I Have a Heart and I Am Not Afraid to Use It

I received a form rejection from Threepenny Review. I must say I kind of love their rejections. No is No is No. They get a lot of submissions so the form cannot be helped. I understand! I surrender to the simplicity of No.

I received the

shortest rejection note in the history of rejections from Normal School, well into that fantasy time period where I start to think, “They’re going to take it!” HA! Not so much. “Many thanks for submitting “YOUR LAME STORY WE DO NOT LIKE” to the The Normal School; it doesn’t serve our needs at this time.” Also, that rejection came at three a.m. and I was awake to see it in real time. It was such a cliffhanger. As I clicked on the e-mail, I held my breath and thought, “Will this be a late night miracle?” Umm, girl; get a grip. Hell no.

I may need to revise the ending of this particular story. It’s only been rejected twice (I didn’t even sim sub), but I’ve been thinking about the ending. I have. It’s all good. I actually love The Normal School. They have a gorgeous magazine and a really smart website and I dig their whole aesthetic. Also, the magazine looks great on my shelves. I will try again someday.

I was rejected by Brevity for the special VIDA issue. I made the final cut and so on and they found much to admire in my work. I was not sad about this rejection. I mean, there was a little disappointment but I’ve been in Brevity before and they are a tough nut to crack and the essay found a home promptly thereafter. It’s a great thing Brevity is doing with this issue and I am really excited to read it. I am more excited for the day when such an issue is no longer necessary.

I have a little story, Girl/Box, up at Treehouse. I also made some reading recommendations.

My semester is coming to an end. This was a glorious semester. I had three classes I will never forget. My students, in each class, worked SO HARD for me. Thirteen students in my advanced fiction class wrote a novel and they did it in fourteen weeks. My graduate students wrote three short stories in a class where the course’s theme (love and sex) unsettled them. They braved that business like bad asses. My intro fiction babies wrote two short stories showing how they’re starting to make sense of what it means to tell a story. The classes were all thoughtful and engaging and most importantly, fun. Going to class was, with very few exceptions, a pure joy. I want every semester to be like this semester which really just means, I want to teach creative writing exclusively. Also, we’re not supposed to pick favorites, but my intro fiction babies are number one in my soul. I wanted to squeeze their little faces after class today but that would have been extremely awkward. I refrained.

On Friday, I will be reading/speaking with Joyelle McSweeney and Diane Williams at UC Boulder, 7:30 pm Humanities 150. Join us. There will be brief readings by each of us, and then a panel Q & A about being “innovative women in publishing.”

Meanwhile, I went to see our boyfriend Zac Efron in The Lucky One.

Picture it—me and about nine old ladies getting moist over a Ken Doll. I wasn’t getting moist, to be clear, the old ladies were. I was really happy for them that they had quality time with our boyfriend.

Okay, fine, there were a few moments when I fanned myself.

I actually don’t harbor an intense lust for Zac Efron. He’s too pretty and his features are a bit more delicate than I care for. Also, he isn’t Peeta. And he can’t act. And he doesn’t seem particularly interesting. Certainly, his abdominals are worth some critical inquiry and I don’t mind his ass or thighs His body would not get kicked out of bed.

Do we need to talk about Nicholas Sparks? I try to defend all manner of literature. We like what we like but Sparks is working with a sad, desperate formula–attractive man, attractive woman, one or both with a (not really) dark past or secret, some kind of external conflict (class differences, ex-partner, Alzheimer’s, sad disease), and a mostly happy ending tarnished by some minor or major setback. He just writes things on slips of paper and puts them into different baskets and shakes them up and then selects one slip from each basket. Redhead nurse, dark-haired mechanic with a scar on his chin that the nurse’s brother gave him in elementary school, they meet when her car breaks down, her brother is super possessive and tries to keep them apart, he dies, and until she’s done mourning, the mechanic acts like the most perfect man in the world to soothe her soul. You’re welcome for that plot.

I don’t write what Nicholas Sparks writes so there’s no point in considering his work comparatively. That said, it is difficult to reconcile his popularity given how terribly written his books are. The man cannot construct a coherent sentence. He has never met a torrid emotion he is unwilling to exploit shamelessly. He is the man behind the curtain, pushing our heart and vagina buttons but he’s doing it tepidly, with sweaty fingers so it’s just gross.

At the beginning of The Lucky One, we’re in a war place but it’s really just some U.S. based set and to distract us from how not-war zone the setting is, there’s a lot of jankity camera work. These scenes are largely incoherent and move at an incredible pace. Zac walks around authoritatively in a soldier uniform along with a bunch of other men in soldier uniforms. There’s an explosion and then the next morning, in the aftermath, hark! What is that gleaming light o’er yonder?!

Zac ambles over to this gleaming light and finds a picture of a beautiful young woman, thin, blonde, of course. On the back, the words Be Safe. There’s another explosion and because Zac was busy perving on this picture, his life is saved and the picture becomes a talisman for the rest of his tour which we don’t really see. Fast forward some months, still in not war but war place, and Zac is in a Humvee with other soldiers and they’re chatting about the picture cum talisman cum good luck charm. There is a bottle of Product Placement Even In War Because Noting Is Sacred Dasani Water. Suddenly, another explosion, only this time, someone shows off with some fancy camera work that shows like every single particle of that water bottle coming apart for about thirty seconds.

Zac makes it to a bus station. He is sad. We know this because his face is still. There is nary a twitch in his eyes or cheeks. Now, Efron cannot act. He doesn’t even try, bless his heart. He just shows up and looks good and works his face OFF with the face acting. This is what he looks like the whole movie:

Also, Zac has about nineteen lines and wears the same outfit most of the time. I love how the director solved the little acting problem by rendering the young man nearly mute. Well done!

Our boyfriend takes a bus to Colorado (look! mountains!) where he stays with his sister and her family. This seems like it might be important but it’s really not. The brother-in-law gets about seven seconds of screen time. Hope it was worth it, buddy. The sister is also a terrible actress. She’s Lifetime Movie Network at two am bad. In a couple of brief, highly unconvincing scenes, we’re supposed to believe Zac is Deeply Affected by the war. He has some inauthentic PTSD moments after a glass breaks or something and after his nephews sneak up on him while he’s sleeping and he almost chokes one of the little brats (who kind of was asking for it) so he does what anyone would do in this situation. Zac consults Dr. Google, and holding up the picture of the beautiful blonde, starts comparing the lighthouse in the picture to all the lighthouses he can find via Google Images. He somehow surmises that the lighthouse he seeks is in Louisiana. Then he takes his dog and sets off on foot. He walks from Colorado to Louisiana. Why? Oh, he likes walking.

Guess what? That little flirtation with PTSD? It never comes up again, not once, for the duration of the movie. See what walking will do?

I am not a dog lover but I couldn’t help but think, “What kind of asshole would force a dog to walk for like 1,500 miles?”

The walking montage was not scintillating but Zac can fill out a pair of expensively distressed jeans. The hills have thighs. Zac walks real slow and every time he sees a lighthouse, he holds up the picture next to it on the horizon and squints until he finds a match. I played this game when I was a kid.

Eventually, he finds his perfect lighthouse match and does what any trustworthy young man would do. He starts walking around town, a strange man and all, showing the young woman’s picture to complete strangers, asking if they know who the woman is until some rocket scientist gives him her exact location.


The blonde, some actress you don’t know, her name is Beth and she runs a dog kennel. When Zac shows up, she is harried, on the phone trying to put out a fire. When she finally gets off the phone, Zac tries to explain why he is at the kennel but wires get crossed so we can be forced to sit through another ninety minutes of pretty nonsense and she assumes he is looking for a job. He mentions he’s a marine and her demeanor changes. He won’t leave, further reinforcing his status as a creeper, albeit a shiny plastic handome one, so Beth goes outside to get her grandmother played by Blythe Danner, to make him shoo.

Thank goodness for talented actresses. Thank goodness it’s hard out here for a pimp, forcing women like Danner take roles in movies like this. She was the sole breath of fresh air. Anytime she shared a screen with another cast member, I was embarrassed for them. They were embarrassed for themselves. You could just see it. Danner is very good at playing the emotionally connected, sassy, wise white grandmother who wears glasses on her nose and uses those glasses to advance the narrative.

As you can see, she acquitted herself to that end with aplomb.

Danner, who goes by the very unique moniker Nana, quickly recognizes she can marry her granddaughter off to this hot young stud and sets things in motion. Nana is NOT playing around. Respect the hustle. She casually informs Beth she has hired Zac instead of sending him away and Beth is all huffy. But why? She is pretty and Zac is pretty and according to movie rules, they must fall in love immediately.

Why is she resisting fate? Why is she not falling at his pretty feet like a good little lady? See what happens when you let women vote?

Zac rents or buys the shittiest house in this small Louisiana town, and turns out, he can fix all the things. He can fix the shittiest house, the dog kennel, the tractor, Beth’s heart and her vagina, and much much more. He is basically magic. He is also quiet and polite and sweats handsomely in his tight t-shirts. Zac quickly makes himself invaluable around the kennel, fixing things and handling the dogs and getting on Beth’s nerves by being so pretty and competent. The nerve of him!

Beth has a son, Ben, who is only mildly annoying in the way of child actors. He is precocious and plays the violin and has curly hair. His father is a sheriff and you know what that means! Movie rule: all sheriffs are assholes, especially if they are in the south. The ex-husband, Keith, is demanding and controlling and we eventually learns he gets it from his daddy who is never satisfied with his own son. Vicious cycles, man. What a drag. On Zac’s first day of work, Keith stops in, wearing his polyester uniform like it’s a superhero costume, the seams bulging a bit between his ass cheeks, and he gives Zac a hard time and Zac takes it stoically, like a man and face acts his displeasure by not doing anything with his face.

Keith isn’t happy there’s another man sniffing around his ex-wife. He agitates the situation every chance he gets only he does it in this really half-assed menacing way that gives the impression his overall outlook is, “Eh, stalking my ex-wife abusively, I can take it or leave it.”

He could take some lessons from this guy, is what I am saying.

Zac becomes more and more valuable around the kennel and he and Beth finally start to grow closer because he strikes up a friendship, of course, with Ben. Now, let’s recap—complete stranger, who has been stalking you from Colorado, wants to be friends with your son?

Zac and Ben play chess together and Ben beats Zac, of course. God does not grant all gifts. Other boring things happen. We learn Beth’s brother, Drake (I think), was killed in the war and Beth doesn’t know if it is friendly fire or not. We should be sad about this but The Lucky One couldn’t find an emotional note in a hospital. Once, early in the movie, we learn Nana had a stroke but this is never revisited or explored in any meaningful way. Keith’s father is running for some kind of elected office so there’s a picnic of some kind. Keith does more half-assed menacing involving relying on his father’s position as a judge to keep Beth in line. There’s a half-assed barely dealt with plot about Beth being some kind of art teacher and the one black lady character (IN LOUISIANA!!!!) asking if Beth will work full time but Beth is vague and all, “I can’t.” These kinds of lame, unexplored plots actually infuriate me. Why bother? Why? Just go straight to Zac’s Restoration Hardware bed.

During one of the more unbelievable moments, Zac says, “I like to read.”Riiiiight. Of course you do, precious. In his house, there are about five books, so empirically, I’m guessing he just likes to read the same five books over and over.

Zac’s house, by the way, is now completely cleaned up, sparely furnished, but rustic and appealing much in the way of intentionally distressed jeans. Zac has this amazing bed with a gauzy canopy. I would give it up in that bed.

All the while, we’re thinking, “WHEN ARE WE GOING TO SEE THE SEX?” The tired plots of this movie are the worst foreplay ever. Let’s not be coy. We all know why we’re here.

Dat ass!


One day, Beth is washing a pot and Nana is watching Beth and Beth is watching Zac unload a truck. Beth washes and washes and washes that pot. She gets that pot real clean, if you know what I mean.

I wanted to scrub a pot too. I wanted to work the grit right out of a pot.

At this point we know Beth’s sexual organs are functioning so the movie can proceed.

Zac and Beth go on a date and drink some beers and it seems like the most boring date in the world because they are not great conversationalists. Blah blah blah, Beth takes Zac to her father’s boat (her parents died when she was young; that’s why she and her brother were so close; this is never explored further either). The boat doesn’t work but don’t worry. Zac, magic pretty Zac, he is going to fix it. We already know this so let’s not dwell on it further. Keith threatens both Beth and Zac, to keep them apart and Nana stares at Beth over her glasses and says, “Are you going to let your meaty ex-husband cock block you?” Beth, in the throes of lust, drives over to Keith’s to drop Ben off, and tells him, “You are not keeping me from Dat Ass.” Keith sheepishly nods. He knows he can’t get in the way of true sex.

Beth runs to Zac’s house, flush with the thrill of telling her ex-husband she’s about to bone another dude, and Zac is, CONVENIENTLY, in the shower, a rustic outdoor shower. Inconveniently, we barely see any of Dat Ass. Instead, we get these coquettish camera shots that show us a nice tanned shoulder muscle, that pale stretch of skin at the upper curve of his buttocks, and so on. Beth and Zac roll around and imply that some kind of boring sex is happening. Blah blah blah. It is the biggest let down ever but that’s okay because we start to see more Zac flesh and it was well worth the $4.00 I paid

for my movie ticket.

A courtship begins between Zac and Beth. He becomes a father figure to Ben teaching him important life lessons through face acting. They go boating because, movie rule, it helps move things along in the falling in love department if a man and a woman get in a rowboat on a placid body of water.

The movie is almost over so we need some conflict. Aha! Keith finds the picture of Beth and takes it to Beth. He’s all, “J’accuse!” and builds up a conspiracy theory and it’s like, “This is what you people are worried about? Of all the creepy things?” There are some judgment issues there. Keith feels smug and righteous and goes about his business. Turns out, Beth’s brother was the one who had that picture of Beth. Zac tries to explain himself but Beth completely overreacts and assumes Zac maybe friendly fire killed her brother and regardless, Zac is alive and her brother is not and she cannot handle it. He does, however, know how her brother died. So many coincidences. It’s a miracle!

Blah blah blah things happen, and then, suddenly a storm, a terrible rainstorm. Zac is getting ready to leave town, he is so so sad but, conveniently, before he leaves, he is stalking Beth. Keith pops in on his family after a bad day with his father and he does his half-assed menacing thing once more.

Again, he needs lessons:

Keith tries to take Ben and Ben isn’t having it so he runs out in the rain to his treehouse which is across a rickety rope bridge and Keith goes after him and the bridge, OF COURSE, breaks and they’re both imperiled and Zac and Beth run to the river and Zac saves the day with an assist from Keith who is rewarded for saving the son he endangered by dying, the poor bastard.

Beth and Zac live happily ever after. We know this because they cruise in her daddy’s boat that Zac fixed before the credits roll.

This is what is so annoying about movies that follow these narrow formulas. There’s no goddamned heart or complexity or truth in any of it.

I wanted to be moved. I was willing to overlook the obvious flaws to be moved. I have a heart and I am not afraid to use it.

The movie didn’t let me go there, though, because it was only concerned with the shallow, obvious, weak choices. There were no difficult choices at all. Ex-husband in the way? Allow him to find redemption by saving his son. Kill him off so he can go to heaven and we can feel a little bad that he’s gone but a lot happy he’s no longer in the way. It’s absurd and condescending and so painfully cynical. Audiences deserve better. The story deserves better.

I love love stories. I love romance even when it is implausible and impossible. I am willing to believe the unbelievable.

I love the idea that a solider can find a picture in a war zone and make it out alive and walk from Colorado to Louisiana without a proper coat to find a girl he doesn’t know. I love the idea that he can fall in love with that girl he

miraculously finds. I love the idea that he can be everything she needs and everything her son needs and everything her Nana needs and he can be healed from all the horrors he has seen.

I love the idea of a happy ending, that there is a way through to the other side.

What I don’t love is how little Hollywood respects what we are willing to believe and what we are willing to love.

14 comments on “I Have a Heart and I Am Not Afraid to Use It

  1. You honestly deserve a medal for sitting through some of these movies. I wouldn’t get near a Nicholas Sparks piece, “not for love nor money,” to quote my G’G’ma Leah. I did, however, heartily enjoy your review of it. My money will be heading to the Avengers next week, as the whole family troops in for the show. The kids are begging for the midnight showing, which I am inclined to grant. Priorities, after all. :-)

    1. Maybe a drink more than a medal, you know, a balm, medicine. I am looking forward to the Avengers whenever it comes out here. I’ll definitely be talking about it.

  2. My boyfriend (Ryan Gosling) is in a movie adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book as well. I get it, music for the masses and the like, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the fortitude to watch it, even if every copy of every RG film sat behind a Spinal Tap drum kit and simultaneously combusted. I will concede that Zach Efron’s butt may be worth the price of a matinee. I wonder how many journals have rejected Zach Efron’s butt being that it did not suit their needs at the time?

    1. Oh hell yes he is. The Notebook was so amazing and hilarious. I loved it as much as I love to mock it. That kiss! I don’t know that Zach’s butt has ever been rejected. I refuse to think of such a world.

  3. I actually really enjoyed The Lucky One (maybe that was partly because the theater I saw it in served booze) but you are so right about it. The way the movie dropped the PTSD storyline in particular seriously annoyed me but I don’t even care. Zefron looking verklempt and being perfect is all I was looking for and the movie delivered.

    PS- That pot washing scene was glorious.

    1. There’s a lot to enjoy in the movie. I couldn’t stop being amused, though, by all the half-assed plot threads.

      I feel you, hard, on that pot washing scene. It was clean as hell ha ha ha.

  4. It’s probably telling that I still don’t really know who Zac is.

    I love your movie entries. Even when I don’t see the movies. Love it.

    My last rejection was a late night hopes dashed and destroyed like whoa rejection. With a side of HOLY SHIT THEY HATE ME WHY DID I DO THAT. It was awesome.

  5. Your students are so lucky to have you as a teacher!

    My son went to college in Cal Poly/ San Luis Obispo, Zac E is a hometown boy! I actually think he can act (His abs do nothing for me, mebbe I’m too smitten at the moment with the Filipino actor Derek Ramsay — google him!) And the talk over there (in SLO) was that he was something of a jerk.

    But this is dull stuff. Every cute actor is secretly a jerk — har har har!

    I want to join your “rejected by The Normal School” parade. There was a time they used to mail out stickers that said: I WAS REJECTED BY THE NORMAL SCHOOL. That was the best idea ever.

  6. I suspect this is terrible form but I’m going for it just the same.

    I LOVE your writing style and it made me gush with laughter after a long ass day…

    How did I find this article of yours last commented on in 2012 you ask?

    Was doing a Google search on THE THREEPENNY Review trying to figure out who in the hell they are and history was made.

    You’re really funny. Really really witty.

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