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.

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