Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art

The chrome escalator wound up three floors. On the third floor, Tinseltown-inspired red carpet flowed forward, toward the hallway of smaller theaters. Life-size posters of the latest blockbusters and box-office bombs lined the walls: “Toy Story 4,” “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” “Men in Black International.”

Stanton and I had come to see “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Quentin Tarantino’s newest film. The last time we had seen a movie in a movie theater together was—shake your head if you must, friends—more than four years ago. Little kids, work, Saturday-morning soccer games, visits with family and friends…all good things, but movie-theater date night had tumbled toward the bottom of our list of priorities, right there with meticulous personal grooming. 😉

I shared all this with the bespectacled young woman at the ticket counter. “The next time we’re here, it will probably be four years later,” I added. She smiled politely, and slid our two admission tickets across the counter.

“You can’t help yourself, can you?” Stanton said, as we walked away hand in hand. The pervasive, ultra-buttery scent of movie-theater popcorn seemed to fall into step with us.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers,” I agreed. Then I gasped. “Maybe a title for a blog post?”

“Mel, no.” Stanton gestured around—just a regular day in our life. “This is not a blog post.”

Instantly, we looked at each other, eyes wide. Stanton smiled, sighed. “OK, that’s a good title.”

And it was, until Grace and Anna told me they liked “Once Upon a Time: On Life/Art” better.

“I can’t help telling stories to strangers…”

I try to update this, my website, with new writing (in the form of blog posts) at least twice a month. I’m always working on longer pieces behind the scenes…er, screen. These pieces take more time, though: fiction such as short stories, nonfiction like corporate press releases. I want to keep my site as fresh as possible, which Stanton knows. Thus, he knows that I often “think in blog posts.” What a cool quote, cool launching pad for my next post.

I don’t want to exploit my life for my art. It’s a common dilemma among writers, musicians and artists of all kinds. Personal experiences spark creative turns in our professional work. An aha moment hits us, and we try to create something from it without debauching the beauty of our real world.

Of course, truth is stranger than fiction. No doubt. The conscientious writers among us, however, recognize that some stories aren’t ours to tell, no matter how much we camouflage the identifying details of our characters. (We also balk at starting family feuds, or being banished from friends’ speed dials.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many bestselling plots and million-dollar lyrics never saw the light of day (or pages of The New York Times Book Review or Billboard Hot 100).

There’s art, and there’s life.

Then there’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

clapper-board-1019607_1920

I’m not a film critic, so I won’t share an amateur-hour movie review here. All I’ll say is wow. Talk about conflating life and art—this quasi-historical, pop-culture fairy tale centers on Sharon Tate and the Manson Family murders, with a twist…actually, several twists. Totally engaging plot, complicated yet relatable characters, and white-hot, feels-like-L.A. lighting.

And oh, yes…Brad Pitt. Wow again. Wow for both churning out a super-cool yet charming performance and—sigh—still looking mighty fine at age 55.

For our first Valentine’s Day together, back in college, Stanton gave me a “Fight Club” poster featuring Mr. Pitt in all his shirtless, prime-of-life glory—pretty super-cool and charming of Mr. Leddy himself, I’d thought. My college boyfriend turned standing Friday-night date knew I was a fan of the two-time Sexiest Man Alive, as well as “Fight Club.” (I’m not a rom-com girl, which often surprises people. Give me David Fincher, QT, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson any day…although, like everyone else, I do enjoy Nancy Meyers features for the interior design inspirations.)

Coincidentally, this past weekend I stumbled upon an old photo album from college. And there, in the album, was a picture of my very first, freshman-year dorm room. And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

That was 17 years ago, and it felt like yesterday.

Seventeen years. How did that happen?

And there, in that picture, was the “Fight Club” poster on the wall.

I believe very strongly in living in the present, making the most of the here and now. From time to time, though, I can be sentimental. I can have a moment of nostalgia.

I had a moment then, friends.

I flipped through a few more pictures. Smiled at the late-teen/early-20s faces of some wonderful college friends, who grew up to become wonderful life friends.

There was another picture, of myself with a good friend who passed away much too soon. He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

This person actually introduced Stanton to me, and meant a lot to us both individually and as a couple.

I held the picture out to Stanton. He looked, and gave me a little smile. Half happy (for the memory) and half sad (because we’d never again have more than that).

“We were all so young and happy,” I said.

“Yes.”

He had his arm around me, and we were both laughing, the carefree moment freeze-framed forever.

The girls and I were at our town library three days in a row this week. It just kind of happened; there was no grand plan. One day, we returned an overdue DVD; another, we stopped by after playing at a nearby park (and stumbled upon an outdoor concert on the green, complete with complimentary popcorn and temporary tattoos for the kids).

The girls marveled at our good luck. We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The guitarist was strumming the chords to “Edelweiss,” from the classic motion picture “The Sound of Music,” and singing along, the lyrics coasting across the library green: “Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever…”

I said hello to a librarian I know, and mentioned that we often ended up at the library.

“It’s not a bad place to be,” she replied with a smile.

I smiled back. “Totally agree.” (I knew I’d put it in a blog post.)

Where do we end up? What are we doing? How does it all happen?

These can be hard questions, but at least one answer is easy: It all happens fast.

We are lucky, I agreed. And not just for the tattoos and popcorn and music.

The girls go back to school after Labor Day. “Summer went fast,” Grace noted. “I remember the first day of summer vacation.”

Tell me about it, girl. I mean…I remember college. I remember my “Fight Club” poster; I remember 17 years ago.

Once upon a time, we were all so young and happy.

I’ve had some dark days, but overall, I am happy. And incredibly grateful. Not as young as I used to be, though.

I wrote much of this post freehand, old-school in a notebook with a pen, at a park this week, while the girls were playing. It was a picture-perfect summer day, and I did snap some memories. As I did, a quote crossed my mind, and it beautifully sums up the message I’d like to share today:

“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” (Gerard Way)

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

When You Have the Choice to Laugh or Cry

Summer is freeze pops, sunscreen and swimming. Lots and lots of swimming.

Grace, Anna and I were at the pool. My older daughter was swimming—actually swimming. My younger daughter, meanwhile, was alternating between adjusting her goggles, blowing bubbles and throwing a plastic ring for Grace to “fetch”—the myriad activities that little kids engage in when they’re in the water. Then Anna grabbed my arms and began bouncing up and down on my thighs.

“Mom!” Up and down, up and down. “You’re a trampoline!”

“No.” It was one of those moments when you could laugh or cry—it could go either way, equally. “I’m not.” Moms everywhere understand: I’m a person. A person.

Not long after, Anna overheard me tell another mom that I appreciated that my new swimsuit had adjustable straps. Minutes later, I felt the metal hooks on the adjustable straps zoom down.

“Anna!” I stopped my upper body from tumbling out of my swimsuit, as Anna continued to tug on the hooks. “Stop, honey.”

“But Mom, you have adjustable straps.” Anna smiled. “They’re fun.”

Laugh or cry…laugh or cry.

Speaking of my new swimsuit: I ordered it online. When it arrived in the mail, and I tried it on…well, let’s just say I wasn’t #twinning with the model from the website. I peered in the mirror.

Huh.

“Ooh, you got a new bathing suit, Mom!” As always, the girls were nearby.

“Mm-hmm. What do you think, girls?”

There was a pause.

“It’s OK if you don’t like it,” I assured them.

“I like the bathing suit,” one daughter (I won’t say who) said. “But I think it’s for someone who isn’t a little fat.”

Ouch.

“Yeah,” the other daughter (also anonymous in this story) agreed. “It’s just that, you look like you have a baby in your belly.”

Laugh or cry, laugh or cry…

“But you don’t! We know you don’t, Mom. You just look like that.”

I mean, whew. I just look pregnant in my new swimsuit.

“Mom.” Concerned, Grace hugged me. “I love you.”

Anna threw her arms around both of us. “I love you too, Mom. And I love your big, soft belly.”

We group hugged.

swim-ring-84625_1920

The truth is—actually, there are two truths here. The first is, I do have belly fat. I gave birth to two children, am getting older and do zero (and I do mean zero) lower-ab exercises.

Stanton and I also just got into “The Wire” (15+ years later), and I’ve been spending many an evening beside him on our couch, engrossed in the show and munching on a bowl of raw Brazil nuts.

Just kidding, friends. You know I’ve got Cheetos or Doritos in that bowl.

😉

So I accept my body, as is. Could it be toned? Yes. Should I curb my late-night junk-food habit? Definitely…sometime soon.

Am I, overall, healthy? And happy? Thankfully, the answer to both those questions is also “yes.”

The second truth is, I’m glad my daughters were honest with me. Children usually are honest—brutally honest, one might say. Ask any parent, aunt, uncle, teacher, babysitter, and they’d probably all agree: honest, to a fault.

As we grow up, we learn to temper our honesty with tact, diplomacy. I’ve worked in communications for years now, and I understand why finesse matters, in both professional and personal relationships. I get it.

I get it, and after our group hug, I told the girls they can always be honest with me. Even if they think the truth might hurt my feelings. I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom. I want them to know they can tell me anything, talk with me about anything.

They do now. And I hope they always do.

I’d rather my daughters not be diplomats with me. I’m their mom.

Stanton, the girls and I recently went to the beach. All four of us had been looking forward to our family vacation, but Grace and Anna especially. And we did have a wonderful time—jumping waves, building sand castles, visiting a nature center on a rainy day.

Our last day there, I was swimming in the deep-blue water of Long Island Sound. Stanton and the girls were on the beach. It was late morning in Madison, Conn., and we were some of just the handful of tourists and locals there. The water glided over my shoulders, and when I looked ahead, I could see for miles—the open sea, endless. Since time began, human beings have been drawn to water.

“What was your favorite part of our vacation?” I asked the girls, once I came ashore.

Grace and Anna had been digging in the sand. Grace paused, considered the question. “Breakfast,” she decided.

I grabbed a towel. “Breakfast?”

“I loved breakfast at the hotel,” Grace said. “Especially the waffles.”

Stanton and I looked at each other. “Honey, we make waffles at home. What about the beach, the sand castles…”

Grace shook her head. No, definitely the hotel waffles. “That was my favorite part.”

“Me too,” Anna seconded.

Well, what do you know—the hotel waffles. (Laugh or cry?) “That’s great, girls.”

“That was my favorite part.”

Every blue moon, Stanton and I get a chance to go on a date, just the two of us. So we were out, sharing Irish nachos, drinking Shiner Bock draft (him) and red sangria (me). We’ve been each other’s date for 17 years now, and still enjoy each other’s company, which I’m deeply grateful for.

That being said…17 years is a haul. People know each other well by that point. So when, soon after our entrées arrived, Stanton said he was full and ready to head out whenever I was…I knew he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“Honey.” I narrowed my eyes at him. “You want to take off your pants, right?” (This is all G-rated, friends: I promise.) When my better half comes home at the end of the day, he immediately changes out of his dress pants into a pair of athletic shorts.

Stanton smiled. “Right.”

“Do you ever even wash those shorts?” I wondered.

“That’s the wrong question.”

I nodded, understanding. “How often do you wash them?”

Stanton nodded back. “Bingo.”

Sigh. Not often.

Laugh or cry?

We both laughed.

Life is short. Despite its imperfections, life is beautiful too. The people we get to share it with are gifts.

That’s why, when I have the choice to laugh or cry…all things considered, I usually lean toward laughter.

“I just got one last thing: I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.” —Jim Valvano, 1993 ESPY speech

Photo credit: Pixabay

+

Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.