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Category Archives: Enjoyable

“Aretha has sung”: What a diva taught me about duty and standing your ground

by SweetMidlife

Leslie here! I have always been fascinated with the idea of niceness, especially when it comes to women. I’ve always suspected that a woman is considered “nice” the more she’s willing to let other people have their way, to accommodate what others want in exchange for downplaying her own needs, even if they are reasonable, so that everyone else is happy. And what’s more, she’s gracious about it and never lets on that she’s annoyed, even though she begins to wonder – If I’m the only one who ever has to step aside, to accommodate, aren’t the rest of you NOT being nice? And if you can do that and sleep at night, then why don’t I get to?

I was reminded of that weird line between nice and pushover when an actor friend of mine told me an awesome story a friend in the business had passed on about Aretha Franklin. She, of course, is known as many things – as the Queen of Soul. As a diva. As an innovator and vocal genius. As a legend, as well as someone who doesn’t always use enough fabric when she’s dressing herself. But a legend nonetheless.

What Aretha Franklin has never been known as is a pushover. More than likely, she seems like she’d be the one doing the pushing. The story my friend told me might be interpreted by some as just typical divagasms, as the entitled behavior of a long-coddled celebrity who wants things the way she wants them, with no compromise.

But to me, what The Queen did in this story was perfectly reasonable, the behavior of a professional who had earned, both in that moment and in her career, a certain leeway. And there weren’t even any minion beaten in the story, so…Team Aretha.

Here’s what I was told – Back in 1990, The Queen improbably recorded a promotional song for “Wheel of Fortune” about it being “America’s Game.” It was odd, but it was catchy, and because it was Aretha it sounded great. Apparently, my friend’s buddy was there in the recording studio where the jingle was recorded, and the mood was, at first, nervous, because of the expected divagasms. But Aretha immediately surprised and put everyone at ease with her friendliness and sweetness, shaking the hand of even the most humble technician. She apparently spoke to the producer, politely asking whether the booth was set to record. This was confirmed, so she went into the booth and apparently blew everyone away. It was brilliance. It was amazement. It was as transcendent as a song that name-checks Pat and Vanna could possibly be.

As soon as she was done and the adulation died down, the producer said something like “Hey, that was great! Fantastic! Now, let’s get another one in the can.”

The screech may not have been audible, but apparently it was felt immediately. Ru-roh Rorge.

“Aretha,” the Queen intoned, in the most insistently, regal manner possible, “has sung.”


“But wait!” the producer stammered. “We want to get another one to…

“You said it recorded, right?” The Queen asked, as, I imagine, the musicians and studio staff were quietly making their way to a safe space to hide under a sound board.

“Yes, but…”

Aretha has sung,” she said again. And then, without another word, The Queen gathered her stuff and walked out. And then got into a car. And left the premises. She did not ask for permission. She didn’t hem and haw. She did what she agreed to do, which was to perform a game show jingle, made sure that the perfect take was on record, and then went home. She was not required to jump through hoops, or to do 87 takes, or to do any more than she agreed to do.

AND I WANT TO BE HER. How many times have you gone out of your way more than you had either agreed to or than you should, just because you don’t want the hassle of people not liking you? How many committees have you joined, Mary Kay parties have you attended, boxes of people’s children’s stuff have you bought, because you want to be nice?

And even though you didn’t have to, or didn’t want to, you did it anyway, because you kinda get the feeling, even if you don’t want to think about it, that the people asking would not like it – or maybe not like you as much – if you said no. Even though “no” is your right – my pastor once told me that it is sometimes godly to say no, because stretching yourself thin doesn’t do you any good, and it ups the chance that you’ll do a bad job anyway.

This is not about avoiding work, but about negating the pressure to do more than we have to, just to save someone else some trouble, or that people “like” us. And it’s about your right not to be guilted or bullied into doing something you don’t want to just so people will think you’re nice. I have no problem going out of my way if I think it is necessary, or can do the job better. That’s often how you become good at your job. I just don’t want to be looked down on because I don’t back down. I want to be judged by the work I do, not how many times I let myself be bullied. How is that “nice?”

Aretha Franklin has apparently done a lot of things in her life to get people to think that she is a diva, in the ego-centric, blowhard, imperious sense. Then again, she is also a diva, in the classic sense – a singer who has earned her way to the top of her craft through her talent, experience and hard-won stature. She has earned the right to be judged on the strength of her talent, and to not worry about what people think of her, at least inasmuch as it gets her to do something she doesn’t want to do. Maybe she wasn’t gracious about her insistence. But she was cool in the beginning. She did her job and then she went home. Aretha had sung. Sung well. Y’all should be happy. Aretha Franklin sang you a song. Cut, print, tell Vanna and buy a vowel. Or don’t. Not my business. I’m already gone.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the next time we’re being “nicely” urged to bite off more of our fair share of work or obligation for no reason other than it saves someone else some work, the next time we’re being casually bullied into something that doesn’t benefit us except for the supposed regard of the person who’s already asking you too much anyway, if we looked them in the eye and said “Mary has worked. Bob has already driven carpool for the day. Leslie has blogged.”

And then we gathered our stuff and walked away.

My unpleasant people allergy: Or why I just can’t with “Dance Moms”

by SweetMidlife

It’s Leslie, and I’m cranky. It’s Wednesday, but the kind of Wednesday that feels closer to Monday than to Friday, if you know what I mean. And if you do, you wanna take a nap as bad as I do right now.

Not making me any more cheery and bright, bright sunshiney day-esque is that tiny tag at the end of a commercial for Oxygen’s “Dance Moms.” It was on my DVR’d “Snapped,” which is a documentary series about women who snap and kill people. It’s not cheery either, but I like that there’s a beginning, middle and ending. Bad thing happens, bad person gets arrested.  All is right with the world, it’s over fast and look! My lunch is ready!

But I have never watched “Dance Moms.” even though my niece thinks it’s hilarious -she is a dancer and I guess she relates to the goings-on at a dance studio. I have never even been tempted, however, because I cannot get past the tag at the end of the commercial where a woman who I understand to be studio owner Abby crosses her arms and does this elaborate head and hip shake to denote sass, no-nonsense attitude and more than a little..umm..emphatic witchiness. Her face is curled into a snarl, and if expressions spoke, this one would say “I am all kinds of bad news.”

Thank you for telling me, “Dance Moms.” Thank you for having the choice of any sort of emblematic symbol for your show, the tiny snippet that tells me exactly what you believe  is the most important thing to know about your show, and featuring a woman looking deliberately unpleasant. Thanks for telling me. Because I don’t need any more unpleasantness in my life. And now I can avoid it like a Real Housewife avoids self-awareness.

I have enough unpleasant people in my orbit already, from the old lady who disregarded the people behind her in line at the grocery customer service desk and announced loudly “I’M JUST RETURNING THINGS” and just started unloading her stuff on the counter like we were not actually standing there, or the people who reserve a bike with their bags and bike shoes before a packed spin class that turns people away and then saunter in 35 minutes late like there weren’t people waiting. I know all about drama queens, and the entitled, and the person who decides to make your world their own platform for douchery. I live in South Florida. They grow them here. I don;t need any more of them. If the Real Housewives  of New Jersey, who I am done with, had been advertised in the first season as a seething cesspool of family dysfunction and delusion, I’d never have watched it.

So, there’s no danger in me ever watching “Dance Moms” or Abbys’ new show that I refuse to look up because she’s taken up enough for my brain. Don’t tell me she’s not over-the-top screamy and yelly. That’s all her promotional clips. And if that’s what they want you to know about her- if that is the most compelling reason to watch this show – I. Will. Pass.

Why Steel Magnolia’s ratings were so high…or please make more movies for adults. Thanks.

by SweetMidlife

Who’s that writer? Who’s that writer? It’s Les! (Shout out to my New Girl fans!)

The Lifetime Television For Sadists Women remake of Steel Magnolias, featuring an all-black, mostly-star cast, brought in crazy ratings for the melodrama-loving network on Sunday – the third-largest audience in its history, somewhere behind that badly acted, badly written but still oddly sob-inducing Fantasia Barrino auto-bio-pic. Like the Fantasia movie, critics frigging hated it. They thought the acting was mostly great, especially Alfre Woodard and Phylicia Rashad, but that the transition from the 1989 big screen version (itself a play originally) to the small screen and the 200s was not smooth. And Shelby came off like a giant self-important nag, didn’t she?

Obviously, nobody who watched it cared. Even if they did, Nielsen got them when they needed them. I imagine that my friends in media will wonder why such a badly-reviewed and not entirely successful film did so phenomenally. The wringing of hands and the not-so-subtle condescending disapproval of the Pablum-loving masses is sure to follow.

But without having to do a bit of research, I can tell you why. And it’s the same reason that Fantasia, and Tyler Perry movies, and Army Wives, and Diane Keaton movies, have been hits, even when they aren’t that good:

Because normal, adult women like to see themselves, or at least people who resemble themselves, on TV. They are tired of being made to understand that a 45-year-old woman can play the mother of a 30-year-old guy because women over 45 can’t actually have been the guy’s GIRLFRIEND, while Sofia Vergara and Al Bundy are a thing on Modern Family. They like a show about friendships, about real people like Fantasia overcoming the worst kind of setbacks, even though she’s a bad actress and almost didn’t succeed in playing herself. They love her anyway, and they love her story. And they love imagining that men fight over Diana Keaton, because she’s hot. They don’t believe that being over a size 8 makes you a heifer or unworthy of love. They don’t believe that non-white women have to be the quirky best friend or the secretary or the noble what-have-you that teaches the white women about love or sacrifice. And they don’t believe that you have to look like Kerry Washington to deserve hot sex.

Steel Magnolias, no matter who’s in it, is not emotionally complex, ironic or glib. It’s straight-forward in its manipulative emotionalism, its brave diabetic moms and grieving families. But it bears a heck of a lot more resemblance to a lot of grown people’s lives, even in its sweet pink haze, than a thousand episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or The New Girl or what have you. I like escapism. But I also like some earnest goofiness where a guy moves into town to be with Alfre Woodard, because why wouldn’t he? She’s fierce! And hot black actresses who play the second banana in other instances get to be the hot, pursued star of Tyler Perry movies, even if they have to be in Tyler Perry movies for that to happen.

Hollywood…perhaps if you made more movies and TV shows with diverse leads, about fundamental human stuff that didn’t have to be edgy or complicated, you’d have more ratings like that. Just saying.

Enjoyable: Hallmark and Lifetime Movie Channels (If No One Gets Stabbed)

by SweetMidlife

Lynne here!


In our latest edition of “Enjoyable”, a celebration of the simple pleasures in life, I salute cheesy TV movies.  There are cheese-fests of all kinds that offer a pleasant passage of two hours, and I like many of them.  There are suspenseful ones where the world is attacked by aliens, or threatened by sinkholes, or aliens coming out of sinkholes.  There are action ones where someone has to rescue their daughter/son/pug from the ex/crazed bus driver/crazy pug who stole them away to the woods/Paris/Arby’s.  And there are my former favorites, usually airing on Lifetime or Lifetime Movie Network, involving cheaters, crazy secretaries, or unstable women who move next door and get obsessed with you or your husband or your kid and tries to kill either you or your husband or your real best friend so they can get closer to you. There is always a scene in these movies involving rope, duct tape, and sometimes a vacation house, secluded in the woods, where the nice elderly caretaker is the only one there to help you, until, of course, he gets offed by previously mentioned stalker who stabs him (there is always stabbing) in the rain (there is always rain) and comes thisclose to getting you until you get rescued by whomever hasn’t been stabbed yet.  I used to LOVE those movies, because as perilous and predictable and badly written/acted they were, there was always justice at the end, since it was a movie, and no actual elderly caretakers were harmed in the making.

So I don’t know when it happened,  but I can’t really deal with those movies on a regular basis anymore.  I guess I got to the point where all of the mayhem doesn’t settle so well anymore. Sometimes, it’s STRESSFUL, and I don’t really want fake stress. I have enough of the real stress already. This is why I am finding happy, romantic TV movies so enjoyable right now. These are the ones starring Valerie Bertinelli or Kristy Swanson that they show on Hallmark Movie Channel, and also on Lifetime,  about a single mom or dutiful daughter or something who finds true love and a new career or fulfillment and just happiness by the end of the movie. These things are predictable and a hearty blend of saccharine and cheese. Hand me a fork, please, and I will eat them up.  It is so nice sometimes to know that things are headed to a good place. I just watched one about a mom who signs her divorced daughter up on an internet dating website, but actually corresponds with him herself at first, so he has actually fallen for the mom.  Anyone who has seen a movie ever knows that the dude and the mom will wind up together, and that the daughter will wind up with the hot childhood friend who is obviously gaga about her.  And I loved watching it unfold. I didn’t have to think about it, or stress over it, because I knew that all of the misunderstandings would work out, and that it would all end in smiles.  And that’s cool.  So if you have two hours, find one of this jolly sapfests, sit back, and take a ride that you know leads, in the end, to happiness.

Enjoyable: Matlock

by SweetMidlife

Hi! It’s Lynne, with another installment in “Enjoyable”, our ongoing celebration of the simple pleasures in life.


So, a few weeks ago, the world lost Andy Griffith, beloved actor and comedian. In remembering him, people made the most mention of his role as Andy Taylor, the best sheriff ever, on “The Andy Griffith Show”. It’s darn freaking funny to this day, and it deserves to be remembered. But for me, my favorite Andy Griffith show was the 80’s-90’s classic, “Matlock”.  I went through a period where my favorite TV genre was “Old White People Solving Crimes”, and there was lots to choose from . There was “Murder She Wrote”, “Diagnosis:Murder” and “The Father Dowling Mysteries”, and also the 80’s “Perry Mason” TV-movies. All good stuff that made you feel confident that those crimes were going to get solved because the detectives had experience and knew what the heck they were doing. But my favorite was “Matlock”, featuring Griffith as Ben Matlock, the crusty old lawyer from Atlanta, as well as fabulous guest stars like Ann Jillian, James Brolin, and David Ogden Steirs. And if you don’t know who those people are, look them up. You are missing out. But back to Ben. He wore the same grey suit all of the time, and was grouchy and set in his ways.  But he was flipping smart, with a caring heart under the crust, and was often underestimated by other attorneys and mostly by bad guys. They saw a down-homey older guy who they thought they could get over on but they were, of course, no match for Ben, so by the end of the show, he had gotten his client off, the murderers were found out, and all was right with the world. I still watch “Matlock” reruns during the day on cable, and they are an enjoyable way to pass the time. The bad guy gets it, and it’s all over in an hour.  And if you have to deal with bad guys, it’s nice to know that 60 minutes later, all will be okay, thanks to Ben Matlock.  Thanks, Ben Matlock, and thank YOU, Andy Griffith.

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