair of jeans and comb my hair?” And voices in my head tell me my neighbors think I’m a little eccentric when I go to the mailbox in layers of leggings, long tops, robe and winter hat. (The fact I just said I have voices in my head might prove them right.)

But here’s the thing.

There are actually good reasons I don’t get dressed unless I have to.

And it’s not because I am lazy. (Though sometimes I am just lazy.)

Writing is an intimate process.

Waking from dreamland and throwing myself immediately into another dreamland is a delicate transition. I try to do as few “real life” tasks as possible because it yanks me from that hazy, creative mind-space I need to be in to write and write well. Creatives call this “the zone” and when you are in it, be damned if someone tries to pull you out. The zone is an intimate connection between the lizard brain and the imagination and it’s like following a narrow path from bed to desk. I have to work hard to stay in that place until the words are freely flowing. Otherwise, it’s tempting to put on shoes and go to Target. Just like an actual relationship, if you allow yourself the distractions, the intimacy is lost. Robert Olen Butler has a wonderful book on this idea called From Where You Dream. This incredibly inspiring craft book talks about how to capitalize on your dreamstates. It sounds mystical and spiritual and may not be for everyone, but I do think it suits the creative life.

Writing is a vulnerable process.

I have a dear friend who confesses she loves to write naked. We get a good laugh from that one, but in reality I find it inspiring. I’m not going to sit at my desk in the buff considering I live in balmy New Jersey and I’d get hypothermia before I’d finish a novel. But being naked is about the most vulnerable state you can be in, and wearing pajamas and not putting on your real-world mask is just another step in that direction. Normally we reserve pajamas for the home where we feel the most safe and comfortable, and nakedness for our most intimate partner, where we feel loved and accepted. You must be vulnerable to write. You must be honest with yourself and your characters. It’s not just a matter of spewing words and plot on a page. To authentically craft a voice, you must question and explore so much psychology—and sometimes that can be difficult.

Writing is an emotional process.

If you have ever written a novel, or attempted, or even if you journal on a regular basis, then you understand what a crazy roller coaster ride writing can be. One day you think you’re writing the next big thing—Eureka! And then the next you couldn’t be drier, and will surely shrivel up and die. Then all of a sudden your character says something that makes you burst into tears and you think: Oh my god, I might actually have something here! If you’re a journaler, then you’re probably not thinking about publication, but you’re writing about your own life, or experiences, or jotting ideas down and so constantly accessing your deeper thoughts and emotions. This is hard work, people! Don’t take it for granted! Don’t worry if you’re not crafting the perfect sentence, or saying the perfect thing to change a reader’s life. Just write. Be comfortable in your own skin. Or in your pj’s. I am not all that comfortable when I’m wearing jeans and boots and sitting at the desk. Or worse—in a café! The waistband digging into my stomach, bunched up underwear, creases at my knees cutting off the circulation to my legs. No thank you. Hard to focus that way. Give me stretchy leggings and an oversized sweatshirt on my comfy couch and I’m an emotional fountain. I’m far more apt to access the depth of my characters this way, than dressed and made up and sitting in Starbucks.

That all being said, sometimes you must GET OUT. After a couple days of living in the zone, it’s time to shower, dress, and hit the town. Talk to real people. Smile at babies. Pet dogs. Observe life and fill the tank so you can start all over again. I have a day job that allows me just that and if you can believe it, I do not show up in my robe. They appreciate that. And I like to look cute from time to time, so it works for me too. But you can be sure that the second I come home, the boots go in the closet and out come the sweatpants.

My kids say, “Really, Mom?”

Yup. Really. Where are my slippers?


The Art of High School

“Love art in yourself, not yourself in art.”

I learned this lesson in high school. I’d become somewhat of a theater geek after being cast in lead roles from my first audition on. I’d found something that I was actually good at, or so it felt at the time. Up until then I had tried so little, to be fair, that who knows what else I might have been good at. Theater had intrigued me since I was a little girl in elementary school. My journal entries from the time vacillate between wanting to be an actress, a writer, or a mother when I grew up. Little did I know I’d be all three.

By the time sophomore year came around, I began diving into activity after activity, trying on these extra-curricular activities like colorful hats. But it was theater that grabbed a hold of me and refused to let go. In one of my first productions, I had to pretend to make out with a boy in my class, complete with falling on the couch in the dark, and making a lot of well-intentioned noise. As a shy fifteen year old, I thought I would literally die. On opening night, we broke the couch. But I didn’t die and that boy and I still laugh about that play when we run into each other as adults. Perhaps surviving that scene, overcoming the fear of “what will people think”, made me realize that when you are good at something and you enjoy it, it doesn’t matter what people think. That’s part of the art.

Junior year I got a new director. Maryanne Taylor, one of the English teachers, took on the role. Our meager theater department, which was entirely a drama group—no musical theater even though we begged her every season—took on a new life. A bit rough around the edges and pretty clear about her favorite students (which, was almost everyone), Ms. Taylor stepped the productions up quite a bit and threw us into abridged Shakespeare. A lofty endeavor for our little school, our inexperienced and somewhat goofy group. We were probably very much like the Bad News Bears meets The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But Ms. Taylor thought we could do it.

Somehow, she got football players to participate and be fairies, some complete with wings, and the entire cast, now encompassing kids from various cliques across class lines, became quite a family. In the history of our small-town, slate-belt, football-lovin’, country bumpkin school, I believe this was a first.

Wiry, hyper, and loud, I had won the role of Puck. Definitely typecast. Everywhere I went after that, my friends called me Puck (and obscene variations thereof) and it was my first experience in “owning a role”, what it felt like to eat, breathe, and sleep a script. I remember going over the end monologue with Ms. Taylor again and again and again. I held a candle, had to extinguish it by the end. Standing up there in the dark, alone, understanding I had to carry the play to the final beat—it made me feel important. Who knows if I was any good—but I felt the responsibility and the honor of being part of something so much larger than myself. That’s part of the art.

Senior year, and shortly after the success of Midsummer’s Night Dream, Ms. Taylor chose a much smaller production which would be the final play I could audition for during my high school career. A serious drama that was comprised of many small parts and very little set. I was disappointed. I still wanted a musical. I wanted flashy lights and big roles and pretty costumes. I’d learned a lot, but I hadn’t completely gotten it yet. Art is not flashy lights.

I was cast in a bit part. My inner diva emerged.

There are very few things from my teenage years that I regret. I look back at that time mostly with warm memories and eye-rolling. It’s a funny few years, yet highly impressionable despite it’s quick life.

I’d planned on leaving a note on her desk, but she came into the room before I could sneak away. Nearly in tears, I told Ms. Taylor that I just couldn’t take the role. That it was too disappointing as my last show to not even have a role with a name. I will never forget the look on her face, the slightly raised eyebrows, a bit of a frown, a bit of a smirk. Not anger, not disgust, not even disappointment, really.

More like: Lord, what fools these mortals be!

“Are you sure?”



And that was my high school theater experience; extinguished my candle with a cold bucket of self-conceit.

Years later, I stepped onto the stage again. At twenty-three, I took my chance at community theater, was immediately cast in decent, but smaller role and I rebuilt my understanding of theater, of art, and learned to appreciate the fact that, as the cliché’ states, “There is no small role, only small actors.” I remember sitting in the audience one night during rehearsal of a scene I wasn’t in. It was the first night with finished set pieces and I watched as the crew moved everything around, how it all came together: the other actors, the lights, the sounds, the words. No longer a mortal fool, I was moved to tears.

Ms. Taylor could have preached to me that day in high school. “You’re being ridiculous, you’re being selfish. There are no small parts!” She could have easily condemned me for my choice, but she didn’t. I like to believe that somehow she knew theater would end up becoming an extremely important part of my life and that I’d already learned the lesson I needed to learn even though I didn’t know it yet. She was right.

I stayed involved in community theater for ten years, and even landed some professional acting and modeling gigs before deciding the stress of performing was too much for my body to handle. Around this time, my true calling stepped out from behind the curtains. Talk about a bit part—not many people see the writer. That is part of the art.

Maryanne Taylor passed away this week. A friend, who was also in that history-making Shakespearean production, mentioned on Facebook that Ms. Taylor had our class photo on her classroom wall until her retirement. When asked, “Why the class of 1994?” Her response: “Because they were awesome!”

Well, Ms. Taylor, the feeling is completely mutual.

You will always be awesome.


Title: Writer

I know a lot of writers. For the first time in my life, when I run through a mental list of close personal friends, general friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, a huge number of them are writers. Over the last several years, I’ve learned how to put people in my life who are of like mind, supportive, compassionate, and somewhat on the same path as I—the path of writing—but now I see exactly how important and wonderful it is to be surrounded by so many kindred hearts. I have a few close friends who are artists of other means as well, and their creative personalities blend with mine seamlessly. But it’s the writers that I’m focusing on for this, because being inundated with so many talented word-smiths, I’ve started to see many patterns emerge, many similarities between us and how even when there are stark differences in life experience, there is some kind of link that connects writers to one another.

One of the patterns that stands out to me as I get to know people’s personal stories is the generation of their writing. Often writers are asked about their process or how they got the idea for their latest book, but what fascinates me the most is how they got started on the writing journey in the first place, what made them want to be a writer. It seems there are two main answers, although it’s by no means black and white, these are just two predominant observations.

  1. Born to be writers. These are people who, as children, wanted to be writers. They told stories to their friends at sleep-overs and around the campfire, wrote stories for school, family, themselves, the family dog, read voraciously, and knew at a young age that they wanted to be storytellers. They may have gone on to write their first novel in college or not until they were 40, but the drive to write stemmed from an overwhelming desire to tell stories.
  2. Born to write. These are people who, as children, wrote. It might seem like only a slight variation from the first category, and it is, except that these people didn’t necessarily set out to be writers, telling stories was second to the desire to write for writing’s sake. Rather than writing stories, they wrote in journals or wrote poetry. The distinction is in the reason these people must write, for those who write without thinking about a story or structure or a future purpose are primarily writing from an overwhelming desire to express themselves.

There are, obviously, many variations of these two categories and writers are like snowflakes in the way that they work, live, write, and process, but I find these two basic descriptions can be tacked to most of my friends, myself included. Both types have the need to write. Both have the need for expression. Both have many thousands of words under their pen by the time they are grown-ups, yet, each has its own set of strengths and challenges.

Writer #1 is a never-ending fount of story ideas. Not only is he plagued by a constant onslaught of “what-ifs”, he sees a story at every turn, every new experience, and with each person he meets. The idea-well will never run dry. He can spin a story out of the most inane detail, create instant complex characters, and often see the beginning, middle and end of a project right from the start.

Writer #2 is a never-ending fount of words. She can write for 12 hours if the flow is right, wake up before the world, tugged by some invisible force that requires tapping into. Whether it’s a blog post, a journal entry, or a story, this writer has to hit some kind of personal epiphany in order to have a good writing day. It is her primary way of processing anything, and in fact, when struggling with an issue—personal, societal, ethical—she will often turn to the computer or a journal to work it out.

These both good writers make. They can both finish projects and write like mad-people and feel personally fulfilled as well as be professionally successful. But their challenges are often different. Writer #1 can sometimes be so consumed with ideas that it’s difficult to pick just one and Writer #2 can sometimes be so full of words it’s difficult to turn them into a concise, concrete story. Writer #1 may struggle with the emotional component to a story, where #2 can’t seem to find a plot.

I’ve begun categorizing my writing friends just for fun. (Yeah, none of you is ever safe.) I listen to their stories about their childhoods, their writing journey, even their physical and mental well-being, and compare their careers. I throw myself in the mix; I see how we all fit in this complex flow-chart of creative thinking and production and living and it’s fascinating how very different we are and yet, how most of us were born from one of these two categories. Because I fall into the category of Writer #2, as I’ve observed and taken mental notes and even now having written this blog post, this personal interest has also turned into a character idea.

The writing life intrigues me even as I am part of it. Perhaps that is the most fulfilling aspect of this career. To be enamored with your own process and that of others in the same vocation is a pleasure of its own, a perk to the job, an encouraging push to keep working because in some way, we are all linked and all moving toward our personal and artistic best. So, where do you fit? Can you place yourself in one of the two categories or do you fall somewhere along the spectrum of both? Regardless, you can find comfort that you are never alone in your pursuits and no matter what your process, your motivations, your production levels, if you write you are a writer.

The Pain and Pleasure of the Calling

In a recent TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert says great failure or great success can propel you so far away from your “home” that the emotional reactions are identical, and the only thing you can do is find your way home again. She’s referring to the abrupt and huge success of her novel Eat, Pray, Love, in which the only way for her to recover from the fear of never writing a book that successful again was indeed, to write. And how after a six year phase of failure, prior to EPL, she did the same, she wrote. Writing is her home. Writing is her calling.

I’ve been thinking about callings a lot lately. I first heard the term as a young girl when my grandfather referred to finding his calling in seminary. After twenty years of marriage, serving in the military, and holding down multiple HVAC jobs, he felt incomplete, and wasn’t living the life he wanted. He went to seminary, became an Episcopalian minister, and thus found his calling. The way he spoke of his experience made the whole idea seem so mystical and abstract to me as a kid. Even as a young adult as I was raising my kids, I remember fumbling around with all sorts of creative outlets and jobs and wondering: “Are one of these things my calling? Will I know it when it calls me?”

And the scariest thought: “What if I don’t have one?”

But I always suspected that I did. Deep down, as much as I loved my family and enjoyed most everything I tried, including the church like my grandfather, I knew something was still missing. Nothing clicked in that mystical way he spoke about. None of these things were my calling. I knew this because none of these things moved me. I could still easily fit in the pretty little box I’d created for myself called “security”.

And I hate to say it, but callings are not secure.

My grandfather didn’t just find a new vocation. The ministry found him, plucked him out of his HVAC, domestic life and opened his eyes to an entirely different world. It pulled him in and made a new home for him. A home that, once discovered, made it impossible for him to return to the home he’d known. He divorced my grandmother, moved out west, and began a new life. It was a traumatic event that confused many people, including his granddaughter.

I finally found that calling for myself in an activity I’d done my entire life, an outlet that had served as both fun and therapeutic and expressive since the age of ten when I received my first diary. Ironically, the same year my grandfather left his first life for the next. For me, it was writing. Sometimes I wonder why it took me so long to catch on. Here was something I’d thrived on through my entire life, and yet never took seriously. Clearly, I wasn’t listening, not to myself, not to my ability, not even to what gave me pleasure. But about eight years ago, I finally stopped bouncing around and heard that voice that had said so many times, “Someday you should write a book” And so someday came. And I did. And I have been unrelentingly writing since.

Now I find I am hardly myself unless I am writing. I don’t have much peace without writing. Sometimes this is painful because I know I am, at times, detached from other people, and it creates gaps in relationships. Sometimes I am lost in a daydream world that no one else will ever find their way into. I express myself better through written language than spoken, which can be challenging when you live with other humans. When I’m not writing, I feel like I should be writing, even if I’m just eating breakfast. If I have a few days in which I feel unproductive, I begin to get anxious and irritable. I start to feel a bit lost on a current of air, like a dandelion seed.

Other times, it’s joyous. A single scene of discovery can make my entire day. An idea while bike-riding. A character speaking to me when I’m on a long walk in a meadow. Finishing a project. Seeing my novel spread before me on color-coded index cards. Discussing the process with other writers who totally get it. I am completely engaged and present.

All of these things–my grandfather’s stories, my experiences–all with both pleasure and pain, are how I know I’ve found my home, that internal mystical location that my grandfather promised existed. Not everyone’s life will be as up-heaved as his, or, for that matter mine, was, but it provides such a powerful look into how strong a calling can be. How once found, it can change your life indefinitely. You cannot turn back to that pretty little box labeled “security”.

Gilbert goes on to say, “Identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it.”  There will be phases and events, people and losses and successes that fling us from home throughout our lives, but we must always return to that calling once we’ve found it, or we will be lost.

O Captain, My Captain


I know I am not the only writer, artist, well-wisher who will run to their blog/facebook/twitter and post something about the loss of our beloved Robin Williams. When I first heard the news—through Facebook—I thought it was a hoax. Quickly, however, I realized it was not. It was very real and very sad. I broke down after reading the first article. And then I thought, “What is wrong with me?” I never met this man. I didn’t know him, only the characters he’d played. Other than star-struck 15 year old girls, who cries over celebrities? I’ve been crying on and off since. And I’m not 15.

Dead Poets Society was one of the first movies that impacted me on a level a couple steps up from entertainment. For the first time, I identified with multiple characters, truly admired an adult character, and held on to the story as truth for my own life. The movie had values and dreams that I could believe in, that I could hope for. And Williams’ character was an adult I could trust. Fictional, of course, but if someone had written this character, they had to exist, right? I was 13.

A few years later, Williams did another film that resonated. Despite being quite a bit goofier than Poets, this movie came out smack in the middle of GenXer’s tumultuous adolescence. Although I was five years past my own parents divorce, and had virtually no relationship with my father at the time, he took me and my sister to see Mrs. Doubtfire. The story certainly touched me, Robins’ character especially, but it wasn’t until I was older that I knew why: Because it showed me that fathers really do love their children.

And then in 1997, yet again, a movie that I saw as a very young newlywed and reeled over the scene where Williams, as a therapist, assures his patient that it “is not his fault”, a scene that still haunts me, perhaps more today now that I have far more understanding of just how much we can go through our lives faulting ourselves when there really is none to be had.

I’ve enjoyed many other of William’s movies and comedy shows and even just clips of his effervescent personality.  But he carried me through the nineties. You might say it was the movies or the characters, not the actual man who made an impact. But I disagree. If you look at his body of work as a cannon, or a collection, the way we’d look at a painter’s life or an author’s shelf of books, the art is very much the man, the man very much his art. Not all are great, some aren’t even good, but as a whole, as a representation, Williams’ work was well-rounded. Hilarious, dark, grievous, endearing, youthful, disturbing, innocent, beautiful.

It is profoundly sad that, in the end, it was the darkness that took the man.

And maybe that is why articles are reporting how “Everyone is devastated.”  How difficult it is to accept that behind that infectious smile and the rip-roaring jokes that made us feel like we knew who Robin was, was actually a very sad man. Depression camouflages itself well. Only the closest family or friends may be aware, and even then, are often surprised if their loved one finally succumbs. We see it again and again, especially with artists—they vanish behind some kind of mask, and then they vanish altogether, and we are left wondering how we missed it.

But even as a kid, I saw the sadness in Robin’s eyes and perhaps that is exactly what made him and his work so accessible to me. Here was an adult who had seen what I’d seen and was still living, still laughing. He was genuine. No one can make you laugh like that unless they know and speak the truth. No one can make you laugh like that unless they’ve seen the other side of that joke. This is what makes great comedians great. This is what makes all great artists. Truth in beauty and loss, together. But it is a lot to bear, holding the weight of both beauty and loss, and we lose too many of the greats far too soon.

RIP Robin.

Thank you for sharing your heart, and for being one of the greats who have taught me to share mine.


Sometimes inspiration is hard to come by. There are times when I’m pulled out of a dead sleep with some kind of genius idea that must be put to the page before I even think about closing my eyes again. Or on my way to work, I’ll scribble on gas receipts that are left lying all over my car. (You don’t want to be driving behind me in those moments.) Or while out on a walk and I’ll have to run home before the idea fades like a wisp of a dream. But the truth is, these moments, while precious gifts to any artist, are sometimes very few and far between. Life is busy. Days are simultaneously long and short. There are needs to be met and chores to be done and bills to be paid. Sometimes inspiration seems like a myth I once believed in that has since been debunked.

Writing is work, I remind myself. Inspiration plays a part, of course, but more often than not my inspiration is simply the desire to write, so when that desire is lagging, it can be crushing. Life piles up around me as I work and I begin to feel suffocated by responsibility and often writing is the first thing that goes. Over the last two years, I’ve been working on my MFA, so writing couldn’t be set aside. There were due dates and expectations and monthly goals. Although my classmates and I would sometimes bitch and complain, I’m fairly certain we all clung to those deadlines like lifelines. I know I did. They were “excuses” to not have to finish the dishes, to skip the lacrosse-mom meeting, to send someone else grocery shopping. I loved these excuses; they validated me and my work. Now I sit down to the computer and think–What is keeping me here?

I knew the end of a program such as mine could feel like being tossed off the edge of a cliff. I thought I was prepared. I’d hoped to be further along in my manuscript, closer to an agent, and therefore ready for my next set of deadlines, aka: lifelines. But it didn’t happen. Too many factors to juggle, never enough time, changing expectations from month to month and it just didn’t add up quite the way I’d hoped a year ago. This, however, is life. You really can’t be prepared for much of anything, you can only work hard, make your choices, and keep going.

My daughter had her eighth grade graduation dance this weekend and because she’s in such a tiny school, parents are in charge of planning just about everything. My inbox quickly filled with thousands of emails from the other moms. I kept myself in touch enough to know what was going on, to help out wherever needed, but I remained on the fringe, didn’t put a single idea out there as the planning began and only sent emails to thank people for their work. I knew my creative energy was better spent elsewhere and for some of the other moms, their creative energy only went to such activities as their kid’s dance planning. The event was a huge success because of those moms, no doubt. And it reminds me how much the variety of personalities is what keeps things going. How inspiration strikes in a multitude of ways and is no less important for those moms as it is for me.

The dance theme was The Red Carpet. Absolutely perfect for my dramatic daughter, who brought a cardboard standee of a Walking Dead character as her date, and who is one of the most creative individuals I know. She inspires me on a daily basis. I have always been creative as well, but filled to the brim with insecurities left over from a difficult first couple decades of life. But she has had a stable childhood and is still highly creative and that fascinates me. She’s proud of her art, she’s not afraid to say and do and dress and how she wants, and her inspiration is purely the desire to create. I’d love to bottle some of that confidence. I know it will take her far.

Anyway, at the dance, we hung movie posters all over the hall. Some were photo-shopped to have the kids’ faces, which was hilarious and well-loved, some couldn’t be re-worked with the kids photos and remained untouched.  One such poster caught my attention. It was a soon coming movie that is sure to be a hit with teenage girls (and a lot of their mothers) internationally. The book is a NYT’s bestseller. The author, one of my very favorites. Although I”m often pretty quite about my love of YA fiction and even quieter about the fact that I write it, I asked the woman who got the posters if I could have it if none of the kids claimed it, thinking there was no way this poster wouldn’t get claimed by the end of the night. A hall full of 14 year old girls–I didn’t stand a chance. But the movie-poster mom must have gotten a kick out of my request and she said: Consider it yours.

Call me crazy–I am. I hung it up in my bedroom like any of those kids–including my own daughter–would have done. But my reasons are different. I’m not enamored with the actors, nor the love story, although it is perfectly melodramatic and lovely, it’s the source of this poster that inspires me–the book. The fact that a book can circle the globe, touch millions of readers young and old, and become a household name. As a writer, I don’t seek super-stardom. In fact, the idea of that actually terrifies me–though, don’t get me wrong potential agents–I’d never turn it down!  I’m just completely enamored by story and how this story will sit in the hearts and minds of so many people. That’s pretty damn inspirational. And so now, I work.

photo (19)

The Way-Way Back: A Movie Review. Sort Of.

I don’t normally review movies because when I read other reviews I feel like there’s a certain language that must be utilized. A language in which I’m not schooled. Words like “captures” and “nuanced” and “cinematic proportions” usually send me glancing at the margins for trailers for the “Coming Soon” selections. The truth is, the less I know about a movie, the better. I’ll watch the trailer or read a quick description on IMDB and that’s all I want. If it seems interesting, I’ll watch it. If not, I’ll skip it. I used to be a movie-hound. I’d see almost anything in the theaters—the atmosphere alone entertained me. But these days, most movies are skipped. I’ve found that my age plus my reading “habit” plus my lack of patience for just about anything that reeks of video-game graphics and poorly developed characters equals staying home almost every single time. I’ll just rent it, thank you, so that I can turn it off when I’m predictably disappointed.

There are some great films, however, that grab my attention at trailer-time and I decide to take the risk and pay for the astronomical ticket fee. But 9 times out of 10 these are independent films, not the blockbuster Hollywood movies, and therefore I have to go to an independent theater to see them. I don’t know why it took me so long to find my way to such films…let me pause for a minute on that word. Films. Not movies, films. That’s the difference, you know, between award winners and commercial bank-breakers–the language. It’s like comparing Twilight to the latest National Book Award winner. Candy to five-course dinner. No contest.

Anyway…like all art, film is subjective and so even the award winners and the buzz-causers may not do a thing for you. And that is the way it’s supposed to be. That is the purpose of art and entertainment—to hit each and every one of us in a different way. When I watch movies with my family, which isn’t all that often anymore because of our diverse tastes, the proof is in their varied responses, based on age, experience, and understanding. But I had a hunch that this movie would be a winner for everyone.

The Way-Way Back is a quiet film. (Oh…now, here I go with the review language.) It’s about a mother (Toni Collette) and her son going on a summer vacation to the cape with her boyfriend and his daughter. They are about to become a blended family and this is the first joint trip and very much a test to all parties. The potential step-father, played by Steve Carell, treats his potential son rather terribly and the movie opens with the boy sitting in the way-way back of the family station wagon with Carell berating him while the others sleep. It sets the tone immediately—you know right from the start that this movie is about the boy finding his own way, his independence and exodus from this man.

If this were a traditional review, I’d tell you next to everything that happens, but I can’t bring myself to do that because if there’s anything I hate more than bad reviews, it’s spoilers. What I do want to share, is that throughout the course of the movie, which touches on deep subjects from blended families to infidelity to smoking pot, my kids were totally in to it. I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about it, especially the 10 year old, because it wasn’t The Hobbit and it certainly wasn’t Captain America.  But it captured even his attention, most likely because the story held so much truth. Even though he was in a situation my kids couldn’t quite relate to, they felt for the main character. They understood his plight. They were rooting for him.

Which is why, in the end, my 10 year old had a fit.

Without spoiling the movie or making you think the ending is sad—because it’s not—my son just didn’t understand it. He’s used to movies where it’s good versus evil and the ending is black and white—good always wins in a very obvious victory. In the Way-Way Back, good still wins, but good is not as lovely and pure as we always wish it to be. Sometimes there are sacrifices and compromises and means to an end. But he didn’t get that and what had been a fun movie night turned into a “I’ve been betrayed by Hollywood” moment.  It was actually kind of funny, from an adult perspective, and I tried to explain why it ended the way it did but he just wouldn’t accept it. I knew I had to chalk it up to the ignorance of youth and that someday, maybe when he was older, he’d give the movie another chance and then he’d understand the ending and appreciate it.

Turns out, it didn’t take that long after all.

Tonight, I came out of my writing space and downstairs in the living room my son watched TV. I passed through the room, grabbed myself a snack in the kitchen and then came back and he had an inexpiable  look on his face. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You look guilty.” My older son said, “Because he’s watching that.”  I thought I’d look at the TV and see some rated-R flick or a particular cartoon made for adults that I detest. But no. He was watching The Way-Way Back.

Art leaves an impact. Good, bad, confusing, ugly, truth, lies—call it whatever you want. But it is important, in all forms, for learning about the world, understanding other people and becoming. Rebecca Solnit says: “The self is also a creation, the principal work of your life, the crafting of which makes everyone an artist.”

I don’t know if he understands the movie yet. But he is trying to and the act of trying is the act of becoming. And that is about the best thing a mother could ever ask for.