Entertainment & Media

Girls: The End of an Era

Originally published on CultralWeekly.com

For the past five years, I’ve come to connect with and adore this group of obnoxiously self-absorbed and oblivious group of “friends” that has given new life to HBO. Girls made its introduction back in March of 2012, with critics wanting to claim it as Sex and the City for millennials and the voice of today’s generation. Whereas I squawk at the term ‘millennials’ and separate myself from the often negative adjectives aligned with this label, it’s true – I’m a millennial.

Girls captures the innocent yet ignorant dreams so many of us grew up believing. You go to college, immediately obtain a successful job, get married and start having kids before you’ve even started planning your 30th birthday party. Our parents did it, so why wouldn’t we? Spike in professional competition and economic downfall, that’s why.

I sympathize with Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, constantly struggling with the frustration of just wanting to be a full-time (and famous) writer but never quite making it. To live out wild adventures that others fawn over while being in such high demand that you can’t keep up with the pile of publisher and movie script deals would be ideal. Must be nice, right Carrie Bradshaw? But that’s not reality. Reality is building up your dreams and diluted fantasies only to realize that, yes, they can come true, but it’s going to take a lot work, your success will look different than previously imagined, and if it does happen, it won’t be within your expected time frame.

To the naked eye, Girls may seem like four self-entitled white girls who expect to have everything handed to them. And to some extent, it’s true – okay, it’s pretty spot on. And they don’t hide it. Throughout the six seasons, Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna are consistently being reprimanded by passing characters for their lack of responsibility, sympathy and common sense. Masked by this inflatable bubble that takes them around New York, they only see what affects them and nothing more. They’re not characters viewers obsess over and idolize. They don’t look like they stepped off a runway. Their sex is awkward and gross. And their careers (for those that have them) aren’t perfectly packaged in a box with a pretty bow.

Girls is not nor was ever meant to be the new Sex and the City. It was meant to capture the raw and often ugly yet beautifully woven moments of life. Coming to grips with who we are now and not what we once envisioned ourselves to be. Realizing some relationships were only meant to last a chapter or two and not the entire book. Understanding that we can be our own road blocks, and making the decision to face our weaknesses instead of laugh them off.

In season six, episode eight, “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?” guest star Aidy Bryant’s character Abigail asks Shoshanna and Ray, “Would you rather live in an ugly building with a view of a beautiful building or a beautiful building with a view of an ugly building?” To me, Sex and the City is the beautiful building we pretend to be and Girls is the ugly building we try (yet fail) to hide from others. We’d like to think of ourselves as flawless and elegant, but underneath it all, we’re constantly trying to figure out what the next step is and coming to terms with the fact that with each passing birthday, we’re reminded of just how much we really don’t know and how far we actually have to go.

Image courtesy HBO.


That Time I Learned the ‘F’ Word at Sunday School

142005745Growing up, Church was a Sunday morning ritual at my house except on the occasions I managed to successful fake sick and relish in the confines of my comfy bed. While most kids’ memories consisted of Zacchaeus and reciting countless verses before they can spell out C-A-T, mine merged together in one glossy blur, except for the morning when I learned the ‘F’ word at Sunday school.

Churches are full of cliques, and mine was no exception. Thrown together by gender and age, Ashley, Krissy, and I spent countless Sundays drooling over pubescent Hollywood heartthrobs and planning the grand escape we could never muster the courage to play out. Krissy wasn’t like Ashley nor myself, she was different. Krissy was homeschooled, still believed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny entered her house in the dark of night to drop off presents, and had no idea that her younger siblings were the product of mom and dad having sex and not random gifts from angels. What’s worse, the poor girl didn’t even have access to cable, a horror I couldn’t believe her parents subjected her to. Yes, Krissy was as blissful and innocent as an 8-year-old could be.

Standing outside the classroom one Sunday morning, the three of us exchanged curse words. Both Ashley and I knew all the good ones, except the ‘F’ word. After countless guesses and suggestions (Fart? Fudge?), nothing seemed to stick. Posed as angelically as could be, Krissy untucked her arms and spoke, “I know what the ‘F’ word is.” Bullshit. She’d never even seen a PG-13 movie, she couldn’t know.

“Prove it,” Ashely dared her.

“I’m not just going to tell you,” Krissy snapped.

“Please,” Ashley and I begged in unison.  We were dying to know. It was the last of our innocence and we were done with being kids.

“I’ll tell you the ‘F’ word if…” she looked around, “…if, you tell me what the ‘D’ and ‘S’ word are.”

“‘S’ word?” I asked.

“You mean ‘suck’?” Ashely added.

“I thought it was that. Okay, what’s the “D” word and then I’ll tell you.” Someone was turning out to be a hardass gangster.

Ashley and I both looked at her. “It’s ‘damn,” I told her.  “Now, tell us!” Bitch was getting on our nerves.

Krissy looked at us, pondering her unspoken thoughts.

“You don’t know what it is, do you?” Ashley huffed.

“I do too! Okay,” she started before looking around and making sure no one else was in earshot, “it rhymes with the ‘s’ word.”

“You mean ‘fuck?'” Ashley blurted out?

Krissy nodded her head, “yes.”

The three of us remained on the sidewalk while kids inside learned of Moses floating down the river. That was the day I learned my new favorite curse word, one I would go on to use on many occasions and in different contexts, time and time again. And all thanks to the girl whose parents believed their isolated and censored life was protecting their little angel from situations like this.

Human Interest

Fighting for Another Day: The Kristyn Fletcher Story


By Amanda Stewart

She awoke that Saturday morning with a nagging stomach ache on the side. Having put on the Mother’s Day Fashion Show at school the day before and with three students home with the flu, Kristyn Fletcher assumed it was either a bad cold or the aftermath of a busy week. Refusing to give into what she believed to be a bug, Kristyn continued her Saturday plans by planting in the garden with her husband, Scott. “It wasn’t until I went to Walmart that it really started bothering me,” she recalls, “I thought, maybe I should pick up tums instead of flowers.” Upon returning home, she decided to make a trip to urgent care, letting Scott know that she would meet up with him at their son’s soccer game afterwards. But, Kristyn never made it to the soccer game.

After urgent care suspected she may have appendicitis, Kristyn was sent to the hospital for x-rays, where they found “activity in [her] colon that looked suspicious.” It was the day before Mother’s Day and instead of celebrating with her husband and four kids at home, she was strapped to a hospital bed, undergoing test after test, waiting for doctors to locate the source of the issues. “We see tumors,” the doctor relayed to her and Scott. “That night when we were sitting there, I knew he was talking about me, but it felt as if he was talking about somebody else.” What started off as a quick trip to urgent care, ended up being a 13-day stay at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. It began with removing two tumors from Kristyn’s colon, including two feet of her colon. Maybe it’s colon cancer they thought. But, when they went to remove her appendix, they found another tumor hidden away. It seemed like it was never ending. While removing one tumor, there was always a new one awaiting to be discovered. By the time Kristyn was leaving her 13-day stay, 8 of her lymph nodes had been removed and doctors had a clear idea of what they were dealing with: Stage IV Metastatic Signet Ring Cell Carcinoma. In simpler terms, Kristyn had a rare form of appendix cancer. A cancer that was possibly treatable for a time, but ultimately incurable.

Growing up with a mom as a Preschool Director, Kristyn and her siblings inherited a passion for teaching. “I just always loved being around kids,” she remembers, “I was always eager to go with my mom and help her at the preschool whenever there was an opportunity.” What began as a summer job when she was twelve at her mom’s preschool, slowly progressed into a career. After going to school and working full-time, Kristyn earned her teaching credential and was offered a position as a Kindergarten teacher at Cordillera Elementary School in Mission Viejo in the fall of 1994. “I love the kids, I love the age,” she exclaims when talking about her kindergarten students. “They come in wide-eyed, not knowing what to expect and then ten months later, they’re completely different – confident and ready to take on the world!” With four kids of her own ranging from 13 to 26, teaching has never been just a job for Kristyn, but rather a commitment she takes seriously to both her students and their parents. “I treat every child in my class as if they’re my own. What kind of teacher would I want for my kids? I want my kids to be silly and have fun, but most of all, learn.” After teaching all these years, it’s rare Kristyn doesn’t know a parent or kid at Cordillera Elementary. “I don’t know if it’s unique but we have great families at our school. For some of them, I’ve had three or four of their kids in my class. You really get a chance to build relationships and genuine friendships with these parents.” Unbeknownst to Kristyn, after teaching in the same classroom for twenty years, May 9th, 2014 would be her last official day at Cordillera Elementary.

“I was devastated enough when I thought I’d have to miss two weeks because of my appendix” she recalls. Starting chemo in June, there wasn’t a likely chance Kristyn would be heading back into the classroom till end of December of 2014, which was delayed again when they found a tumor had grown on her left side. “If my blood count was fine, I was able to go into the classroom and help my substitute teacher. It was quite therapeutic for me. I got to spend time with the kids, catch up with my friends at the school, and even visit with the parents. A little sense of normalcy in this chaotic world I was suddenly thrown into.”

It was a call she received on January 15th, 2015 that would flip Kristyn’s already chaotic world into a nightmare. “I need to get you in here next week, we made a mistake. We thought your differential pay was over on March 3rd, but it’s actually ending on February 6th,” a representative from the school district said to Kristyn over the phone. That next Wednesday, Kristyn made a visit to the school district. “She wasn’t even seated, just rifling through papers on her desk while telling me ‘I just need to make sure that you know March 3, 2015 will mark your termination with the school district. You’re out of sick time and deferential pay,’” Kristyn recalls. As the representative told her she could either go on unpaid leave or disability retirement, both options void of health insurance, Kristyn sat in disbelief, unable to move. “I had to go to San Diego the next morning for surgery and all I could keep hearing was ‘no benefits, no benefits, no benefits.’” Unaware this situation could even occur, especially when she had purchased disability insurance with the understanding that it would cover her in this type of situation, Kristyn inquired about asking her colleagues to donate days from their vacation and sick time. With Kristyn having donated her sick and vacation time on multiple occasions, she knew it was a plausible option. With the district’s approval, Kristyn reached out to her teachers in the school district and within two days, she had accumulated 60 days, allowing her to keep her benefits and buy her time while she worked out what she was going to do next.

Kristyn reached out to the Union to discuss her options. “I thought if I retired, I could keep my benefits, which is all I really wanted. However, I was told there were no provisions in the contract for disabled retirees and to retire, I had to at least be 50. It just felt like they were saying, ‘thanks for your 20 years of service, but we’re taking away your health insurance. Sorry, that’s the way it is.’” Whereas Kristyn had the option of going on Cobra, the $2,000 monthly bill was no option for her family’s budget. “My doctors were outraged. They said they’d never had a patient where their employer terminated their benefits, especially during medical treatments.”

Letters of love and support surrounding Kristyn's home
Letters of love and support surrounding Kristyn’s home

With outcries coming from family, friends, co-workers, parents, and even the media, Kristyn’s brother Ryan, a Principal for Violet Elementary in Garden Grove, approached the School District, urging them to revisit the wording in the teacher’s contract about “disability retirement,” and implement revisions regarding medical coverage for individuals who are truly unable to work. Since a current contract had not been signed, it was believed to be the perfect opportunity to take a closer look and make some changes. After much deliberation, the district refused to revise the contract but instead allowed teachers the opportunity of donating 124 more sick days to Kristyn. “This is a good starting point, but it shouldn’t be up to the teachers to sacrifice their sick and vacation time,” Kristyn states. “I’m forever grateful for my fellow teachers, more than they will ever know, but it’s not their responsibility. I hate that this falls back on them, especially since they’ve already done so much for me. The union and the school district need to take a look at the situation and ask themselves, ‘what if this was my wife, mom, or daughter?’”

Kristyn with her husband Scott, daughter Alyssa (22), and sons Brandon and Bryson. Not pictured: eldest son Anthony (26)
Kristyn with her husband Scott, daughter Alyssa (22), and sons Brandon (16) and Bryson (13). Not pictured: eldest son Anthony (26)

A journey she never wanted to be on, Kristyn is taking one day at a time, focusing on her family and striving to make a change so that no other teacher has to experience what she’s been going through. “I don’t want any special treatment. I just would like the retirement benefits I’ve been paying into for the past twenty years.” With an army comprised of family, friends, co-workers, parents, and former students, Kristyn is urging the school board to reexamine teacher’s contracts with focus on disability retirement. “No one should have to figure out how they’re going to take care of themselves while they’re sick.” Regardless of Kristyn’s diagnoses, she’s determined not to let anyone put a time stamp on her life. Instead, she’s focused on her husband and kids, working to create as many memories with them as possible. “It’s hard when you have kids. Will I ever see my youngest two graduate from high school? Probably not. Probably won’t see my four children get married either.” Despite being in-between surgeries and in the midst of chemo, Kristyn’s witty humor and charming personality have yet to disappear. With a new teacher’s contract waiting to be approved, Kristyn’s termination date currently stands as May 12th, 2015 unless the contract is signed and the 124 days are donated by the teachers. “This has been a hard year for me and my family. Whereas I always believe things happen for a reason, I’m still figuring this one out. For some reason, I was the chosen one.”

Visit Kristyn Fletcher’s YouCaring Page to learn how you can help support Kristyn and her family

Update 5.5.2015 – Whereas the school board signed the new teacher’s contract, they neglected to revisit the wording “disability retirement” in the contract, as pleaded to them back in March. With 41 more school days (out of the allowed 124 days) donated to Kristyn by her fellow teachers, she’s hoping she’ll receive enough days to take her into late fall when her next surgery is scheduled. “I’m not sure that’s going to happen,” Kristyn states, “and like I’ve said a hundred times, it’s not the teachers’ responsibility to take care of me.  It is however, crucial I have my insurance benefits at that time.” The fight is not over yet.

Update 8.29.2015 – It is with great sadness to share that Kristyn lost her battle with cancer on August 29, 2015 leaving behind her husband, four kids, and a community full of friends and family who loved her more than a words can accurately capture. Kristyn you may not be here with us on earth anymore but you will never be forgotten. May your selflessness, humor, and determination to keep moving forward live on through those you’ve inspired.

Entertainment & Media

Mr. Grey Will See You Now

Originally published on CulturalWeekly.com


With the theater crowded to capacity, business women and rich housewives alike occupy each seat, anxiously awaiting their fantasies, once written in ink, soon to be played out in front of them on the big screen. Men had their Die Hard and Stars Wars while the teens had their Twilight, and now, women across the globe can finally hear those sweet words, “Mr. Grey will see you now.”

Since making its print debut in 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey has been multiplying its way into the hands of women across the globe. Granted, E.L. James will likely never be up for a Pulitzer, but damn can she make a damaged soul and bondage look more attractive than your typical Prince Charming. Fifty Shades has become a widespread topic of conversation between women, whether they’re salivating over its sensual and erotic scenes or debating how it’s a humiliating and abusive piece of cheap porn. Regardless, when news spread that Fifty Shades of Grey would be adapted to film every avid Grey reader began imagining their ideal actor of choice to fill Christian Grey’s shoes.

The power of the books was the freedom they gave each reader to imagine their own ideal Christian Grey. While the books deliver heavily passionate chemistry between its two main characters Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, the same can’t be said with its film adaptation. Dakota Johnson fulfills the image Steele to a tee, body language and all. From her plain but subtly attractive appearance to the way she bites down on her lip when she’s nervous, Johnson is Ms. Steele. However, the same can’t be said for Johnson’s counterpart, Northern Irish actor, Jamie Dornan. As a former Calvin Klein underwear model, one might assume his physical assets deemed him worthy of the title Christian Grey, but there’s more to the character than his sultry looks. Dornan fails in presenting Grey as a powerful force whose presence stops women in their tracks. His delivery, stiff and forgettable, Dornan’s quick casting into the film is more noticeable than his character’s overwhelming heightened sex appeal. As the film progresses and Dornan’s performance remains unaffected, the audience’s desire for the original choice for Christian Grey, Charlie Hunnam, increases, one monotone delivered sentence at a time.

Where Dornan’s performance as Grey and chemistry with Johnson lacked, director Sam Taylor-Johnson makes up with the film’s visually appealing and quality shots, amplifying the audience’s interest through a mood-enticing soundtrack. Due to the trilogy’s poor writing and often obnoxious dialogue, its controversial sex scenes are what paved its way onto countless best-selling novel lists. The film took the opportunity to translate the book’s brainless dialogue and create an attractive piece of art that captivates its audience’s attention. Taylor-Johnson had stated pre-filming that her take on Fifty Shades would consist of more than just soft porn and would be approach the S&M scenes with care. Beyonce’s sensual remix of “Crazy in Love” slowly increasing in the background as Dornan and Johnson play out scenes in the infamous playroom exemplifies how you can expand a bondage scene into a safe and alluring act. True to the book, the film accurately captures the intense and highly erotic sex scenes without going into NC-17 rating and resembling porn. Let’s be honest–no one is going to see Fifty Shades of Grey for its unique creativity and thought-provoking storyline. They’re going for the romance and sex.

Fifty Shades of Grey won’t be gracing its way through acclaimed awards shows nor will it be on AMC’s Top 100 Movies list. It’s entertainment, pure and simple. For those who were sucked into its trilogy, you’ll likely find it fun and for those who are stewing over the fact this ill-written piece of literature has become so wide-spread, be happy that there will only be three movies as opposed to Twilight’s five.

Click here to read on Cultural Weekly.

Entertainment & Media

Gained in Translation: The Power of Film Adaptation

Originally published on CulturalWeekly.com

ImitationThe translation of nonfiction literature into film is a daunting task. Difficulties range from adapting sensitive subject matter to condensing complex stories into a cinematic framework. Literature allows both writer and reader to experience the subject on a more intimate level and requires a much greater commitment on the reader’s part rather than just watching the film adaptation. It relies on the readers’ imagination while film utilizes multiple sources and techniques to not only create that same effect, but intensify it to a higher degree. Movies combine imagery, score, dialogue, and performance to evoke emotion and access a wider audience that is not so easily done with literature. Furthermore, books are read over a period of time with multiple interruptions occurring in the readers’ lives between chapters, while film has the advantage of capturing their audience’s attention for two straight hours, allowing viewers to escape their own reality and into that that of the film’s protagonist. Two of this year’s Oscar contenders illustrate how movies can translate nonfiction literature and contextualize it for a modern audience, thus bringing to life significant and unknown characters to audiences across the world.

British mathematician Alan Turing’s legacy was brought to life in Andrew Hodges 1983 biography, Alan Turing: the Engima. A mathematician himself, Hodges’ critically acclaimed biography explores Turing’s life in depth, describing in great detail the brilliant mind that went on to crack the Nazi Enigma code and laid the foundations for modern computing. Hodges also detailed Turing’s homosexuality, for which he was legally prosecuted and forced to undergo chemical castration. Hodges’ biography was published during the early days of the AIDS epidemic when gay rights in the UK were limited-to-non-existent and Turing wouldn’t receive his posthumous royal pardon for another 30 years. The 2014 film adaptation, The Imitation Game, was able to show Turing’s place in history, while at the same time contextualizing his struggles within the modern climate of gay rights. While Turing’s persecution may have been viewed as unfortunate in the 1980s, in today’s culture it is considered appalling and unimaginable. The father of modern computer science has now taken on the added dimension of gay icon.

It is through flashbacks of Turing as a young student at boarding school that audiences see how Turing has always been an outcast amongst his peers. Bullied and misunderstood, Turing showed signs similar to that of autism with his OCD tendencies and inability to socially connect with his fellow students. Turing’s relationship with his one and only friend, Christopher Morcom, gently alludes to his homosexuality, while displaying his fascination with codes. Flash forward from his school days to WWII, the film captures the significance of his relationship with Christopher when Turing names his code-breaking machine Christopher, and confirming the audience’s suspicions of his homosexuality when he relays to a colleague that he doesn’t have feelings for fiancé Joan Clark, but rather prefers men. Despite the film’s alterations from actual events,The Imitation Game excels at grasping the audience’s sympathy and admiration for Turing and showing what crippled Turing socially helped him excel professionally, saving millions of lives during WWII and paving the way for computer science.


Fellow Oscar contender Wild is the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s story of loss, infidelity and drug use, Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The book creates an intimate relationship with the reader through first-person narrative and the author’s exposed, uncensored thoughts. While some of this intimacy is lost in the film, her smallness and isolation are intensified on the big screen through cinematography that shows the ruggedness of the terrain and physical isolation Strayed experienced. The film opens with Strayed (played by Oscar winner and 2015 nominee Reese Witherspoon) resting atop a steep rock, surrounded by silence and solitude, sweaty and exhausted from what appears a long day’s hike. Immediately upon discarding her hiking boot, it trickles down and into oblivion, leaving Strayed stranded with one boot in the middle of a 1,100-mile hike. The audience holds their breath as the boot disappears, quickly developing fear and concern for Strayed. Immediately, Strayed throws the other boot off the rock, releasing her building frustration by screaming “fuck” into the open wilderness, while a series of flashbacks strummed together conclude the scene. Both the novel and film’s openings are identical, but the film’s vivid scenery mixed with Witherspoon’s raw performance give the audience an intense visual of Strayed’s emotional and physical state that was not as dramatically depicted in the book.

One significant aspect of Strayed’s life that is intertwined throughout Wild is Strayed’s difficulty in dealing with the loss of her mother. In the book, we hear and learn about Strayed’s close relationship with her mother through Strayed’s own memories, while in the film, the audience sees this relationship play out through highly emotional flashbacks and gain a better understanding of the hardships with which Strayed’s mother struggled. From escaping an abusive husband to keeping her family financially afloat as a single mother, the audience develops their own relationship with Strayed’s mother, provoking emotions brought on by their own experiences.

There are always sacrifices made in the translation from literature to film since the film adaptation requires a simplification in the narrative and character motivation. However, the power film holds can outweigh its damage in the translation by appealing to a wider audience and bringing to life a story that may otherwise go unnoticed. Despite altering facts and characters for cinematic purposes, these individuals’ stories are being presented to the mass audience, gaining wider notoriety, and encouraging audiences to discover the source material. When asked what made her want to take the hike, Strayed replied, “That’s a long answer. You’ll have to read the book.”

Click here to read  on Cultural Weekly.

Entertainment & Media

Power Triangles: Love, Sex, and TV’s Modern Heroine

Originally published on CultralWeekly.com


Her intelligence is as enticing as her wit. Her appe­­­arance, impeccable and flawless, as if she stepped right off the cover of Vogue. Pass on the Pinot Grigio; she only takes red and prefers it by the bottle. Give her an unsolvable problem and she’ll not only rise to the occasion and conquer the issue at hand, but will do so with a smile on her face and not a hair out of place. Who is she? She’s the modern heroine gracing your television screen several nights a week. She’s the woman pulling females out of subordinate victim roles and placing them in the forefront. She’s the woman calling the shots except when it comes to her love life and in this case, it’s always complicated by two irresistible successful and charming men claiming her affection week after week.

Women have been making their mark on television for over half a century now. They’ve outshined their male leads, carried popular shows on their own, and have been listed as trailblazers for actresses today. The housewife of the ‘50s and ‘60s transformed to the single working girl and matriarch of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The ‘90s and early ‘2000s, presented a further evolution. There was the housewife who kept the family alive and fed while her husband made one dimwitted mistake after another. Then you had the woman who, despite career success, was always going through a revolving door of relationships, kissing frog after frog with no prince in sight.

The fact that female-centric shows are popular is nothing new, but the modern incarnation is something completely unique. This woman is powerful, fearless, has a closet full of designer suits and handbags, and always has her pick of bachelors to choose from. This woman is someone we could never be, but the fantasy is undeniably attractive.

Three of the most powerful heroines on television today are Scandal’s Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington), The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick (played by Juliana Margulies), and newcomer How to Get Away with Murder’s Annalise Keating (played by Viola Davis). It’s not enough that Olivia Pope runs a lucrative crisis management firm and can graciously self-medicate with a bottle of ’94 du Bellay without leaving a drop on her spotless white Armani suit. No, she also scores the attention of the President of the United States and a CIA Operative. Alicia Florrick’s situation differs slightly but only in the fact that she struggles between lusting after Will Gardner, her boss and managing partner of Chicago’s most successful law firm, and her commitment to Illinois Governor Peter Florrick, her unfaithful but remorseful husband. The men stealing our leading lady’s attention are just as wealthy and victorious as their female counterparts. Gone are the days of the girl next door tied between the bad boy from the streets and the popular jock. Our girl doesn’t settle for anything less than wealth, power, and model looks. Even Annalise Keating has one arm clutching a respected Homicide Detective and the other around her Psychology Professor husband.

Much like the horror movie conceit of the virgin’s survival, television dramas featuring female protagonists are relying more and more on simultaneous love affairs involving their main character. We’re less concerned with Olivia Pope’s latest crisis case and Alicia Florrick’s parenting skills, and more fixated on who will be occupying their bed this week. It’s the romance in these series that women viewers crave. They admire the fact that Olivia Pope and Alicia Florrick don’t need a man but rather choose to have one (or two) because they can.

One criticism is that this strips our heroine of her power and strength, but that isn’t necessarily true. The power triangles aren’t diminishing our leading ladies. Instead, our women are standing firm, controlling the fate of their male counterparts and leaving viewers obsessing over their next move. Call it a step back for women’s advancements in television, but the reality is that women viewers want their Cinderella fantasies and writers are expanding on that fairytale by dropping in a second Prince Charming. They’re utilizing the power triangle to expose our female and male characters’ vulnerability and flaws. They never twitch from fear nor doubt in the Oval Office and courtroom, but when in the presence of their lover, they lose control, leaving their weaknesses exposed to viewers. Train wrecks draw attention and keep these television series high in the ratings. We tune in each week to see our female protagonists triumph once again over overwhelming odds. As viewers, we enjoy placing bets over which lover they’ll choose this week. Triangle affairs are juicy. They keep viewers coming back each week and burning up the discussion boards proclaiming loyalty to “Team Fitz” or “Team Jake.” Final Score: Olivia Pope and Alicia Florrick – 2, Bachelors – 0

Click here to on read Cultural Weekly.

Human Interest

Ingram’s March

Participants link arms in the Poor People's Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of www.folkways.si.edu
Participants link arms in the Poor People’s Campaign in Marks, Mississippi, May 1968. Photo courtesy of http://www.folkways.si.edu

A few years ago (2009-2012), I was freelancing for the publication By U Magazine, based out of Mississippi.  It was an incredible experience as I had the opportunity to speak with and get to know a wide selection of honorable individuals who I otherwise would have never come across.  One interview that will forever stay with me is with Helen Ingram.  Days after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, 16 year-old Helen Ingram participated in “The Poor People’s March” and helped pave the way for Civil Rights.  Here is her story…

It was 1968 and Helen Ingram was 16 years old.  Dr. King had been assassinated weeks prior to the event.  Several prominent leaders in the Civil Rights Movement had visited Marks, Mississippi and encouraged the Delta residents to move forward with the march, which was part of “The Poor People’s Campaign.”  This march would demonstrate to the government the need for jobs, healthcare and homes that so many Delta residents lacked.  “Kids didn’t eat lunch because they’re parents couldn’t afford it.  So teachers were giving their lunches to the kids, leaving them without food.”  Ingram grew up attending the Civil Rights meetings.  She knew without a doubt that wherever the campaign took place, she would be there fighting for her rights.

That day Ingram went to school with the plan of participating in the walk-out.  It was in class she and her classmates heard about the arrest of several Civil Rights leaders.  Plans altered: now, they would be marching to the jail instead of heading to the local church.  In a crowd of 400 students, Ingram walks amongst her classmates.  They approach the jail, Civil Rights leaders “ hollering out the windows for the kids to sit on the grass and cover their heads.”  Guards surround the jail, eager to attack.  “You better leave,” a family friend warns Ingram.  She ignores him.  Told from a young age she had a big mouth, Ingram was done with the segregation and lack of respect.  No more eating behind the kitchen at a restaurant.  No more friends dropping out of school to work in the cotton fields.  And for goodness sakes, no more outhouses!  “My children will never go through this,” she says to herself, resisting intimidation.  Forward, come the guards.  Left, right, left, right and bam!  They start beating the kids.  Ingram’s “kicked in the back, then hit upside the head with the butt of a gun.”  Blankness.  Waking up in the hospital, she overhears a nurse complaining “they don’t have enough doctors.”  She later finds out that a pregnant friend of hers was kicked in the stomach, terminating the pregnancy and a teacher stomped to death.  Two of the many attacks made that day.  The guards think they won but they’re wrong.  Ingram checks out of the hospital and returns to the campaign.

Forty-three years later, Ingram now lives in a neighborhood that back in 1968 she wasn’t allowed to even enter.  Segregation has dispersed; however, there is still racism, still disrespect and worse ignorance.  She wonders if kids today realize how hard generations before them had to fight just so they could be where they are now.  She doesn’t expect them to understand the full impact the Civil Rights movement had but appreciate it?  Yes.  Let them hear her story, be grateful it wasn’t them and be eager to want more for their future kids as their parents wanted for them.

Featured in By U Magazine as Amanda Williford


The Day Facebook Shut Down

Cracked-Facebook-Logo-Medium-700x700It wasn’t a tornado or a hurricane that blew a town’s residents into a wave of hysteria, it was something far worse. The day that Facebook shut down, residents were forced to learn how to survive on personal interaction as opposed to the internet; something no one should have to suffer through.

Jenny takes a bite of the crispy, buttered toast as she gathers a few files and shoves them into her purse. Through the open window, she can see the sun rising, which only reminds her that she has eight hours of work ahead of her. With her laptop on the kitchen counter, she checks her email only to find her inbox empty. “Impossible” she says to herself. Jenny always has at least five emails awaiting her every morning, all from Facebook notifying Jenny that friends have commented or posted on her wall. Closing out of her email, she immediately goes to the Facebook login site and enters her username and password. Nothing. She hits the ‘enter’ key again hoping for a different outcome. A pop-up appears. Error 101. A look of disappointment appears on her face. She tries again only to be given the same results, Error 101. She looks at the clock. “I’m late!”

Jenny runs out to her car but stalls before getting in. The street, normally crowded with school buses and cars is empty. Parents who gather by the bus stop and see their kids off to school each morning are absent. “Is it Saturday?” She looks at her phone and confirms that it’s Wednesday. She looks around, hoping to see someone walking down the street or a car driving by. Silence. “Maybe it’s a school holiday,” she says reassuring herself. The drive to work remains unsettling lonely. Continuously, Jenny attempts to login to Facebook only to be given the same message, “Error 101”. The inability to login frustrates her so much she fails to notice she’s the only car on the road. “Why won’t Facebook work?” she yells, hitting the steering wheel in anger. She arrives at work, pulling into the parking garage located next door to her office. Whereas she normally spends ten minutes searching for a parking spot, this morning she’s able to find a vacant spot in front. Her excitement quickly grows to concern when she notices the car parked next to her. The driver’s door is open with the keys still in the ignition. “What happened?” she asks herself. Running to the front of the garage where two parking attendants are always stationed, she finds the station empty. “Where is everyone?” Her voice echoes throughout the garage with no response. Fear rushes over her, prompting Jenny to run out of the garage and into the office building. Storming through the main doors, she bumps right into Albert, an accountant who sits three desks down from her.

“I’m sorry Albert,” she apologizes, trying to catch her breath.
Albert looks more frazzled than usual. His short curly hair hasn’t been combed and he’s only wearing one shoe. “What are you doing here?” he asks.
Jenny looks around only to see an empty office. “Where is everyone Albert?”

“Don’t you know?”
“Know what? Know what?” she screams.

“Facebook shut down.”
Jenny gasps, covering her mouth with her hand.  “When did this happen?”
“They don’t know the exact time. The first record they have is 4 o’clock a.m. Didn’t you hear the news?”

“Who has time to watch the news?” Jenny snaps. “I tried logging on a few times but it kept saying there was an error.”

“Some speculate this might be the end of Facebook.”

Jenny’s speechless.

“They’re calling it the Facebook Apocalypse.”

“It can’t be the end of Facebook. What will we do? How do they expect us to survive?”

“I don’t know. They’ve closed down all the offices, schools and stores, except Starbucks. Starbucks is open and offering free coffee.”
“I can’t drink coffee at a time like this. What am I supposed to do?”

Albert takes Jenny by the hand. “Come with me. I’m going to the Starbucks across the street where they’re holding a support group for Facebook survivors.”
Jenny feels lost and alone. Everything is closed.  She doesn’t have anyone’s number, just their Facebook page.  “Okay.”  She follows Albert outside.

Whereas the sun was awake and bright early this morning, it’s now hiding between a mountain of clouds, leaving the sky damp and gray. The streets are littered with empty soda cans and fast food wrappers. People roam the streets calling out the names of family members and friends. A man runs down the intersection, his body on fire and covered in flames. “Dislike!” he screams, “dislike!” An elderly lady stands at the corner holding a sign that reads “The End is Here, God Save Your Facebook Souls”. Albert holds on to Jenny and guides her across the street. A young woman approaches them.

“Excuse me but have you seen my sister?” the lady asks. She holds up a piece of paper with a drawing of what looks to be a woman on it.

“Is that supposed to be your sister?” Albert asks pointing to the drawing.

“Yes, it’s the best I could draw. All my pictures are on Facebook. I don’t have any pictures, except on Facebook.

“I’m sorry but I haven’t seen her,” he replies.

“It’s the best I could draw,” she whimpers.

Albert nudges Jenny and they continue towards the Starbucks. Inside, it’s packed with scared and frightened Facebook survivors.  One guy at the counter is taking shot after shot of caffeine.  “I can’t handle this!” he cries out, downing another gulp of liquid courage.  A girl sits huddled in the corner crying. “Someone could have died, had a baby, gotten married and I have no idea!” she sobs. Two high school students are arguing by the coffee display counter.

“You cheated on me with that fat and ugly chic?” the girl screams. Holding her cell phone she waves her hand over her head, creating a dramatic gesture.

“I just accepted her friend request, that’s all!” the boy hollers back. “I didn’t cheat on you!” Before Facebook shut down, an incident like this would have drawn attention to the teenagers; however, no one notices them now. Nor do they pay attention to the old lady hiding under a table. Instead, they’re all consumed with their own grief.

A man in his late forties climbs up on the counter and faces the crowd. “Excuse me,” he calls out. The cries and screaming continue. Clearing his throat, he tries again, this time yelling out “Facebook”. Everyone stops and turns their attention toward him. “I’m Dr. Jones and I’m here to help you through what they’re calling the Facebook Apocalypse.  We haven’t heard any updates about Facebook but all we can do during this time is deal with it in a calm manner.”  The girl sobbing in the corner lets out a cry.  Dr. Jones continues “If everyone could get in a circle, I have an exercise we can do.” Jenny follows instructions and helps formulate a circle. “Let’s try this first,” Dr. Jones begins.  “Everyone go around and say what your Facebook status would be if you were online right now.”
“But Facebook is down,” a kid points out.
“Yes I know that but since we can’t actually be on Facebook, this will have to do.”
“I’ll start.  Andy Jones is trying to help others but getting no success.”
The lady next to him goes “Lacy Specks is sick of the smell of coffee.”
“Lisa Sams feels like I’m going to die.”
“Alan Sanders is frustrated.”

The teenage boy who was fighting with his girlfriend speaks next. “Richard James is single and ready to mingle”.

Richard’s ex-girlfriend follows. “Emily Smith is single and hates high school boys.”
Jenny’s turn is approaching.  She doesn’t know what to do.  She isn’t capable of speaking aloud what’s on her mind.  She isn’t used to it.
“Andy Blake wants pizza.”
It’s Jenny’s turn now.  All eyes are on her.  “I, I can’t do this,” she blurts out.
“Sure you can,” Dr. Jones assures her.
“No, I can’t.  It’s too hard, I can’t.”
Dr. Jones walks over to her.  “Maybe this will help.  Put your hands up like this and just air-type your status update while you say it aloud.”
Jenny takes a deep breathe.  Lifting her hand up she presses Shift + K and types out her name.  “Jenny Marks is….all alone.”  The circle clasps.
“Good job Jenny,” Dr. Jones congratulates her.  Albert goes next.
“Albert Grinch is hungry.  Where can I get some donuts?”
The group goes around till everyone has verbally updated their Facebook status.  Some befriended others and comment on their status updates. One woman throws Albert an actual donut from behind the counter.  Afterwards the circle breaks up and people disperse throughout the Starbucks.  A young girl around Jenny’s age comes over to her.  “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” she asks.
Jenny shakes her head.  “I don’t think so.”
“Wait, I do!  You’re one of my friends,” the girl says.
“I don’t think so.”
“Sure I am.  Here maybe this will help you get a better idea.”  The girl uses her coffee cup to treat it as an alcoholic drink and does a supermodel pose with pursed lips.
“O-M-G Lucy!” Jenny yells.  “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you until you did your Facebook picture.

Lucy giggles, “it took me a few minutes to realize it was you.”

“So, how have you been?” Jenny asks.

Lucy nods her head. “Good, just the same old, same old. You?”

“The same. Working, hanging out with friends, you know.” Both girls nod and stand in awkward silence.

Albert runs over. “Twitter created a support group for Facebook survivors.” He pulls out his cell phone and shows Jenny and Lucy. “See? Already 6,000 tweeters are already following.”

The thought relying on Twitter instead of Facebook for social interaction saddens Jenny. She walks away from Albert and Lucy who stay glued to the phone, tweeting their latest thoughts on the Facebook Apocalypse. Browsing the room, she sees the teenage couple who thirty minutes earlier were breaking up, are now kissing and smiling. The girl who was hurdled in a corner crying is now joking and laughing with others. Once chaotic, the Starbucks is starting to feel calm and peaceful. Loneliness overcomes Jenny, making her ache for Facebook even more. Without reading what her friends are doing at this moment or looking through pictures of their recent vacations, Jenny feels empty and alone. Besides having mutual friends, Jenny and Lucy have nothing in common. Jenny needs another Facebook friend with her here. Without one of them, she has no one. Leaning her head against the edge of the main door, she notices a boy running down the street, aimed right for the Starbucks. At first she’s not sure if he’s in danger or hurt but as he gets closer she sees that he’s smiling, laughing even. He runs past Jenny and into the Starbucks.

“Facebook is up again!” he yells into the crowded room. Everyone claps and cries out with joy. Some log on with their cell phones while others use laptops.

“It’s working!” a lady confirms.

Jenny takes a deep breath and exits the Starbucks. Holding her phone she looks down at the screen and logs on to Facebook. Her homepage immediately appears, listing various friends and status updates that were just posted. Friends are updating by the second, causing Jenny’s homepage screen to refresh several times. Within the several hours Facebook was shut down, one friend separated from her husband, another friend met a guy at a nearby Starbucks and one friend gave birth to a baby girl. “Thank goodness for Facebook,” Jenny tells herself. A smile appears on her face and she knows it’s going to be all right. Once gloomy, the sky is bright and sunny again. The streets are cleaned of trash and now full of cars and buses. Stores and businesses have re-opened and life is back to normal. It’s a good feeling Jenny thinks to herself, to not be alone anymore. 

Written by Amanda Stewart


Innocence Lost


Summer had fast past and now the stench of August heat was setting in.  The roads overgrown with weeds, crickets and rabbits hopping about in between.  At fourteen, puberty was becoming old news to Claire and things like shaving and applying deodorant were her top priority.  “Personal hygiene is a woman’s best friend,” her mothers always relayed and Claire never doubted those sleek words of wisdom.  She no longer played outside with her younger sisters as she once did but instead stayed indoors, reading Jane Austin and helping mom around the house.  Southern belle she was not but a lady, she’d always be.

The doorbell rang, causing her to jump back to reality.  She could hear her mother’s footsteps clack across the linoleum tiles, making her way toward the door.

“Jacob, thank you so much for coming so soon.  If Mr. Hannon wasn’t in the city for the week, I’d just hold out but I can’t take the faucet dripping any longer.”

“No problem Mrs. Hannon, I’m glad I can help.”

She could smell his rich scent from around the corner; a mixture of sweat and cheap cologne.  Jacob Landon, who lived down the street had always been a crush of hers.  At sixteen, his weight had finally caught up with his height, filling his arms and midsection with lean muscle.  She sometimes fantasized about grabbing his upper arms and holding onto them for dear life, like some damsel in distress she often read about.

“Right through here,” her mother instructed Jacob as she guided him to the kitchen.  Claire briefly turned her head to see them pass, catching Jacob’s quick nod to her.  Her heart beat fast, excitement that Jacob Landon was in her kitchen, only ten feet away from her at this very moment.  She returned to her book, trying to focus on the black words typed across the page.  She could hear Jacob clinking and clacking away at the sink, her mother standing by asking question after question.

“Here’s the problem,” she heard Jacob say, “your pipe down here is completely busted.  You’re going to need a new one.”

Her mother sighed.  “Wonderful.  Why does these things always happen when John is out of town?”  She imagined her mother shaking her head.

“It can be easily fixed,” Jacob assured her.  “I can run to the store, grab a new pipe and have it fixed for you before dinner.”

“Really?  Oh, thank you so much.  Here, let me grab my purse to give you cash, how much do you think you’ll need?”

She didn’t hear Jacob’s reply, only the movement of both bodies returning to the hallway from the kitchen.  “Thank you so much dear, I really appreciate it.”

“My pleasure Mrs. Hannon, honestly, I was just killing time around the house so at least I have something to do now.”

She felt the attention of both, even with her back to them.  “Claire, honey, why don’t you go with Jacob to the store?  You know, get some fresh air?”  Her mother turned to Jacob, “It used to be I could never get her inside and now she stays cooped up all day with her head in those books”.  Both Jacob and her mother laughed.  Claire sat up, trying to dissolve the blush that had overcome her face.

“Sure, that would be nice.”  Her eyes met Jacobs’ and she could feel the heat rise in her cheeks.  She diverted her eyes and grabbed a pair of shoes while following Jacob out to his truck.  I’m going with Jacob Landon, Jacob Landon!  Wait till she told her friends, whenever she talked to them next that is.  The truck made more noise than a steamboat with the inside humid and dry.  With only a front row seat, absent of seat belts, Claire kept her hand firmly on the passenger door as not to slide down to Jacob.  Even with the thick heat, Jacob had on thick jeans and a green t-shirt with sweat stains embedded under his armpits.   He seemed calm and collect, asking her about her summer and what books she was reading.  She couldn’t believe she was alone, in a car with the Jacob Landon.

The trip there barely took ten minutes, Jacob finding what he needed and then ushering her out of the store.  The drive home was different.  Jacob seemed off but she couldn’t tell why.  His speed home accelerated that of before and this time, he barely said a word.  Turning onto the dirt path, 1/2 a mile from her house, he pulled over and turned off the ignition.  She was confused, curious but didn’t say a word.   Jacob slide down next to her and put his arm over the seat, gently stroking her hair.

“You look really pretty today Claire, almost like you’re a woman now.”  His voice dropped an octave.  His tone frightened her.

“Thank you.”  She didn’t turn her head, just stared straight ahead, frozen.

Jacob moved in closer, this time taking his other hand and moving it under her light summer dress.  “I bet you’ve never been touched, have you?”  She shook her head.  “You’re becoming a woman now, don’t you think it’s time?”  She remained motionless.  His hands pulled down her underwear and soon she felt his fingernails scratch across what her mom referred to as her “privates”.  “Yes, yes,” he moaned softly into her ear, “doesn’t this feel good?”

“I, I no Jacob,” she stuttered.

His hand that was stroking her hair, brushed across her face and was soon cupping her chin.  “What?”

“Jacob, don’t, no,” she whispered.  She couldn’t speak.

He shoved her head back, smacking against the glass window and pulled her down on the seat.  “Don’t you want to be a woman Claire?  Don’t you want to be wanted?”  She couldn’t move.  Her throat ached to scream but no sound came out.  He ripped off her panties, her favorite pair her mother bought for her at the department store and soon she could hear him unzip his pants and suddenly he was in her.  Sweat ran down his forehead and fell onto her chest as he pushed in and out of her, treating her like some tool.  The pain started off small and then grew the size of a basketball.  She felt like throwing up, or passing out, whichever freed her faster.   His face scrunched and he let out a moan, putting a stop to all motion.  Soon his heavy weight was lifted off her and he was sitting back behind the wheel.

“Sit up you little slut,” her ordered.  Her legs felt like 100lbs stones.  On the floor lay her panties, ripped into three.  He took a piece and wiped himself off then threw it at her.  “Get yourself together, wouldn’t want your mom knowing about this.”  She looked down at her dress, now crinkled with a slight red stain.   Jacob started the car and soon they were in front of her house, like nothing happened.  He opened the door to get out but turned to her before moving.  “Say one word to anyone and I’ll be forced to come clean about how you begged me to pop your cherry.”  His eyes cold.  “Your mom will be so embarrassed Claire and your dad, how will they even look at you?”  He shook his head.  “Their daughter, the little slut.  That’s what you are, you know?”  She kept her eyes on the dashboard and remained silent.  He grabbed her inner thigh.  “Understand?”  She nodded.

She followed him up the porch steps and into her house.  “That was quick!” her mother exclaimed upon greeting them inside.  Jacob made his way to the kitchen to replace the pipe while Claire walked past her mother and into her bedroom without saying a word.  That night and days after, she laid curled in bed, afraid to come out of her room.  Her mother blamed it on the flu, never thinking twice it could be something else.   She couldn’t look her parents in the eyes, ashamed of what she’d become in those brief but excruciatingly long minutes.  She no longer read the tales of romance as the thought of being touched made her shudder and cry.  She sustained from school dances and chats with boys, finding solace in solitude and dark rooms.

Forward to years later, revenge finally took its toll. Doubt left as quickly as it came.  The burn of her vagina, the rash on her thigh.  She could feel it like it was yesterday.  Jacob Landon, the bastard that took her life was about to get his due punishment.  Without blinking, she jammed the knife into his chest, maneuvering it like a joystick.  She dug deep and pulled it out, slamming it back into his chest, this time deeper and with harder thrusts.  And again, and again.  The odor of warm blood filled her nostrils, causing her to step back.  She looked down at the pathetic soul lying beneath her.  His skin, aged and wrinkled, covered with blood.  She stepped over him, leaving the knife jammed in his chest and made her way out the door.  Several years from now, she’d be known as the Killer Queen.  But today, she was just Claire, the shy girl who never spoke much and winced whenever you tried to make eye contact.  Yes, today she was just Claire.

By Amanda Stewart