Travel Post – New York (Part 2)

A Souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest

A souvenir from the Robert McKee Genre Fest 

The first day in McKee’s genre fest was dedicated to horror. Ask me five years ago if I’d be writing my own tales about the darker side of life and I would have told you you’re mad. Nowadays I see the beauty in plumbing the dank, dreary depths of the human condition. Fear is a powerful force. It tears off the mask we wear for social acceptance and sinks its claws right into our subconscious. Horror is the one genre that has the potential to reveal our true selves: the good, the bad and the repulsive. It’s also a powerful medium for society’s response to polarizing topics like war, political corruption, and racism. Take the film Get Out for instance. Try to reframe that story as a simple family drama and see if it makes the same impact. Mr. McKee’s presentation had a lineup of film clips that demonstrated superb examples of spooky cinematography tricks, scare tactics and underlying themes in horror: eternal damnation, the monster within, and not so surprisingly, sex.

Since sex is such an anxiety-inducing topic for many Americans, it makes sense that this would be a core element in most U.S. horror films. And it was soon after Mr. McKee made this point that I observed a relevant example of this from the audience around me; a distinct difference in how horror affects us depending on our gender. Now I must take a small detour down a dark and thorny path. The especially squeamish may want to skip the next paragraph.

Out of all the horrific imagery of bizarre gore and gratuitous violence seen that day, do you know what elicited an audible groan from the men in the audience? The scene that made them most uncomfortable? A small, infamous snippet from the 1978 film, I Spit On Your Grave. Without getting too graphic, it involves a woman murdering a man out of revenge by cutting off his “ahem” and locking him in the bathroom to bleed out in a bathtub. Absolutely vile and cringe-worthy? Of course. But speaking from a female-identifying perspective, where the sexual violation and abuse of women is sadly a historical norm, this kind of sexual violence against a human body seems almost run-of-the-mill.

The fact that it happened to a man, however, is not.

It was a jarring example of how removed from empathy a majority of men are when considering the trauma many women live through every day. I don’t necessarily fault men for this, but consider how many countless films depict the sexual violation of women. How often do you see men squirming in their seats or averting their eyes at such a scene? It’s a dark, twisted perpetuation of human behavior that the patriarchal society shrugs at because, well, that’s just how it’s always been. The terrible truth is that most women will suffer some form(s) of physical abuse in their life because of their sex, especially in minority and trans communities. I’m in no way devaluing the experiences of male-identifying individuals who have suffered similar abuse. I only aim to point out an observation that a strong majority of the male population don’t seem quite as affected by the representation of violence against a person’s sex…until it’s their own. As gender fluidity increases in society, it is my hope that we’ll empathize beyond our own corporal boundaries and realize that harm to any“body” is intolerable.

I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

Autumn in New York.jpg

Autumn in New York

The following seminars were just as eye-opening. Every day Mr. McKee broke down a film scene by scene, pointing out all the key genre elements that made it a successful story. I hadn’t seen Bridges of Madison County before this seminar and let me tell you, I cried like I had just seen a parade of dead puppies. It was very embarrassing to be sobbing and sopping snot from my nose in front of fellow colleagues. Good stories are supposed to move us, whether it’s wetting our seat in fear or doubling over in a fit of silent laughter…you know the kind where your face is frozen in an ugly-cry expression, your nostrils flare and you can’t breathe. A good story gives us a memorable experience and binds us together because of it.

For any budding writers out there, I can say whole-heartedly that Mr. McKee’s seminars are worth every penny. (No, I’m not being paid to write this.) I’ve dedicated most of my free time outside of writing to study great works in film, television, and literature and I like to think I have a pretty solid foundation of what makes a good story tick. I even expose myself to some pretty terrible material to understand why it’s so bad. But Mr. McKee’s complete and thorough understanding of successful story structure made me realize I still had more to learn. And I was most impressed by his genuine love of sharing this knowledge. He engaged us in thought-provoking debates and on every break throughout the day he made himself available for one-on-one questions, conversation and book signings. Nothing about his presentation felt mechanical. I can only imagine how many times he’s given these same lectures and been asked the same questions, yet he approached each day’s lecture with the enthusiasm of a passionate, seasoned professor. I left these seminars invigorated and inspired, eager to bring new energy and a critical eye to my works in progress.

Veteran's Day Parade Preparations.jpg

Veteran’s Day Parade preparations 

On the final morning of my stay, the city was buzzing with more activity than usual. It was Monday, November 11th and the streets around Madison Square Park were clogged with motorcyclists, floats and hundreds of uniformed men and women for the annual Veteran’s Day parade. I found myself surrounded by military faces easily 15+ years younger than me. Kids, really; each one with an air of discipline beyond their years. I had to leave before the parade kicked off but the celebration of honor and gratitude for all these service members lifted my spirits for the trip back home. I’m glad I gave myself permission to enjoy this little sidetrack. Sometimes being a responsible adult means making time for that little kid inside you that tugs your sleeve, points to your heart’s desires and says, “Let’s do that!”

Veteran's Day Parade.jpg

Veteran’s Day Parade

By: Erica Ruhe

DID YOU ENJOY WHAT YOU JUST READ? IF YES, THEN SUBSCRIBE TO THE BLOG, GIVE THE POST A LIKE, OR LEAVE A COMMENT! NEW POSTS ARE UP EVERY TUESDAY & THURSDAY

Travel Post – New York City (Part 1)

Bow Bridge, Central Park

Bow Bridge Central Park 

A few months ago I found out Robert McKee would be in New York City in November to host a week of his famous story seminars. It would kick off on Monday with the marketing workshop “Storynomics” and the genre days would follow: horror, action, romance and comedy. The genre fest immediately snared my full interest. I’ve been trying to do the whole “responsible adult thing”, keeping my expenditures in a moderate budget, holding myself back from another travel adventure. But as soon as I saw this opportunity, my miserly conscious ripped open the purse strings and said, “This is a business trip and an investment in your writing career!” Who was I to argue with that totally legitimate and tantalizing rationalization? I booked my travel, giving myself a day and a half of city exploration, and the rest of the time I would dutifully plant myself in a theater seat for the seminars.

Central Park Rowboats

Central Park

There is something quite magical about New York in the fall. And it’s not just a sentiment drummed up from the multitude of romantic films set in the city. The trees are aflame in gold leaves; window displays and building exteriors emit the first twinkle of holiday lights; and the cooler weather tamps down the odors of mysterious biological evacuations that stripe and splotch the pavement. Ah yes, New York City. It’s kinda like a toddler: a noisy, smelly, temperamental stain-factory that still manages to capture your heart. I had three things I wanted to check off my must-do list: stroll the High Line, wander aimlessly through Central Park and make a pilgrimage to pay homage to The Stonewall Inn.

The Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn

I’d visited NYC last summer on the heels of PRIDE week and one of the most memorable sights I’d ever seen was the night sky lit up by the rainbow glow of the Empire State Building. It seriously brought tears to my eyes. The tragedies and triumphs of the LGBTQ+ community occupy a big, special place in my heart and I have a great appreciation for their culture and bigger-than-life approach to love. I’d arrived at The Stonewall Inn during off-hours but enjoyed a few moments of quiet contemplation at the site. I spent part of the afternoon walking the streets of the neighborhood reflecting on the history made there; the heroes that were unwittingly born from the riots in ’69; the change that would unfold over the years; the representation of PRIDE in the world today. I would’ve loved to have attended a drag show while I was there but I normally work overnights and resetting my schedule back to daylight hours completely body-slammed me face first in my hotel pillow by sundown. Next time…

The High Line

The High Line

The High Line is truly a gem in the city and another shining example of a popular amenity that wouldn’t be around without the history and efforts of the gay community. Partially opened in 2009, it’s an abandoned elevated train line turned linear pedestrian park full of green spaces, art installations and unique, cinematic shots of west side Manhattan. Instead of its original destiny of demolition, Friends of the High Line and the surrounding neighborhoods rallied for its preservation and thus, the infrastructure was repurposed as a popular new park spanning nearly one and half miles from the Meatpacking District, through Chelsea, up to 34th Street. At the end of this lovely trek was one of those ubiquitous food stands and the smell of fresh French fries. It was like crossing a rainbow bridge to the fried pot of gold at the end.

The High Line - Window Overlook at 10th Ave. & 17th St.

The geniality I encounter in this city always amazes me. Living in Florida for almost twenty years has given me an unfair impression of New Yorkers. Here, I have only been witness to a rather rude and discontented variety which led me to believe all New Yorkers were like this. Yet in my explorations of the city streets, whenever someone needed assistance (myself included) there was always an eager expression on a nearby face and a helpful prompt.

At the Bus Depot: “Whatcha looking for, sweetie?”

On a street corner: “Need some help, buddy?”

At a construction site: “Careful, guys! Watch your arms, hands, legs, feets and bunions!”

The High Line - Vessel (TKA),  Staired Structure.jpg

Even getting an order of fries from the guy at the food stand was like chatting with a long lost friend of the family whose sole focus in that moment was genuinely enjoying his conversation with you while making sure you get the best damn fries in all of New York.

“This sauce is special. It’s my own recipe, from my grandmother; a secret marinade with garlic, some sherry and a little bit of mint. Promise you, these are the best fries in New York.”

And yes, they were the best damn fries I’d had in all of New York.

Central Park was just as fantastic as I imagined it would be. Get a few paces in to that walkway through the trees and the sounds of the city just disappear. The sky was clear, the temperature was mild. Herds of families enjoyed an afternoon stroll, musicians played to tourists for tips, friends laughed in rowboats on the lake. I could have spent hours on a bench people-watching but the daylight was short and my stomach demanded more sustenance.

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park (1)

I settled in for dinner at a newfound favorite: P.S. Kitchen. I’d had the privilege to enjoy a few of its vegan delicacies last year and knew I had to come back on this trip. The food is phenomenal and the service is excellent. The ambiance is like dining in one of those cozy Pinterest-meets-Etsy photos full of cream and eggshell tones, warm lighting and weathered, exposed brick walls. It’s the perfect oasis to escape the fall cold and city buzz.

The Holiday Season Approaches

The Holiday Season 

Vegan Caesar salads and French fries are my crude measuring stick of a culinary experience when I explore a new U.S. destination. Not very exquisite, I know, but it brings my little plant-based heart joy. So far only one rivals the vegan Caesar served at Darbster’s in Lake Worth, Florida and that’s P.S. Kitchen’s. As I was enjoying it I was actually struck with a moment of horror, thinking, “Okay, this is way too rich to be vegan. Did I order the wrong salad?!” But no, it was just that good. Then came the creamy Colombian potato soup, poured into the bowl right at the table. (Ooh, la la.) Followed by a maple roasted honeynut squash sandwich with herbed almond ricotta and pecan pesto on a crispy-soft focaccia bread. (Hold me.) And the non-alcoholic specialty drink called “The Pumpkin Patch” was swoon-worthy. (No kidding. Nearly fell right out of my seat after the first sip.) It was like a farmer had just milked a fresh pumpkin pie, shook that up to get a nice frothy head and then poured it on ice…I…I really don’t know how else to describe it. The Dutch like to portray this experience as an angel peeing on your tongue and, oddly, it seems a fitting analogy because the whole meal left me throwing my hands up in praise. (Which the staff kindly asked me to stop because I was making other patrons uncomfortable.) Plus, when dining here the warm and fuzzies are doubled knowing that the restaurant’s profits are donated to charity.

I merged in to the stream of foot traffic, admiring the city’s colorful transition from day to night, and hoofed my way back to my hotel on 24th. After a hot shower, I lay curled up in bed exhausted and content. It was only day one but I was already grateful I’d seized this opportunity. There really is no place quite like New York City.

The Lake at Central Park

Lake at Central Park

By: Erica Ruhe

Stay tuned for Part II next week!

DID YOU ENJOY WHAT YOU JUST READ? IF YES, THEN SUBSCRIBE TO THE BLOG, GIVE THE POST A LIKE, OR LEAVE A COMMENT! NEW POSTS ARE UP EVERY TUESDAY & THURSDAY

Travel Post – Rotterdam (Part 3)

The Buttplug Gnome AKA Santa Clause_preview

The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is. – Erasmus

Since the WWII bombing that flattened the city in 1940, poor Rotterdam has been like a misunderstood wild child with a non-traditional upbringing. She’s been called ‘The City Without a Heart.’ Shaped by many different events and architects since then, Rotterdam doesn’t quite fit into the Dutch culture the way Amsterdam, The Hague, or Delft does. On more than one occasion, my enthusiasm for Rotterdam was met by locals with a lifted eyebrow and reply along the lines of,

“Really? Why Rotterdam? (Insert Dutch city) is so much more charming.”

Rotterdam is not what the Dutch would call gezellig: that warm, squishy feeling you get when all is time-honored, quaint, and cozy. No, she sticks out from traditional European cities like a sore thumb.

River Nieuwe Maas_preview

Bright yellow ‘Cube Houses’ balance on their corners atop a busy overpass like thrown dice frozen mid-roll. Blaak Station looks like a landed UFO in the market square. The angular, swan-like Erasmus Bridge poses high over the river Nieuwe Maas. There’s nothing traditional or charming about it. It’s tall, proud, sleek – just like the rest of the city. Though bruised from an unfair fight, Rotterdam’s modern and colorful. She’s survived a torrid upbringing. Amidst inner turmoil, she grew through misdiagnosed remedies and therapies and prevailed with hopes of a happier future. Formed at the hands of so many others’ desires, Rotterdam’s own identity seems ambiguous. She complicated.

Cube Houses_preview

But look closer. She is one of the most important cities of her time. The largest port in Europe, fourth largest in the world. An international haven – probably more so in the near future with the coming of Brexit. She welcomes in the world, serving as a gateway to an expanded, cohesive way of thinking. And she does it quietly, compassionately, without theatrics or fuss.

I relate to Rotterdam. I’ve had my fair share of personal ‘bombings’ and well-meaning ‘architects’ try to build and reshape me throughout my life. It’s helped me see who I was and, now, envision who I want to become. A lot of people don’t understand the way I think or act. I’ve always stuck out like a sore thumb myself. It’s only until now that I’m finally learning to be okay with that. For me, pushing through my comfort zone and finding my true self is like coming home. Like stumbling toward the heart of a place that isn’t on a map. It’s the same reason I find Rotterdam gezellig.

On my last day in Rotterdam, it snowed. I didn’t recognize it at first, this white fluffy thing that had landed on my scarf, then another. It had been years since I’d seen an actual snowflake. But when I looked up, the flurry swirled in around me, lit up by the late afternoon sunlight. I stopped and scanned the street, wondering if I was the only one witnessing this wondrous moment. It was just me and an old man walking his Jack Russell Terrier up ahead in the distance. I was suddenly in my own private snow globe. The subdued disappointment I’d been mulling over about my final hours in the city evaporated, instantly replaced with the buzz of excitement. I gazed up into the gray clouds billowing above the high buildings, half-expecting to catch the glimmer of a glass dome in the sky. The air glittered all around me. It was like an ending from a movie; the city saying goodbye.

Is it narcissistic to see a part of myself in such a great city? Perhaps. But it’s the potential to assume her best qualities that I yearn to emulate the most: her even-keeled nature, her sensibility, her acceptance, unassuming charm and colorful personality. Many don’t understand her because she is so different. But I think Rotterdam’s beautiful. She allows room for the possibilities.

By: Erica Ruhe

 

Travel Post – Rotterdam (Part 1)

Erasmus Quote Rotterdam_preview

All the world is my homeland. – Erasmus

There’s nothing like discovering that a nearly 500-year-old philosophical dude has put one’s life experiences perfectly into words. Feeling at home in a foreign land is an enchanting experience. Referring to a map is less important than exploring the city. Getting lost is a good thing. Letting your feet lead you to incredible views, interesting people, and intriguing history is the purpose of the visit. My hope is that, after giving this a read, you’ll be entertained and inspired to get lost in foreign culture too. Even if it’s ten minutes from your house.

After many years of pining, I recently plucked up the nerve to book a solo trip to the Netherlands and London and I’m impatiently plotting my return. The day I bought my plane tickets, a surreal, hazy excitement fell over me. My entire life had been lived ‘going with the flow’ and letting others steer the boat. So this was my first big opportunity to do something I had longed to do – and to do it my way. Was I a little anxious? You bet. But it wasn’t the prospect of traveling alone that made me hesitant. It was the idea of having to plan all that travel! What a wonderful dilemma. I chose late February for off-season prices and fewer crowds to battle. Winter cold clings but the first signs of spring can be spotted if you look carefully. It’s a perfect in-between time, in my opinion.

Erasmus Bridge_preview

I hadn’t been outside the US in a while and it was blatantly obvious when I tried interacting with my new flight mate in the middle seat beside me. Trying to make friendly small talk, I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,

“This belongs to you. It’s never easy being in the middle seat.”

At this, he replied with a long, “Yeeeeaaaa….uh….yeah,” and averted his attention back to the screen on the seat in front of him.

Was it my breath? Did I have something in my teeth? Then I realized: he might not speak English. It dawned on me that as soon as I stepped on to the plane I wasn’t really in America anymore. This was international territory and, silly American, not everyone speaks English. The meaning suddenly shifted perspective as I replayed our little conversation in my head:

I tapped the armrest between us, smiled, and said,

This belongs to me. Don’t test my patience today, pal. I’m in no mood.”

Perhaps this was closer to the truth than I wanted to admit. That armrest remained unused the whole flight.

I arrived in London just as my connection to Amsterdam was boarding. Even before the plane taxied, that feeling of, “Well, better just roll with this” had already sunk in. Oh how I wish I could watch the surveillance video of me rushing through the security check at London Gatwick airport, then on through kilometers of departure gates in half-undone sneakers while juggling my plastic bag of allowable liquids back into an overfull backpack. I stumbled into the gate just in time to wave goodbye to the plane. But it wasn’t a total loss. That was the best cardio I did all month.

Luckily, there was another flight just a few hours later. With the help of a flight attendant who was scheduled to work that hop, I got a backstage tour of Gatwick, a quick wave through customs and a fresh ticket on the next flight out. With what seemed like barely enough time to buckle my seatbelt, we landed at Schiphol airport just as evening closed in.

Amsterdam Meringues_preview

A kind woman at a kiosk set me up with a new SIM card for my phone and a friendly cabbie ushered me to the fanciest sci-fi-looking taxi I’d ever seen. A sleek black Tesla Model X beckoned to me with open falcon-wing doors. I swooned right into the backseat, feeling much like a passenger preparing for a ride on Star Tours at Disney World – but way cooler. And cleaner. Seductive city lights streaked across the tinted windows. Cars packed in around us on the highway, heading to a large festival just kicking off for the night. The possibilities that awaited me on this trip struck home. I was infatuated with the potential.

It was nearly eight by the time I arrived at the B&B I’d booked for the night. Ineke was a most warm and gracious hostess. She even received a package on my behalf when my Eurail pass would not ship to the US in time for my trip. She led me up several flights of narrow wood stairs, passing by unique antiquities and pictures mounted on the walls. The apartment was on the third floor of a hundred year old, traditional Dutch row house with an amazing rooftop garden. Spotlessly clean, comfortable, and utterly charming, it was the perfect landing pad after a very long day of travel.

If you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend BB Ginkgo.

https://www.bedandbreakfast.nl/bed-and-breakfast/amsterdam/bbginkgo/57812/

Delft Gate_preview

Oostpoort (Eastern Gate) – Delft, Netherlands 

After a refreshing sleep, I woke early the next morning and walked to Centraal Station. With a firm goal of packing an average-sized backpack for a ten day trip, I debated for many weeks on the one set of shoes I would bring. No amount of space saver bags were going to magically allow room for ten days of bulky winter clothes and two pairs of shoes. Ultimately I decided on a comfortable pair of sneakers and suffered being chastised by my ego for my middle-aged sensibility throughout the entire trip. Boots would have been way more chic…who cares if my feet fell off my ankles on day two, right?

Blue Delft Heart_preview

Venturing out of the quiet neighborhood and into the city center, there was a distinct divide, like two Amsterdams living side by side. During this seven-ish hour, Night Amsterdam moved slowly, as if in a twilight, hypnagogic state of sleep. It had the feel of a tired owl fluffing up and settling in to its nook after a long night of activity. Day Amsterdam awoke slowly. Little dogs off their leashes tumbled and yapped in a frosty park. Streaks of sun broke through the early cover of gray. Food stalls with coffee and stroopwafels sent steam signals into the cold air that they were open for business. Sightseers trickled in from side streets, congregating for selfies at an iconic I AMsterdam sign. While the energetic odor of ‘tourist trap’ gets heavy in the stretch by the Rijksmuseum and Centraal Station, to pass by this is to miss part of the experience. A tight train schedule didn’t allow time for a pop in to the ‘Rijks’ or the Banksy exhibition at the Moco Museum, but I vowed to explore them on a return visit.

Rotterdam Canal_preview

Stay tuned for Part 2 appearing next Tuesday!

Read PART TWO HERE!

By: Erica Ruhe