Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Movies: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Bad title for the post, I know. Of course, "The Good the Bad and the Ugly" is not a Christmas movie. It was released on December 23 in Italy, so I guess there could be an augment made for including it a list of "Christmas movies," but that would be dumb. Plus, if you have to put quotation marks around the term Christmas movie in order to describe it as one, then it shouldn't be considered as one. Many movies released during the holiday season are not Christmas movies at all. Christmas is simply a time when many people head out to the cinema during their time off or to get away from the in-laws. Box office matters in the movie biz and big movies get a place on the schedule. Okay...blah, blah, blah.

I love movies. All kinds of movies. There are good movies, bad movies, and merely mediocre movies. There are how-did-this-POS-ever-get-made movies and OMG-I-have-to-see-this-again-right-now movies. There are awful movies with brilliant performances in them. There are movies that we enjoy very much even though we know they are not very good. There are movies we hate even though Rotten Tomatoes tells us the critics LOVE them and our film snob friends tell us they are the best movies of all time and the 22 year old director with the silly hair is a genius. Movies, like all art, are subjective. I get it. But Christmas movies have rules.

Yes, they do.

For example (these may seem harsh to some), here are some things NOT allowed in Christmas movies. Let's not even call them rules, okay? Let call them guidelines.
  • A Christmas movie cannot be an action movie. Sorry, "Die Hard" is not a Christmas movie. No. No it is not. It is set during Christmas. But that is the only thing Christmasy about it. You may watch it during Christmas. It may have a Christmas song at the very end. Not a Christmas movie. I really like Die Hard, but no. Batman Returns? Hell no. Let's call these kind of movies, "Christmas Adjacent."
  • A Christmas movie cannot be a concept movie dressed up as a Christmas movie in order to capitalize on the idea of being a Christmas movie. Bad Santa is not a Christmas movie. Hold on, hold on - I know it was a pretty successful, R rated, black comedy that lots of people liked, but that doesn't cut the pudding. You cannot share it with your kids and grand kids. Well, you could, but then I'd have to cal social services on you. 
  • Just having a Santa Claus character in it doesn't automatically make it a Christmas movie. Also, having cute girls in Santa outfits dancing to "Jingle Bell Rock," doesn't magically elevate Mean Girls to Classic Christmas Movie status. That is cheating. Or marketing. Might be marketing.
  • Horror movies cannot be Christmas movies. Just no. Admit it, I'm right on this. Watch them at Halloween? Fine. Dress up as Scary Santa or Ax Murderer Rudolph. Great, whatever flies your sleigh (slay?) Just don't think they should be played every single Christmas while the family is over for pie and wassail. 
  • Any movie with the characters of Pee Wee Herman or Ernest P. Worrell are not Christmas movies. Full stop. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let's make sure that never happens again, please Hollywood.
I cannot just list everything that Christmas movies aren't. Besides, you'll get used to knowing a real Christmas movie when you see one. This is just the high level stuff that you need to know now that you are getting serious about the subject.

You don't always need Santa Claus, St. Nickolas, Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle. That would get boring. Also not required is your reindeer or your elves or your snowmen. Unless you can find the perfect voice actors, this can be problematic anyway. Everyone knows reindeer and elves and snowmen have to talk and the voices have to be perfect. Nobody wants a snowman to sound like Kristen Chenowith. An elf, maybe. There are, however, some themes that must be present. Not all need to present in every film, but a true Christmas movie will have many of them neatly weaved together.
  • The Ebeneezer Syndrome (also known as the "Scrooge Complex"). Charles Dickens created the perfect "meaning or Christmas" story in A Christmas Carol. Any movie putting a spin on this theme qualifies as a true Christmas movie. Doesn't matter if it's any good or not. Yes, it hurts to say that, but...that's life. Examples are Scrooged (Bill Murray), An American Christmas Carol (excellent and overlooked), Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney and one of my favorites), The Muppet Christmas Carol (the Muppets AND Michael Caine? Puh-leeze.), and Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. Basically, any story where a soulless curmudgeon is redeemed by cuteness and nice people. 
  • It's Silly, But I Believe. Similar to the Ebeneezer Syndrome except a little kid, instead of an old geezer, is the asshole that finally comes around to believing in the spirit of Christmas. In the process of this happening, elsewhere in the movie somebody who is stuck up falls in love with somebody who is nice and they live happily ever after. Miracle on 34th Street. CLASSIC. Edmund Gwenn is the best Santa ever. 
  • True Love Conquers All. Even when it sneaks up on you through a serious of hilarious interludes and often romantic singing and dancing. If you don't watch White Christmas and/or Holiday Inn every single single year, you'll know why I choose to ignore you at Trader Joe's. Love, Actually has become a contemporary classic. I will say, right here, right now, it is one of my favorites. Watch it with a significant other and I guarantee you will love it. You might even get lucky later that night. It's that good.
  • Don't Be a Dick at Christmas. This is more a motif than a theme, but it turns up in the best Christmas movies. It differs significantly from the ES above, since the Xmas Dick is not universally hated by everyone during the course of the year. Only at Christmas. The Christmas jerk is always redeemed by love, faith, children, or the supernatural. In the The Bishop's Wife, David Niven's character is a rather insensitive priest who is very close to losing his fabulous wife to an angel played by Cary Grant (of course). It's perfect.
Finally, there are a few other very significant things Christmas movies must have. In fact, these may well be THE MOST important elements to any actual, for reals, authentic, sure fire, play-every-year-and-never-get-tired-of-it Christmas movie. They have to be a little sappy. It's the one time of year where we really are expected to wear our hearts on our sleeves and go all-in for a little schmaltz. There has to be a romance. Doesn't have to be all "Beauty and the Beast," but love is the reason for the season after all, right? And last but not least, every Christmas movie  must have heart. Heart. Compassion. Empathy. Call it what you Like. Every other holiday can have a little slice of snark, a little bite of bitchy, a chunk of cynicism. But Christmas movies should really remind us that it's never too late to be a good person. Hopefully, we won't shoot our eye out in the process.

Purely as a public service, I will leave you with Wayne's Christmas Movie recommendations:
  • Shop Around the Corner (1940) 
  • Holiday Inn (1942) 
  • Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  • Star in the Night (1945) 
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947
  • The Bishop's Wife (1947)
  • Holiday Affair (1949)
  • White Christmas (1954) 
  • Scrooge (1970) 
  • A Christmas Story (1983)
  • Love, Actually (2003)
  • Elf (2003)
  • Get Santa (2014) 



























Monday, December 4, 2017

Words Mean Things



Books. Plays. Movies. Lyrics. Poems. Speeches. Conversations. Whispers.

Words.

With so many ways to communicate with each other, yet such a limited amount of time to say any of it, we humans spend an excruciating amount of our very lives thinking about saying or writing things (aka using words), but then not actually saying or writing any of them. Why is this? Whether there are issues of the head that require resolution or matters of the heart that must be shared to find relief, we often wait too long to put them into words. Often never doing so.

Even in our daily lives, when we are forced to communicate, we increasingly tend to choose NOT to use words. They take too much time to hammer out with our thumbs on the face of a smartphone. We use abbreviations (LOL, OMG, I <3 U, txt me) or emojis. I have found myself spending so much time looking for the perfect emoji on my phone for a message that I could have written a whole letter in the same amount of time.

I am as guilty of these word related transgressions as any modern human. Moreso maybe. I do find occasion to jot something down when I have something on my mind. A letter. A card. A terrible poem. A Tweet. A Facebook post whose very brevity is intended to convey a whole range of thoughts and emotions. Those usually come out alright. At least they come out. The beginnings of a play. The first five pages of a movie. Those are, more often than not, slower to manifest themselves.

Where I fall down, though, is in saying actual words to actual people. Now that I think about it, this may be one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor. I loved saying other people's words. They saved me the effort of trying to be poetic or meaningful all by myself. (I've always been a better speaker than a writer, anyway.) I loved the sound of other people's words as they came out of my mouth. I could control how they were uttered even though I had no input into their creation. How often to we crib a movie quote to make a point? A Bible verse to teach a lesson? How many times has a Shakespearean Sonnet been whispered during a night of romance?

Some might argue this whole point with me. Some would say that actors become actors to express emotions. But actors cannot do this, even, without words. Actually being able to say them and move people by how well you can manipulate them is an actor's stock-in-trade. How effectively you can make people feel things by wrapping your mouth and tongue and teeth around sounds, is how you are measured. How you can make people believe that what they are seeing on stage or on film is real by the way you utter words, is your passion as well as your job. If you are really good at these kinds of things, then this is what makes you stay an actor. For an actor, words are transformative.

Words are also power. I had a boss once that was very disrespectful to everyone in the office. Everyone. None of us would say anything when this behavior occurred because, A) we were afraid of losing our jobs, and B) we knew nothing we said would possibly change this person. So we all endured. We would keep our words bottled up. Stifle our feelings. Contain our anger and insult. Then one eventful day, one person called the boss on the shit. Boom. The floodgates opened. What we hadn't considered was that all the while that we did NOT say anything, we were missing out on the therapeutic nature of words. Words can level the playing field, clarify, and correct.

Words can also be used as weapons. In real life, people can sling words to hurt, to insult, to control. How often do we sling barbs carelessly at a loved one in order to manipulate an argument or trick someone into a response. Weapon-words are hard to take back. They are like a bullet. Once they pierce the skin, they often get lodged there, infecting the surrounding tissue and causing lasting scars even after the surgery of removing them has long passed. Even after an apology, the sting and swelling caused by a weapon-word takes a while to mend. (A great example is the bullshit rudeness of people who say, "I'm just being honest." I hate that. I have NEVER heard that phrase used for anything other than being hurtful. In a way the speaker can shield him or herself from the responsibility of their words simply by saying, "I'm just being honest.")

My own use of words is often tested. While I try to be specific and articulate, yet still thoughtful and creative, I often doubt my results. Misunderstandings happen all the time, right? We all say things we wish we hadn't then dig ourselves ever deeper trying to figure out the structure and shape of the new words that will make everything better. Words are a responsibility.

I would never suggest that everyone has to tip-toe through their lives weighing each word like so much diamond dust. But there are times to do so. Often. Not to sound too much like a scold or an out-of-touch headmaster, but there are times we should, at the very least, be mindful of what actually comes out of our mouths and from our fingers and thumbs. Not just for others, but for ourselves. Anger can make us sloppy. Love can make us sappy. Emotions push every conceivable button in us. But like anything we work at, we should always want to be good at what we do. We should, as human beings blessed with the gift of language, desire the ability to communicate with each other in the best possible ways. We should also never take this gift of words for granted. In art, in love, at work, at home, at play, in politics, words mean things and we should ultimately ask ourselves to be good stewards of them.

This whole post is, actually, a very good illustration of my own challenges in using words. Admittedly, I just spent about an hour writing this, when I really should have just posted this quote from Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing : 

"Words … They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead."

Okay, well, I guess I'll keep working on it. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Post-Thanksgiving Ponder

Growing up in Henderson, Nevada, Thanksgiving was simple. It was a juicy turkey, my mom's delicious and world famous dressing, and (inevitably) her nasty-ass canned cranberry sauce that only my step-dad liked. It usually meant brother home from college, a visit from sister across town, a house full of little brother's neighborhood pals, and the requisite cadre of cousins, uncles, aunts, and  co-workers dropping by to chat, load up on pie, smoke some Chesterfields, pour a generous scotch and water (in a 16 ounce former strawberry jam jar), and generally just enjoy each other's company removed from the normal daily grind of work and responsibility. The one day of the year when everyone really did pitch in to help do the dishes. Simple.

During this day of feasting and football, we never talked about the the pilgrims. We did not discuss the monumental wrongs that have been imposed upon Native Americans. Mine was not a house of prayer, so we didn't do that, either. (Unless Grandma Lumsden was in town, then we laid it on thick.) We were thankful, though. We were not rich. My parents worked hard. We didn't live in as nice a house as I sometimes wished, and we never had a new car. But, we had enough. On this day, we sat around the dining room table (the other 364 days our meals were on TV trays or the coffee table in front of the television) together. Talked about anything and everything as a family. Simple.

Life doesn't seem to be as simple, nowadays though, does it? As much as we would like it to  be, the world is not so simple. The Henderson of my childhood now has a population of close to 300,000 - 17 times larger than when I was a kid.  Four high schools instead of one. There are stop lights now. (Stop lights! WTF?) Our family and friends have spread out, grown apart, passed away, seen their own adventures, grown their own families.

It probably wasn't simple back them, either. I truly don't believe that, in the creation of the American version of Thanksgiving, there was any intentional disrespect towards Native Americans. (We had and have done enough of that since the time the Pilgrims landed and the ensuing conquest of their land.) Point of fact, many other countries celebrate similar thanksgiving holidays that have their roots in secular celebrations, harvest festivals, or religious observations. Strangely, they all happen around the same time of year.  I would like to believe that a given people can "give thanks" for what they have without pissing off a whole culture. But, I'm not sure anymore.

I also have come to kinda doubt what "giving thanks" really means. I have observed over the past few years that Thanks-giving seems more like Thanks-taking. We are grateful for things that have come to us. Possessions we have worked hard enough to buy. Food we are fortunate enough to eat. For bounty, often denied others. For success, unseen by many. Things certainly worthy to be thankful for. But the name of the holiday is, after-all Thanks"giving" not "Thanks-foring,"which to me seems to imply that the thanks should be a thing emanating from us not to us.

Maybe, like mankind itself, holidays might be allowed to evolve into other kinds of things. Christmas has become more secular. July Fourth has become more culinary. Maybe Thanksgiving might be allowed to evolve into something more outward-bound. Maybe the Holiday Season, the season of giving, begins in November with this food-filled, harvest festival that has evolved from a variety of cultures and countries. (Some families don't eat turkey! It's not like it's a rule.) Maybe, through our actions, we can actually turn it into the act, or better, the art of saying "thank you" to people for who they are and what they represent and opposed to the things that we have the good fortune to consume.

I may be arguing for something that already exists. I may be overly concerned with semantics. I've been known to do that. We all may already do this in our own way. The lines in the grocery stores, the angry words on social media, the ongoing argument about the origins of this holiday all seem to deny this, though. Sure we stop just long enough to spend a day with loved ones and eat. But wouldn't it be nice, if sometime during this perennial day of gluttony and familial stress, we look at a loved one - right in the eyes - and say, "Hey, thank you." "Thank you for being you." "Thank you for your spirit."  "Thank you for your talent." "Thank you for your art." "Thank you for being here." "Thank you for that time you helped me fix my sink." "Thank you for being a great (insert relationship here)."

In the spirit of this idea, and with apologies to Mr. Dickens, I will honor Thanksgiving in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Simple.





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Actor Shaming in Hollywood

I do not get angry often. Not really. I do get a little perturbed, occasionally. Sometimes. Rarely, though. Actually, it's more like exasperation than actual anger. One thing that DOES piss me the f**k off is what I'm going to refer to as "actor shaming." (You may officially file this under: Rant.) In an industry that relies so heavily on actors for everything from $250 million studio blockbusters to $250 local car dealer ads on cable TV, actors are treated like village idiots or temperamental children by the myriad of people who make money from their talent or personality.

Historically, actors have often been treated like second class citizens -- or even lepers. None of this is new. I get it. It is the level of utter disrespect in recent years that is so irritating. I have worked in the entertainment industry (I like the old term, "show business") for most my my adult life, but the last five years or so has seen a rise in this regard. Every single day I work with a wide variety of people in film and TV (and, yes, even the theatre) whose very livelihoods, their paychecks and fancy cars and expense accounts, are a result of the work that actors do.

Without actors, from whom would agents and managers collect their commission? Without actors, who would publicists complain about or lawyers manipulate? Without actors, screenplays would be literature. Without actors, directors would play chess. Without actors, producers would create other things to entertain us. It is the actor that is the constant.

I know that this little rant may piss some people off. Rest assured not ALL people that have actors as clients are bad people. Not all agents are leeches and not all acting teachers are in it to screw actors out of their hard earned residuals for a little ego massage. I get it. I have friends who are casting directors and agents and publicists. Good ones, too. Many of these people started as actors, so they have a unique perspective on what it takes and who the people they work for are. You lot I am not complaining about.

But there seems to be this growing disrespect - it has a gossip mill quality - about actors who are "difficult"  or have "attitude" or who are "demanding." It may shock many out there, but when you meet these people, you often find out that they are pretty nice and not weird at all. In fact, I'll bet 9-out-of-10 times an actor get pegged as being "a problem," it is their reps that are putting up the barriers and causing all the heartburn, not the actual talent.

Add to this the apparent disregard even those in the media have for some of the working-est actors in Hollywood.  How many "entertainment journalists" mispronounce names (poor Saoirse Ronan and Chiwetel Ejiofor) or get actors confused with other actors. (I'm looking at you Sam Rubin). Look, I know that not everyone is as involved in the Hollywood entertainment machine as I am, but those of us actually in the business, should, at the very least, have a basic respect for the people that make that industry work, that pay our salaries in some direct or indirect way  -- and that means actors. Period.




Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Being an Actor. In the beginning...

This page of this post has been empty for a long time. The title has been there. Nothing else.
Every time I get inspired by a great quote, whenever I think of a pithy and important idea, on the occasion of some fundamental misconception of the craft, I get all excited and begin to write a brilliant missive on the topic when...I freeze. Fingers hovering precariously above the keys. Still.  Fearful. Motionless.

Nothing you will read in the next thousand words or so will be remotely new if you are an actor of a certain age.  You have heard it all before. Every actor has, at some point in his or her creative life (some would call it "career") has thought, pondered, complained, fretted, dissected, and screamed at the things I am about to rant about. So, for the sake of simplicity, I'm just going to bullet point some thoughts, opinions, and advice. This is meant primarily for my younger or less experienced students, but it is also for my older, more mature actors who are returning to the game after a long break. If you study with me, I'm sure are are tired of hearing this stuff by now. Too bad.

  • Your acting coach is your acting coach, not your agent. Your acting coach is not your publicist, either. Or your manager. You pay them to be your acting coach. Let them do that and take everything else they offer with a grain of salt.
  • For my young actors, if you don't have head shots yet, go get them now. Now. Everyone else, get new ones every couple of years. More often if you have changed your hair, altered your look, started a regimen of Botox, or finally tossed the denim jeggings that were so popular last year. I know they're expensive (the head shots not the jeggings). I know it's a hassle. Every craftsman, needs their tools. These are yours. Find a photographer you like and keep going to them. 
  • Oh, I'm not done on pictures, yet: Make sure your pictures look like YOU. When you walk into the room for an audition or an interview you better look like your picture. It's that easy and it's that hard. Photographer Peter Konerko has an excellent set of videos  that will be very helpful finding your way through headshot hell. Check them out, they are great. (Okay, I'm done. I get worked up about this one.)
  • Learn your craft before you learn your business. You don't open a law office then go to law school. You don't get hired at a hospital as a doctor before you've gone to med school. Become an actor before accepting the secret golden key to "cold reading" mastery. Before spending $150 to be seen by the "greatest casting director" in Hollywood, learn to fucking act.
  • Stop worrying about how many Twitter followers you have or how many Instagram likes you are racking up. When you finally get the audition, none of that will mean a hill of beans if you can't deliver when it matters. I do not care how ripped you are or how hot you look in that new designer bikini or how sweet your kitten looks swatting your Fruit Loops around the kitchen. 
  • Kiss no ass. Once you get an agent, a manager, a publicist (one or all three) remember they work for you. THEY work for YOU. They are not omnipotent, they are not irreplaceable, they do not know everything regardless of what they tell you.
  • Work on your voice. Learn how to breathe, how to project, how to enunciate. I recently saw a play at a very reputable theatre and some of the younger actors simply could not be heard even 10 rows back.
  • Stop defining yourself as a TV actor or a stage actor or a film actor. Yes, you do that. Admit it. You are an actor. Each medium requires different techniques, true, but you are still an actor. Remind yourself of that out loud a few times everyday. 
  • Don't wait for the phone to ring. You have friends. You know people. Assemble your tribe and do stuff. Read plays. Seek out new screenplays. Write something for yourself. Take your iPhone and record scene-work. Do something. Audition. Audition. Audition. (Did I mention that you should audition?) Submit for any project you are right for or interested in. Volunteer at a local intimate theatre.
Here's the bottom line: We only get one life. Do something with yours. Stay busy. Being an actor is not like any other job. If fact, it is not a job. It is a lifestyle. As an actor, you will get "acting jobs" over the course of your career, but you will always be an actor even when you are not actually getting paid to do it. It is not regular. It is not normal. You will get frustrated and crazy sometimes. You will have moments when you will doubt yourself. Then, you'll get cast in a play or get a role in a small film. You'll be in rehearsal and the little voice in the back of your heart will remind you why you going through all this. Then it will all come rushing back to you. 
I mean, if it was all about making money, you would have taken your mom's advice and become a [insert profession here] instead of moving in with the person you did "Our Town" with in acting school. 


Thursday, June 1, 2017

In Defense of "Hollywood"

Just a little rant for a sec. Don't worry, it's not political. Sometimes the littlest things do set me off, though.

In the wake of the whole Kathy Griffin BS and to all of you Hollywood Haters that pile on whenever someone like Kathy Griffin does something distasteful or a famous actor takes a stand at an awards show, this is for you. For those of you who complain about the "Hollywood swamp" or the "Hollywood elite" or how shallow we all are in Los Angeles, this is for you, too. To everyone who might talk smack or throw shade at "Hollywood" then go home and spend three hours in front of the television watching "Big Bang Theory" (filmed in Burbank) or "Scandal" (filmed in Los Angeles and Hollywood) - STFU.


If you don't live here or have never visited friends here, you know nothing about my city or my industry. I'm sure I speak for my fellow Angelenos when I invite you to come and visit for longer than a trip to Disneyland or a TMZ Tour of Stars Homes,  Is "Hollywood" generally liberal? Yes. Happily. But we have differing opinions just like you. Some conservative some progressive. Not everyone agrees with each other. We are a diverse group of people in a really interesting and beautiful city - unlike any other. No, we are NOT perfect, but neither are you. Can we be full of shit and impatient. Sure. Just like people in your community.

Believe it or not, we are also generous, philanthropic, creative and kind. We work hard. We are not just actors and directors and celebrities. We are truck drivers and teachers and make up artists and security guards and EMTs and lawyers and janitors and mechanics and office workers and writers and designers and food service staff. Think of any job that people you know do and there are people doing that same job in a studio or a production company. They are just like you only they live in a different place.

You know what? We are also mothers and fathers and friends and neighbors. We have families just like you. Our children go to schools. Our grandchildren play with dolls and ride bicycles. Sound familiar? Los Angeles, "Hollywood" to you, is full of of some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent people I have ever known. We all have nice friends who are funny and can laugh at themselves and also help a neighbor with a flat tire or broken water pipe. We volunteer for church functions and political marches. We vote. Some of us are meat eaters and some are vegans. AND we are one of the most diverse cities in the country. We are a city of many colors and every religion.

Now, come for a visit. Bring a bathing suit, a hat, and some sunscreen. Prepare to have the best pastrami in the country. Get ready for some great museums, exciting theatre, high-end or vintage shopping (if you care about that sort of thing), one of the largest urban parks in North America, and a great music scene. You'll love everything but our traffic. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Musings on Mother's Day 2017


Whenever my mom would get mad at me she would call me by my entire name. Wayne Caldwell Watkins. I'm sure many moms do this. My memmory of it reminds me of the episode of Star Trek. In "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is harangued with a stern, "Harcourt Fenton Mudd, where have you been? What have you been up to? Have you been drinking again, you miserable sot! You good-for-nothing...!"

I know that tone. I know the dread and distress that accompanies that full-name exclamation. Yet, I have only heard tell of mothers using this technique on sons. I cannot imagine a mother turning that on a girl child. I don't think it would be the same. I am not implying that mom's don't get mad at their female children, just that it must manifest itself in a much different verbal or emotional form. Let's face it, girl's names are different than boys. They are (I'm gonna catch heat for this, but) prettier. Elizabeth, Heather, Jennifer, Samantha, Dorothy...see, pretty. Wayne, Bob, John, Dave, Paul...not pretty. It would be pretty hard to retain one's anger when saying a few pretty names in a row. How would you even do that? That would be like trying to use a mean voice when saying "unicorn and mermaids," "rainbows and butterflies," "Julie Andrews." You just can't do it.

My beautiful daughter has two beautiful daughters. Both with very pretty names. For the life of me, I cannot image her ever being angry enough to use the "three-name-shout-out" on them. Granted, I'm sure my girl can get heated, but I've never seen it, personally. (That is the dad's prerogative, by the way, to only see in his daughter that which he wishes to see. Given the circumstances of our own personal story, this is even more the case.) Of course, I see perfection: temperance, patience, kindness, support, you know - the perfect parent, the perfect daughter.

Not surprisingly, moms are often placed on pedestals. Even through their brief moments of anger or frustration, they still rise to a level of near-sainthood. Dads, though, are never put on more than a step ladder. Dads are great, don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE being one and my son-in-law is a champ, but moms are...well...MOMS! Sure, sure, dads have these stereotypical traits that are, thankfully, not holding up through our societal evolution, but they still exist. Mom uses a cute little spoon to feed the toddler, Dad just shoves a piece of cheese into the teeny little pie hole. Mom reaches down and picks up the fallen banana slice, Dad kicks it under the sofa in order to retrieve it later when nobody is looking. Mom worries about her beautiful ballerina stepping on the seed pod from the sweetgum tree and Dad encourages the same hoofer to jump off the roof onto the trampoline. (No, Eric, this is not really directed at you.)

The pedestal on which I have placed my own daughter is very high as a result of her being A) my daughter, as well as B) a fabulous mother, and C) to quote the movie Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way." Yes, I know I am laying it on pretty thick, but if you knew my daughter you would totally get it. Certainly, it is a pedestal she shall never be able to climb down from should she even try. In addition to it's height, I have firmly glued her feet to the cornice. (Well, I think it's called the cornice. Whatever the very top part of a pedestal is called.)

Please understand, I do not say any of this to put any pressure on my beautiful child. She has her hands full just being a mom. Besides, I mean, that would be a pretty shitty thing to do on Mother's Day - heap insurmountable expectations on a person who already is super busy. I say these things because I have seen what good moms do. Including my own mother, of course, I have known some pretty terrific female parents. Moms of twins who, despite the frenetic chaos that two tykes must create, have remained relatively sane even before the kids leave for college. Perfectly amazing moms that have children who are dancers and actors and singers - often all three. These are the road warriors of parenthood, shuttling their talented offspring to ballet class, rehearsal, and voice lessons. While "soccer moms" may be a term not used as often as it once was, we all know what that means -- SUVs filled to the sunroof with smelly shoes, ball bags, and juice-pouch-swilling future Olympians. Then there are the moms who stay home with their gifted science student turning the kitchen into a bubbling workshop of goo and fireworks. And finally, the single moms, who by hook or by crook, raise the most fabulous human beings under the most trying of circumstances.

Moms the world over have sacrificed everything to raise their children. Their own dreams, their own passions, their own health. Moms compromise and juggle. They balance and negotiate. They put friendships on hold and forge new ones. They smile, they frown, they laugh, they cry, they play, they discipline. Sometimes all of those things in the course of a few minutes. So, it's no wonder that every once in a while they would let fly with a torrent of names in an effort to catch our eye or draw attention to the fact that we really shouldn't be pulling the dog by the tale.

My mother has been gone a couple of years now. As a result, I now use this holiday as an opportunity to give thanks for other people's moms that have graced my life. My mother-in-law whose name, appropriately, was Grace. My daughter's mom, Yvonne, who, with some help from her own mother, Violet, raised a wonder woman. Finally, that same wonder woman, Heather, who is the the mother of my two granddaughters, without whom I would no doubt have quickly put aside any celebration of Mother's Day at all.

Thanks for that, Heather. Happy Mother's Day.