The World According to Renee

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Review: No Easy Answers

In the wake of the Columbine massacre, everyone wanted answers. How could these two kids commit such a horrifying act? What was going through their minds? Could this have been prevented? Why did this happen?

Brooks Brown was friends with Columbine gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. He uses this 2002 memoir to dissect their lives together to find answers. Although titled No Easy Answers, Brown’s recollections clearly indicate warning signs and puzzle pieces that no one put together.

I read this memoir after reading that of Dylan Klebold’s mother Sue, who asserted in her 2016 memoir that had she known what Dylan was up to, she could have prevented the massacre. Brown makes no such claim- he feels that his friends were entwined in destiny due to their toxic friendship.

Brown endured his own troubles post-massacre. Eric Harris, undoubtedly a psychopath, had made tangible death threats online towards Brooks Brown yet the police had not taken them seriously. In the days and weeks after the massacre, Brown and his family were discredited by the police although they were later vindicated and shown to be telling the truth.

It’s not easy being the friend or family of a killer. You’re forever implicated no matter what you knew (or didn’t know) and the subject of hate.

Brooks Brown clearly wrote his memoir still grieving for his friends and those they killed. Unlike Sue Klebold’s effort, he makes no apologies for being their friend. He’s just as angry and hurt as everyone else.

Further viewing:
YouTube “Brooks Brown” for a range of his media interviews.
Recommending viewing: Brooks Brown’s interview with Tom Brokaw the day after the shootings.

Further Reading:
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

9/10 bookmarks

 

March 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast: Review

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

You know how it goes.

This is a live action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which holds the distinction of being the only feature length animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; after that, a separate category was introduced for Best Animated Feature. Will this remake be a contender for next year’s awards?

Emma Watson’s Belle is something of a feminist. She’s the only woman in the village who can read, and is an inventor as well. She’s smart, which the villagers think is a little odd. Apparently, Ms Watson refused to wear a corset for the film, and had creative input into some of her character. Belle’s dress is hitched up tomboy-style frequently, so this Belle is not the ultra feminine princess we’ve come to know. I feel there could have been more, maybe Belle telling Gaston not only was she not thinking about children, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend either, let alone husband. But, this is a provincial French village where girls were probably married at puberty, so I may be asking too much.

In fact, Disney seem to be thinking themselves quite progressive: they’ve confirmed LeFou is gay (although there is nothing explicit in the film, it’s rather like Smithers and Mr Burns in The Simpsons) and there are interracial relationships. However, they also used cross dressing as a punchline, which I subtracted a full mark for.

All the songs one has grown up with appear in the new film along with a few new ones and extra lyrics written, but not used, in the 1991 version. Be Our Guest was the highlight of the film. Emma Watson can sing, handling the singing & acting seamlessly. Josh Gad as LeFou almost stole his scenes; he’s certainly been the face of the film’s promotion during the past few weeks. Visually, the film is gorgeous with sweeping cinematography. Technically, I found the direction a little clunky in places. I’m probably the only person who noticed, though.

It’s yet another Disney live action remake we didn’t need. I didn’t love Cinderella but I did enjoy The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is not terrific, adds little to the beloved classic. I wish Hollywood would come up with some original ideas instead of milking classics for all they’re worth.

6 out of 10 popcorns, having lost a mark for using cross-dressing as a punchline.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Family

For some people, family is their tribe; it’s where they belong. For others, family are people who are physically and psychologically abusive. Some families are distant, some are close, some are families by name (and DNA) only.

My father’s family have always been close. There are nine siblings and twenty-something children between them. During my childhood, there were regular get-togethers, especially at Christmastime. I remember Christmases (or, more likely, Boxing Days) at my uncle’s house which were especially exciting because he had a pool. Long after my cousins had gone off to listen to music or watch a new video or play a computer game, I’d still be in the pool splashing around by myself.

Even now, my aunts and uncles still get together at least once a year, when they can. They’ve spread over the Eastern Seaboard now: I have an aunt who lives about three hours’ north of Brisbane and an uncle who lives in Hobart, but the majority still live in or around Sydney. (I’m now mentally trying to work out who lives where…)

My cousins are a different story. I have twenty-something cousins and trying to keep track of them all is quite a feat. All but three were able to attend my grandfather’s funeral last year. It’s always lovely to catch up with my cousins although I admit it’s through Facebook these days; trying to get us all in one place takes a lot of planning! I hope we’re all able to get together sometime in happier circumstances.

This past weekend, my aunts and uncles came together for their annual weekend on the NSW mid north coast. It was a lovely weekend, marking the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death. For the past few years, my grandfather had made the trip along with his children and much laughter was had. This year was only slightly sombre as we remembered our patriarch. My sister and I were the only grandchildren who went, but we’re both glad we did. It’s always lovely to see our family and catch up. There are no dark secrets in the family (that I know about, anyway….) and many memories.

One of my uncles and his son put together a slide show of Grandad’s life, which we watched over the weekend. Because so many photos were paused and memories discussed, it lasted well over two hours. I loved hearing those memories: from a camping trip in the Blue Mountains to a particular panel van to a game of ‘Which Grandchild is That?” In every photo, my grandfather is smiling; it’s how I remember him.

After the slides, another uncle showed some footage taken the last time Grandad was able to come. He spoke about his proposal to my grandmother. Yes, aunts and uncles, I saw you shed a few tears while watching it.

I am lucky. I’m lucky to have a family who are good people. I’m lucky to be able to attend a weekend like this and share memories. I’m lucky to have a family who still make time to see each other and connect. I’m lucky to have aunts and uncles who are so willing to share.

Thanks to everyone for a weekend not hastily forgotten.

March 9, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | | Leave a comment

What 5 years without caffeine has taught me

About ten years ago, I was diagnosed with PMDD: Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It means that every month before a period, I experience a full depressive episode, sometimes with suicidal thoughts. It was debilitating. As soon as my period started, the world became bright and sunny again.

Five years ago, I read several studies linking caffeine to depression and anxiety. My GP had also advised I shouldn’t have caffeine, so I gave it a try. I’ve never been a coffee drinker but I did drink a lot of Coke Zero and energy drinks. I already suspected I was affected by caffeine as I’d get shaky and jittery after an energy drink. Luckily, Pepsi has a delicious caffeine-free version with that same cola taste I loved, so the transition wasn’t too hard.

Where am I now? Mostly symptom free. There are still some months where I am a bit mental, but nothing compared to what I used to suffer. Sometimes I forget what I went through. I’ve got diaries and Facebook entries to remind me how bad I was.

What has caffeine taught me? I’ve learned it is a growing addiction. In the course of my job, I have met a lot of people who want extra shots of coffee to get that caffeine buzz. I met one man who was up to six shots per coffee because he was so used to caffeine that he needed that much to get the buzz.

I’ve learned caffeine is everywhere. I still eat some chocolate, but tend to avoid dark chocolate for the higher caffeine levels. Mountain Dew has added caffeine to its drinks. There are now lemonade brands with added caffeine. Some sauces/glazes have caffeine. “Superfruit” boosts in juices often contain caffeine.

People assume I’m weird. Well, maybe I am a bit weird… But usually they think I’m weird because I don’t have caffeine. I often work early mornings and during a yawn, I’ve been offered coffees and energy drinks to wake me up. No, thankyou. I’ve also learned people don’t want an explanation, so I just exaggerate and say caffeine makes me suicidal. No questions asked!

Caffeine causes a lot of problems. For nine months out of the last 5 years, I was pregnant. Caffeine is a no-no during pregnancy, but I actually researched why. It can cause miscarriage and bleeding problems. I wasn’t aware of any mood disorders directly attributed to caffeine during pregnancy though.

The most important thing is: I feel great. I’m not saying it’s a cure-all solution for everyone with depression, anxiety, PMDD or PMS, but it worked for me. And I’m a much happier person for it.

February 20, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | 1 Comment

Short Stories ’16

For those stalking me, or have long memories, you may remember I started a project last year in which I was writing a short story every month for a year with the hope of self-publishing well, now.

So where’s the tome?

It didn’t happen. I started uni again in March last year after a two year break. Working full time + toddler + uni = very little time and even less creative energy.

Writing is important to me, and I absolutely plan to finish my short stories. I just can’t give myself a time-frame to do so. If all goes well, I will finish my degree in November, which frees up some time (and energy!) By then, who knows what adventures lay ahead?

I do have a lot of things happening this year which I am very excited about. Unfortunately, writing short stories (or even a novel) probably won’t happen this year. I’m disappointed in myself for setting an unrealistic goal, but I am proud of myself for going back to uni to finish this degree. I’m excited for what the future holds and I’m optimistic for new opportunities which I am sure are right around the corner.

January 19, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Moana: A Review

Disney non-princesses sure have come a long way. No longer do Disney heroines need Princes to kiss them, they just need an animal sidekick, a loving mentor and a dude who can help kick some butt along the way (but she does most of the work).

Enter Moana, a tale of mortal heroine defeating gods to restore life to her dying world. Moana herself is Disney’s first Polynesian heroine, based on Polynesian legends and culture. The daughter of a Chief, she’s poised to take over official duties but cannot ignore the call of the ocean as she’s drawn to find the demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart to goddess Te Fiti in order to save her island (and the world).

Moana is everything modern audiences would want from a Disney film. Visually, it’s stunning, although I thought the people looked very plastic-y. Everything from the crystal clear waters to the fierce gods is beautifully animated and I read that Maui’s tattoos were hand-drawn. There’s a ton of Easter eggs and other film references hidden in the film so keep an eye out for those.

The story is based on Polynesian legend. I’m not usually one for stories of gods vs humans, but I was able to overlook it just this once. Moana and Maui meet some interesting characters along the way, including the materialistic Tamatoa. He is voiced by Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement with a David Bowie-esque song (which I am still humming).

This brings me to the music. Wow! I was flabbergasted at the lyrical atrocities committed by the frighteningly awful Frozen (I know- just shoot me) but Moana redeems my faith in Disney musicals. Not only are they lyrically on-track, but the music itself is toe tapping happiness. I came home and downloaded the soundtrack immediately; I know it’s gonna be on repeat in my car forever.

Moana is awesome. I can’t write enough good things about this film. It’s amazing. As the cliche goes, if you only see one Disney film this year, make it Moana.

Nine out of ten popcorns.

January 9, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Does Christmas have meaning if you’re not religious?

I’m not religious. I have been to a Christmas church service with my religious cousins, but all I remember is my cousin farting through it and whispering, “Oops!” every time his bottom let Fluffy off the chain.

We are brought up in a society where Christmas should mean something. Yes, there’s the religious connotations, the birth of the Saviour. There are pagan origins and dancing naked to celebrate the Solstice. Then there’s Santa, elves and Christmas trees with lots of presents on December 25th. There’s family coming together and lots of food.

What if you don’t have or don’t like your family? Is there more to Christmas than Santa?

From a young age, we’re inundated with the idea that Christmas means something. Miracles happen at Christmas. Families come together while forgiveness flows like strawberry champagne. For just one day, the world and all its inhabitants are perfect. Thanks, Hollywood.

Christmas is hard for a lot of people. They don’t have family. They don’t talk to their family. They’re forgotten. For various reasons, people often don’t choose to be alone on Christmas.

This year, I supported Share the Dignity. They held a drive ( #itsinthebag) to collect unwanted handbags filled with sanitary items and toiletries for women in need. These women are homeless or in refuges, fleeing from domestic violence. Often, they have to choose between their children being fed or buying sanitary items. These women resort to using wadded up newspaper to catch their period. Not only ineffective but very uncomfortable as well. These bags were distributed to women in need, with loads of stories about how each bag made someone feel special. Not only were the women grateful for the toiletries, some bags contained books, messages, luxuries or something special each woman could call their own.

The drive collected well over 100,000 bags. The stories and photos shared on their Facebook page told of women in tears because they were overwhelmed that someone else cared enough to put a bag together. It’s not just the gift, it’s that someone thought of them.

Yes, Christmas has meaning even if you’re not religious. It’s a time to think of others who aren’t as lucky as you. It’s about making everyone feel special when it seems everyone else is getting a present. It’s knowing someone, somewhere cares about you.

I have a toddler who has just turned two. We sorted through all her toys, choosing ones she’s never played with, and donated them to charity. Not only is there more room in her toy box, she’s learning to think of others and share. OK, that’s optimistic. She was really just concerned that a stuffed animal she’s never looked at was suddenly very interesting and deserved to be pulled out of the bag to be played with…

Merry Christmas!

December 29, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

**NO SPOILERS**

For those living under a rock, the latest (and, according to JK herself, the last) installment of Harry Potter’s adventures has hit both the shelves and the London stage.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child finds Harry a middle aged father of three teenagers. The play focuses on Albus, the middle child, who befriends Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius and together they screw things up pretty badly.

Yes, the book is a play. I personally have no problems with reading a play: I love Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Shakespeare’s works are still hugely popular and read in schools. Maybe a novel would have eliminated the issues I have with the story, but there’s definitely no problem with it being a script.

I do have two main issues with this: 1) The dialogue is utter rubbish and 2) It’s hardly an original story.

I’m of the understanding (and happy to be corrected) that JK Rowling provided the story while two experienced scriptwriters brought the story to life. Personally, I don’t think it’s  done well. The dialogue ranges from sappy to exposition with little substance in between. Apparently the play lasts over five hours! There are parts that could be cut; I don’t see the value of speeding through three years at Hogwarts nor repeating the same scene in its entirety three times. Your audience isn’t stupid, don’t talk down to them. As for exposition – your characters do not need to explain what’s going on.

I was also disappointed with the characters. Ron wasn’t himself, Harry was the most boring middle aged office worker one could imagine but at least Hermione was everything one would expect Hermione to be. Albus was a typical teenage kid and Scorpius was not what I expected at all. Draco has mellowed with age with none of the wit he once possessed.

As for the story… All I will say is all your most loved and most hated characters are back, even if it’s only a cameo. The story itself is predictable but moves along at a good pace once you’re past the initial fast forwarding of Albus’ first three years at Hogwarts. Obviously in a novel, there’s time to extricate the story and set the scene, but still… it’s a five hour play which doesn’t need to be that long. Films have proven you can still have good story representation in under three hours…

Overall, I didn’t love it. Some of my friends say it was a wild ride from start to finish but I humbly disagree. I was severely disappointed with the story and the characters were not as rounded as I’d hoped.

Sadly, only six out of ten bookmarks.

August 4, 2016 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Allegedly – A Review

Allegedly by Sarah Monahan

You may remember Sarah Monahan as Jenny Kelly, the adorable youngest child of the Kelly family in Australia’s most successful sitcom, Hey Dad…!

You may also remember she triggered an investigation into Robert Hughes after allegations of sexual molestation.

If you’re looking for gory details, you won’t find them here. What you will find is an interesting story of a former child actor, her life after TV and the gruelling years between the initial allegations and the day he was found guilty. Even without the gory details, this is still worth a read although I felt it was celebrity porn: Where did it all go wrong?

Sarah has managed to move on from her early years, and the years between Hey Dad…! and her allegations are filled with interesting times, such as her strained relationship with her mother and travels to the US, where she met her husband and now resides.

If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, you may find this a trigger for anxiety, or you may find strength and courage. If you’re reading it for gory details, give it a miss. But if you’re reading it for another side of former child stars, it’s worth it. However, I will warn you that it is terribly edited and you may find yourself scratching out words with a red pen.

Three out of five bookmarks.

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March

Yikes! Where did March go?

Yes, I’m a little behind in this month’s story. In fact, I only started it today despite thinking about it all last month.

This story started out differently. It was to tell the story of Stepsi and four friends with a twist at the end (I love twists). Instead, it evolved into exploring the relationship between Stepsi and her mother, also with a twist at the end.

Stepsi was originally a young woman around twenty, but she’s now six years old. She sees and communicates with ghosts, and her mother doesn’t believe her. Six is far too old to be making up stories about people who don’t exist. (Personally, I think this means Stepsi is going to grow up to be a writer…)

Stepsi’s name has been in my head for a while. I’m not sure where it came from but the seeds of it probably came from mishearing a word, or possibly from early ads for this season of MKR in which Hazel and Lisa, stepmother and stepdaughter, were referred to as Stepsies. Either way, Stepsi is unique.

Kids’ imaginations often run wild and for some reason, adults tend to quash them. Whether Stepsi is actually seeing ghosts or not, the issue is her mother, who fights to normalise her daughter. In my mind, this “normalisation” is the issue, not the supernatural. What is normal? Why are we quashing imaginations? Who decided that kids need to conform to the rigidity of adult life? What’s wrong with imagination? For that matter, what’s so wrong about talking to the dead?

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , | Leave a comment