Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pictures of a life you'll never know





The part of Philomena that was most meaningful to me was the way she periodically runs through home movie pictures of the son she lost to forced adoption. They are flickering images of a childhood she was never a part of, glances of a boy she only imagines. This hit me because it is exactly what happens when you have lost a child. My first son, Calvin, was stillborn nearly 13 years ago, and I still see flashes of the boy he might have been in my mind, in certain postures of his living siblings, in the faces of the growing-up-so-fast children of friends. A long time ago, I stopped trying to compare suffering, but I am pretty sure that women like Philomena Lee, who were hidden from the world in the shame of their pregnancy then had their children taken from them and never knew what happened to them, had it much worse than me.

In the movie, we eventually see that the images she has been "imagining" are actually drawn from a reel of images from her son's life with his adoptive family. This bothers me, because it compresses too much of her experience, which is what I feel this movie did in general. She says she thought of him every day, and she must have had her own pictures of him that would be strangely, and I imagine, unsettlingly pushed aside by these "real" pictures. That would be a new, fresh loss, and a satisfying portrayal of the story would have acknowledged it.

Reading: The NYT Magazine Lives They Lived issue is one of my favorite events of the year. From the story on sculptor Ruth Asawa: "The distinction between domestic and nondomestic art would have made no sense to Asawa. 'Art is doing,' she wrote. 'Art deals directly with life.'"

Also nearing the end of Teacher Man, and found this other resonant statement about art making. He is discussing his friend the painter Yonk Kling who had a recurring image of women on a beach that he couldn't or wouldn't quite explain: "He had just put those women there and he wasn't going to interfere with them. That's what he disliked about certain artists and writers. They interfered and pointed to everything as if you couldn't see or read for yourself. Not Van Gogh. Look at Van Gogh. There's the bridge, the sunflower, the room, the face, the shoes. Come to your own conclusion. Van Gogh ain't telling you."

Writing: Hmm. But I did play pool with my sister and my daughter. That must count for something.

Dinner: I had "taverna eggplant" at a restaurant last night. Thick slices of eggplant deep fried but not breading - thin crispy exterior, soft almost custard like exterior - drizzled with honey and sprinkled with snips of fresh sage and chunky sea salt. It's the sage that really makes it.

Soundtrack: The Billy Joe Armstrong/Norah Jones Everly Brothers Project and David reminded me of David Bowie's new album in his blog.

Random thing: O observed while watching Secret Life of Walter Mitty that the characters were "not really walking" while they were walking down a NYC street. He is very observant that boy.

There is more in Teacher Man about Kling as an observer, but I've run out of time.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Venue of Vultures


Turkey vulture warming itself in the sun.
photo from wildcarebayarea.org

On the way to a walk by the river, I saw a venue of turkey vultures trooping around on the banks of the Hocking. I thought at first they were geese. There are a lot of geese here, as everywhere. But geese don't have red heads, and geese do not have a 7-foot wing span. There were perhaps 12 or 15 birds. Most of them were hunched in a familiar vulture pose, but 4 or 5 of them had their wings fully extended to catch the sunshine. (Venue is the collective word for vultures on the ground, according too the kind people of TrekOhio, who also note that the Latin name for this bird, "Cathartes aura, means either golden purifier or purifying breeze." Let us respect the carrion eaters for they purify our world.)

On the walk itself, the only birds I saw were geese, robins, and grackles. Is it an illusion that when I was a kid Canada geese and robins were truly migratory? I recall the wonder of the first robin of spring. Was I just not paying attention all winter? I know the living patterns of geese have changed, but whenever I try to research robins, I find info that says "some winter over." There was point along the walk where there are 5 small trees planted a few feet apart. Each tree had a neat round of rich brown mulch at its foot. Each round of mulch had a plump robin posing with its rusty breast feather glowing in the bright winter sun.

One more bird thing: This article on "raptor porn" came across my field yesterday. It is about the indiscriminate use of the cry of the red-tailed hawk in movies and tv to signal "wildness," with no connection the bird itself. The writer laments this as lazy filmmaking but more than that as a reduction of this sound of a real creature to a symbol of a concept which no longer has a basis in reality.

Somehow this connects to the purifying vultures in my mind -- the need for us to (verbs fail me -- connect? respect? understand? -- I do not like these verbs) the role and reality of animals) but that is a subject for a more extended meditation.

Reading: Started Teacher Man. What a great voice McCourt has.

Writing: Working on a scene - continuation of what I read at the Four and Twenty Blackbirds - with material I generated during an exercise I did while sitting in on a workshop Alexandra Fuller did with some of our students in the fall.

Also, oddly, a poem.

Dinner: We went out to my sister's fiance's family's land for a hayride and a bonfire. We had gluhwein made in a feuerzangenbowle over the Coleman stove (translation: warm wine over which sugar and rum have been set a aflame and allowed to drip into the wine) and homemade deer burgers.

Soundtrack: Z has been singing in endless loop "Toad Away." It's a Firesign Theatre's song to the tune of "First Noel." This is David's fault.



Random thing: The more I think about Dallas Buyers Club the more I am irritated with it. The acting is all superb, and the character it is portraiting is an interesting guy, but:

First, as a writer, I am disappointed with the degree to which all other characters, with the possible exception of Jared Leto's character, Rayon (a very well-portrayed but maybe too easily tragic drag queen), are not really characters at all. They just exist to highlight different aspects of the main character.

Second, this writing choice necessarily means no women characters, no gay characters, no Texas macho men characters that actually have any substance or nuance. Griffin Dunne maybe gets the farthest with Dr. Vass.

Third, this means that the self-aware gay slurs (we know we're gay bashing, but it is historically and culturally accurate so it is ok) that happen all over this movie gets uncomfortable and tiresome to me after a while.

I could go on. It is good that macho straight gay-hating cowboys also got AIDS and had to come to terms with vicious stereotyping. It is good that they fought fights to treat the disease. Can we make movies about them that have women that are more than tits and gay guys who have personality beyond their gayness?

(Loyal readers might like to know I saw 7 hawks on the drive down here last week.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Insomnia in Plaid


This pattern was also very popular with Edward VIII,
during his carefree days as Prince of Wales.

My sleep patterns are disrupted here. However there's a fireplace in the sitting room that makes being mysteriously awake at 3 a.m. seem like a luxury. Thursday night, I read on the couch and talked to Bette, the aging bassett-retriever, until I fell back asleep at dawn. Hoping for a repeat this morning, I got up in the dark and came downstairs to find it was nearly 7 and my mother was up with a computer in her lap.

It's no surprise that my sleep is off. It usually is. I don't conform well to the 8-hour sleep schedule, and I fantasize about a life where I can both be a productive member of society and sleep whenever the whim strikes me. My friend Harris pointed me towards the idea of "second sleep" or "segmented sleep" when I complained of this in the spring. There is historical documentation to support the idea that pre-industrial people (i.e., those not beholden to the factory clock and the world it created) tended to wake in the night and made use of the wee hours. What about all the people who couldn't afford candles, that's what I wonder.

Sitting room fires, candles, I'm glad for these things. And old dogs, couches, winter breaks, stacks of books, and Bailey's in my pre-dawn coffee.

Reading: Almost done with Separate Peace. Today I will start Looking for Alaska by John Green (because all my students love John Green, so I need to read him) or Teacher Man by Frank McCourt (it's been on my list for a long time, and now as a teacher of high school students I hope it might fortify me in some way).

Writing: Working with some bits and pieces of things I sketched during the fall.

Dinner: Thursday we did have Nantucket scallops (thanks, Jonth). I baked them with butter and garlic and minced onion topped with bread crumbs, then sprinkled with parsley and lemon juice at the table.

Friday I made butter beans in the crockpot with the ham bone from Christmas (with onion, celery, carrot, shredded cabbage, diced tomatoes, a little Montreal steak seasoning in lieu of cajun spice at the end, and a pat of butter stirred in before serving). We at it in bowls with my mom's cornbread broken up on top.

Soundtrack: Mark Bolan is a running joke of sorts in Dallas Buyer's Club, which we saw yesterday. He is also thanked in the credits. Which reminds me, I got a boxed set of Life on Mars for Christmas.

Plus, is Jared Leto's band any good? He's great in DBC.

Random thing: I spent Friday afternoon tooling around discount retail wonderland with my sister (and DZ&O), and I scored some very well made and well-fitting glen plaid trousers. The book of all things tells me this pattern is not a traditional clan tartan but was used in the 19th century by the New Zealand-born countess of Seafield to outfit her gamekeepers in Glen Urquhart, which by the way borders Loch Ness.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Oh, hello there.


Self-portrait, with yellow Papermate

It's been a while. I've been teaching full time this fall and managing to write some non-blog writing (see below) and trying to tend to my home life at least a little, and so this space has been neglected. I have missed it. I recently told my friend Karen, who keeps a lovely sketching blog, which also sometimes is neglected, that we should make a pact to rededicate ourselves to this funny enterprise.

And so here I am on Boxing Day at the Donkey with a bag of books and a computer. I just finished writing thank you notes to students for holiday gifts. I am planning to see a very long movie about a "greedy, strong, and wicked worm" later today. Each day of vacation is supposed to include reading, writing, exercise, school prep, family time, and good food. I've accomplished three and a half of these so far.

Reading: A Separate Peace by John Knowles, brushing up for school. I have a bunch of other books here too. More on those as the days develop. Have you read Separate Peace? How do you feel about Finny?

Writing: I have been busier with work this fall than most other times in my life, and yet ... I published a short piece about cabbage in Edible Cleveland (winter issue isn't online - pick it up around town), I read out with dear friends in the first installment of a reading/pie/lit. salon series we are trying to float (and this meant writing NEW PAGES of the book-in-progress), and I have two theatrical pieces in the works - I'm part of a great group project and I'm writing a children's play. This is good. Now, if I can just get the book done, finally, please, because there is a character from another book getting very restless in my brain, and also, I have some bits and pieces of new shorter stuff I've been playing with. Check back for daily updates! Really.

Dinner: For Christmas dinner, we had ham and these crazy accordion potatoes my mom made. For the vegetarians and as a side for the meat eaters, I made veggie "strudel."

There are 3 sorts: broccoli & cheddar; mixed greens with walnuts,
raisins, and feta; and rich mushroom and sour cream.
No, I don't understand the angle of this photo.

Dinner tonight is rumored to be scallops from my Nantucket uncle and veggie strudel leftovers. Life is good.

Soundtrack: The music at the Donkey is always eclectic. A bit ago "Comfortably Numb" was on, and I think "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys was just playing (or else why would I have it in my head). Now, there's something on with a bass line I don't recognize.

Random thing: Lamps make the world seem manageable. I recommend lamps.