Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Britt Westbourne is no Bobbie Spencer (or Monica Quartermaine)

General Hospital head writer Ron Carlivati is a longtime fan of the show who has done an amazing job turning the program around from a dark, mob-centric hour of violence and misogyny into a fun, relationship-centered, history-respective party of soapy goodness. Sadly, he’s not perfect – although in some episodes he does get close – and never are the faults more glaring than when Dr. Britt Westbourne is on screen. Her latest machinations have had some comparing her to 1978-79 Bobbie Spencer, who pulled similar ploys in her one-sided war against Laura Webber. Similarities could also been seen in some of the tricks Monica Webber pulled in trying to win Rick Webber away from Laura’s mother Lesley. But these comparisons fall flat when a true examination of these characters is done. To recap:

Bobbie Spencer was introduced in 1978, a bubbly student nurse at General Hospital. She immediately became friends with Laura, a high school student who was dating law school student Scotty Baldwin. Laura set up Bobbie with Scotty’s roommate Darren, and they became a couple. Meanwhile, Laura broke up with Scotty and ended up in a tawdry affair with her father’s college best friend, David Hamilton. Bobbie dumped Darren for Scotty. Laura ended up killing David, although her mother Lesley was arrested for the crime and confessed to killing David in self-defense to protect Laura. Laura had blocked the killing from her memory, and when she finally remembered, she ran away to New York City. Scotty found her and saved her from an evil pimp. Shortly thereafter, he broke up with Bobbie and got back together with Laura.

Bobbie was furious. She saw Laura as a privileged princess who had literally gotten away with murder and didn’t deserve Scotty’s love. At the same time, Bobbie had problems of her own. Her history of prostitution was revealed (to the audience, not to other characters), and she was being blackmailed by a former john. Yet she was an outstanding nurse, and she had real friendships with people who loved her, including her roommate Jessie Brewer and Jessie’s beau Dan Rooney. Her biggest flaw, aside from the torment she caused Laura, was that she wasn’t actually in love with Scotty – she saw the law student as a guarantee that she would never have to “go back to Elm Street.”

Monica Quartermaine, who played similar tricks on Lesley Webber in 1976-77, came from a similar background. Although she was never forced to prostitute herself, Monica had grown up in an orphanage as “the kid no one wanted.” Adopted as a teenager by Gail Baldwin, Monica was then forced to deal with the attentions of Gail’s husband, Greg. (story rewrites leave it murky whether their relationship was consensual or statutory or violent rape.) Rick was her first adult relationship (this was also changed in rewrites in 1992), and when he was presumed dead, she was so attached to his family that she married his younger brother Jeff rather than lose touch with Jeff and older sister Terry. When Rick returned from the dead, Monica’s immaturity, due to her lack of supportive, loving relationships as a child, left her incapable of dealing with the situation in an appropriate manner.

Compare these characters with Dr. Britt Westbourne, who….. exactly.

Sure, Patrick’s a good-looking man, but the audience has no clue exactly why Britt is so drawn to him that she would put her medical career in jeopardy to torment a woman she sees as a romantic rival. She has no back story, no friends, no family. She is a one-dimensional nothing.

And sadly, so is Sabrina, the student nurse that Britt has chosen to torment. Unlike Laura or Lesley, who were true romantic rivals and fully fleshed out characters who went head-to-head with Bobbie and Monica, Sabrina is … nice. She has friends, and an off-screen cousin who was a minor character on the show over ten years ago, but other than that, nothing. But everyone loves her and the audience is supposed to root for her because Britt is mean and we all know that eventually she’s going to take off her glasses and then wow! And let’s hope it’s a big wow, because right now Patrick seems more likely to adopt Sabrina than date her.

As this story eats up more and more airtime, it is imperative that viewers be given reasons for Britt’s behavior. The actress recently went on contract, and if she is to fill the huge shoes left by such villainesses as Bobbie, Monica, Heather, and Lucy (all who came from poor backgrounds and had well-established back stories), she cannot do it as a one-dimensional paper doll.

The irony is, of course, that Patrick’s wife Robin, who “died” in a lab explosion a year ago, is not dead at all. The audience knows she’s being held captive by uber-villain Jerry Jacks. So while all this is going on, the only emotionally satisfying conclusion will have both Britt and Sabrina out in the cold while Patrick welcomes his wife home.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, as can be attested by the dead roses on the dining room table and the empty box of chocolates in the trash. My husband had always been good about getting me stuff on Valentine’s Day, although to be honest, it was a much bigger thrill to receive the deliveries when I was working in an office rather than at home. And I would have much more appreciated a dinner or movie out, rather than the usual weeknight evening of him working on his MBA coursework and me watching TV. Although there were new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal on, so the evening wasn’t a total loss.

I think the only people who are really happy on Valentine’s Day are the women in new relationships with guys who try hard. When everything is fresh and new and there’s a cute guy in your doorway with one perfect rose in his hand and a tiny box wrapped in his pocket, unless there’s something really wrong with you, you’re going to have a magical night. For those of us who’ve been with our partners for a long time in working relationships, Valentine’s Day is just another night, albeit with candy. And it seems like single women have it the worst of all. They’re told every day of the year that they are “less than” without a man, and now here’s a whole industry in a day designed just to confirm that. And don’t get me started on all the single men who… oh, wait, never mind. Single men don’t give a rat’s ass that they’re single on Valentine’s Day. In fact, the TV show “The Middle” had a Valentine’s Day episode where older son Axel and his friends started a break-up service for people who didn’t want the drama of actually dumping their own girlfriend before Valentine’s Day. The premise, of course, was that men (or at least teenage boys) would rather be single than coupled on Valentine’s Day, so they didn’t have to deal with all the dinner/flowers/chocolate garbage. Oh, and not one girl used the service to break up with her boyfriend. Yes, it’s just a TV show, but my point is, no self-respecting man would ever wallow in self-pity about not being in a relationship on Valentine’s Day; no man is taught that he is “less than” without a woman. So why should women buy into that?

Maybe it’s because for centuries, women have been defined by their relationships in ways that men haven’t been since they stopped being referred to as “son of.” We are daughters, girlfriends, wives, mothers, divorcees, widows. Unless we’re single and have fabulous jobs, these titles define us much more than “writer,” “accountant,” “press secretary” or “investment banker.”

The day before Valentine’s Day, I started seeing on Facebook and Twitter posts related to “Galentine’s Day.” The posts were few and few between, but I gathered that the day before Valentine’s Day was supposed to be a day to celebrate female friendship. This is a great idea, and it deserves a lot more than a name and a placement that imply its function is to comfort women who don’t have a man to mark the next day.

Women, by and large, are the sentimental ones of the species, the ones who know and appreciate just how long it took to find just the right card, who love posting old photos on Facebook, who celebrate birthdays and other milestones. Most men are just not into all that.

So I propose a new holiday, one that celebrates friendship in all states – best friends, lifelong friends, office friends, mom friends. It’s not a consolation prize to Valentine’s Day; it deserves its own month. Maybe March; it’s still cold out and there’s nothing going on but college basketball. If you and your friends love college basketball, make a night out of it. There’d be parties for people who want to celebrate with all their friends, and restaurant specials for those who want some alone time with their bestie. Presents are welcome but not necessary. Although how can you resist getting your best friend that scarf you know would look just great with her favorite sweater?

So let’s pick a day in March and call it BFF Day. It’s not too early to start planning what you’d like to do to celebrate. And if anyone says, “Sounds fun but we can’t do it on a Saturday night, because that’s for my boyfriend,” you’re missing the point!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Writer’s Juggling Act

Most writers I know are masters at procrastination. Even before Facebook and Twitter became giant time-sucks, there was always another article that needed to be read, other kinds of research, TV/movies we needed to keep up with because how could we write for the industry if we weren’t keeping an eye out on what Hollywood was producing? I justify all the Twitter time by telling myself that I’m just reading articles that I’d normally be reading in the newspaper or in a magazine anyway; it’s just a change of format. (I know I’m lying to myself. It’s okay.) Even with all that, I’ve been good about concentrating on a single project and seeing it through to “Fade Out” or “The End.” Of course there have been plenty of abandoned projects along the way – what writer doesn’t have those? – but basically I’ve been finishing something every year.

One thing I haven’t been able to do with any degree of success – though I’ve tried this many times – is finish more than one project at once. There have been several times when I was working on both a novel and a screenplay, or two screenplays, and even though they were in different forms – an outline and a first draft, perhaps – neither one would end up finished. I don’t know if it’s because both were inherently weak ideas that just couldn’t hold my attention, or that I was too distracted to give either the attention they deserve. In any case, they would all go to the graveyard of dead projects, and I’d start over with something new, something I vowed to give all my creative energy until it was actually finished, not abandoned.

A writing teacher I worked with a few years ago talked about “living your book,” and I think that’s the method that works best for me. Even when I’m not actually at my computer, I’m thinking about my protagonist, imagining what she’s having for lunch, the conversations she’s getting in, whether she’s ogling the college boys at the gym. It makes her feel more real and keeps me motivated when the last thing I want to do is sit back down at the computer. But when you’re working on more than one project at a time, that could be a prescription for schizophrenia.

But real writers – professional writers – don’t always have the luxury of working on a single project at a time. The best of the best are editing one book while outlining another and working on a screenplay based on their bestseller. Is their ability to juggle multiple projects one of the factors that led to their success, or were they forced to juggle as a result of it?

This week marks the start of yet another experiment in whether or not I can finish more than one project at a time. I’m 2/3rds of the way through the first draft of my second novel, and a producer I worked with casually last summer has asked me to rewrite his treatment. I’m also awaiting notes on my first novel, on which I’m working with a freelance editor, so I’ll start a rewrite of that soon (I do have book editors waiting on it.). And I recently took a job as an editor at a small publishing company, and I’m expecting a project from a writer sometime at the end of this week.

I jumped right into all that work by going to the gym this morning, then answering email, playing on Facebook and Twitter, and now writing this post. I’d been feeling stuck on the new novel, and even though I got some ideas for additional scenes, I’m afraid this is the one that’s going to get neglected – I’m usually better at meeting my obligations to other people than the ones I make to myself.

For those of you who juggle multiple writing projects, do you have any hints on how you’ve been successful at it? I’d much rather spend the afternoon reading your comments than doing any of that work!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

My son turned 19 on Friday. It was his first birthday that we spent physically apart. In many ways, though, we’ve been apart for years. Kids don’t just grow up, they grow away from you, and while that’s true for both genders, I think that boys – with their society-mandated ban against emotions – are colder during the process.

An only child, my son was an exceptionally happy and affectionate little boy. As his father worked out-of-state and came home only on weekends for ten years, the two of us were especially close. He would sit in my lap when we watched TV together. I’d usually wake up to find him in my bed. We’d talk endlessly as I drove him around town to his various activities and lessons. We’d go to movies together, dinner. We were best friends.

And then he started high school. Suddenly I was persona non grata.

I had expected this, to a certain extent, but what I hadn’t expected was that he’d completely and categorically deny our previous closeness. It was like being dumped by a boyfriend who then claimed you’d never gone out.

When I’d bring up certain cherished memories – “Remember when we went to Disney World? Remember seeing Peter Pan on Broadway?” he’d claim complete ignorance. He had no recollection of his boyhood love of Peter Pan, of watching the Cathy Rigby tape over and over again, singing, “I Gotta Crow.” And he’d get angry if I tried to refresh his memory.

Since so many activities were just the two of us, it meant that these memories were now mine and mine alone. (Unless they have to do with a feat on the baseball field. He has no problem recalling those, no matter how young he was at the time.)

Sometimes I feel like a stalkerish ex-girlfriend toward my own son. “Don’t you remember how great this was? Don’t you remember what we were like together? Why don’t you love me anymore? Waaaa…” I was hoping not to ever behave this way again after getting married.

I’ve been told by friends who have older children, that eventually young men grow out of the angry teenager phase and stop pushing away Mom so hard. I don’t know if that means the memories will come back too, though.

Breaking up is hard to do. Especially when you’re getting dumped by your own child!