Catholics in Hollywood

Last night, through a serendipitous reconnection with an old colleague, I was able to nab a ticket to a movie premiere.

Before I get into that, though, I’d like to offer a disclaimer of sorts. I rarely discuss politics or religion on this blog. These are topics that inevitably alienate people. However, I’d be lying if I said that my faith doesn’t inspire my creative work. Being Catholic is part of my identity, and as we know, the best pieces of art are ones that come from that innermost energy. But- back to last night.

The Sheen Center, a Catholic-fueled arts and culture center in the heart of NYC, was lucky enough to host the first full screening of The Star. This is a new animated picture that essentially tells the story of the 1st Christmas from the perspective of the animals. It is directed by Timothy Reckart, will be released in cinemas this November, and features an all-star roster of voice actors.

I made my way to the Sheen Center (it’s located on Bleecker Street) from Midtown Manhattan, arriving at about 6:15pm. As I waited in the lobby for the house to open, tea in hand, I noticed a nun on her smartphone. Welcome to 21-century Catholicism, folks. This event was invite-only, and yet the spread of people in attendance was remarkably diverse…it spanned many ages, races, and laypeople/clergy.

Once inside the theatre, I marveled at how nice the Sheen Center building was. It was polished, clean, and managed to be both classical and modern in its architecture. Behind the house- in another lobby- they had setup a little red carpet in front of a giant poster for The Star

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…so, of course, I couldn’t resist posing for a photo. This was also where I met Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. He was being swarmed, but the ten or so words I managed to say to him were still cool. He also gave some opening remarks before the film began.

The Star itself was really cute, and you could tell that everyone involved had a lot of heart. I think it will be a great tool for teaching this seminal story of faith to kids. It was nice that the filmmakers strove to be as Biblically accurate as possible while focusing on the animals’ journeys. I’ll admit it- I got a little misty-eyed at the end.

When the movie was over, its director (Oscar nominee Tim Reckart) was interviewed onstage. He discussed his experiences in Hollywood, his own faith, and how both of these things led to The Star‘s creation. I knew I wanted to talk to Mr. Reckart, too, so I found him in the crowd before I left. I said that I was a playwright, thanking him for making showbiz a little safer for Christian artists.

He then graciously agreed to autograph my postcard featuring the film’s artwork. So now I can say that I own a piece of Hollywood memorabilia. In a nutshell, my 1st experience at a Sheen Center event was certainly one that left me feeling good. I got to meet like-minded people, enjoy a festive film, and learn more about my craft as well as my faith. I hope the Sheen Center has a long and fruitful life as a part of NYC’s cultural fabric. After all, in these troubled times, we need places like that to shine a little light.

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Goodbye, Miss Kathleen: Reflection on a Teacher

“Goodbye Miss Kathleen,

From the young girl in the 22nd row

Who sees you as something more than what we know,

More than just our sophomore hero.”

Knowing the subject of this post in high school taught me some important lessons…and not just the ones I got from her classroom.

Kathleen Nolan taught a few religious studies courses at St. Joseph Hill Academy high school. She was a soft-spoken woman, probably in her sixties, with short mouse-brown hair and spectacles. She was rarely seen not wearing a sweater-and-long-skirt ensemble. This God-fearing educator was also fighting for social justice…as well as a long battle with cancer.

It was she who first told me to “keep things in perspective.” She was also one of the select people who found amusement (rather than annoyance) in my histrionics. At the innocent age of 15, I admired Ms. Nolan’s strength and tact, and yet her existence also confused me greatly. I couldn’t wrap my head around why such a gentle person had to suffer in such a manner. I remember crying over her more than once. Her cancer ultimately went into remission, but she still retired the following year.

Through my fleeting experience here, I learned that bad things would happen to good people. But I also figured out that if we spread charity and decency…and maintain optimism…happiness is still a very tangible goal.

I’ve sadly come to accept that I will never see Ms. Nolan again, at least not in this lifetime. I guess it’s often impossible for teachers to know whether or not they made a difference in their students’ lives. I think everyone fails to recognize just how many people drift in and out of his or her life; that doesn’t diminish their significance, though.

So…do as Ms. Nolan did…and be good to others.

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Pop Culture Pondering: Four Reasons Why Kids Should Play Neopets

Okay, this week’s entry might seem a little random. In fact, you may have read the title of this post and thought Amanda had finally cracked her nut. But I insist, hear me out on this one.

Neopets is the original MMORPG for virtual pets, but it is so much more. It’s a whole galaxy to explore. It’s a world of people from across the Earth chatting like they’re best friends. And, of course, it is cute pixel critters that you get to bond with. The company was started by two British folks just before the new millennium. Today, it has millions of users, many of whom have been part of the site for years. I myself began my Neopets adventure when I was just 9 years old. (I’ll be 24 in two weeks.)

And while, yes, the game is highly addictive…it also taught my younger self some great skills. Here are just a few of them, and why I think it is actually beneficial for parents to setup a Neopets account for their children.

queenfyoraHTML. I am not kidding; playing Neopets taught me HTML coding. You see, in order to customize the various pages on your account, you must do all the coding yourself. Oh sure, the site gives you many templates that you can copy and paste to create layouts. But looking at these codes, over time, enabled me to learn which ones triggered such-and-such on the Internet. I still use the foundation from this to date!

kacheekswimFinancial responsibility. Not only does the Neo-world have its own stock market system, you also learn basic money management principles. See, in order to get cool things for your pets and virtual life, you need to save up Neopoints (NP). It was here that I learned how to “haggle” prices, since you can barter with the online shopkeepers to get better deals on stuff. You’ll even open your own store for other users to visit and get a sense of how supply-and-demand works.

illusendollMotor skills. One of the ways you can earn NP is by playing an endless variety of Flash games, for free! These range from arcade-style games to brain-twisting puzzles. Now, I’m not saying that you should let your tykes spend hours trying to beat their high score. But studies have shown that limited video gaming can strengthen cognitive processing and, particularly, hand-eye coordination.

kioskwockySocialization. As I said earlier, Neo-folks have formed a bustling community. Although users cannot write on the message boards until their 13th birthday, they become an invaluable resource. The Neopets staff strictly monitors their forums to ensure that they are safe for everybody. So for someone like me who had trouble interacting in the real world…the online community became a haven. Here, I could see which social protocols worked and which did not.

(Source: Neopets)

Do you love him, Loretta?

“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart.”

Dearest Anonymous…we had a good talk last night, I think. It always feels good when you get things out on the table, because then you can work on fixing them. Step by step.

Of course, in our case, that will take quite some time.

It’s easy to fall in love with love. It makes your brain run on all cylinders. It makes your heart race in the best way. You get this stupid grin on your face for no discernible reason. And you feel at peace with your world. In my humble opinion, love is the most important driving force of the human spirit. It’s what keeps us together as a species. When channeled, it can move mountains.

Unfortunately, no matter how powerful love is, sometimes it gets misdirected. When that happens, you get what Nicolas Cage describes in the above quote from one of my favorite movies. Or you get what’s transpired between you and me over the past year.

Neither of us may have regrets, but I will still maintain that leaving me was a mistake on your part. Maybe that’s at the core of why I seem to get pulled into your gravitational field over and over. Because I don’t believe I got a fair chance to prove that I could be what you needed.

Near the beginning of Moonstruck, Olympia Dukakis asks Cher if she loves her fiancee. When Cher replies “No,” Olympia says that this is a good thing: “When you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can.” Well…I don’t think you are quite that sadistic! But, you will lie in the bed you made.

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For now, Anonymous, have a lovely summer, good luck with your new gig, and may we both find the happiness we deserve. See you on the flip side.

Daily Prompt: Shine!!

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Feinstein’s/54 Below, Broadway’s Supper Club, presents Amanda DeLalla in “Alone in the Woods,” marking a 54 Below debut.

You’ve seen Sondheim’s masterpiece performed by a cast of 18 and a cast of 10…now see it attempted by a cast of one. Featuring an abridged version of the book and score, arranged by DeLalla herself, the fairytales won’t be the only stories getting told.

12% of the proceeds from this event will benefit an autism-based charity.

“As an artist with Asperger’s syndrome, I know that navigating this world- much less being creative in it- is a trip to the woods all on its own!” Along with special guests, see Into the Woods in a new light and contribute to the cause of autism acceptance. The evening will be musically directed by Cristina Dinella.

Amanda DeLalla in “Alone in the Woods” plays Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on February 7th. There is a $25-$35 cover charge and $25 food and beverage minimum. Tickets and information are available here. Tickets on the day of performance after 4pm are only available by calling 646-476-3551.

“Shine” on, all you crazy diamonds!

Critically Thinking- How Amelie Poulain and Sheldon Cooper Fluster Me

Let’s get something straight here: I think the characters of Amelie and Sheldon are pretty dope, if you’ll pardon the slang, for various reasons.

But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to my raindrop of rage.

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Amelie Poulain and Sheldon Cooper- from the film Amelie and TV show The Big Bang Theory respectively- are two of the most beloved pop culture icons from the last decade or so. They have permeated into the hearts of Americans, inspired many Internet memes, and are instantly recognizable thanks to their great portrayals by Audrey Tautou and Jim Parsons. What is the essence of these two characters? It is, simply, the fact that they see the world very differently than most folks do. And herein lies the irony.

As I’ve mentioned several times on my blog, I am on the autism spectrum and tend to filter the world through a rather unique lens, to say the least. What others see isn’t always what I’m experiencing. I don’t mind it…in fact, I like it most of the time. Unfortunately, I’ve had numerous encounters where other people did not feel so positively. They lost their patience, thought I was weird, or simply could not understand my perspective. Now if I could line up each of those folks at this moment in time, I might ask what they think of Amelie or Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. And I’m willing to guess that a lot of them have gotten a fair deal of joy out of these two.

Why? Because their quality of seeing the world very differently…is endearing. It’s special. It makes Mlle Poulain and Mr. Cooper who they are. “How come,” I would then ask, “you couldn’t see me as such?” This unanswerable question is why I am flustered.

Amelie and Sheldon are part of the movement to make quirky the new cool. And I’m thankful for that. Yet at the same time, I feel somewhat resentful (of fictional characters, no less) that the differences making them stand out…are the very things for which I, and others like me, get grief.

Daily Prompt: Vigor (or, Sailing Away)

This weekend, I saw the newest Disney film Moana. I thought it was very good in its own right, but one part of it in particular stuck with me.

In the first quarter of the story, our vigorous heroine sings a song called “How Far I’ll Go.” It is soon followed by a reprise containing the following lyric: “There’s a line where the sky meets the sea and it calls me. I’m on my own, to worlds unknown.” It was already an emotional scene, but for me, there was a deeper meaning.

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Midway through this year, every room of my mind was filled with you. Maybe I fell too hard, too fast. That’s certainly not unheard of in my life.

And with you, it was even worse because my heart raced from the very first time I saw you. Maybe it needs more barriers, a thicker shell. Who knows? Certainly when you left me, told me you could not love me despite your best efforts…I wish it were made of stone. Now some days what transpired doesn’t affect me at all- at other times, it bothers me a whole lot. It didn’t have to happen this way.

As I saw Moana sail away from her home, alone, to the next chapter of her life, the metaphor was not lost on me. For nearly half a year, you were like home. I felt safe there, felt cared for. But evidently, that’s not where I was meant to stay. Moana, too, was not destined to remain on the island where she was raised.

Don’t get me wrong- I made mistakes as well. But that is, if you’ll excuse the pun, water under the bridge now. Today I board my boat. Today I press onward, if alone. I’ll turn my head, briefly, and see you standing on the seashore. Even then, after all this, I’ll probably smile at you as I sail away.

“All the time wondering where I need to be is behind me…”

Snags, Sondheim, and the Senate

Election Day is next week…

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Pretty much…

All joking aside, I know it’s not like me to post again so soon, especially after an entry as thorough as that Lincoln Center Manual. But hey, I’m anxious and wanna blow off some steam. Verbally. I could do worse.

Firstly, my film-reviewing challenge has hit a snag. Two of the movies I had planned to watch were on my DVR, which got mysteriously wiped out last month. So- I will try to come up with replacements. Unless somebody wants to make a suggestion?

I haven’t started any of my Christmas shopping yet. Which is crazy, since November just started, but hey it’s November! Where did this year go? It was a…strange one, to say the least. Stuff happened that I never thought could, or would, ever. For better and for worse. But I am particularly excited for the holidays this year. I’m not sure why, but I have a hunch that the last two months of 2016 will be extra-festive. This, in turn, should indicate that 2017 will start on a high note…right?!

Speaking of which, remember when I mentioned that I had a surprise? One that involved Sondheim and a one-woman show. Well, guess what, readers…that woman is me! (Follies pun not intended.) This February, I will be performing my solo version of Into the Woods at Feinstein’s/54 Below for autism advocacy. Tickets are on sale NOW, and I can promise more details as the date approaches!

Daily Prompt: Argument (or, accidental Dear Journal…)

I am, by nature, not a confrontational person. I never talk about politics or religion in public forums (and that includes social media). Why? Well, part of it is because my group of friends is so polarized that anything I say will upset half of them. I like to refer to my stance as “Switzerland.” The only thing I do reveal on a regular basis is my belief in God. But my lips are wholly sealed.

The other half of it is that I simply hate to argue. I don’t like discord; it makes me anxious and upset. I wish everyone could just live harmoniously. Because I know it can be done, if only we all recognized our common humanity. We all, at our cores, want the same things. Does this train of thought make me naive? I don’t know. Maybe. But I prefer to believe that it is a special part of my personality- it’s just another way I filter the world. Unfortunately, such a lens (ironically) sometimes ends up creating strain between my family members and me. They have a very different outlook on things. Of course we fight about it, and of course it’s to no avail. I don’t let it bother me anymore.

On a lighter note, I am really looking forward to Lady Gaga’s new album, Joanne. What I’ve heard from it so far is already better than 3/4 of Artpop. Do you know where this new title comes from? It’s her real name! Gaga has said that this new CD will represent a turning point for her; she’s stripping down the theatrics and gaudiness in favor of a truer self. At least, that’s what I got from her statement. In my opinion, it’s beautiful, and something I occasionally need to be reminded of. Particularly during those moments of argument. As Shakespeare wrote: “To thine own self be true.”

I leave you with this little factoid, my dear readers…the “Azura dance” songs from Fire Emblem Fates have been stuck in my head. Thanks a lot, Nintendo.

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Daily Prompt: Recharge (or, Because I Have Writer’s Block and Why Not?)

“I’m no princess. I have no carriage. I do not even know if that beautiful slipper would fit. But if it does, will you take me as I am? An honest country girl who loves you?”

Hi friends. Sorry I’ve been scarce. It’s been a stressful couple of weeks, and as you may know, I don’t always cope well with external stressors. Le sigh. But, I’m feeling better, and I am going to get stronger. And then, as the above quote from Cinderella implies, I’ll be able to ask it of someone…secure enough in my own skin…

I suppose you could say I am recharging my own batteries at the moment. I just need to believe that after it’s all said and done, I will be brought closer to where I wanna be, not further away. I do that by listening to relevant music (Elton John and Rachel Platten, anyone?), drinking lots of tea, and (of course) writing. In fact, I just sent one of my plays to a professional playwright for some feedback. And he actually had good things to say about it! He had some criticism, naturally, but overall it was a positively-spun evaluation. Thank goodness. Now if only I could determine how to apply his suggestions without a total revamp of my story…

Have you ever noticed that I use a lot of ellipses when I write…? I have.

Anyway, to make up, I will be penning a second entry this week. It’s going to be a review of something fun! Stay tuned- and thanks for sticking around.

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