April 30, 2005

Mission accomplished

Last night? Amazing gathering of bloggers and friends last night for the opening of Hitchhikers Guide here in New York. We started planning this thing in December, mkay?? The opening date had been moved up a week - but besides that, we had no glitches.

And there we all were: Emily, Dave J, Bill and his fiance Christie, Steve and his girlfriend Rebecca, Chris, Mr. Bingley, and a couple of others who joined us for different parts of the night ...

All there to see this movie. What fun! I'll talk more about the movie later - or maybe I'll just wait for Emily's post, because it'll be better than mine. The woman brought a TOWEL to the movie theatre, you got that? If you don't know what the towel is for, then you obviously don't know Douglas Adams.

Anyway, it was a ton of fun - I got home at 3 o'clock in the morning or something like that - and ... basically ... Bingley has posted a picture that kind of sums up the entire tone of the evening.

I'm still laughing.

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The Books: "When the Sky is Like Lace" (Elinor Lander Horwitz)

Next book in my Daily Book Excerpt:

SkyLikeLace.gifI have written about this book before - and my long search to locate the book of my childhood that I thought was called "On a Bimulous Night" - which is why I couldn't find it for years. The book is called When the Sky is Like Lace .

The book has some of the most beautiful illustrations I have ever seen (by the spectacular Barbara Cooney). Truly transportive. And the language! For example: "it feels like the velvet inside a very old violin case." This is a line from a CHILDREN'S book. Isn't it marvelous? Children's books do not need to be educational or edifying or preachy ... they can also be literature. This book is literature.

Here's a little excerpt:

EXCERPT FROM When the Sky is Like Lace .

Because on bimulous nights when the sky is like lace, the trees eucalyptus back and forth, forth and back, swishing and swaying, swaying and swishing -- in the fern-deep grove at the midnight end of the garden.

You will also find that, on bimulous nights when the sky is like lace, the grass is like gooseberry jam. It's not really squooshy like jam, because then the otters' feet would slurp around and snails might drown. It only smells like gooseberry jam. But if you walk barefoot, it feels like the velvet inside a very old violin case.

If you plan to go out on a bimulous night when the sky is like lace, here are some rules you must remember:

Never talk to a rabbit or a kissing gourami.
If your nose itches, don't scratch it.
Wear nothing that is orange, not even underneath.

And -- if you have a lucky penny, put it in your pocket. Because, on bimulous nights when the sky is like lace and the otters are singing and the snails are sulking and the trees are dancing and the grass is like gooseberry jam, it's a good idea to be prepared.

Because -- you never know.

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Today in History

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.

George Washington wrote the following on the eve of his inauguration:

It is said that every man has his portion of ambition. I may have mine, I suppose, as well as the rest, but if I know my own heart, my ambition would not lead me into public life; my only ambition is to do my duty in this world as well as I am capable of performing it, and to merit the good opinion of all good men.

We are so lucky, so very lucky, to have had this man in our "canon". There's as always, so much to say. One of the thing that strikes me about him is that he never wanted to seem like he was jostling for power or position. George Washington had many wonderful qualities and abilities - but it was this distaste for public life that I believe made him truly great. He went out of his way to let everyone know how unworthy he felt, how he hoped their trust in him was warranted, that he was eager to finally go home and live the life of a private man... But on this day in history, April 30, there was to be no private man anymore. His people had chosen him, and while Mount Vernon continued to call to him, he knew he must accept.

David McCullough describes, in his book on John Adams, inauguration day:

On the day of his inauguration, Thursday, April 30 1789, Washington rode to Federal Hall in a canary-yellow carriage pulled by six white horses and followed by a long column of New York militia in full dress. The air was sharp, the sun shone brightly, and with all work stopped in the city, the crowds along his route were the largest ever seen. It was as if all New York had turned out and more besides. "Many persons in the crowd," reported the Gazette of the United States "were heard to say they should now die contented – nothing being wanted to complete their happiness … but the sight of the savior of his country."

In the Senate Chamber were gathered the members of both houses of Congress, the Vice President, and sundry officials and diplomatic agents, all of whom rose when Washington made his entrance, looking solemn and stately. His hair powdered, he wore a dress sword, white silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, and a suit of the same brown Hartford broadcloth that Adams, too, was wearing for the occasion. They might have been dressed as twins, except that Washington's metal buttons had eagles on them.

It was Adams who formally welcomed the General and escorted him to the dais. For an awkward moment Adams appeared to be in some difficulty, as though he had forgotten what he was supposed to say. then, addressing Washington, he declared that the Senate and House of Representatives were ready to attend him for the oath of office as required by the Constitution. Washington said he was ready. Adams bowed and led the way to the outer balcony, in full view of the throng in the streets. People were cheering and waving from below, and from windows and rooftops as far as the eye could see. Washington bowed once, then a second time.

Fourteen years earlier, it had been Adams who called on the Continental Congress to make the tall Virginian commander-in-chief of the army. Now he stood at Washington's side as Washington, his right hand on the Bible, repeated the oath of office as read by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, who had also been a member of the Continental Congress.

In a low voice Washington solemnly swore to execute the office of the President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Then, as not specified in the Constitution, he added, "So help me God", and kissed the Bible, thereby establishing his own first presidential tradition.

"It is done," Livingston said, and, turning to the crowd, cried out, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States."

The following is George Washington's first inaugural address. What I sense in these words is what I sense in so many of the original documents of that time, written by the main players: they were embarking on a grand and hopeful experiment. They were entering uncharted waters. And they all seem determined (each in their different ways, with their different views) to make the most of the opportunity, to seize the day. No decision was unimportant, everything had meaning ... and what I also sense in this inaugural address is that Washington knew that he wasn't only talking to the people present, but he was also talking to us. The future generations. They all knew that they were being watched, carefully, by those who would come after.

The only thing required of a President on his inauguration day, in those early early days, was that he take the oath of Office. Washington, in composing an address, to the people who put their faith in him, set the precedent. Every president since then has followed his example.

Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and of the House of Representatives:

Among the vicissitudes incident to life no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the 14th day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years--a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with despondence one who (inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpracticed in the duties of civil administration) ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions all I dare aver is that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of every circumstance by which it might be affected. All I dare hope is that if, in executing this task, I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof of the confidence of my fellow-citizens, and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me, my error will be palliated by the motives which mislead me, and its consequences be judged by my country with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow- citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer to the great constitutional charter under which you are assembled, and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges that as on one side no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests, so, on another, that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the system, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good; for I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience, a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen and a regard for the public harmony will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be impregnably fortified or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

To the foregoing observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imparted to you my sentiments as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.

William Maclay, a senator from Pennsylvania, kept a daily journal - highly detailed, and rather cynical, about the Senate sessions of the first Congress. He describes the first inauguration in vivid detail:

30th April, Thursday.--This is a great, important day. Goddess of etiquette, assist me while I describe it. The Senate stood adjourned to half after eleven o'clock. About ten dressed in my best clothes; went for Mr. Morris' lodgings, but met his son, who told me that his father would not be in town until Saturday. Turned into the Hall. The crowd already great. The Senate met. The Vice-President rose in the most solemn manner. This son of Adam seemed impressed with deeper gravity, yet what shall I think of him? He often, in the midst of his most important airs--I believe when tie is at loss for expressions (and this he often is, wrapped up, I suppose, in the contemplation of his own importance)-- suffers an unmeaning kind of vacant laugh to escape him. This was the case to-day, and really to me bore the air of ridiculing the farce he was acting. "Gentlemen, I wish for the direction of the Senate. The President will, I suppose, addressthe Congress. How shall I behave? How shall we receive it? Shall it be standing or sitting?"

Here followed a considerable deal of talk from him which I could make nothing of. Mr. Lee began with the House of Commons (as is usual with him), then the House of Lords, then the King, and then back again. The result of his information was, that the Lords sat and the Commons stood on the delivery of the King's speech. Mr. Izard got up and told how often he had been in the Houses of Parliament. He said a great deal of what he had seen there. [He] made, however, this sagacious discovery, that the Commons stood because they had no. seats to sit on, being arrived at the bar of the House of Lords. It was discovered after some time that the King sat, too, and had his robes and crown on.

Mr. Adams got up again and said he had been very often indeed at the Parliament on those occasions, but there always was such a crowd, and ladies along, that for his part he could not say how it was. Mr. Carrol got up to declare that he thought it of no consequence how it was in Great Britain; they were no rule to us, etc. But all at once the Secretary, who had been out, whispered to the Chair that the Clerk from the Representatives was at the door with a communication. Gentlemen of the Senate, how shall he be received? A silly kind of resolution of the committee on that business had been laid on the table some days ago. The amount of it was that each House should communicate to the other what and how they chose; it concluded, however, something in this way: That everything should be done with all the propriety that was proper. The question was, Shall this be adopted, that we may know how to receive the Clerk? It was objected [that] this will throw no light on the subject; it will leave you where you are. Mr. Lee brought the House of Commons before us again. He reprobated the rule; declared that the Clerk should not come within the bar of file House; that the proper mode was for the Sergeant-at-Arms, with the mace on his shoulder, to meet the Clerk at the door and receive his communication; we are not, however, provided for this ceremonious way of doing business, having neither mace nor sergeant nor Masters in Chancery, who carry down bills from the English Lords.

Mr. Izard got up and labored unintelligibly to show the great distinction between a communication and a delivery of a thing, but he was not minded. Mr. Elsworth showed plainly enough that if the Clerk was not permitted to deliver the communication, the Speaker might as well send it inclosed. Repeated accounts came [that] the Speaker and Representatives were at the door. Confusion ensued; the members left their seats. Mr. Read rose and called the attention of the Senate to the neglect that had been shown Mr. Thompson, late Secretary. Mr. Lee rose to answer him, but I could not hear one word he said. The Speaker was introduced, followed by the Representatives. Here we sat an hour and ten minutes before the President arrived--this delay was owing to Lee, Izard, and Dalton, who had stayed with us while the Speaker came in, instead of going to attend the President. The President advanced between the Senate and Representatives, bowing to each. He was placed in the chair by the Vice-President; the Senate with their president on the right, the Speaker and the Representatives on his left. The Vice-President rose and addressed a short sentence to him. The import of it was that he should now take the oath of office as President. He seemed to have forgot half what he was to say, for he made a dead pause and stood for some time, to appearance, in a vacant mood. He finished with a formal bow, and the President was conducted out of the middle window into the gallery, and the oath was administered by the Chancellor. Notice that the business done was communicated to the crowd by proclamation, etc., who gave three cheers, and repeated it on the President's bowing to them.

As the company returned into the Senate chamber, the President took the chair and the Senators and Representatives their seats. He rose, and all arose also and addressed them. This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before. He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of what I think the tailors call the fall of the breeches, changing the paper into his left hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of his right hand. When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper, for I felt hurt that he was not first in everything. He was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword.

From the hall there was a grand procession to Saint Paul's Church, where prayers were said by the Bishop. The procession was well conducted and without accident, as far as I have heard. The militia were all under arms, lined the street near the church, made a good figure, and behaved well.

The Senate returned to their chamber after service, formed, and took up the address. Our Vice-President called it his most gracious speech. I can not approve of this. A committee was appointed on it--Johnson, Carrol, Patterson. Adjourned. In the evening there were grand fireworks. The Spanish Ambassador's house was adorned with transparent paintings; the French Minister's house was illuminated, and had some transparent pieces; the Hall was grandly illuminated, and after all this the people went to bed.

I have such a deep fondness for John Adams, with all his airs and self-importance and vanity. I just love the guy, what can I say. He's so feckin' human.

The description of Washington's awkwardness makes me want to cry:

He rose, and all arose also and addressed them. This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before. He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of what I think the tailors call the fall of the breeches, changing the paper into his left hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of his right hand. When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression. I sincerely, for my part, wished all set ceremony in the hands of the dancing-masters, and that this first of men had read off his address in the plainest manner, without ever taking his eyes from the paper, for I felt hurt that he was not first in everything. He was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons, with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword.

God. Good God. But what really moves me is that after the address, they all walked in procession, led by George Washington, to St. Paul's Church, for a service.

St. Paul's Church. (Read that article ... it's a well-known story, of course, but it always bears repeating.) St. Paul's has always had meaning for us here in New York, because of its long history, but now ... it has more meaning than ever. I can't even think about St. Paul's without feeling tears come to my eyes. So to think ... that that special church, that church that became symbolic (not just to us here, but to people all over the country) of hope, or survival, of healing ... would be the place where George Washington prayed for guidance after being sworn in as the first President... I mean, honestly. I don't even know what else to say about it.

April 30, 1789 ... the day this new nation embarked on its unknown and exciting course, with George Washington at the helm.

Here is an image of the first page of this inaugural address, in Washington's own hand.


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April 29, 2005

Weekend survey

From RTG ... (and I'm not just doing this survey thing cause she linked to me!!)

1. What movies would you like to live in?

First and foremost, Only Angels Have Wings. Full list here.

2. Name one thing you do better than anybody else.

Wow. I have no idea. You'd have to ask my friends and family who love me. I can't answer that.

3. What's your background?

Artistic. Small town Rhode Islander. Bohemian, I guess. Brought up in a university town.

4. If your friends would be completely honest and tell you what they think about you, would you want to know?

I actually did that once with some really good friends. I called a couple of them up, one by one, and asked them some REALLY hard questions, like:

"Have I ever let you down?"


"What do you think I need to work on?"


"What do I do that really annoys you?"

I gave myself the rule, too, that I couldn't talk back to them, when they answered - even if I felt like defending myself. Just LISTEN, Sheila. Shut up and listen. These people love you. And they love you even though you HAVE let them down once or twice. It was not easy to hear the truth, but I always hung up the phone feeling rich and BLESSED.

5. What's the last good book you read?

I just finished Tracy and Hepburn by Garson Kanin. It's awesome.

Also The Great Terror by Robert Conquest. Still processing that one.

6. If you were a cartoon character, what would your name be, what would you look like, and what would you do?

Fenian Fly-Girl. I would have long flaming red hair, and I would wear Celtic jewelry, like something out of Mists of Avalon, and I would most definitely fly - because I've always wanted to do that. And ... er ... I guess I would fight crime. Yeah. I would fly about the world, and kill bad guys. My sidekick would have to be Stretchy Colorado.

7. Are you going to buy a copy of my new book?

Title, please?? Of course I will!

8. Tell me one thing you are glad you finished.

"The Enchantment of Things", a book I wrote. Also, that I got closure with P.M. Took a lot of work, but I finished it. In a good way, a healthy way. I bludgeoned him in a dark alley. (No, just kidding.)

9. Give me one piece of wisdom your mother told you.

"It was the second call that made the difference." Story here.

10. Name a few overrated blogs and a few underrated blogs.

Oh boy. Time to make some enemies.

Overrated: Wizbang. Wonkette. hahaha I'm not linking to them. They get enough UNDESERVED traffic.

Underrated - and this list is not exhaustive, just the first that come to mind: Ann Althouse, Truly Bad Films, No Such Blog, Fortuna ... and many many many more spectacular blogs - go look through my blogroll for more!

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (4)

Mean reviews - part 1

I read two reviews today that made me laugh out loud, both in The New York Times.

First one: the review of the upcoming TV movie "Riding the Bus with my Sister" - which sounds like the most condescending wrong-headed but well-intentioned project since "The Other Sister". I am about to be extremely obnoxious and offensive. Rosie ODonnell stars as a "mentally disabled" women. Apparently, that means that she wears different colored sneakers and extra-large T shirts. Also, because this is Hollywood, it means that she has all the secrets to life. It doesn't matter that her brain flickers like a dim bulb. She is a GENIUS when it comes to "the important things". She is here to show us the right way to live. Anyway, the review in the Times is one of the funniest things I have read all day - and I am TOTALLY going to watch the movie. Because hell ... it's been a while since I saw Rainman! I need another moron to tell me the Meaning of Life.

What is it with this formula? Who came up with this formula? I don't get it. Mental illness or mental disability isn't cute or funny to those who have to deal with it on an every day basis. It's hard, it's a lot of work ... So this formula seems so weird to me, and I don't get it. I mean, I do ... on some level ... and sometimes it works (a lot of people loved Forrest Gump - I happen to have despised that movie so much I wanted to drive a stake through the movie screen - but millions of people can't be wrong.) Also Rainman - I enjoyed that film. The good thing about that character was that he seemed REALLY disabled - not just kind of cute and enlightened in a really simplistic way. Member Benny and Joon? Another example. I liked that movie, kind of ... but again, what exactly was her problem? Was she disabled? Did she have a mental illness? Or was her "disability" just a plot device to show the rest of us how stiffly and rigidly we live our lives?

The most EGREGIOUS example of this formula was the incredibly annoying kid that they threw into Gigli for ... no reason whatsoever. He started out extremely retarded, barely verbal ... and by the end of the movie, he was spouting pearls of wisdom, and dancing with a bunch of extras on Baywatch. I'm not kidding. The movie ends with this dim-bulb-kid dancing with Baywatch extras. And ... we're supposed to feel what about this? That ... it's a triumph? Are we supposed to look at one another, teary-eyed, all choked up that the retard realized his goal of Baywatch-babes? I'm serious - I really think that the director thought that THAT would be our response. I found that portrayal of a mentally disabled person so arbitrary, so offensive, and also - so gratuitous - like: what the hell was he doing in that movie?

Obviously to show the two leads what is really important in life ... and to show them how to laugh in stressful moments ... to show them how beautiful life really is ...

It was SO EMBARRASSING to watch. Never mind the awful-ness of Bennifer. Never mind the toe-cringingly bad "yoga scene". Never mind the embarrassing-ness of the worst sex scene ever filmed in American movie history. (I still have nightmares about the expression on Ben Affleck's face when J-Lo got on top.) All of that wasn't awful enough. They just HAD to throw a retarded kid into the mix, to try to teach us all some ... vague ... lesson ...

Anyway, Rosie O'Donnell's project is the latest in this genre which I truly believe needs to be put to BED. FOREVER.

But the review byVIRGINIA HEFFERNAN nails it. I was laughing out loud reading it:

As a character, she doesn't make sense: she's socially awkward, but not consistently disabled. She's less poignant or tragic than merely clamorous and bothersome.

But if she bugs you, it's your problem. This underhanded movie makes Ms. O'Donnell into an appalling cartoon only to pretend innocence - or, no, moral superiority - when the viewer is appalled. Is Beth's voice deafening on your television set? Is her lumpy form in a Tweety Bird T-shirt depressing? Is her nascent sexuality hard to contemplate? You must have no heart. And you will have to come around to her innocent wonders.

"come around to her innocent wonders ..."

There's a reason I love bad mean reviews. They're usually so much better written than the good ones, because the reviewer has her dander up.

It just gets bitchier:

A hotshot fashion photographer who lives in an overdesigned apartment in New York with her boyfriend, with whom she doesn't have time to have children, this devil-woman is very vulnerable to a Hallmark turnaround, and sure enough, she gets one when her father dies and she's stuck taking care of Beth.

At first Rachel is mad, but she gets used to it, even the constant bus-riding that occupies her sister's days; after some setbacks, she sees what a bad, bad workaholic she is, and learns about love.

holy crap, I have to see this.

Listen to how the review ends:

This is a deeply - even thrillingly - embarrassing movie.


I love that! I'm totally going to have to watch a little bit of it, because I love to be deeply - and yet thrillingly - embarrassed.

Update: Another post on this topic. Fake compassion, indeed.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (17)

Diary Friday

Yet another manic high school girl entry. This is during my junior year, first quarter, and I was wildly in love (in a completely unrequited way) with a guy in my French class who was a senior. It is a tragic tale, but I didn't know how it would end at the time of this entry.


2 days after the dance -- 2 days before my birthday!

I got on the Honor Roll! YAY! Dave got High Honors. [Ed: Ah, and here it is. Not taking the proper time to revel in my own accomplishment ... before comparing it to his - which seems far superior to me. Hmmmm. Get over that one quick, Sheil-babe.] Diary - how does he do it all? Student Council, Band, Stage Band - and he's not just a sax player - he is a great sax player. [Ed: I could barely type that just now without flying apart in embarrassment. Visions of "St. Elmo's Fire" dance in my head.] He is in AP English, Physics, probably all the top courses. [Sheila: STOP DOING THAT. You are an awesome girl yourself, with a ton of interests and extra-curricular activities. KNOCK THIS SHIT OFF.] I don't know how people like that do it! [Ed: Ehm, same way you do? Hard work? Sacrifice? Commitment?]

By the way - I haven't stopped thinking about him for a minute. [Really, Sheila. I find that hard to believe.]

Yesterday after the football game (we lost), we drove up to Wellesley for dinner at Mama's. I brought books and stories for the ride - but all I did was stare out the window and think of Dave! Does he think of me? Or is he so nice to everyone? I wonder what's going to happen on Monday. I hope he doesn't never talk to me again. [Huh? Double negative?] I want the friendship to keep growing.

You know what Kate said on Wednesday? I was a wreck about Dave. She, as she put on makeup, said, "Sheila -- honestly -- as an outsider -- I can see it. There is potential there." [Not to open up old wounds, but I STILL maintain that Kate was right!!] J. says it too. She says, "When I see you two talk, I can see it! I really can." I just sit there: "Where? Where do you see it?" Because we just talk -- I mean -- is there something more there? J. says, "Well, since it's happening to you, I suppose you can't see it. I mean, they do say that Love is blind."

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Pauline Kale: 5001 Movies

Last one for today.

Anne of the Thousand Days 1970

This version of the events that led Henry VIII to make himself head of the Church of England is intelligent from line to line, but the emotions that are supplied seem hypothetical, and the conception lacks authority. Richard Burton's Henry is conceived as a weak, tentative, somewhat apologetic monarch, and though Burton delivers his speeches with considerable sureness and style, his performance is colorless; it's almost as if he remembered how to acto but couldn't work up much enthusiasm or involvement. Genevieve Bujold's Anne Boleyn is a clever, wily, sexually experienced young girl who keeps the King waiting for her sexual favors for six years -- until he can marry her and make their children heirs to the throne. Bujold works at the role with all her will and intelligence, and her readings are often extraordinary, but she's too tight and too self-contained; one admires her as an actress but does not really warm to her performance. The adapters sharpened Maxwell Anderson's play, and the dialogue is often much crisper than one anticipates, but the script has a structural weakness: it does not convince us that after all those years of waiting for Anne the King would turn against her when she gives birth to a daughter. And at the end we're left with Maxwell Anderson's glowing, fatuous hindsight: a final shot of Anne's posthumous triumph -- the baby Elizabeth wandering about, deserted, as her foolish father, who doesn't know what we know, goes off to beget a male heir.
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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next up?

Anna and the King of Siam 1946

In this first movie version of Margaret London's account of the Englishwoman who went to Siam in 1862 to teach the multitudinous children of the barbaric king, Irene Dunne is Anna to Rex Harrison's King. Harrison wears a dusky makeup and a pair of short pants that wrap around his haunches, and he speaks in a quaint dialect -- a sort of pidgin Piccadilly -- but he's never less than magnetically ridiculous. You don't want to take your eyes off him -- certainly not to watch Irene Dunne curtsying in her starched petticoats. It's pitifully inauthentic, and not a very good movie, either, but the story holds considerable interest.
Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next up?

Animal Crackers 1930

The Marx Brothers in their pre-Hollywood period; like The Cocoanuts of the year before, it was a Broadway musical comedy, slightly adapted, and filmed in Astoria -- and it looks stagey. But the film is too joyous for cavilling. Groucho is the fearless African explorer Captain Spaulding, who deigns to attend a party at Rittenhouse Manor on Long Island; Margaret Dumont is Mrs. Rittenhouse and Lillian Roth is her daughter Arabella. Arguably the best line: "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping' with a male chorus."
Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

More soundbites from this great film critic.

Angels with dirty faces 1938

An entertaining picture lurks behind that uninviting title. Warners threw its assets together in this one: James Cagney at his cockiest as a gangster, Pat O'Brien as a priest, and Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft, and the Dead End Kids, too. It has jokes and romance and a smashing big last sequence on Death Row -- the priest asks the gangster to act cowardly when he's executed, so that he won't be a hero to the Dead End Kids, and Cagney comes through with a rousing finale.

Great flick. Filled with actors you would recognize. I love Cagney.

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The Books: "A Christmas Memory" (Truman Capote)

Next book in my daily book excerpt:

A-Christmas-Memory.jpgWe've moved out of the "science" area, and now we're in the "oversized children's and picture books" area. So next up is an excerpt from Truman Capote's classic: A Christmas Memory. It's an autobiographical tale, about the only friend he had in his childhood: a 60-something year old cousin - who, maybe, was rather "simple" - or maybe just "eccentric" - He never says. We don't even care. Truman Capote's childhood was a pretty bleak one, at least in terms of being loved ... and this cousin of his loved him unconditionally. We love her for it. It is told from Truman's perspective as a 6 or 7 year old boy. And every Christmas, his "friend" and he make a batch of fruitcakes. It is something they save up for, anticipate, dream about ... They live in their own little world, together. The book packs a huge punch. It's Capote at his bittersweet nostalgic best.

Here's the opening couple of paragraphs:

EXCERPT FROM A Christmas Memory , by Truman Capote.

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable -- not unlike Lincoln's, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. "Oh my," she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, "it's fruitcake weather!"

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something. We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together --- well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives, and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other's best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

"I knew it before I got out of bed," she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. "The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they've gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We've thirty cakes to bake."

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April 28, 2005

Over 25? Grow up.

I can't even trace my steps to how I found the following piece - but I love it, and I have to pass it on.

25 and Over: Playtime's over

Manners and deportment tips to people who have reached the age of 25.

One example:

7. Know how to calculate the tip. Ten percent of the total; double it; done. You did not have to major in math to know how this works. You are not dumb, but your Barbie-math-is-hard flailing is agonizing and has outstayed its welcome. Ten percent times two. Learn it.

There's more, though. It's good funny writing.

This one made me laugh out loud:

17. Have a real trash receptacle, real Kleenex, and, if you smoke, a real ashtray. No loose bags on the floor; no using a roll of toilet paper; no plates or empty soda cans. You are not a fierce warrior nomad of the Fratty Bubelatty tribe. Buy a wastebasket and grown-up paper products.
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It's all in the details

I really like this quote from novelist Bobbie Ann Mason:

"I've always found it difficult to start with a definite idea, but if I start with a pond that's being drained because of a diesel fuel leak and a cow named Hortense and some blackbirds flying over and a woman in the distance waving, then I might get somewhere."
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Movie quote

"Is your Honor feeling all right?"
"No my Honor is not feeling all right."

.... It's just a matter of time before someone guesses this one ...

A race to the finish ... anyone?

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The Books: "The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself" (Daniel J. Boorstin)

Next book in my daily book excerpt from the science and philosophy shelf:

Discoverers.jpgAn excerpt from the MASSIVE book by Daniel Boorstin The Discoverers.

This excerpt comes from the first chapter, which discusses human beings and time - how different cultures have figured out time, and the calendar, in different eras. It's amazing stuff, I tell ya!

EXCERPT FROM The Discoverers, by Daniel Boorstin.

Many of the early Christians, following their own literal interpretation of the Bible, fixed the death of Jesus on a Friday, and the Easter resurrection on the following Sunday. But if the anniversary of the festival was to follow the Jewish lunar calendar, there was no assurance that Easter would occur on a Sunday. The bitter quarrel over the calendar led to one of the earliest schisms between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Church of Rome. The Eastern Christians, holding to the lunar calendar, continued to observe Easter on the fourteenth day of the lunar month, regardless of the day of the week. At the very first ecumenical (worldwide) council of the Christian Church, held at Nicaea in Asia Minor in 325, one of the world-unifying questions to be decided was the date of Easter. A uniform date was fixed in such a way as both to stay with the traditional lunar calendar and to assure that Easter would always be observed on Sunday.

But this did not quite settle the matter. For community planning someone still had to predict the phases of the moon and locate them on a solar calendar. The Council of Nicaea had left this task to the bishop of Alexandria. In the ancient center of astronomy he was to forecast the phases of the moon for all future years. Disagreement over how to predict those specified cycles led to a division in the Church, with the result that different parts of the world continued to observe Easter on different Sundays.

The reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory XIII was needed because the year that Julius Caeser had borrowed from the Egyptians, and which had ruled Western civilization since then, was not a precise enough measure of the solar cycle. The actual solar year -- the time required for the earth to complete an orbit around the sun -- is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. This was some 11 minutes and 14 seconds less than the 365 1/4 days in the Egyptian year. As a result, dates on the calendar gradually lost their intended relation to solar events and to the seasons. The crucial date, the vernal equinox, from which Easter was calculated, had been fixed by the First Council of Nicaea at March 21. But the accumulating inaccuracy of the Julian calendar meant that by 1582 the vernal equinox was actually occurring on March 11.

Pope Gregory XIII, though notorious now for this public Thanksgiving for the brutal massacre of Protestants in Paris on Saint Bartholomew's Day (1572), was in some matters an energetic reformer. He determined to set the calendar straight. Climaxing a movement for calendar reform which had been developing for at least a century, in 1582 Pope Gregory ordained that October 4 was to be followed by October 15. This meant, too, that in the next year the vernal equinox would occur, as the solar calendar of seasons required, on March 21. In this way the seasonal year was restored to what it had been in 325. The leap years of the old Julian calendar were readjusted. To prevent the accumulationi of another 11-minute-a-year discrepancy, the Gregorian calendar omitted the leap day from years ending in hundreds, unless they were divisible by 400. This produced the modern calendar by which the West still lives.

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Today in History

On April 28th, 1789, 12 crew members of the HMS Bounty burst into Captain Bligh's cabin, dragged him out onto the deck of the ship, put him in a lifeboat, and set him adrift. It was the now-famous Mutiny on the Bounty. 17 other crew members elected to go with Bligh. Here's a really interesting page devoted to this event. And here's another very interesting page, about William Wordsworth's connection to this event. I think they believe now that Bligh wasn't any worse than any other sea captain - it was just that the crew had all fallen in love/lust with the Tahitian women and didn't want to leave. Captain Bligh and the 17 men ended up sailing, in the lifeboat, for Timor - almost 4,000 miles away. It's astonishing to contemplate what they must have gone through. But they made it. They arrived 48 days later, all alive, and intact, on the island of Timor. Extraordinary story, the whole thing. I have to admit I know most of it from the movie, but also because of my interest in Captain Cook. Don't ask.

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I love weather

I'm such a New Englander that way. Every slight change in the skies outside generate intense in-depth conversations between groups of people. Strangers talk about the weather in the elevator. And it's not just chit-chat. Everyone is invested in the conversation. It's hysterical.

My favorite is when it's, say, 3 or 4 o'clock on what had been a blindingly sunny day ... and suddenly you look out the window, and it's almost dark, as though daylight savings hadn't happened yet, and you're back in wintertime. You know a storm is coming. I love that moment before a storm more than anything else.

Yesterday, the sun was snuffed out of the sky at around 4 o'clock, and a heavy low greenish-grey light lay over the city. I stood on the sidewalk just looking up at the turbulence. It's exhilarating. No raindrops yet, but you could feel something big was coming.

I had my writing group last night. We meet at the pizza joint Two Boots in the dining concourse of Grand Central. We've been doing so for a couple of years. Two Boots has fat red-leather booths, and tables with red and white checked tablecloths. For the most part, when my group meets, the tables are empty, but the bar at the front of the restaurant is packed. Commuters waiting for their Metro North trains, sucking down liquor for the ride home. But the restaurant part is relatively quiet, and we can sit at a table, have a pitcher of water, maybe order a salad or a calzone, spread out our writing across the table, and talk and work. The waitresses don't hurry us out, they know us by now. It's our spot. To get there, I walk cross town. I usually take 38th street across town, to avoid the mania of 42nd Street, and then at 5th Avenue, I turn left and walk to 42nd. That way, I get to go by the New York Public Library, and I love that. I love that building.

As I started out on my walk last night, it started to rain. Up went the umbrella. Half a block later, the rain got a bit heavier. As I crossed Broadway, there was a sudden blinding flash of lightning (am I insane, or did I FEEL that lightning-flash in the handle of my umbrella - is it possible? I felt a vibration) - and after that, an enormous CRACK of thunder. Not a rumble, but a CRACK.

The rain got a bit heavier.

Half a block later, another sizzle of lightning, directly followed by another CRACK. The rain was now coming down pretty heavily, and you could see people on the street starting to react. People would wince at the thunder, and then start laughing ... People without umbrellas were fucked, but I saw lots of people laughing about it, as they raced for a scaffolding to wait it out ...

Once I hit 5th Avenue, all hell broke loose. The rain was now coming down in sheets - billowing hard-hitting sheets of water pounding on the pavement ... The sidewalk drains were already flooded, and water raced through the gutters so that you had to leap over a mini-white-water river every time you crossed the street. The rain was so heavy most people stood under overhangs, or in doorways. It was the kind of downpour where an umbrella doesn't do you much good. My jeans were soaked.

The lightning and thunder continued. It was absolute chaos. I love New York when it gets like that. When the weather shouts at us: PAY ATTENTION TO ME.

The NYPL was dark grey, somber-looking, being pounded by the rain. The stone lions wet and dripping.

I was a total MESS by the time I got to Grand Central. My jeans - even though I had stopped to roll them up - were completely soaked. My hair was wild. My shoes were ruined. Liz, one of the other women in the group, stood waiting for me by the restaurant, and I saw she was in the same position. Her pants were wet from the foot to the knee. We looked at each other and just started laughing. Deep in the belly of Grand Central, I couldn't tell anymore what the weather was doing outside. If there was thunder we wouldn't have been able to hear it.

We worked for a couple of hours. It was good.

When I emerged from Grand Central at 8:30, to make my way cross-town again to go home, the night was cool, black and dry. You couldn't tell that a storm had happened. The gushing gutter-rivers were gone, maybe the sidewalks were damp - but that was the only evidence of the havoc wreaked a couple hours earlier.

Like I said - I love weather. I love the changeability of the whole thing.

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April 27, 2005

Posturing ... Let's not do it anymore!!

Teacher Dave has a really interesting post up at the moment, where he admits:

I find myself cautiously posturing while commenting on other people's websites. Keeping up that front of cool detachment. Describing things as "quaint", "predictable", and "trite."

I love the honesty there. I know what he means. I can sense it when people "posture" in my comments - and it's a huge yawn (although, to be honest, I wouldn't call Teacher Dave one of the regular culprits) - but sometimes I feel compelled to "posture" on other people's blogs as well. It's a protective device. You don't want to seem stupid, you don't want people to scorn you, and so you flaunt your knowledge, and your "over it"-ness about the knowledge. "Oh yeah? You're excited about that? Big deal, because there's an entire anthology of material surrounding this topic that I find quite interesting ... Published in 1862, the anthology purports to show ..." My eyes have already crossed with boredom and irritation three words in. Even when I'm the one who is writing it! There's a difference between sharing what you know so that you add to the conversation, and being a know-it-all asshole who uses knowledge with the express purpose of puffing yourself up and making others feel stupid.

I know why this posture stuff happens, I understand - especially when it comes to being gushingly excited over something. People looovvve to cut you down, if you're really excited. These people are ASSWIPES, but still - they can do a lot of damage. I've got a long long history behind me of people telling me to 'calm down' when I got excited. You know, it starts when you're a little kid ... it's really difficult to get rid of the residue of those early hurts when someone rained on your parade. And so - it still goes on. God forbid we should be openly enthusiastic about something, God forbid we should be BIG. FAT. GEEKS.

Anyway, Dave has some really interesting insights, and I enjoyed reading it very much. But THEN he segues into something really fun, which he calls "Embracing the Lame".

He writes:

That's where you confess, either here or on your own, things that you enjoy but that others may consider "lame." I don't care what it is: certain activities, entertainments, pieces of clothing, whatever.

Stand up tall, stand up proud, swallow your self-consciousness, and embrace it.

Because odds are, what you think is lame, others will likely see as wicked rad.

I know we've had variations on this topic here before, but it seems like people never get enough.

Embrace the lame. Read Teacher Dave's "lame" list. I'm gonna add my own here.

Embrace the lame
1. Land of the Lost fan-girl. Little House on the Prairie fan-girl.

2. crying during EVERY SINGLE episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (stole that one from Dave. Had to. It is SO TRUE.)

3. movies like: Blue Crush. Bring it On. Bend it like Beckham. Center Stage. Reaalllly cheesy movies - having a "girl power" theme - with a plot involving some sort of athletic activity. I am a sucker for these movies.

4. I get teary-eyed when I see old Sesame Street re-runs

5. I love Whitney Houston's first and second albums.

6. At this point, I pretty much know anything worth knowing about Cary Grant. That's just a plain and simple fact.

7. Also Humphrey Bogart.

8. I taped every single episode of 30something when it was on in re-runs (circa 1994 on Lifetime), and I still watch these tapes with regularity. I loved that show.

9. I love Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore as a couple. I think they make a great couple, and I wish them well.

10. I am addicted to US Weekly.

Okay, I thought of some more:

1. I know the movie Witness shot by shot. I have memorized not only the entire script, but also every camera angle, every shot, every cut-away.

2. I love John Denver.

3. I think Julia Roberts is a really good actress. TALK TO THE HAND, naysayers!

4. I saw the movie Titanic 4 or 5 times in the movie theatre. And now I own it.

5. I, like Lisa, still call them "albums".

Now, please. How do you Embrace the Lame?? I'm sure I'll think of more.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Last soundbite from Kael for today.

Altered States 1980

An aggressively silly head-horror movie, the result of the misalliance of two wildly different hyperbolic talents -- the director Ken Russell and the writer Paddy Chayefsky. The picture deals with the efforts of a psychophysiologist (William Hurt), who has lost his belief in God, to find the source and meaning of life by immersing himself in an isolation tank, and ingesting a brew of blood and sacred mushrooms. Chayefsky's dialogue is like a series of position papers. Russell uses a lot of tricks to spare you the misery of hearing the words declaimed straight, but no matter how hopped up the delivery is, you can't help feeling that you're in a lecture hall and that the characters should all have pointers. There are some effectively scary Jekyll-and-Hyde tricks, and Hurt, making his movie debut, brings a cool, quivering untrustworthiness to his revved-up mad scientist role; this young scientist is neurasthenic, charismatic, and ready to try anything. But Russell clomps from one scene to the next, the psychedelic visions come at you like choppy slide shows, and the picture has a dismal, tired humanistic ending. With Bob Balaban and Charles Haid, and with Blair Brown in an updated version of the thankless role of the worrying hand-wringing wife. She's an anthropologist with a job at Harvard, but all she does is fret.

That reminds me: I still have to write that piece on the role of the wife in Field of Dreams, and why I think it's important and distinct. Some day ...

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next up?

All Through the Night 1942

The title of this Humphrey Bogart picture is taken from the Johnny Mercer and Arthur Schwartz song (which is sung in a nightclub sequence) and doesn't provide a clue to what the story is about. Some people might think this is one of the good Bogarts that they've missed; on the contrary it's a sugar-coated anti-Nazi message comedy, and so negligible that you've forgotten it ten minutes after you've staggered out. (It feels long.) Concocted by Leonard Spiegelgass and Edwin Gilbert from a rattlebrained screen story by Spiegelgass and Leonard Ross, and directed (ineptly) by Vincent Sherman, it's set in New York (a studio version) during the Second World War. Bogart is "Gloves" Donohue, a Broadway gambler-promoter, and he and his bunch of meant-to-be-lovable Damon Runyon-esque demi-racketeers (among them Jackie Gleason) rout an entire Nazi fifth column organization, headed by the supersuave Conrad Veidt, dachsund-loving Judith Anderson, and baby-face hit-man Peter Lorre, who operate under cover of an antiques-auction business. The movie oozes sentimentality, and the coy, frolicsome music is like a TV laugh track.

Yeah, I've seen it. Yeah, I agree with Kael. I mean, any Bogart movie is worth a look - he's always good, but the movie is dumb.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

A couple more Pauline Kael snippets.

All Quiet on the Western Front 1930

Over a hundred million people have gone to theatres to see it and have -- perhaps -- responded to its pacifist message. One could be cynical about the results, but the film itself does not invite cynical reactions, and the fact that it has frequently been banned in countries preparing for war suggests that it makes militarists uncomfortable. Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel, on which it is based, was already famous when Lewis Milestone directed this attack on the senseless human waste of war, made in Hollywood. It follows a handful of young German volunteers in the First World War from school to battlefield, and shows the disintegration of their romantic ideas of war, gallantry, and fatherland in the squalor of the trenches. Except for Louis Wolheim, who is capable of creating a character wtih a minimum of material, the actors are often awkward, uncertain, and overemphatic, but this doesn't seem to matter very much. The point of the film gets to you, and though you may wince at the lines Maxwell Anderson wrote (every time he opens his heart, he sticks his poetic foot in it), you know what he means. (The year 1930 was, of course, a good year for pacifism, which always flourishes between wars; Milestone didn't make pacifist films during the Second World War -- nor did anybody else working in Hollywood. And wasn't it perhaps easier to make All Quiet just because its heroes were German? War always seems like a tragic waste when told from the point of view of the losers. It would be an altogether different matter to present the death of, say, RAF pilots in the Second World War as tragic waste.
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"In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines ..."

Today is the birthday of Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the beloved Madeline books. Here is a really interesting biographical sketch of him. I didn't know any of it. Listen to this:

When he was a teenager, his parents apprenticed him to his Uncle Hans, who owned a string of resort hotels in the Tyrol. After the 16-year-old Bemelmans shot a head-waiter during a dispute, his family gave him the option of going to reform school or emigrating to America.

Bemelmans chose the latter and arrived in New York in 1914, carrying two pistols with which to fend off hostile Indians. Once again, his career as a waiter was disastrous. After losing a job because he arrived wearing one yellow and one white shoe, Bemelmans enlisted in the Army.

"Once again, his career as a waiter was disastrous."

heh heh heh

He served in the Army in World War I, and he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

I always loved the Madeline books, and still do. Madeline: the red-haired feisty rebellious girl in the convent school, the one who always gets in trouble (even if it's just getting her appendix taken out) - but the one who is also most loved.

I loved how Miss Clavel woke up in the middle of the night, in her cavernous bedroom, sitting up in her cavernous bed with the draperies hanging above it ... and she said to herself: "Something is not right!"

She got a candle, and ran down the hallway (the illustrations are so dramatic, so wonderful) and burst into the dormitory, to see Madeline moaning in her bed, all the other little girls sitting up, awake, worried ... Madeline is rushed to the hospital to have her appendix taken out. Things might have gone very wrong that night if it weren't for Miss Clavel's powers of prophetic thinking. How many problems could be solved if we woke up in the middle of the night, alarmed, and said to ourselves: "Something is not right!"

I loved the watercolors. I loved the urban setting, the beautiful images of Paris, with the "12 little girls in 2 straight lines" going on their daily walk with Miss Clavel.

I'm sure it will not be a surprise to any of you to know that my favorite of the Madeline books is when she and Pepito, the little boy next door, join the circus. Of course they are forced to join the circus, since they are kidnapped by gypsies at a local carnival ... but still. They end up getting into their new circus life. As a little girl, I found that book to be so exciting, so ... magical. It opened up little doors into other worlds, worlds I could only get a glimpse of ... but oh, I wanted to see more! I remember in particular one illustration of the small company of circus performers sitting around a campfire in the middle of nowhere, their caravan parked nearby. The night around them is dark, a midnight-blue wash of watercolors ... but the bright jester costumes and the Pierrot get-ups of the gypsies gleam out from the dark, like magic little gems. I wanted to sit around that campfire.

Of course, since Madeline and Pepito had been KIDNAPPED by the gypsies - poor Miss Clavel was losing her MIND back in Paris, wondering where they had gome to, if they were all right. This time, Miss Clavel's precognitive powers failed her. At no point when she took the 12 little girls to the carnival did she think to herself: "Something is not right!"

Oh well. Even French nuns with powers of prophecy have their off days.

Happy birthday, Mr. Bemelmans ... glad you didn't end up being a waiter. Seems like we all are much better off because of your original failure in the service industry.

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The Books: "Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love" (Dava Sobel)

Next book in my science and philosophy shelf:

GalileosDaughter.jpgAnother book by Dava Sobel - this one called Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love. A marvelous book. It tells the story of Galileo's life, as well as tells the story of the life of his illegitimate (but beloved) daughter, whom he put into a convent as a young girl. She had to renounce the world ... yet she and her father remained devoted to one another (even through his trial/inquisition). His letters to her have been lost, sadly, but all of her letters are still around, and were sitting in a library in Rome, I think, collecting dust. Dava Sobel, researching some other project, heard that there was this huge archive of letters from "Suor Marie Celeste" - Galileo's daughter - and they had never been translated into English. Sobel sensed that there was a huge story there, one that had yet to be told, so she went to Italy, translated the letters herself, and wrote this wonderful book. Part science, part biography, part epistolary memoir, it gives an insider's view (through her incredible letters to her famous father) of that world. One of the things I find most moving about her letters to him, is that she never doubted his faith, at a time when he was being treated like a heretic. His discoveries about the universe didn't shake HIS faith, and didn't shake her faith either. Even though she lived in a cloister, she still was aware of his scientific explorations, and discoveries ... and never once did she question him, or back off from him. It can't have been easy for her since she was a nun in the Church that was persecuting him. Judging from her letters, she remained steadfastly supportive, saying that his discoveries merely expanded her own love for God, since he obviously was so much more powerful and imaginative than previously thought. Extraordinary.

It's a really interesting book.

EXCERPT FROM Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel.

Galileo's daughter, born of his long illicit liaison with the beautiful Marina Gamba of Venice, entered the world in the summer heat of a new century, on August 13, 1600 -- the same year the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome for insisting, among his many heresies and blasphemies, that the Earth traveled around the Sun, instead of remaining motionless at the center of the universe. In a world that did not yet know its place, Galileo would engage this same cosmic conflict with the Church, trading a dangerous path between the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic and the heavens he revealed through his telescope.

Galileo christened his daughter Virginia, in honor of his "cherished sister". But because he never married Virginia's mother, he deemed the girl herself unmarriageable. Soon after her thirteenth birthday, he placed her at the Convent of San Matteo in Arcetri, where she lived out her life in poverty and seclusion.

Virginia adopted the name Maria Celeste when she became a nun, in a gesture that acknowledged her father's fascination with the stars. Even after she professed a life of prayer and penance, she remained devoted to Galileo as though to a patron saint. The doting concern evident in her condolence letter [on the occasion of Galileo's sister's death] was only to intensify over the ensuing decade as her father grew old, fell more frequently ill, pursued his singular research nevertheless, and published a book that brought him to trial by the Holy Office of the Inquisition...

Thus Suor Maria Celeste consoled Galileo for being left alone in his world, with daughters cloistered in the separate world of nuns, his son not yet a man, his former mistress dead, his family of origin all deceased or dispersed.

Galileo, now fifty-nine, also stood boldly alone in his worldview, as Suor Maria Celeste knew from reading the books he wrote and the letters he shared with her from colleagues and critics all over Italy, as well as from across the continent beyond the Alps. Although her father had started his career as a professor of mathematics, teaching first at Pisa and then at Padua, every philosopher in Europe tied Galileo's name to the most startling series of astronomical discoveries ever claimed by a single individual.

In 1609, when Suor Maria Celeste was still a child in Padua, Galileo had set a telescope in the garden behind his house and turned it skyward. Never-before-seen stars leaped out of the darkness to enhance familiar constellations; the nebulous Milky Way resolved into a swath of densely packed stars; mountains and valleys pockmarked the storied perfection of the Moon; and a retinue of four attendance bodies traveled regularly around Jupiter like a planetary system in miniature.

"I render infinite thanks to God," Galileo intoned after those nights of wonder, "for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries."

The newfound worlds transformed Galileo's life. He won appointment as chief mathematician and philosopher to the grand duke in 1610, and moved to Florence to assume his position at the court of Cosimo de Medici. He took along wtih him his two daughters, then ten and nine years old, but he left Vincenzio, who was only four when greatness descended on the family, to live a while longer in Padua with Marina.

Galileo found himself lionized as another Columbus for his conquests. Even as he attained the height of his glory, however, he attracted enmity and suspicion. For instead of opening a distant land dominated by heathens, Galileo trespassed on holy ground. Hardly had his first spate of findings stunned the populace of Europe before a new wave followed: He saw dark spots creeping continuously across the face of the Sun, and "the mother of loves," as he called the planet Venus, cycling through phases from full to crescent, just as the Moon did.

All his observations lent credence to the unpopular Sun-centered universe of Nicolaus Copernicus, which had been introduced over half a century previously, but foundered on lack of evidence. Galileo's efforst provided the beginning of a proof. And his flamboyant style of promulgating his ideas -- sometimes in bawdy humorous writings, sometimes loudly at dinner parties and staged debates -- transported the new astronomy from the Latin Quarters of the universities into the public arena. In 1616, a pope and a cardinal inquisitor reprimanded Galileo, warning him to curtail his forays into the supernal realms. The motions of the heavenly bodies, they said, having been touched upon in the Psalms, the Book of Joshua, and elsewhere in the Bible, were matters best left to the Holy Fathers of the Church.

Galileo obeyed their orders, silencing himself on the subject. For seven cautious years he turned his efforts to less perilous pursuits, such as harnessing his Jovian satellites in the service of navigation, to help sailors discover their longitude at sea. He studied poetry and wrote literary criticism. Modifying his telescope, he developed a compound microscope. "I have observed many tiny animals with great admiration," he reported, "among which the flea is quite horrible, the gnat and the moth very beautiful; and with great satisfaction I have seen how flies and other little animals can walk attached to mirrors, upside down."

Posted by sheila Permalink

April 26, 2005

Letter to Cookie.


Dear Cookie Monster:

So. Yes. Everyone is talking about this. I first heard the news and I thought: Uhm ... NO. Cookie would have nothing to do with this. He would stand for that photo shoot in the article, and he would look over the Food Pyramid-approved vegetables with his huge voracious googly eyes, his black hole of a mouth, and he would be searching, searching ... eyes scanning over carrots, grapes ... looking for THE ONE THING IN LIFE HE CARES ABOUT. He would have increasingly anxious thoughts as his google-eyes scanned about: "Where cookie? Me want cookie ..."

To me, Cookie Monster, you will always be:

A blue. Furry. Googly-eyed. Cookie-eating. LUNATIC.

Beloved by children everywhere.

Your name is Cookie MONSTER. Mkay? Not Cookie LOVER, or Cookie Boy, or Cookie Afficianado. You are a MONSTER and your whole life is about COOKIES. You do not have a normal level of desire. In fact, you are so obsessed with cookies that THAT THAT IS YOUR NAME. This has never ceased to amaze me. Ernie loved his Rubber Ducky, sure, but his name was not "Rubber Ducky", his name was Ernie. You took your obsession to such new heights that no one could call you anything else.

How many of us can say that? Is my name Old Movies? No. Is my name Central Asia or Founding Fathers? No. My name is Sheila. Not too many of us live our entire lives harboring only ONE GOAL, and holding up that ONE GOAL above all others. It takes courage, drive, and commitment. You haven't taken your eye off the cookie once.

Until now.

Now they will force you to say that cookies are only good for you SOMEtimes. This must KILL you, Cookie. That would be like some stupid group of unimaginative people making me do a commercial where I said, "It's okay if you like old movies ... just don't like them TOO MUCH."

Those people don't understand passion like yours, those people wouldn't know how to love something in the feverish way that you love cookies. They are JEALOUS. They want to CONTROL you. Perhaps, like Mitch suggests, they want to call you "The Moderate Monster". They look at your wacko eyes and they hear your caveman syntax ... and they can't stand your wildness, they can't stand the greatness of you, they rush in to tamp you down. It has taken them 25 years ... but now it has occurred. You will now become a mouthpiece for their fear and caution.

It must kill you. I can only imagine, Cookie, the shame. The shame of being forced to betray your deepest held convictions about cookies.

Cookie, let me tell you this. I will not forget the old Cookie Monster madman. I will still believe that you are IN THERE, even though they won't let you show it anymore.

I will still remember fondly that time you ate the telephone because it looked like a cookie. Good for you! You had the cord hanging out of your mouth, and your googled-eyes suddenly looked flat and very confused. But still: good for you, you gave it your best shot.

I will still remember how you burped long and loud at the end of a Christmas special, after you ate the Christmas tree. That belch must have felt really good, Cookie.

I will still remember the growing frenzy you would show, as your need for a cookie fix grew to apocalyptic levels. I always wanted you to have a cookie. I never wanted to hold you back.


You'll always be a wacko raging cookie-loving Id to me.

Me want old Cookie.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (30)

New Yorkers: I have a question

Is it me, or are the Scientologists holding a really intense recruiting drive all over the goldurn city? I've never seen so many Scientologists in my life. So many tables set up with book displays, so many 'stress test' exhibits ... They have set up a permanent spot for themselves at the hub of Port Authority and I go by them every day.

Uhm ... did I just not notice them before - or are there definitely more of them about now?

There was always the random L. Ron Hubbard display table... but this is much more in your face. It is an onslaught, a campaign. They are everywhere.

I am tempted to take a "stress test" just to get the chance to talk with these people. As long as they don't ask me for any personal information, which I know is how they "get you" ... I suppose I could give them completely fake information - how would they know?

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TV Turnoff Jackassery

Michele posts her yearly rant about TV Turnoff Week.

Here's just a snippet, but you have to read the whole thing - it's so funny. She posts it every year:

We love tv. And no, I am not going to sit here and pretend that all the tv we watch is educational. Sure, we watch the Discovery Channel and the History Channel and National Geographic TV. We love that stuff. But we also watch cartoons and sitcoms and the adults in this house watch late night softcore porn on Cinemax and violent movies and infomercials. And sports. We watch a whole lot of sports.

Don't tell me that tv keeps us from reading. We are all readers. We read every single night. Sometimes together, sometimes alone.

I think it's just BEAUTIFUL that I am finally hooked up with cable television, just in time for TV Turnoff Week.

I watch The Surreal Life with an almost frightening regularity. I have been gorging myself on West Wing reruns. I also have dipped my toes into the lunatic world of Showdog Moms and Dads. I love it all. The good, the bad, the trashy. Don't give me your sanctimonious "all we ever watch is PBS" bull shite. Or - fine!! Only watch PBS, but don't act so superior about it!

Let's all celebrate TV Turn-On Week! I know I am!

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A cool question ...

... from my E-Verse Radio poetry newsletter:

What are the best films about writers?

The first thing that comes to mind is His Girl Friday.

Also Humphrey Bogart's screenwriter in In a Lonely Place. Now THAT is a good film about writing, and the insecurity of writers.

I'm gonna have to go with Possession too. I think I am the only person on the planet who truly loves that film. And it's shocking that I love it, because it's one of my favorite novels ever written - and the film does make some changes to AS Byatt's novel - but somehow it works. They are two different stories - and yet the essentials are the same. The portrait of the two Victorian poets, speaking to one another through their poetry, is intensely moving to me and very well portrayed in the film.

It's a good question, because it's really challenging to make a good movie about a writer. Writers are solitary, they sit at desks, and unless you hear what it is they are working on ... the whole thing can seem artificial.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Last one for today. I haven't seen this movie, despite my Jon Voight thing (I had a Jon Voight mania a couple years back ... only I didn't have a blog to inflict my obsession on an unsuspecting public).

Anyway, here is Pauline Kael's laugh-out-loud funny soundbite:

The All-American Boy 1973

Jon Voight is a prizefighter suffering from a type of working-class alienation that is indistinguishable from bellyache. He mopes through the picture looking puffy, like a rain cloud about to spritz. Charles Eastman wrote and directed this disgracefully condescending view of America as a wasteland populated by grotesques, stupes, and sons of bitches; they are incapable of love and have false values -- and to prove it Eastman sets Voight to walking the Antonioni walk. This is probably the only movie on record in which you can watch boxers working out in a gym while you hear a Gregorian chant.

hahaha Laughing out loud!

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

And now ... for Kael's review of an absolute classic:

All About Eve 1950

Ersatz art of a very high grade, and one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. A young aspiring actress, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), intrigues to take the place of an aging star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), on stage and in bed, and the battle is fought with tooth, claw, and a battle of epigrams. The synthetic has qualities of its own -- glib, overexplicit, self-important, the "You're sneaky and corrupt, but so am I" style of writing. The scriptwriter-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's bad taste, exhibited with verve, is more fun than careful, mousy, dehydrated good taste. His nonsense about "theatre" is saved by one performance that is the real thing: Bette Davis is at her most instinctive and assured. Her actress -- vain, scared, a woman who goes too far in her reactions and emotions -- makes the whole thing come alive (though it's hard to believe Anne Baxter could ever be a threat to Bette Davis). With Marilyn Monroe, who has one of her best early roles.

That movie's a hoot. Here's one thing about it:

Margo Channing has been so imitated, and so copied, and so taken over by the drag queens who love her (no judgment) - that you forget how REAL the performance actually is. At least I do. When I saw it again recently, I was so struck by the truth in her performance, and I realized that the imitators have made Margo into a grotesque - only she is NOT. "It's going to be a bumpy night" is not delivered in an over-the-top campy way - in the context of the scene, it is quite real. I mean, it's Betty Davis - so obviously it's dramatic and imperious and funny - but it's real.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

And next?

Alice Adams 1935

Katherine Hepburn, with her young, beautiful angularity and ehr faintly absurd Bryn Mawr accent, is superbly cast as Booth Tarkington's eager, desperate, small-town social climber. Her Alice is one of the few authentic American movie heroines. George Stevems directed with such a fine sense of detail and milieu that the small-town nagging-family atmosphere is nerve-rackingly accurate and funny. Alice is cursed with a pushing mother, an infantile father, and a vulgar brother. The pictures is cursed only by a fake happy ending: Alice gets what the movie companies considered a proper Prince Charming for her -- Fred MacMurray, as a wealthy young man. Even with this flaw, it's a classic, and Hepburn gives one of her two or three finest performances -- rivalled, perhaps, only by her work in Little Women and Long Day's Journey Into Night.

She is marvelous in it. I have to see it again, it's been years.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next up?

Alexander Nevsky 1938

Sergei Eisenstein's ponderously surging epic has a famous score by Prokofiev and a stunning battle on ice. When it's great it's very great, but there are long deadly stretches (which isn't the case with Eisenstein's other films). The plot has something to do with the 13th century invasion of Russia by German knights; needless to say, the Russians drive the invaders out. The propaganda isn't Communist but nationalist : the medieval story was used to warn Hitler to stay out.
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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next up? A movie directed by my favorite director of all time - Howard Hawks.

Air Force 1943

One of the "contribution-to-the-war-effort" specials -- the biography of a Flying Fortress, a Boeing B-17 nicknamed Mary Ann, that heads out into the Pacific on the eve of Pearl Harbor and goes on to Wake Island and then takes part in the Coral Sea battle and, at the last, is about to participate in the raid on Tokyo. The film is one crisis after another, and the director, Howard Hawks, stages the air battles handsomely, but for the rest it helps if you're interested in the factors involved in getting a bomber somewhere and back. This is one of the most impersonal of the Hawks films; it feels manufactured rather than made. The script by Dudley Nichols, with dialogue by William Faulkner, provided what is meant to be a microcosm of democracy in motion -- a melting-pot crew.

The film stars John Garfield.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Onward with my Pauline Kael snippets. This one sounds fascinating - again, it's a movie I haven't seen. Vanessa Redgrave is an astonishing actress.

Agatha 1979

Vanessa Redgrave has a luminously loony quality as the distraught heroine of this fictional romantic mystery, which purports to be about the eleven days in 1926 when Agatha Christie, whose husband wanted a divorce so he could marry his mistress, took off for a Yorkshire spa, where she used the mistress' name. Dustin Hoffman is furiously theatrical in the role of a preening star journalist from America who trails Agatha to the spa and falls in love with her. There is a blissful romantic moment when the goddess-tall swan-necked Agatha responds to the journalist's (previously denied) request for a kiss by coiling over and down to reach him. The movie has a general air of knowingness, and some of the incidental dialogue is clever, though it doesn't seem to have a story -- with its lulling tempo and languid elegance, it seems to be from a musing. The talent of the director, Michael Apted, is for the tactile, the plangent, the indefinite; when the action dawdles, he lets the cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, take over. The rooms look smoked, and everything is in soft movement; this is the rare movie that is too fluid. Yet there's a gentle pull to it, and Redgrave endows Agatha Christie with the oddness of genius. With Timothy Dalton, who gives a strong, funny performance as the husband exhausted by his wife's high-powered sensitivity, and the curly-mouthed Helen Morse as the friendly woman Agatha meets at the spa.

Sounds extremely interesting to me.

Posted by sheila Permalink

The Books: "Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time"(Dava Sobel)

Next book on the science and philosophy bookshelf:

Longitude.jpgDava Sobel's wonderful Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time . My mother was the one who made me read this book. She had read it, and found the whole thing intensely inspiring and moving. It is the story of "the longitude problem". In the age of exploration, it was still impossible to calculate the longitude. Latitude was easy, but longitude not so. In order to know your longitude, clocks have to be able to keep time at sea. You have to know what time it is where you are, as well as what time it is back at some fixed point of zero-longitude. But clocks would slow down, at sea, they would get waterlogged, whatever. Sailors did the best they could, but - at least from the story told - catastrophes occurred because of this sailing-blind-without-longitude problem. In 1714, the Parliament in England offered an enormous prize to anybody who could solve this longitude problem.

Along comes a man named John Harrison, who devoted his life to solving the longitude problem. And - like so many other stories of genius - John Harrison was not a scientist, or an astronomer - he had no formal education, he wasn't a Newton or a Galileo. He was a clockmaker. And he also had what it took, in terms of intellectual endurance ... to keep trying, to keep experimenting, until he got it right. It's so so inspiring what he did.

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. Harrison ended up making a series of time-pieces - called H1, H2, H3 ... With each one, he got closer and closer to perfection. H4 is the timepiece that won the prize. H1, H2, and H3 were all heavy, large - After all, these timepieces would need to withstand a storm at sea, would need to keep time steadily throughout the massive up and down motion of the ocean at such times. But H4 is a small and simple pocketwatch. Here is what it looks like.

Here's an excerpt:

EXCERPT FROM Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time , by Dava Sobel.

The active quest for a solution to the problem of longitude persisted over four centuries and across the whole continent of Europe. Most crowned heads of state eventually played a part in the longitude story, notably King George III of England and King Louis XIV of France. Seafaring men such as Captain William Bligh of the Bounty and the great circumnavigator Captain James Cook, who made three long voyages of exploration and experimentation before his violent death in Hawaii, took the more promising methods to sea to test their accuracy and practicability.

Renowned astronomers approached the longitude challenge by appealing to the clockwork universe: Gallileo Galilei, Jean Dominique Cassini, Christiaan Huygens, Sir Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley, of comet fame, all entreated the moon and stars for help. Palatial observatories were founded at Paris, London, and Berlin, for the express purpose of determining longitude by the heavens. Meanwhile, lesser minds devised schemes that depended on the yelps of wounded dogs, or the cannon blasts of signal ships strategically anchored -- somehow -- on the open ocean.

In the course of their struggle to find longitude, scientists struck upon other discoveries that changed their view of the universe. These include the first accurate determinations of the weight of the Earth, the distance to the stars, and the speed of light.

As time passed and no method proved successful, the search for a solution to the longitude problem assumed legendary proportions, on a par with discovering the Fountain of Youth, the secret of perpetual motion, or the formula for transforming lead into gold. The governments of the great maritime nations -- including Spain, the Netherlands, and certain city-states of Italy -- periodically roiled the fervor by offering jackpot purses for a workable method. The British Parliament, in its famed Longitude Act of 1714, set the highest bounty of all, naming a prize equal to a king's ransom (several million dollars in today's currency) for a "Practicable and Useful" means of determining longitude.

English clockmaker John Harrison, a mechanical genius who pioneered the science of portable precision timekeeping, devoted his life to this quest. He accomplished what Newton had feared was impossible: He invented a clock that would carry the true time for the home port, like an eternal flame, to any remote corner of the world.

Harrison, a man of simple birth and high intelligence, crossed swords with the leading lights of his day. He made a special enemy of the Reverent Nevil Maskelyne, the fifth astronomer royal, who contested his claim to the coveted prize money, and whose tactics at certain junctures can only be described as foul play.

With no formal education or apprenticeship to any watchmaker, Harrison nevertheless constructed a series of virtually friction-free clocks that required no lubrication and no cleaning, that were made from materials impervious to rust, and that kept their moving parts perfectly balanced in relation to one another, regardless of how the world pitched or tossed about them. He did away with the pendulum, and he combined different metals inside his works in such a way that when one component expanded or contracted with changes in temperature, the other counteracted the change and kept the clock's rate constant.

His every success, however, was parried by members of the scientific elite, who distrusted Harrison's magic box. The commissioners charged with awarding the longitude prize -- Nevil Maskelyne among them -- changed the contest rules whenever they saw fit, so as to favor the chances of astronomers over the likes of Harrison and his fellow "mechanics". But the utility and accuracy of Harrison's approach triumphed in the end. His followers shepherded Harrison's intricate, exquisite invention through the design modifications that enabled it to be mass produced and enjoy wide use.

An aged, exhausted Harrison, taken under the wing of King George III, ultimately claimed his rightful monetary reward in 1773 -- after forty struggling years of political intrigue, international warfare, academic backbiting, scientific revolution, and economic upheaval.

All these threads, and more, entwine in the lines of longitude. To unravel them now -- to retrace their story in an age when a network of orbiting satellites can nail down a ship's position within a few feet in just a moment or two -- is to see the globe anew.

Posted by sheila Permalink

April 25, 2005

You know you're a total weirdo when ...

... the three books you are reading simultaneously are:

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

Tracy and Hepburn, by Garson Kanin

Carnage and Culture, by Victor Davis Hanson

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (6)

Happy birthday, Hubble!

The Hubble Telescope is 15 years old. (Thanks to peteb for the links. So awesome.)

Here is a portion of the Eagle Nebula, which, honestly, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life:


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And so ...

Rage + Insecurity + Defensiveness = Unbelievably funny.

Here's the proof.


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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Last one for today, and it's a doozy. I love this movie so much.

The African Queen 1951

An inspired piece of casting brought Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn together. This is a comedy, a love story, and a tale of adventure, and it is one of the most charming and entertaining movies ever made. The director, John Huston, has written that the comedy was not present either in the novel by CS Forester or in the original screenplay by James Agee, John Collier and himself, but that it grew out of the relationship of Hepburn and Bogart, who were just naturally funny when they worked together. Hepburn has revealed that the picture wasn't going well until Huston came up with the inspiration that she should think of Rosie as Mrs. Roosevelt. After that, Bogart and Hepburn played together with an ease and humor that makes their love affair -- the mating of a forbidding, ironclad spinster and a tough, gin-soaked riverboat captain -- seem not only inevitable, but perfect. The story, set in central Africa in 1914, is so convincingly acted that you may feel a bit jarred at the end; after the lovers have brought the boat, the African Queen, over dangerous rapids to torpedo a German battleship, Huston seems to stop taking the movie seriously. With Robert Morley as Hepburn's missionary brother, and Peter Bull. Bogart's performance took the Academy Award for Best Actor. (Peter Viertel, who worked on the dialogue while the company was on location in Africa, wrote White Hunter, Black Heart -- one of the best of all moviemaking novels -- about his experiences with Huston.

Great movie. Just great.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Another "adventure" movie. I haven't seen this one, but her review makes me feel that I must. Anyone see it?

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe 1954

Luis Bunuel's version of the Defoe novel (made in English) is free of that deadly solicitude that usually kills off classics. The film is a simple, unsentimental account of Defoe's basic themes: a man alone face to face with nature; then a man terribly alone, unable to face lack of love and friendship; and finally, after the lacerations of desire, a man ludicrously alone. Bunuel used Dan O'Herlihy, a fine actor with a beautiful voice, and photographed him in the jungle of Manzanillo, near Acapulco. In the delirium sequence, Bunuel is the same startling director who made film history. When Crusoe shouts to the hills in order to hear the companionable echo, and when he rushes to the sea in desperate longing for a ship, loneliness is brought in sudden shocks, to the pitch of awe and terror, Crusoe's eventual meeting with Friday (James Fernandez) changes the tone to irony.

Wow. Gotta put this one on the list.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Another Errol Flynn one ... this one is obviously his best, and what he will be remembered for.

The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938

One of the most popular of all adventure films -- stirring for children and intensely nostalgic for adults. As Robin, Errol Flynn slings a deer across his shoulders with exuberant aplomb; he achieves a mixture of daring and self-mockery, like that of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in the 20s. The film gives the legend a light, satirical edge: everyone is a bit too much of what he is. (The archetypal roles that the actors played here clung to their later performances.) With improbably pretty Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian, Alan Hale as Little John, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains as the villains. The story is clear, the color ravishing, the acting simple and crude. Erich Wolfgang Korngold did the marvellous score; the rousing, buoyant direction is credited to Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, the former having replaced the latter.

Yup. I would indeed call that film rousing and buoyant. I love it.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Another one:

Adventures of Don Juan 1948

By this time, Errol Flynn's offscreen life had colored the public's view of him, and this wry, semi-satirical swashbuckler was designed to exploit his reputation for debauchery. William Faullkner and Frederick Faust (Max Brand) were among the writesr whom the Warners producer, Jerry Wald, brought in to work on various drafts of the screenplay, which was finally credited to George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz. Flynn looks far from his best, and the whole lavish production has a somewhat depressed tone. The story has Juan saving Queen Margaret of Spain (Viveca Lindfors) from a traitor's skullduggery. Those with keen eyes may spot bits of footage lifted from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Adventures of Robin Hood. The director Vincent Sherman's work is no more than adequate.


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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Another one. We're going alphabetically:

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother 1975

Gene Wilder's talent is evident in the many nice leafy touches, but in his first attempt at a triple-header (writer-director-star) he shows poor judgment and he gets bogged down in an overelaborate production. The idea -- Holmes' bringing in his insanely jealous younger brother, Sigerson, to help on a case involving Queen Victoria's state secrets -- has mouth-watering possibilities, but they aren't developed. There's no mystery, and since you can't have a parody of a mystery without a mystery, there's no comic suspense. And Wilder, keeping his eye on his responsibilities as a director, loses his performing rhythm. A vaudeville number is disconcertingly like the specialty number in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (which Wilder co-wrote and starred in) and calls attention to the general similarity between the two films.

Haven't seen this one, but just the cast list makes me laugh out loud:

Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Here's another short review.

Adam's Rib 1949

George Cukor directred this "uncinematic" but well-played and often witty MGM comedy about the battle of the sexes. Katherine Hepburn, thin, nervous, and high-strung, keeps pecking away at Spencer Tracy, who is solid, imperturbable, and maddeningly sane. She attacks, he blocks; their skirmishes are desperately, ludicrously civilized. They are married lawyers on opposing sides in a court battle, the case involving equal rights for women, ie, does Judy Holliday have the right to shoot her two-timing husband Tom Ewell, in order to protect her home against Jean Hagen? The script by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin is lively and ingenious (though it stoops to easy laughs now and then). Cukor's work is too arch, too consciously, commercially clever, but it's also spirited, confident. Holliday and Ewell have roles that seem just the right size for them, intermittently, Holliday lifts the picture to a higher, free-style wit. And as a composer-neighbor of the married lawyers David Wayne airily upstages the two stars; Hepburn is overly intense and Tracy does some coy mugging, but Wayne stays right on target.

He sure does, Pauline, if by "target" you mean: "one of the most vicious hateful portrayals of a gay man in the history of American cinema". His performance almost ruins the movie for me.

The two stars are great, and Judy Holliday almost steals the whole movie - but David Wayne plays his part with a huge sign over his head: HATE ME. I'M QUEER.

Makes me mad just thinking about it.

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I'm very excited

I just registered for a summer writing course at the prestigious 92nd Street Y. I'm nervous, I suddenly feel like all my writing sucks, but I can't wait for my first class. The teacher will be Martha Cooley, whose first novel was The Archivist. Gonna have to read it before the class starts! It sounds very interesting.

It's a fiction class, so I need to look through all my work, and choose stuff I want to work on. Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Fear! Excitement! Ambition! Drive! It's all good stuff.

Believe it or not, except for creative writing stuff in grade school, I've never taken an actual writing class. So I have no idea what to expect, and that's an awesome thing. It is time to push my work (and how I work) to the next level. I have felt that for some time, have felt a bit stuck, and felt that I needed to get outside eyes on my work. I'm in a writing group, and that's great, but they all KNOW me, and so sometimes their critiques of my work show their bias. It's a very different thing to have someone who doesn't know you (like editors, like the agent I work with, and other writers) say: "This is good." Whole different ballgame.

So I can't wait.

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The Books: "In Search of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality" (John Gribbin)

Next book on the science and philosophy shelf:

SchrodingersCat.jpgThe beautiful little physics book In Search of SchrΓΆdinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, by John Gribbin. I've quoted extensively from his book before. It's one of my favorites:

"The only existing things are atoms and empty space; all else is mere opinion."

Heat is a form of motion ...

a lone voice crying in the wilderness ...

Heisenberg's breakthrough

"At first, I was deeply alarmed."

So here's yet another excerpt from this book: This one has to do with alternative realities, and time travel.

EXCERPT FROM In Search of SchrΓΆdinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality, by John Gribbin.

Cosmologists today talk quite happily about events that occurred just after the universe was born in a Big Bang, and they calculate the reactions that occurred when the age of the universe was 10-35 seconds or less. The reactions involve a maelstrom of particles and radiation, pair production and annihilation. The assumptions about how these reactions take place come from a mixture of theory and the observations of the way particles interact in giant accelerators, like the one run by CERN in Geneva. According to these calculations, the laws of physics determined from our puny experiments here on earth can explain in a logical and self-consistent fashion how the universe got from a state of almost infinite density into the state we see it in today. The theories even make a stab at predicting the balance between matter and antimatter in the universe, and between matter and radiation. Everyone interested in science, however mild and passing their interest, has heard of the Big Bang theory origin of the universe. Theorists happily play with numbers describing events that allegedly occurred during split seconds some 15 thousand million years ago. But who today stops to think what these ideas really mean? It is absolutely mind-blowing to attempt to understand the implications of these ideas. Who can appreciate what a number like 10-35 of a second really means, let alone comprehend the nature of the universe when it was 10-35 seconds old? Scientists who deal with such bizarre extremees of nature really should not find it too difficult to stretch their minds to accommodate the concept of parallel worlds.

In face, that felicitous-sounding expression, borrowed from science fiction, is quite inappropriate. The natural image of alternative realities is as alternative branches fanning out from a main stem and running alongside one another through superspace, like the branching lines of a complex railway junction. Like some super-superhighway, with millions of parallel lines, the SF writers imagine all the worlds proceeding side by side through time, our near neighbors almost identical to our own world, but with the differences becoming clearer and more distinct the further we move "sideways in time". This is the image that leads naturally to speculation about the possibility of changing lanes on the superhighway, slipping across into the world next door. Unfortunately, the math isn't quite like this neat picture.

Mathematicians have no trouble handling more dimensions than the familiar three space dimensions so important to our everday lives. The whole of our world, one branch of Everett's many-worlds reality, is described mathematically in four dimensions, three of space and one of time, all at right angles to one another, and the math to describe more dimensions all at right angles to each other and to our own four is routine number juggling. This is where the alternative realities actually lie, not parallel to our own world, but at right angles to it, perpendicular worlds branching off "sideways" through superspace. The pciture is hard to visualize, but it does make it easier to see why slipping sideways into an alternative reality is impossible. If you set off at right angles to our world -- sideways -- you would be creating a new world of your own. Indeed, on the many-worlds theory this is what happens every time the universe is faced with a quantum choice. The only way you could gete in to one of the alternative realities created by such a splitting of the universe as a result of a cat-in-the-box experiment, or a two-holes experiment, would be to go back in time in our own four-dimensional reality to the time of the experiment, and then to go forward in time along the alternative branch, at right angles to our own four-dimensional world.

This might be impossible. Conventional wisdom has it that true time travel must be impossible, because of the paradoxes involved, like the one where you go back in time and kill your own grandfather before your own father has been conceived. On the other hand, at the quantum level particles seem to be involved in time travel all the "time," and Frank Tipler has shown that the equations of general relativity permit time travel. It is possible to conceive of a kind of genuine travel forward and backward in time that does not permit paradoxes, and such a form of time travel depends on the reality of alternative universes. David Gerrold explored these possibilities in an entertaining SF book The Man Who Folded Himself, well worth reading as a guide to the complexities and subtleties of a many-worlds reality. The point is that, taking the classic example, if you back in time and kill your grandfather you are creating, or entering (depending on your point of view) an alternative world branching off at right angles to the world in which you started. In that "new" reality, your father, and yourself, are never born, but there is no paradox because you are still born in the "original" reality, and make the journey back through time and into an alternative branch. Go back again to undo the mischief you have done, and all you do is reenter the original branch of reality, or at least one rather like it.

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April 24, 2005

My life is complete

... now that I know that this is happening.


Marshall, Will, and Holly
On a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known.
High on the rapids
It struck their tiny raft.
And plunged them down a thousand feet below.

To the Land of the Lost.
To the Land of the Lost.
To the Land of the Lost.


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Great Expectations

I read this today in Great Expectations:

That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride, found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that revere the appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And I could look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of sorrow which had become a master mania, like the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world?
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The Pride of Auntie Sheila

Cashel not only got straight As on his latest report card, but straight As for "deportment". The straight As in reading/writing/arithmetic is a given ... but the triumph is in the deportment arena of his life. Cashel has gone through a rough patch, for reasons that make total sense - I will not invalidate what he has gone through ... Those straight As in deportment really mean something. He has worked VERY VERY hard to be a good boy. Very difficult for a 7 year old, right? Life seems so unfair sometimes, and it's not FUN to suck things up, and know that there are some things that you just have to do: like being polite to others, and obeying the teacher, and stuff like that. But after a rocky road, and - to put it mildly - NOT straight As in "deportment" ... now comes this triumph.

You're a good boy, Cashel, and I get how huge this is for you. This is a breakthrough, frankly. It is not easy to change bad behavior - I know it from my own life! But the work you have done is already paying off.

I am so so proud of you.

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RIP Ruth Hussey

You might not know the name, but most of you will suddenly have an "a-ha" moment of recognition when I tell you that Ruth Hussey, who played "Elizabeth Imbrie", the world-weary wise-cracking photographer (Jimmy Stewart's girlfriend) in Philadelphia Story, has just died.


She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. She makes such an impression in that film, doesn't she? Isn't it just a wonderfully warm (in a kind of cold way ... ha ha) and funny piece of acting? Miss Imbrie understands men, she doesn't try to play them, she also doesn't try to put herself above them (like Tracy does). Miss Imbrie is down in the muck and mess of life with the guys. She maintains no pretenses, she sees right through things, she has no illusions left. Because of her more realistic outlook about male-female relationships, you can tell that this woman has been hurt. She maintains no fairy-tale facade, she's been around the block. But the beauty of this performance (and why I think it was nominated for an Oscar, and also why it holds up under the test of time - it is still funny and touching and real to today's audiences) - is that she is NOT just a wise-cracker. Because that would be boring. There would be no depth there. Ruth Hussey was able to subtly let us know that a living breathing woman with hopes and dreams of her own lay hidden beneath that sarcastic exterior. It's just that Elizabeth Imbrie would never let you in on her secrets, she would never show you her soft underbelly. Life's too rough, man, you gotta protect yourself.

Her boyfriend, Macauley Connor (Jimmy Stewart) is one of those failed artists who has let his own failure make him bitter, and superior. He thinks if you have money you have sold out. One of THOSE obnoxious types. I love their meeting with their boss, Sydney Kidd.

Connor rails at his boss: No hunter of buckshot in the rear is cagey, crafty Connor. Un-quote. Close paragraph.

Imbrie, knowing that they are about to be fired, comments wearily and fatalistically: Close job. Close bank account.

I love her work in that film - as much as I love the work of the three principles. Sure, there are three "leads" in the movie - but I always thought of Ruth Hussey's character as a fourth lead.

Ruth Hussey died on April 19, at the age of 93. My friend Alex (of course) is the one who alerted my attention to this. Here is her beautiful little post about this wonderful actress.

To illustrate what I mean about the character she created in Philadelphia Story (and you know what? I've seen this production on stage a number of times as well, and I have NEVER seen a modern-day actress really nail this character. Either she comes off as just a bitter bitch, OR - the modern actress is blatantly doing an imitation of Ruth Hussey. Hussey put her indelible mark on that character. If I were cast in that role, I know I would have a difficult time making it my own, because to me, she IS that woman.) ...

Anyway. There's the FUNNY scene where Macauley Connor (Jimmy Stewart) is trashed and shows up at CK Dexter Haven's house in the middle of the night.

"Ohhh. CK Dexter HAAAAAAAVEN..."

Cary Grant appears at the door, bemused, in his dressing gown, and lets Stewart in. High comedy follows. (One note: Jimmy Stewart is so convincing as a drunk that you pretty much could use just THAT performance as an example to actors as How to Play Drunkenness. That's it. It doesn't get any better than that.)

Finally, after a long night ... Elizabeth Imbrie shows up at the door, to pick up her wasted boyfriend. Cary Grant opens the door, and you can hear Jimmy Stewart in the background, still inside the house, blabbing on and on and on.

Miss Imbrie, with this face - this flat face that somehow can convey so much - strolls by Cary Grant in the doorway, and calls out, "Where's my wandering parakeet?"

Now listen. I don't want to make too huge a deal about this teeny moment, but you know - that's me. I make huge deals out of teeny moments.

Why we love Miss Imbrie, and why she is the perfect match for Jimmy Stewart (and why Tracy Lord most definitely is NOT) is in that moment. Her boyfriend has fallen off the rails. He is keeping her in a state of indecision. He won't marry her. He's a snob. Etc. But because she's probably had a lot of boyfriends, because she has no illusions about men, there are no Prince Charmings, she wouldn't be interested in a Prince Charming anyway ... because of all of that, she doesn't treat Jimmy Stewart with contempt, or scorn. In her heart, she might be in a rush to get married, but she keeps her heart to herself. His failings and foibles she treats with deadpan humor. She's not going anywhere. She stands by him. She makes sarcastic remarks the entire time, but she stands by him. Another woman might have shown up at CK Dexter Haven's door and bitch-slapped her boyfriend: "Where have you been? Sober up! You're embarrassing me!" Not Miss Imbrie. She strolls into the house, hearing his hysterical ramblings somewhere inside, calling, "Where's my wandering parakeet?" Not THE wandering parakeet. But MY wandering parakeet. She's loyal. And you love her for it. He needs a loyal woman. He just doesn't know it yet. And she is willing to wait.

Think about the scene where CK Dexter Haven asks Ruth Hussey why she doesn't force him to marry her. She's on the stairway going up to bed, member that scene? It's about 6 o'clock in the morning, and CK Dexter Haven has driven her back to the Lord mansion, after she typed out his big story. She's exhausted. Okay, one small actor moment to notice: Miss Imbrie is in a long formal gown, left-over from the party the night before. And just in her body language, actress Ruth Hussey is able to convey so convincingly what exactly it feels like to wear high heels for 10 hours straight. It is not comfortable. You cannot wait to get the damn things off. Your feet ache, pinch. Watch how she takes off her shoes in that scene. Just watch. That's ACTING. After all, the actress Ruth Hussey has not been dancing at a party all night long, and then racing around after her drunk boyfriend. Actress Ruth Hussey, in that taking-off-shoes moment, is just pretending. But it's real. It's that kind of detail that makes a performance great. Good performances abound, but many miss those small moments of reality. Every time I see that scene, my own feet remember the pinch of high heels. I'm not exaggerating.

There's this exhausted camaraderie between CK Dexter Haven and Miss Imbrie in that scene. You understand why Miss Imbrie probably has a ton of male friends. They may all want to sleep with her, but they accept second-best: her friendship. She does not condescend, she does not flirt, she treats men straight-up - in a frank and friendly way. Even though she's hard-bitten in some way, and she's tough - she is NOT unforgiving. THAT'S what is special about this performance. She is actually the essence of the forgiving female. Yet she's not a doormat.

(See why actresses usually can't pull this role off? It's a very tough balancing act. If you don't have BOTH elements, and only nail ONE, then you aren't doing a good job.)

CK Dexter Haven, in that 6 a.m. truthful energy, asks her why she doesn't marry Macauley.

I cannot remember her exact line, but it's something like: "He has a lot of growing up to do. And I don't want to stand in his way."

Beautiful. She is willing to wait.

And her face, the next morning, when she realizes that Macauley and Tracy have had some kind of kissy-kiss thing happen. You see this flash of deep true sadness on her face. Her eyes. The pain in those eyes. But she doesn't flip out, or accuse Tracy or Macauley ... she holds her counsel. She doesn't involve the whole crowd with her sadness, she bears it on her own. (Again, this is all really subtle. That's why it's so good. Nothing is belabored or hammered over our head.)

Later, as things are working themselves out ... Tracy (self-consumed up until this moment) suddenly realizes what she has actually done to Miss Imbrie. Miss Imbrie becomes real to Tracy, in that moment. Tracy runs over to Miss Imbrie, takes her hands, and says, "Oh, Liz, I am so so sorry."

Miss Embrie's reply (to the woman who made out with her boyfriend just hours before) is: "Oh it's all right Tracy. We all go haywire at times and if we don't, maybe we ought to."

This is not bull shit, or false pride, or keeping a stiff upper lip. Miss Imbrie REALLY means this. Isn't that amazing? Don't you just love her? It can't be easy for her, because she can't allow herself any illusions ... but still. The rewards for having that sort of generous and forgiving stance towards the foibles of humanity must be very very great.

I have gone on long enough, but I just wanted to blather on about one of my favorite performances ever, and to take a moment and remember Ruth Hussey at the time of her passing. A beautiful and warm actress, she gave a performance that will live forever.


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Happy birthday, Library of Congress!

On this day, in 1800, President John Adams approved legislation that appropriated $5,900 to purchase the books that would create the Library of Congress.


(This image isn't from that time - the building itself was constructed at the end of the 1800s.)

During the War of 1812, the British invaded Washington and wreaked havoc. They burned the 3,000 volumes that made up the Library of Congress (these were housed in the Capitol), ordered from all over the world. Thomas Jefferson, during his time as President (1801 to 1809) took a huge interest in the Library (no surprise there - the guy went into massive lifelong debt because of his book-buying addiction). His own personal library was known as the greatest in the country. When the Library was burned in 1814, Jefferson was no longer President, and was living in retirement at Monticello. I love this story: Jefferson offered to sell Congress his private library (almost 6,500 books, people ... damn!) - as a starting point to building up the Library of Congress collection again. The original Library of Congress had a narrow focus: law, economics, and history. With the new books from Jefferson, the national collection had much more breadth and depth: architecture, botany, geography, literature, science. Amazing. The Jefferson collection sat in a reading room in Congress for most of the 19th century, until 1871 when plans were approved to build a separate building for the Library of Congress. Project approved by Congress in 1886, and construction began. At the time, it was the largest (and costliest) library building in the world.

I'm going to DC in a couple of weeks, and I must, of course, make a pilgrimage to the Library of Congress.

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Today in history

The Easter Rising, in Dublin, 1916.


(Read the text here. I'm a geek - I have that thing framed, on my wall.) All men who signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic were executed.

I want to post William Butler Yeats' poem Easter, 1916. Elegiac, portentous, tragic, and prophetic. A "terrible beauty" was indeed born.

Easter 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

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The Books: "Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solive the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem" (Simon Singh)

Next book on the science and philosophy shelf:

FermatsEnigma.jpgA book about 17th century French mathematician Pierre de Fermat and his last theorem. Proving this last theorem turned out to be no easy feat, and mathematicians tried, for 350 years. It has been called "the Holy Grail of mathematics". Obviously, I'm pulling this book down from my "Math and Science for People who Love Math and Science but Don't Understand the Actual Math and Science" shelf. One of my favorite shelves! The book is by Simon Singh and it's called Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem.

The book mostly details the mathematicians throughout history who have struggled to find a proof for Fermat's Last Theorem. But the following excerpt is about Fermat, and his "enigma":

EXCERPT FROM Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World's Greatest Mathematical Problem:

One of Fermat's discoveries concerned the so-called friendly numbers, or amicable numbers, closely related to the perfect numbers that had fascinated Pythagoras two thousand years earlier. Friendly numbers are pairs of numbers such that each number is the sum of the divisors of the other number. The Pythagoreans made the extraordinary discovery that 220 and 284 are friendly numbers. The divisors of 220 are 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 20, 22, 44, 55, 110, and the sum of all these is 284. On the other hand, the divisors of 284 are 1, 2, 4, 71, 142, and the sum of all these is 220.

The pair 220 and 284 was said to be symbolic of friendship. Martin Gardner's book Mathematical Magic Show tells of talismans sold in the Middle Ages that were inscribed with these numbers on the grounds that wearing the charms would promote love. An Arab numerologist documents the practice of carving 220 on one fruit and 284 on another, and then eating the first one and offering the second one to a lover as a form of mathematical aphrodisiac. Early theologians noted that in Genesis Jacob gave 220 goats to Esau. They believed that the number of goats, one half of a friendly pair, was an expression of Jacob's love for Esau.

No other friendly numbers were identified until 1636, when Fermat discovered the pair 17,296 and 18,416. Although not a profound discovery, it demonstrates Fermat's familiarity with numbers and his love of playing with them. Fermat started a fad for finding friendly numbers; Descartes discovered a thir pair (9,363,584 and 9,437,056), and Leonhard Euler went on to list sixty-two amicable pairs. Curiously they had all overlooked a much smaller pair of friendly numbers. In 1866 a sixteen-year-old Italian, Nicolo Paganini, discovered the pair 1,184 and 1,210.

During the twentieth century mathematicians have extended the idea further and have searched for so-called "sociable numbers", three or more numbers that form a closed loop. For example, in this loop of five numbers (12,496; 14,288; 15,472; 14,536; 14,264) the divisors of the first number add up to the second, the divisors of the second add up to the third, the divisors of the third add up to the fourth, the divisors of the fourth add up to the fifth, and the divisors of the fifth add up to the first. [Note from Sheila: Cool!!!]

Although discovering a new pair of friendly numbers made Fermat something of a celebrity, his reputation was truly confirmed thanks to a series of mathematical challenges. For example, Fermat noticed that 26 is sandwiched between 25 and 17, one of which is a square number (25 = 52 = 5 x 5) and the other is a cube number (27 = 33 = 3 x 3 x 3). He searcherd for other numbers sandwiched between a square and a cube but failed to find any, and suspected that 26 might be unique. After days of strenuous effort he managed to construct an elaborate argument that proved without any doubt that 26 is indeed the only number between a square and a cube. His step-by-step logical proof established that no other numbers could fulfill this criterion.

Fermat announced this unique property of 26 to the mathematical community, and then challenged them to prove that this was the case. He openly admitted that he himself had a proof; the question was, however, did others have the ingenuity to match it? Despite the simplicity of the claim the proof is fiendishly complicated, and Fermat took particular delight in taunting the English mathematicians Wallis and Digby, who eventually had to admit defeat. UYltimately Fermat's greatest claim to fame would turn out to be another challenge to the rest of the world. However, it would be an accidental riddle that was never intended for public discussion.

While studying Book II of the Arithmetica Fermat came upon a whole series of observations, problems, and solutions that concerned Pythagoras's theorem and Pythagorean triples. Fermat was struck by the variety and sheer quantity of Pythagorean triples. He was aware that centuries earlier Euclid had stated a proof which demonstrated that, in fact, there are an infinite number of Pythagorean triples. Fermat must have gazed at Diophantus's detailed exposition of Pythagorean triples and wondered what there was to add to the subject. As he stared at the page he began to play with Pythagoras's equation, trying to discovere something that had evaded the Greeks.

Suddenly, in a moment of genius that would immortalize the Prince of Amateurs, he created an equation that, though very similar to Pythagoras's equation, had no solutions at all...

Instead of considering the equation

x2 + y2 = z2,

Fermat was contemplating a variant of Pythagoras's creation:

x3 + y3 = z3.

As mentioned in the last chapter, Fermat had merely changed the power from 2 to 3, the square to a cube, but his new equation apparently had no whole number solutions whatsoever. Trial and error soon shows the difficulty of finding two cubed numbers that add together to make another cubed number. Could it really be the case that this minor modification turns Pythagoras's equation, one with an infinite number of solutions, into an equation with no solutions?

He altered the equation further by changing the power to numbers bigger than 3, and discovered that finding a solution to each of these equations was equally difficult. According to Fermat there appeared to be no three numbers that would perfectly fit the equation

xn + yn = zn where n represents 3,4,5...

In the margin of his Arithmetica, next to Problem 8, he made a note of his observation:

Cubem autem in duos cubos, aut quadratoquadratum in duos quadratoquadratos, et generaliter nullam in infinitum ultra quadratum potestatem in duos eiusdem nominis fas est dividere.

It is impossible for a cube to be written as a sum of two cubes or a fourth power to be written as the sum of two fourth powers or, in general, for any number which is a greater power than the second to be written as a sum of two like powers.

Among all the possible numbers there seemed to be no reason why at least one set of solutions could not be found, yet Fermat stated that nowhere in the infinite universe of numbers was there a "Fermatean triple". It was an extraordinary claim, but one that Fermat believed he could prove. After the first marginal note outlining the theory, the mischievous genius jotted down an additional comment that would haunt generations of mathematicians:

Cuius rei demonstrationem mirabilem sane detexi hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet.

I have a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.

This was Fermat at his most infuriating. His own words suggest that he was particularly pleased with this "truly marvelous" proof, but he had no intention of bothering to write out the detail of the argument, never mind publishing it. He never told anyone about his proof, and yet, despite the combination of indolence and modesty, Fermat's Last Theorem, as it would later be called, would become famous around the world for centuries to come.

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April 23, 2005

Just want you to know

It's a downpour outside, and I just watched A Mighty Wind. I am happy.

Bob Balaban. I love that guy.

Christopher Guest's hairdo.

And the album covers! hahaha The album called "Wishin'" - the 3 guys in blue suits around a wishing well, laughing at the camera ...

"There had been abuse in my family ... but it was mostly musical in nature."

"Martin Berg. Folk Historian." haha That was the guy who everyone thought was Guffman in Waiting for Guffman. And here he is in a tie-dye shirt with a long white beard.

"I learned to play the ukelele in my last film: Not so Tiny Tim."

It amazes me that those same three guys were also Spinal Tap. Dammit, they're geniuses.


Catherine O'Hara gives a deep and serious performance here. It's pained, and real, and ... just so unexpected. We expect her to be funny. And here she is thoughtful, with sad eyes. It's very odd, very striking. In the middle of this funny mockumentary is a dramatic and convincing performance.

"If they didn't have model trains, they wouldn't have gotten the idea to make the big trains."

Jennifer Coolidge is so funny I don't know what to do with myself. She's like Madeline Kahn.

In my opinion, Eugene Levy - usually so perfect - gives a less-than-perfect performance. It really stands out. It pains me to say, and I don't even want to admit it, but you know what? It's true. I love him, but his performance in this doesn't work.

When Bob Balban gets slapped. hahahaha "This banjo is flat." "Well, it's painted to look three-dimensional ..." "Is this the real furniture?" "A - it's not furniture, it's a set."

I love that Parker Posey has almost no lines in this film. She knew it going in, she didn't care. She just loves being involved with these movies, and would rather have fun in her career than trying to position herself in leading roles. Love her.

"This candle represents the uncertainty of life, in all its delicacy. It also represents a penis."

The worship of color. I mean ... come ON. "That saturated energy ..." "Reeed orange yellowwwww green bluuuueee"

I love Town Hall. I saw Rufus Wainwright there.

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Spencer Tracy's genius

Check this out. I just read this today (found a book at a second-hand bookstore - by the great Garson Kanin - it's called Tracy and Hepburn. He knew them both well). Anyway, looks like it's going to be full of amazing anecdotes. Here's one that gave me chills. I had to read it twice, just to get the full satisfaction. It's about Spencer Tracy:

Spencer had an aversion to makeup. To most actors, beards and mustaches, putty noses and tooth work, wigs and contact lenses are not only tools, but toys. Spencer shuddered at the thought, believing that characters had to be created from within rather than with artifice.

Laurence Olivier once said to him, "I admire so much about you, Spence, but nothing more than the fact that you can do it all barefaced."

"I can't act with stuff all over me," said Spence morosely.

"But don't you feel as though they're looking at you? Don't you feel naked?"

"Only when I have to say a lousy line, " said Spence.

This attitude once caused friction between us. When I directed him on Broadway in The Rugged Path, there was a scene in which the character he played reached an island in the Philippines, having survived a torpedoed battleship.

Eddie Senz, a brilliant makeup artist, devised an easily applied piece to simulate a beard growth. When he demonstrated it, Spencer turned and went to his dressing room. I joined him there a few minutes later.

"Has he gone?" asked Spence.

"May I ask you one question?"


"How could a man drift in the sea for eight days and turn up clean shaven?"

"Guess," he said.

"I know your feeling about all this, kiddo, but you're not going to tell me you can act unshaven!"

"Watch me," he said.

In performance, he did precisely that. I still find it difficult to believe.

I believe it.


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"The great voice which long ago took over that whole terrain for its own"

Today is the birthday of William Shakespeare.


One of the things I think about when I think about Shakespeare, or one of the things that inevitably comes into my mind, is my late great teacher Doug Moston, who died in 2003. Moston (just an awesome awesome teacher) was responsible for getting Shakespeare's first folio published in facsimile. I own it. It's indispensable for actors, I think. Modern versions of Shakespeare, modern editors ironed out his punctuation, regularizing it, etc. But ... in a lot of cases, the modern editors are looking at these plays as academic texts, works of literature - as opposed to scripts meant for actors to play. If you have the plays in facsimile (ie: how they looked in the first folio) - you can see an even deeper level of Shakespeare's intent as a playwright. Modern editors sometimes have added exclamation points, which I find a bit horrifying. An exclamation point is an editorial comment - it says: "Here's how to say this line". You are saying, with that punctuation: "The emotion behind the line should be THIS." Shakespeare used very little "emotional" punctuation marks in his work. Almost none. He used periods and commas, and that's pretty much it. In the same way that there are no stage-directions in his plays (as written) except for: Enter and Exeunt. Shakespeare put all of the stage directions INTO the language. Fascinating. If someone needs a torch to see, he will have the character say, "Hand me that torch. Thank you, then, now I can see." It's all in the language. You see all those semi-colons sprinkled through Shakespeare's plays? Those were not written by him. Those are all from modern editors. Modern editors think we're all stupid, and so they "improved" upon Shakespeare's language thinking: "Oh, he meant for this to be said in an excited way." Bah. The story of the "folio" is an amazing story, and I am so grateful that I studied under Doug Moston, that I worked on Shakespeare, using the folio as opposed to modern versions of the script. (My tribute essay to him - linked above - goes into this in a more in-depth way. The great thing about my essay about Doug is that whenever former students or colleagues of him Google him, they get to that post. And they leave their thoughts about him. Even with all the spammers, I leave that post open to comments. They're beautiful.)

In honor of the Bard, here is a HUGE POST.

I'll start with a wonderful excerpt from the book Will in the World, by Stephen Greenblatt. Here he discusses Midsummer Night's Dream. One of the cool things about Midsummer is that, of all of his plays, it is the one where scholars have been unable to find a souce for it. Shakespeare did not invent plots, he used stories that were already in existence. But scholars believe that Midsummer may very well be the only one of his plays directly from his imagination.

By 1595, Shakespeare clearly grasped that his career was built on a triumph of the professional London entertainment industry over traditional amateur performances. His great comedy [Midsummer] was a personal celebration of escape as well as of mastery. Escape from what? From tone-deaf plays, like Thomas Preston's A Lamentable Tragedy, Mixed Full of Pleasant Mirth, Containing the Life of Cambises, King of Persia, whose lame title Shakespeare parodied. From coarse language and jog trotting meter and rant pretending to be passion. From amateur actors too featherbrained to remember their lines, too awkward to perform gracefully, too shy to perform energetically, or, worst of all, too puffed up with vanity to perform anything but their own grotesque egotism. The troupe of artisans who perform "Pyramus and Thisbe" -- the weaver Nick Bottom, the bellows-mender Francis Flute, the tinker Tom Snout, the joiner Snug, the tailor Robin Starveling, and their director, the carpenter Peter Quince -- are collectively an anthology of theatrical catastrophes.

The laughter in act 5 of A Midsummer Night's Dream -- and it is one of the most enduringly funny scenes Shakespeare ever wrote -- is built on a sense of superiority in intelligence, training, cultivation, and skill. The audience is invited to join the charmed circle of the upper-class mockers onstage. This mockery proclaimed the young playwright's definitive passage from naivete and homespun amateurism to sophisticated taste and professional skill. But the laughter that the scene solicits is curiously tender and even loving. What saves the scene of ridicule from becoming too painful, what keeps it delicious in fact, is the self-possession of the artisans. In the face of open derision, they are all unflappable. Shakespeare achieved a double effect. On the one hand, he mocked the amateurs, who fail to grasp the most basic theatrical conventions, by which they are to stay in their roles and pretend they cannot see or hear their audience. On the other hand, he conferred an odd, unexpected dignity upon Bottom and his fellows, a dignity that contrasts favorably with the sardonic rudeness of the aristocratic spectators.

Even as he called attention to the distance between himself and the rustic performers, then, Shakespeare doubled back and signaled a current of sympathy and solidarity. [Note from Sheila: It occurs to me that this is what Christopher Guest accomplished in Waiting for Guffman. Anyone who has been an actor has suffered through shows like that one. Most of us have done loads of community theatre. You can scoff at it, and scorn it ... and there's a lot to scorn. But Christopher Guest approaches it with affection. Which is why I think that movie is so wonderful. Yes, we laugh at those people, but we love them too. Okay, back to Will.] As when borrowing from the old morality plays and folk culture, he understood at once that he was doing something quite different and that he owed a debt. The professions he assigned the Athenian artisans were not chosen at random -- Shakespeare's London theatre company depended on joiners and weavers, carpenters and tailors -- and the tragedy they perform, of star-crossed lovers, fatal errors, and suicides, is one in which the playwirght himself was deeply interested. In the period he was writing the "Pyramus and Thisbe" parody, Shakespeare was also writing the strikingly similar Romeo and Juliet; they may well have been on his writing table at the same time. A more defensive artist would have scrubbed harder in an attempt to remove these marks of affinity, but Shakespeare's laughter was not a form of renunciation or concealment. "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard," Hippolyta comments, to which Theseus replies, "The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse if imagination amend them." "It must be your imagination, then, and not theirs," is her rejoinder (5.1.207-10) -- the spectators' imagination and not the players' -- but that is precisely the point: the difference between the professional actor and the amateur actor is not, finally, the crucial consideration. They both rely upon the imagination of the spectators. And, as if to clinch the argument, a moment later, at the preposterous suicide speech of Pyramus --

Approach, ye furies, fell.
O fates, come, come,
Cut thread and thrum,
Quail, crush, conclude and quell

-- Hippolyta finds herself unaccountably moved: "Beshrew my heart, but I pity the man" (5.1.279).

When in A Midsummer Night's Dream the thirty-year-old Shakespeare, drawing deeply upon his own experiences, thought about his profession, he split the theatre between a magical, virtually nonhuman element, which he associated with the power of the imagination to lift itself away from the constraints of reality, and an all-too-human element, which he associated with the artisans' trades that actually made the material structures -- buildings, platforms, costumes, musical instruments, and the like -- structures that gave the imagination a local habitation and a name. He understood, and he wanted the audience to understand, that the theatre had to have both, both the visionary flight and the solid, ordinary earthiness.

That earthiness was a constituent part of his creative imagination. He never forgot the provincial, everday world from which he came or the ordinary face behind the mask of Arion.

I think that's kind of a beautiful analysis of that play. Mitchell - (a friend who just played Puck in Indiana Rep's production of Midsummer): what say you?

Additionally, I'm going to post a couple of quotes from a book I positively adore: Michael Schmidt's Lives of the Poets. This was a book recommended to me by the doppelganger, and I tore through it ferociously. If you like poetry, I highly recommend you pick it up. What's really great about this book (a survey of English-language poets, from Richard Rolle of Hampole to Les Murray - quite a wide span of time) - but what's great about it is that Michael Schmidt is not an academic. He has nothing to do with academia. He is a publisher, and a reviewer. He is a poetry fan. He doesn't write from the dusty halls of a university, and he is not trying to impress. He chooses poets he loves, and tells us why he loves them and why he thinks so-and-so is important. It's a wonderful book, really accessible.

How he deals with Shakespeare is especially interesting. Because this book spans so much time, Shakespeare is just another name on a long long long list ... and yet ... of course ... he overshadows pretty much everything. His shadow even goes backwards, so that the poets that came just before him don't stand a chance either. It's very interesting.

In Michael Schmidt's view, the poet whose legacy suffers the most is Ben Jonson. Here is what he has to say about that:

Jonson suffers one irremediable disability: Shakespeare. Alexander Pope underlines the point in his Preface to the Works of Shakespeare (1725): "It is ever the nature of parties to be in extremes; and nothing is so probable, as that because Ben Jonson had much the more learning, it was said on the other hand that Shakespeare had none at all; and because Shakespeare had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted on the other, that Jonson wanted both. Because Shakespeare borrowed nothing, it was said that Ben Jonson borrowed everything."

In the plays the proximity of Shakespeare does Jonson the most harm, though he writes plays so different from his friend's that they seem distinct in kind and period. Part of that difference is Jonson's poetic balance, deliberate artistry: he knows what he wants to say and has the means of saying it, no more or less. He speaks for his age, while Shakespeare speaks for himself. Jonson's art is normative, Shakespeare's radical and exploratory. In Jonson there's structure and gauged variegation, in Shakespeare movement and warmth. Coleridge disliked the "rankness" of Jonson's realism and found no "goodness of heart". He condemned the "absurd rant and ventriloquism" in the tragedy Sejanus,staged by Shakespeare's company at the Globe. At times Jonson's words, unlike Shakespeare's, tend to separate out and stand single, rather than coalesce, as though he had attended to every single word. His mind is busy near the surface. He is thirsty at the lip, not at the throat....

Dryden's criticism is telling at one point: Jonson "weaved" the language "too closely and laboriously" and he "did a little too much Romanise our tongue, leaving the words he translated almost as much Latin as he found them." Dryden ends with the inevitable verdict: "I admire him, but I love Shakespeare."

More from the same book. The following excerpts are from Schmidt's chapter on Shakespeare.

When drama began to be printed, blank verse was an ugly medium. Printers did their best to set it out prettily but got little enough thanks for their labors. Not wholly unconnected with this, some of my predecessors harbored bad feelings about William Shakespeare. About the work and the way it broke upon the world. Not about the man, born in the same year as Marlowe yet somehow seeming his junior an dhis apprentice. The great painter William Turner once said of Thomas Girtin, who died at twenty-seven, "Had Tommy Girtin lived, I should have starved." But Girtin died, Marlowe died; and Turner lived, Shakespeare lived. Laurels are awarded accordingly.

Poems vs. the plays - here's what Schmidt has to say:

The greatest poet of the age -- the greatest poet of all time, for all his corruptions -- inspires in publishers and in other writers a kind of vertigo. For Donald Davie Shakespeare represents "a vast area of the English language and the English imagination which is as it were 'charged', radio-active: a territory where we dare not travel at all often or at all extensively, for fear of being mortally infected, in the sense of being overborne, so that we cease to speak with our own voices and produce only puny echoes of the great voice which long ago took over that whole terrain for its own." This is true of the plays. But had Shakespeare produced only the epyllia, the Sonnets and the occasional poems, we'd have a much more proportioned view of him, smaller in scale than Jonson, Donne, Spencer and Marlowe. The poems are excellent, but it is the language and vision of the plays that dazzles. The slightly absurd scenario of Venus and Adonis, the excesses of Lucree and the unevent brilliance of the Sonnets would not by themselves have changed the world. Venus and Adonis was, it's true, Shakespeare's most successful poem. By the time he died, ten editions had been published, and six followed in the two decades after his death. There was money in that large, bossy, blowsy goddess almost eating alive the pretty lad. Nowadays it is read because it is by Shakespeare. And Lucree, with its cruel eloquence, its harsh tracing of one of the most brutal tales of rape in the classical repertory, while better balanced and constructed, touches unreflectingly on matters that require a less restrained psychology than the poet can provide...

This is a story about poetry, not drama or literal prostitution; the plays I'll leave to someone else. I'm concerned with "the rest", a handful of works that the poet took most seriously; the epyllia Richard Field published, the 154 Sonnets and "The Phoenix and the Turtle". I could add songs from the plays, but once you dip into a drama, where do you stop? A monologue is like an aria, a description can be like a whole pastoral or satire. And which songs are Shakespeare's, which did he pull out of Anon.'s bran tub? Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's Lavours Lost, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venic, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale and The Tempest all include detachable songs, but the plays snared them and that's where they belong.

Shakespeare is so much at the heart -- is the heart -- of this story that even by skirting around him we take his measure. Apart from his genius, Shakespeare had some real advantages. The world for him was new, as it had been for Chaucer. There were the navigators' discoveries, there was the rising power of the monarch, new industry, new learning.

Here Schmidt talks about the mystery hidden within the Sonnets:

The Sonnets have attracted a critical literature second in vastness only to that on Hamlet, and so various that at times it seems the critics are discussing works entirely unrelated. They contain a mystery, and the critic-as-sleuth is much in evidence. Unlike sonnets by his contemporaries, none of these poems has a traced "source" in Italian or elsewhere; most seem to emerge from an actual occasion, an occasion not concealed, yet sufficiently clouded to make it impossible to say for sure what or whom it refers to. Setting these veiled occasions side by side can yield a diversity of plots: a Dark Lady, a Young Man, now noble, now common, now chaste, now desired, possessed, and lost. All we can say for sure is that desire waxes and wanes, time passes. Here certainly, the critic says, are hidden meanings; and where meanings are hidden, a key is hidden too. Only, Shakespeare is a subtle twister. Each sleuth-critic finds a key, and each finds a different and partial treasure. A.L. Rowse found his key, affirming that Shakespeare's mistress was the poet Emilia Lanyer (1569 - 1645), illegitimate daughter of an Italian royal musician and also an intimate of the astrologer Simon Forman, who gives a brief picture of a brave, cunning operator. Her 1611 volume of poem includes ten dediocations and cleverly celebrates the Dowager Countess of Cumberland, the poet's particular quarry, in company with Christ and biblical heroines. The words she attributes to Eve are the first clear glimmer of English feminism in verse. Eve may -- almost innocently -- have handed Adam the apple, but Adam's sons crucified, in the bright light of day and reason, Jesus Christ. "This sin of yours hath no excuse, or end."

There is a further mystery: Who is "the only begetter of these ensuing sonnets Mr. W.H." to whom the poet (or the publisher?) wishes "all happiness and that eternity promised by our ever-living poet"? The T.T. who signs the dedication is Thomas Thorpe, publisher-printer in 1609 of the poems: W.H. may have been his friend, who procured the manuscipt, or Shakespeare's lover, or a common acquaintaince - William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke? Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (dedicatee of the two epyllia)? William Hervey, Southampton's stepfather, getting the poet to encourage his stepson to marry? Much passionate energy is expended on a riddle without a definitive answer. Thomas Thorpe was a mischievous printer. I suspect he knew what he was doing: no title page in history has been more pored over.

You can tell Schmidt is a publisher, right?

Here's more on the Sonnets:

There is not a linear plot to the sequence of the sonnets. Ther are "runs", but they break off; other "runs" begin. Is it a series of sequences, or a miscellany of them? Some editors reorder the poems without success. Sonnets 1 - 126 are addressed to a young man or men; the remainder to a Dark (-haired) Lady. There may be a triangle (or two): the beloveds perhaps have a relationship as well. The poems are charged with passionate ambiguities.

Those who read the poems as a sonnet sequence were for a long while baffled. The Sonnets were neglected, or virtually so, until 1780, when they were dusted down and reedited. They did not immediately appeal, but gradually, during the 19th century, they caught fire -- fitfully, like wet kindling. Wordsworth, Keaths, Hazlitt, and Landor failed to appreciate them. Those who love them properly are fewer than those who enjoy them. Those who love them properly are fewer than those who enjoy arguing about them. W.H. Auden argues (credibly) that "he wrote them ... as one writes a diary, for himself alone, with no thought of a public." T.S. Eliot suggests that like Hamlet they are "full of some stuff that the writer could not drag to light, contemplate, or manipulate into art. And when we search for this feeling, we find it, as in the sonnets, very difficult to localise." Now the public clambers over them, prurient, with several dozen authoritative guides.

And now (you can sense reluctantly) Schmidt talks about the plays.

Drama could be profitable: this discovery coincided with "the coming into the field of the first pupils of the new grammar schools of Edward VI", men who did not resent or distrust commerce and entrepreneurship. A new class of "mental adventurers", the classically educated sons of merchants, made the running. Marlowe was the son of a cobbler, Shakespeare of a prosperous glove maker of Stratford-on-Avon, where the poet was born in 1564. Both were provincials, one educated at the grammar school at Stratford, the other at King's School, Canterbury. They were harbingers of the social change that would culminate in the Commonwealth.

One of Shakespeare's advantages was an apparent disadvantage. He was not university-trained. "When Shakespeare attempts to be learned like Marlowe, he is not very clever." That is part of the problem with his epyllia. But Ford Madox Ford reminds us that he had "another world to which he could retire; because of that he was a greater poet than either Jonson or Marlowe, whose minds were limited by their university-training to find illustrations, telles quelles, from illustrations already used in the Greek or Latin classics. It was the difference between founding a drawing on a lay figure and drawing or painting from a keen and delighting memory."

Sidney advises: "Look in thy heart and write." In the Sonnets, Shakespeare takes Sidney's counsel without the platonizing the great courtier intended. The heart he looks into is singularly complex and troubled, and the poems he writes from this impure "I" are as full of life as the plays.

I'll let Puck's words that end Midsummer close this genormous post. They seem appropriate:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

Happy birthday to the Bard!

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The Books: "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea" (Charles Seife)

Next book in my science and philosophy section:

Zero.gifA book about the history of the number zero. It is called Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, and it's by Charles Seife.

Who knew that the number zero could be so eternally controversial?

This book tells the story. And this excerpt deals with the Egyptians, the solar vs. lunar calendar, geometry, and the number zero.

EXCERPT FROM Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife:

Though counting abilities were rare in the ancient world, numbers and the fundamentals of counting always developed before writing and reading. When early civilizations started pressing reeds to clay tablets, carving figures in stone, and daubing ink on parchment and on papyrus, number systems had already been well-established. Transcribing the oral number system into written form was a simple task: people just needed to figure out a coding method whereby scribes could set the numbers down in a more permanent form. (Some societies even found a way to do this before they discovered writing. The illiterate Incas, for one, used the quipu, a string of colored, knotted cords, to record calculations.)

The first scribes wrote down numbers in a way that matched their base system, and predictably, did it in the most concise way they could think of. Society had progressed since the time of Gog. Instead of making little groups of marks over and over, the scribes created symbols for each type of grouping; in a quinary system, a scribe might make a certain mark for one, a different symbol for a group of five, yet another mark for a group of 25, and so forth.

The Egyptians did just that. More than 5,000 years ago, before the time of the pyramids, the ancient Egyptians designed a system for transcribing their decimal system, where pictures stood for numbers. A single vertical mark represented a unit, while a heel bone represented 10, a swirly snare stood for 100, and so on. To write down a number with this scheme, all an Egyptian scribe had to do was record groups of these symbols. Instead of having to write down 123 tick marks to denote the number "one hundred and twenty-three", the scribe wrote six symbols: one snare, two heels, and three vertical marks. It was the typical way of doing mathematics in antiquity. And like most other civilizations Egypt did not have -- or need -- a zero.

Yet the ancient Egyptians were quite sophisticated mathematicians. They were master astronomers and timekeepers, which meant that they had to use advanced math, thanks to the wandering nature of the calendar.

Creating a stable calendar was a problem for most ancient peoples, because they generally started out with a lunar calendar: the length of a month was the time between successive full moons. It was a natural choice; the waxing and waning of the moon in the heavens was hard to overlook, and it offered a convenient way of marking periodic cycles of time. But the lunar month is between 29 and 30 days long. No matter how you arrange it, 12 lunar months only add up to about 354 days -- roughly 11 short of the solar year's length. Thirteen lunar months yield roughly 19 days too many. Since it is the solar year, not the lunar year, that determines the time for harvest and planting, the seasons seem to drift when you reckon by an uncorrected lunar year.

Correcting the lunar calendar is a complicated undertaking. A number of modern-day nations, like Israel and Saudi Arabia, still use a modified lunar calendar, but 6,000 years ago the Egyptians came up with a better system. Their method was a much simpler way of keeping track of the passage of the days, producing a calendar that styaed in sync with the seasons for many years. Instead of using the moon to keep track of the passage of time, the Egyptians used the sun, just as most nations do today...

The Egyptians' innovation of the solar calendar was a breakthrough, but they made an even more important mark on history: the invention of the art of geometry. Even without a zero, the Egyptians had quickly become masters of mathematics. They had to, thanks to an angry river. Every year the Nile would overflow its banks and flood the delta. The good news was that the flooding deposited rich, alluvial silt all over the fields, making the Nile delta the richest farmland in the ancient world. The bad news was that the river destroyed many of the boundary markers, erasing all of the landmarks that told farmers which land was theirs to cultivate. (The Egyptians took property rights very seriously. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a newly deceased person must swear to the gods that he hasn't cheated his neighbor by stealing his land. It was a sin punishable by having his heart fed to a horrible beast called the devourer. In Egypt, filching your neighbor's land was considered as grave an offense as breaking an oath, murdering somebody, or masturbating in a temple.)

The ancient pharaohs assigned surveyors to assess the damage and reset the boundary markers, and thus geometry was born. These surveyors, or rope stretchers (named for their measuring devices and knotted ropes designed to mark right angles), eventually learned to determine the areas of plots of land by dividing them into rectangles and triangles. The Egyptians also learned how to measure the volumes of objects -- like pyramids. Egyptian mathematics was famed throughout the Mediterranean, and it is likely that the early Greek mathematicians, masters of geometry like Thales and Pythagoras, studied in Egypt. Yet despite the Egyptians' brilliant geometric work, zero was nowhere to be found within Egypt.

This was, in part, because the Egyptians were of a practical bent. They never progressed beyond measuring volumes and counting days and hours. Mathematics wasn't used for anything impractical, except their system of astrology. As a result, their best mathematicians were unable to use the principles of geometry for anything unrelated to real world problems -- they did not take their system of mathematics and turn it into an abstract system of logic. They were also not inclined to put math into their philosophy. The Greeks were different; they embraced the abstract and the philosophical, and brought mathematics to its highest point in ancient times. Yet it was not the Greeks who discovered zero. Zero came from the East, not the West.

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April 22, 2005


The night is cold and wet here, after a week of warmth. I love the cold and wet, so I'm happy. The sky began to darken at around 4, you could sense things hunkering down, you could sense the weather approaching.

I had some errands to do. It was around 6 pm. I walked along the Hudson River, Jersey-side. The Empire State Building was bright blue and bright green. There are dogwood trees in a little park, the blossoms glowing white in the dark grey air. It wasn't raining yet, but the air felt wet, if that makes sense. I did my first errand, came out of the shop, and walked towards my video store. I glanced to my right, through the dogwoods, and saw a magnificent sight.

The Queen Mary 2 slowly floating by, right there, a massive beautiful boat, a skyscraper on its side, majestic, quiet, slow - like a glacier. Moving south, so tall, it blocked out the skyline beyond. Only the blue and green spire of the Empire State Building showed above it. It was such a sight. Especially because the Hudson is so narrow, and the buildings of New York City are so toweringly tall ... and yet, in that context, the Queen Mary dwarfed everything. She was the only game in town.

People just stopped in their tracks and watched her go by.

It was absolutely magnificent.

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It never ceases to amaze me ...

the kindness and generosity, in general, of human beings. Sure, people can be selfish shits, so can I ... but the evidence of goodness in people, for me, has a longer-lasting impact, makes more of an impression. This is obviously not true for the cynics of the world. As a matter of fact, it's the opposite that would be true: Goodness, to them, seems flimsy and unsubstantial. It is the bad-ness that makes the impression.

Well, for me ... I am stunned by the kindness of people. And I am stunned by the generosity.

I am thinking about this right now because I just received a gift in the mail from my Amazon list ... sent to me by this gentleman right here, a gentleman who has, to put it mildly, a lot going on right now. But he took the time to look at my list, and send me 2 things I had asked for ... because he likes to read my site every day and forget a little bit about his troubles. This, for me, is the greatest compliment.

I have tears in my eyes right now. Big Dan: fighting against his own body that is trying to destroy him - and yet still: he writes every day on his blog - thank God! It's such a gift to read it. It is always a reminder that we should not take this life for granted. But now ... with the gifts arrived ... from this man I do not know, this man I have never met ...

Honestly, I'm all choked up right now. It's generosity like a blinding light.

So. What did he buy me?? Well, this is VERY exciting. I'm all a-twitter about it.

1. The new biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It's massive. It's a beaaauuuuutiful book, too - hardcover. And inside are all these glossy pages filled with stunning portraits of all the main characters in Hamilton's life, including one of George Washington, leaning with his elbow against a cannon - a really casual open pose, very very unlike his later stiff self. I love the illustrations. Can't seem to get enough of Alexander Hamilton, no matter how much I try to segue out into other interests. He is endlessly fascinating. I am very VERY excited to start this book.

2. Staying with that theme, Dan sent me a second book: Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 . I've written quite a bit before about this election - it's one of my passions from that period. To my mind, it is after THAT election that we truly became a nation. A nation unlike any other nation on earth. There was no coup, no overthrow ... and these were two brand-new political parties who not only hated each other, but truly believed that the ruin of the nation would come if the other side was elected. (Huh. Sound familiar?) It's an amazing story - the story of that election, and I've read it, of course, in the biographies of Adams and Jefferson - the ugliness of that campaign (which makes our polarization look like child's play - These people were apocalyptically mean about their opponents). I started a book called Jefferson's 2nd Revolution, and did a couple of posts on it - but I'm going to be frank: The woman cannot write. I was forcing myself to get through it because of the story told, but she cannot write. If you see that book in a bookstore and feel like picking it up, remember my words: She is a bad writer. I stopped reading the book, and now another book has arrived - from Pastor Dan. It is a gorgeous book as well, and I'm reaallly excited to dig into it.

Thank you!!! I love my two new books! They have proudly taken their spots in Bookshelf # 6.

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A string of shameful confessions

Actually, what I am about to share here is embarrassing on so many levels that it's almost like a hall of mirrors.

1. Since I got television, I have discovered this horrible WONDERFUL reality show called The Surreal Life. This is the first embarrassing confession, and really - all other confessions come back to this one. Like: WHY ARE YOU WATCHING THAT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Well, frankly, because I find it feckin' FAScinating, in an awful toe-curlingly-embarrassing way.

2. It's half an hour long, and it appears to be on some kind of never-ending loop on VH1. It's always on. So I have been able to do quite a bit of catching up - so much so that I actually saw one episode twice.

3. You guys, does anyone else watch this show??? There are things that happen on it that ... I actually can barely believe my eyes. Like, even though it's right in front of me, I cannot get enough of it. Mini Me getting WASTED is an example. I didn't know whether to laugh or run screaming from the room when I watched that episode. I remember my friend Alex telling me about it, a while back - like: "WAIT until you see Mini Me - so drunk he's pissing in the corner ..." Now I understand what she was talking about. You watch this show and your jaw literally drops ... Shrieks of laughter are held back in your throat, because ... it's all just too weird.

4. And lastly: the most shameful confession of all: I have kind of a huge crush on Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady). He's grown up to be quite handsome, washboard stomach, and has a well-developed sense of the absurd. For example: a trashed Mini Me will perambulate by drunkenly on his scooter - Christopher Knight will watch him go by, and then he will glance at the camera, kind of stunned - but you can SEE the laughter in his eyes... He's like: "I'm sorry, but where the hell am I right now?" He's very cute. I like his peronality. Am I actually saying this?

Season finale coming up next week sometime, I believe. Honestly. I am counting the minutes.

That China Doll person is one of the funniest weirdest characters I have ever seen. Saying to Sally Jessy Raphael of all people - in her overly dramatic self-important incoherent way:

"No. I did not learn from this. I was rewarded from this."

Huh? China? What?

It's all so entertaining.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Last one for today. Her boiled-down review of Across the Pacific which (naturally) I have seen. Not wacky about it. The story BEHIND the film, and what it was, and why it was made, is more interesting than the film itself. (I only know this now because of my Bogart craze a while back.) Pauline Kael goes into the whys and wherefores of this movie. It's really interesting background.

Across the Pacific 1942

After his exhilarating debut film, The Maltese Falcon (1941), John Huston had a commercial failure with In This Our Life; then he tried to repeat the success of the Falcon with an action-adventure story, using some of the Falcon cast -- Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet. The film was supposed to be about a group sailing to Honolulu to thwart a Japanese plan to blow up Pearl Harbor; during the second week of shooting, the Japanese did blow up Pearl Harbor. The production was shut down and there was a hasty rewrite. The result is a complicated plot about spies who plan to blow up the Panama Canal, and there are assorted captures and hairbreadth escapes. Huston manages to give the sequences some tension, and though the shipboard scenes were -- in the custom of the time -- filmed on the studio back lot, the images are airy and spacious. But Huston couldn't do anything about the essential mediocrity of the material, and when he was drafted into the Army Special Services before the picture was finished, he showed what he thought of the mess: he hurriedly shot a scene with Bogart trussed up and about to be killed, and then left his replacement director, Vincent Sherman, to figure out how to save Bogart in time to prevent the bombing of the Canal. The movie isn't really bad -- just bewildering. Mary Astor comes off the worst; cast as a conventional heroine, she looks heavy and uncomfortable, and too big for Bogart, who, incidentally, was called Rick here -- the name that was carried over the next year in Casablanca.

Interesting stuff, huh? She's right, too - those scenes on the ship are pretty amazing. "Airy and spacious" indeed - it doesn't look like a set, even though you KNOW it is one.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next review in her book is Across the Bridge. Another one I haven't seen.

Across the Bridge 1957

Graham Greene's protagonist is a crooked international financier (Rod Steiger) who runs to Mexico and the film is one long chase after this disintegrating quarry. Ken Annakin directs this English production, photographed in Spain, which some English critics regarded as their best thriller since The Third Man. (There may not have been much competition.) If the film had sustained the tension of its opening scenes the comparison with The Third man might be apt, but the middle of the picture (and it's an extended middle) falls apart. It was invented by the screenwriters, Guy Elmes and Denis Freeman, who filled out Greene's 1938 short story. Steiger gives a dominating performance; Bill Nagy plays Scarff, whose identity the financier takes, not knowing the Scarff is a revolutionary, who is wanted in Mexico. Noel Willman is the vicious police chief; David Knight and Maria Landi are young lovers (she is beautiful, he is dreary).
Posted by sheila Permalink

Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next review is Accident. Haven't seen this one either, but it's got a great cast. Also, it's based on the book by Nicholas Mosley - I haven't read it, but his Hopeful Monsters is one of my favorite novels. My entire world outlook is, strangely, articulated in that book. Never encountered that before. That book revealed to me the truth within myself ... how I see things, how I respond to events ... quite extraordinary.

Anyway, onto Pauline Kael:

Accident 1967

Joseph Losey and his scenarist, Harold Pinter, use sexual desperation amid the beauty of Oxford in summertime to make our flesh crawl. A cleverly barbed comedy of depravity -- uneven, satisfying, but with virtuoso passages of calculated meanness and, as the centerpiece, a long, drunken Sunday party, with people sitting down to supper when they're too soused to eat. As a weakling philosophy don, Dirk Bogarde goes through his middle-aged-frustration specialty brilliantly, gripping his jaw to stop a stutter or folding his arms to keep his hands out of trouble. With Stanley Baker, who is properly swinish as another academic, and Vivien Merchant, Jacqueline Sassard, Michael York, Alexander Knox and Delphine Seyrig as a dumb blonde.

Think I might have to put this one on "the list". It sounds great. Anyone see it?

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next review is the Billy Wilder-directed movie Ace in the Hole. Billy Wilder loved this movie but it was a huge box office failure.

Pauline Kael weighs in:

Ace in the Hole 1951

Billy Wilder produced and directed this box-office failure right after Sunset Boulevard and just before Stalag 17. Some people have tried to claim some sort of satirical brillaince for it, but it's really just nasty, in a sociologically pushy way. Kirk Douglas is the big-time New York reporter who is so opporunistic that when he gets to where a collapsed roof has buried a man in New Mexico, he arranges to have the rescue delayed so that he can pump the story up. The trapped man dies, while Douglas keeps shouting in order that we can all see what a symptomatic, cynical exploiter he is.

I saw it, not wacky about it, although there is that one spectacular shot where Kirk Douglas falls down and the camera is on the ground, and his head falls right into the camera range, smushing against the grass in close-up. Anyone remember that scene? I read somewhere that Spike Lee put that particular shot on his personal "best film-shots in movie history" list.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

Next review in her book?

Absence of Malice 1981 (speaking of Sydney Pollock)

A trim, well-paced newspaper melodrama that queries journalistic practices. Sally Field is the basically insensitive, eager-beaver Miami reporter who snaps up a story that the head of a federal strike force investigating the disappearance of a union leader leads to her. The story is false -- the federal man's purpose is simply to stir things up by putting pressure on an honest businessman who has Mafia relatives. Paul Newman is the victim, and the movie is about how he turns the methods of the authorities and the newspaperwoman against them. It's doubtful that people who are out to get even are as calm and well-balanced as this character; Newman gives revenge class, so we can all enjoy it. The script, by Kurt Luedtke, a former newspaperman, is crisply plotted, but he doesn't write scenes to reveal anything more in the characters than the plot requires. Sydney Pollock's directing is efficient and the film is moderately entertaining, but it leaves no residue. Except for the intensity of Newman's sly, compact performance (especially in the one scene when he blows up at the reporter and hisses his rage right into her ear), and the marvellously inventive acting of Melinda Dillon in the role of an achingly helpless, frightened woman, and the character bits by Barry Primus, Luther Adler, Josef Somer, Wilford Brimley, Don Hood and John Harkins you could get it all by reading an article. As the head of the strike force, Bob Balaban must think that he's doing Captain Queeg. He has devised an attention-getting nervous schtick -- he spins his hands around while playing with rubber bands -- and he never gives it a rest.

Ouch. I love Bob Balaban. I saw this movie, only years ago - it didn't really make an impression on me, although I do remember Paul Newman. He seems to me to be the only reason to see this movie.

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Pauline Kael: 5001 movies

One of the greatest and most influential film critics we've ever had in this country. She's up there with James Agee, in terms of how seriously she took film as an art form, and also her eloquence in writing about it. Nobody could be as bitingly unforgiving as Pauline Kael. But also, nobody could be as celebratory. You read her reviews and if you're a film fanatic like me, you feel validated in the fact that watching movies is, basically, a reaaallllly cool and worthwhile way to spend your time.

My dad gave me a harcover copy of her book 5001 Nights at the Movies, which is an astonishing piece of work. Overwhelming. I've spent hours flipping through it. In it, she has compiled sound-bites from the literally thousands of reviews she did over her career. 5001 movies, folks. With a paragraph of amazing analysis for each one. She writes in her introduction:

There were no strict rules in selecting this batch of brief notices from among the thousands more that I've got piled up. I wanted to suggest the range of what movies have done, and so I've brought together silent films and talkies, foreign films and American ones, and even some shorts. You won't find Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz. Omitting them is a gesture: I wouldn't want anyone to take this book for a complete guide to movies. But I hope that it is a guide to the varieties of pleasures that are available at the movies -- from the fun to be had at the juicier forms of trash to the overwhelming emotions that are called up by great work.

So. Going through alphabetically, I am going to post some of these. If you've seen the movie, I will be very eager to hear your thoughts about her analysis.

First up?

The Abdication (1974)

This Warners picture about Queen Christina's stepping down from the Swedish throne, in 1654, is embalmed in such reverence for its own cultural elevation that it loses all contact with the audience. Liv Ullmann is the virgin queen who becomes a Catholic hoping to find ecstasy in God and Peter Finch is the cardinal who examines her motives. Anthony Harvey directed, on his knees. We're never allowed to forget the exalted rank of the characters, and nothing like human speech intrudes upon the relentless dignity of Ruth Wolff's script (adapted from her own play). Ullmann doesn't have the high style or the mystery that her grand-gesture role requires; her performance is dutifully wrought and properly weighted -- she's like a hausfrau who's too conscientious to give good parties.


I haven't seen this one, actually, so I can't comment. I think I can skip it though, what do you think? Anyone seen this movie?

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Is it me?

Or does The Interpreter look like it's going to SUCK?

I've seen the preview 20 times now. What is up with Nicole Kidman's voice? Is that supposed to sound real, or like a character voice? Either way, she sounds like she's still on the set of Stepford Wives. "I overheard that they were going to ass-ass-i-nate President Suwami." It's the most stilted-sounding voice and accent I've ever heard. I like her sometimes, but the quotes they get to pepper the preview makes her sound like a jackass.

It looks really bad to me.

David Edelstein (one of my favorite movie reviewers around) seems to agree. Read the first two paragraphs of his review. hahaha "We should be grateful, but we are lowly, imperfect creatures."

You can tell sometimes, from previews, that the movie is a stinker. Sometimes previews lie, and they lie really well. For example: the first time I saw the preview for The Life of David Gale, I got goosebumps. I marked my calendar. I thought: "OH. MY. GOD. I have GOT to see that." A year passed and the damn movie still hadn't opened, and I thought: "Hmm. Something ain't right in the state of Denmark." Then the movie was opened on, like, a Tuesday or something ... obviously the studios trying to make it as invisible as possible. It then received some of the most blistering hostile reviews I have ever read. But damn, it was a fine preview.

You can tell from The Interpreter that the film is bad. Nicole Kidman again with her stick-up-the-ass accent ... "Nations have gone to war because they have misinterpreted one another." But she breaks out every syllable, so she sounds like an automaton. Perhaps she is trying to convey that she is so horrified by what she overheard that for some reason she now feels the need to talk like a shocked robot. I have no idea. Her voice sounds terrible though, whatever her reasoning.

Edelstein mentions the voice as well: "She also has a very peculiar accent.."

Why I love Edelstein? Comments like this: "The Interpreter is stodgy and misshapen. It manages to be both thoroughly confusing and entirely predictable, thanks to a climactic plot twist that you can see limping toward you about an hour before the maudlin hero manages to. "


"Kidman is excellent, although she's once again upstaged by those locks of hair that hang artfully in her face."


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The Books: "Driving Mr. Albert: A trip across America with Einstein's brain" (Michael Paterniti)

Next book in my science and philosophy books section:

DrivingAlbert.jpgAnother book about Einstein - this one is called Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain, by Michael Paterniti. This is a fun book. It's a bit of a travelogue - it's a cross-country trip across America, and that is a huge part of the book: describing America, the different states, and what it's like to drive cross-country. It's also a history/biography of the disappearance of Einstein's brain - Thomas Harvey did the autopsy in 1955 and removed the brain and took it home with him. Where it then stayed for over 40 years. Sounds stranger than real-life, but it's true - Einstein's brain disappeared. I can't remember the details of how it was discovered again, and why it needs to be moved to California, but Michael Paterniti has a great idea. He's kind of at a crossroads in his life (the book is also part memoir) - and he needs something new, he needs an adventure. So he proposes to the now 86 year old Dr. Harvey: "Let's drive cross-country with the brain - let's escort it, you and I, to its final destination." The book tells that story. Of what goes through your mind when you have Einstein's BRAIN in the back seat.

Anyway, here's the excerpt - Enjoy:

EXCERPT FROM Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain, by Michael Paterniti

A confession: I want Harvey to sleep. I want him to fall into a deep, blurry, Rip Van Winkle daze, and I want to park the Skylark mother-ship and walk around to the trunk and open it. I want Harvey snoring loudly as I unzip the duffel bag and reach my hands inside, and I want to -- what? -- touch Einstein's brain. I want to touch the brain. Yes, I've admitted it. I want to hold it, coddle it, measure its weight in my palm, handle some of its one hundred billion now-dormant neurons. Does it feel like tofu, sea urchin, bologna? What, exactly? And what does such a desire make me? One of the legion of relic freaks? Or something worse?

The more the idea persists in my head, the more towns slip past outside the window as Harvey gazes into the distant living rooms of happy families, the more I wonder what, in fact, I'd be holding if I held the brain. I mean, it's not really Einstein and it's not really a brain, but disconnected pieces of a brain, just as the passing farms are not really America but parts of a whole, symbols of the thing itself, which is everything and nothing at once.

Still, I'd be touching Einstein the Superstar, immediately recognizable by the electrocuted hair and those mournful mirthful eyes. The man whose American apotheosis is so complete that he's now a coffee mug, a postcard, a T-shirt. A figure of speech, an ad pitchman, a bumper sticker ("I'm hung like Einstein," reads one that I spy on the back of some ironic VW Jetta, "and I'm smart as a horse.") Despite the fact that he was a sixty-one-year-old man when he was naturalized as an American citizen, it's amazing how fully he's been appropriated by this country.

But why? I think the answer is that, more so than anyone else in the last one hundred years, Einstein was not exactly one of us. Even now, he comes back again as both Lear's fool and Tiresias, comically offering his uncanny vision of the future while warning us about the lurking violence of humankind. "I do not know how the third world war will be fought," he is said to have cautioned, "but I do know how the fourth will: with sticks and stones." Because he glimpsed into the workings of the universe and saw an impersonal God -- what he called an "invisible piper" -- and because he greeted the twentieth century by rocketing into the twenty-first with his breakthrough tehories, he assumed a mien of invincibility. And because his sloppy demeanor stood in such stark contrast to what we expect from a white-winged prophet, he seemed both innocent and trustworthy, and thus that much more supernatural.

If we've incorporated the theory of relativity into our scientific view of the universe, as well as our literature, art, music, and culture at large, it's the great scientist's attempt to devise a kind of personal religion -- an intimate spiritual and political manifesto -- that still stands in stark, almost sacred contrast to the Pecksniffian systems of salvation offered by modern society. Einstein's blending of twentieth-century skepticism with nineteenth-century romanticism offers a different kind of hope.

"I am a deeply religious nonbeliever," he said. "This is a somewhat new kind of religion." Pushing further, he sought to marry science and religion by redefining their terms. "I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling," he said. "I also believe that this kind of religiousness ... is the only creative religious activity of our time."

To touch Einstein's brain, then, would be to ride a ray of light, as Einstein once dreamed it as a child. To clasp time itself. To feel the warp and wobble of the universe. Einstein claimed that the happiest thought of his life came to him in 1907, during his seven-year tenure at the Patent Office in Bern, when he was twenty-eight and still couldn't find a teaching job. Up to his ears in a worsted-wool suit and patent applications, a voice in his mind whispered, "If a person falls freely, he won't feel his own weight." That became the general theory of relativity. His life and ideas continue to fill thousands of books; even today, scientists are still verifying his work. Recently, a NASA satellite took millions of measurements in space that proved a uniform distribution of primordial temperatures just above absolute zero; that is, the data proved that the universe was in a kind of postcoital afterglow from the big bang, further confirming Einstein's explanation for how the universe began.

It would be good to touch that.

Posted by sheila Permalink

April 21, 2005

Celluloid dreams

In the comments section to Dan's post on Cary Grant, I said that I wanted to live in the world of Only Angels Have Wings. Dan suggested that would be a good idea for a post: Movies you would like to live in.

So here it is. Please add your own in the comments.

What do I mean by the fact that I want to live at that airport in South America somewhere, portrayed in Only Angels Have Wings? Well, first of all ... here's a still from the movie which kind of describes everything.


I mean, what else do I have to say?

No, but seriously. The world of that movie comes across as so vivid, so interesting ... I just want to slip inside the television screen and hang out there with those people. I want to have a drink with Dutchie, the owner of the bar who walks around with a parrot on his shoulder. I want to have the pilots fight over who gets to buy me a drink. I want to play the piano. I want to stand in the fog and watch the planes fly in and out. I want to sleep in a small room with Venetian blinds, and live out of a small battered suitcase. I could go on and on. I just love the world of that movie.

Other movies I want to live in:

-- Notting Hill. I want to be friends with that entire cast of characters. I want to stroll along at the open-air market, and then go hang out with my group of friends and drink wine. I want to have romantic dramas, and have everyone gossip about me in a good-natured way. I just love the world in that movie, even if it is just a fantasy.

-- Fargo. I know it's bleak and snowy and the mornings are dark and cold. I love it. I want to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet with those people, and talk about my life, or not talk about my life. Whatever. I want to have a cup of coffee with Marge Gunderson and her kindly husband. They're such good people. I want to stand at my window and look out at the whited-out world, with a roaring fire behind me. But mainly, it's the people I want to meet.

-- The Big Easy. Sure all those cops are corrupt, but they're sexy! I LOVE that movie. It's got a typical plot, but what makes the film special is how it completely evokes an entire world (not to mention what is, perhaps, the steamiest sex scene EVER - it's steamy because it is emotional. Those two specific characters, with all their emotional baggage, are trying to come together. There's no nudity, nothing like that. But ... God, almighty.) Anyway, it could be just your typical corrupt-cop fights-his-own-corruption story - except that the world outside of the police station is portrayed with such detail. You can feel the heaviness of the air, you can see how the light is soft and mellow, you can tell that an ice-cold beer would taste so good. I want to go to those parties where people play banjos, and I want to get tipsy at juke joints, and I want to take a run in the muggy evening air. And then go make out in a crumpled-up bed with a corrupt cop.

-- Contact. I don't know what it is. That movie GETS to me. I want to live in the entire thing. I love all those people. I love all the guys who work at the telescope installations or whatever you call them - I want to hang out with those people. Staring up at the night sky. Talking about "little green men". I want to live that ENTIRE MOVIE. Being close to enormous events, almost being able to touch them, squinting up into the darkness at what we do not know ... I think every scene in that film has such specificity: her room in South America, for example. It seemed like such a real place. The map with all the push-pins on it, the blinds drawn, the bed that looks so slept in - like she never makes the bed - she always just leaps awake and races out to go to the telescope, the abundant greenery outside. Good movies create entire worlds.

-- To Have and Have Not. Again with the evocation of an entire world. And you know that they did it with re-used movie sets!! They weren't on Martinique or wherever they were supposed to be, they were in Hollywood! But still - there is an end-of-the-world sensibility to the film, and I would love to be there to partake in it. Strolling through the nightclubs, maybe dancing with someone, maybe not. Befriending a piano player. Drinking whiskey and singing along around the piano, with all of the other stranded misfits, waiting for the end of the world to come. And I LOVE the hotel they were staying in. I want to stay in a hotel like that. Especially if Bogart was across the hall.

-- Ball of Fire. Oh please. Let me step into that movie. I will be the floozy kind-hearted showgirl, and I will hang out in that CAVERNOUS mansion with all the scholars. I love that mansion. You can almost smell the dust in the rooms. But it's expansive, it's filled with books, and globes, and heavy dark wood furniture. Not to mention Gary Cooper on the scene. But I love all of those people, and I also love the bed she gets to sleep in. I would love to spend some time in the world of Ball of Fire. Oh, and FUGGEDABOUT the nightclub scene: what I would not give for a time machine to go back to the era of nightclubs like THAT. With Gene Krupa and his orchestra playing?? Are you KIDDING ME?? Oh, man ... To be there! It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a Nancy Lemann novel: "She had a nostalgia for a life she never led." I have never led the life of a 1940s showgirl, but I have a nostalgia for it anyway.

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I miss the dirt and grafitti

I thought I was the only one who missed the old seedy abandoned-building Midnight Cowboy charm of Times Square. I thought I was the only one who thought the cleaning up of Times Square was kind of a shame.

Glad to see I'm not alone.

I mean, I think it's great the city is not so randomly violent anymore. I do. But I don't like the homogenization of so much of it now. And where have all the hookers gone ... long time passing ...

I didn't move to New York City to be in a safe stable environment. I didn't move to New York City to walk the straight and narrow. Sure, it's good for business, Times Square as it is now. I know all the reasons. I feel grateful that I can ride the subway up to my friend's in Morningside Heights and not feel like I am going to be raped at any second for having the AUDACITY to take the subway through Harlem. I don't miss THAT part of New York. But I do miss the old landscape of Times Square, I miss the old specific signage (Lileks takes great photos of that stuff (like this series- you still can see the old signs from the 40s and 30s here and there, but you have to have a reaaally good eye now), I miss the vague sense of naughty things going on behind closed doors.

I took a series of pretty amazing black and white photos (if I do say so myself) of the grime and porn and old strip joints on Times Square before they gutted the whole thing and made it tourist friendly. I'm so glad I did. The end of an era.

(I do realize that my emotions in this regard probably has to do with this. Nostalgia is a big deal to me. Honoring the past is a big deal to me. And also - I have a hard time letting go of things. It's all of a piece. I hate change. I don't hate progress - not necessarily, but I don't always LIKE it, and what progress DOES. If there's a grove of trees I adore, that has always been there since I was a child, you can bet that I will have to mourn the loss of it for a good week or so when they cut the grove down to make room for condos. And I will feel a pang for YEARS to come when I drive by the new neighborhood of condos - remembering: "God, member the grove of trees that used to be there??" I don't take things lightly I guess is my point.)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (3)

The Books: "Einstein's Dreams" (Alan Lightman)

Next book in my science and philosophy books section:

EinsteinsDream.jpg Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman. A lovely little book: It opens in 1905, with a patent clerk sleeping at his desk. For a couple of months now, he has been having nightly dreams about time. In each dream, time takes a different form. Sometimes it is a circle, sometimes it is water, sometimes it doesn't exist at all. Sometimes time slows waaaayyy down, sometimes it speeds up, sometimes it reverses. And the dreams illuminate to this patent clerk how the world would look if, say, time actually were a circle, or if it speeded up, etc. What's fun about this little book is that - in its own way - each dream is already true. You can recognize elements of our own world in it, our own experience. Sometimes you do think time is "flying", sometimes it does seem as if time goes backwards (deja vu, etc.) ... It's fun to ponder.

Here is one of the patent clerk's dreams:

EXCERPT FROM Einstein's Dreams, by Alan Lightman.

11 June 1905

On the corner of Kramgasse and Theaterplatz there is a small outdoor cafe with six blue tables and a row of blue petunias in the chef's window box, and from this cafe one can see and hear the whole of Berne. People drift through the arcades on Kramgasse, talking and stopping to buy linen or wristwatches or cinnamon; a group of eight-year-old boys, let out for morning recess from the grammar scshool on Kochergasse, follow their teacher in single file through the streets to the banks of the Aare; smoke rises lazily from a mill just over the river; water gurgles from the spouts of the Zahringer Fountain; the giant clock tower on Kramgasse strikes the quarter hour.

If, for the moment, one ignores the sounds and the smells of the city, a remarkable sight will be seen. Two men at the corner of Kochergasse are trying to part but cannot, as if they would never see each other again. They say goodbye, start to walk in opposite directions, then hurry back together and embrace. Nearby, a middle-aged woman sits on the stone rim of a fountain, weeping quietly. She grips the stone with her yellow stained hands, grips it so hard that the blood rushes from her hands, and she stares in despair at the ground. Her loneliness has the permanence of a person who believes she will never see other people again. Two women in sweaters stroll down Kramgasse, arm in arm, laughing with such abandon that they could be thinking no thought of the future.

In fact, this is a world without future. In this world, time is a line that terminates at the present, both in reality and in the mind. In this world, no person can imagine the future. Imagine the future is no more possible than seeing colors beyond violet: the senses cannot conceive what may lie past the visible end of the spectrum. In a world without future, each parting of friends is a death. In a world without future, each laugh is the last laugh. In a world without future, beyond the present lies nothingness, and people cling to the present as if hanging from a cliff.

A person who cannot imagine the future is a person who cannot contemplate the results of his actions. Some are thus paralyzed into inaction. They lie in their beds through the die, wide awake but afraid to put on their clothes. They drink coffee and look at photographs. Others leap out of bed in the morning, unconcerned that each action leads into nothingness, unconcerned that they cannot plan out their lives. They live moment to moment, and each moment is full. Still others substitute the past for the future. They recount each memory, each action taken, each cause and effect, and are fascinated by how events have delivered them to this moment, the last moment of the world, the termination of the line that is time.

In the little cafe with the six outdoor tables and the row of petunias, a young man sits with his coffee and pastry. He has been idly observing the street. He has seen the two laughing women in sweaters, the middle-aged woman at the fountain, the two friends who keep repeating goodbyes. As he sits, a dark rain cloud makes its way over the city. But the young man remains at his table. He can imagine only the present, and at this moment the present is a blackening sky but no rain. As he sips the coffee and eats the pastry, he marvels at how the end of the world is so dark. Still there is no rain, and he squints at his paper in the dwindling light, trying to read the last sentence that he will read in his life. Then, rain. The young man goes inside, takes off his wet jacket, marvels at how the world ends in rain. He discusses food with the chef, but he is not waiting for the rain to stop because he is not waiting for anything. In a world without future, each moment is the end of the world. After twenty minutes, the storm cloud passes, the rain stops, and the sky brightens. The young man returns to his table, marvels that the world ends in sunshine.

Posted by sheila Permalink

"your slightest look easily will unclose me"

e.e. cummings is everywhere these days. There's a massive biography of him just published, and so there's a lot of talk about it. Is e.e. cummings important? Was he a poseur? Was what he did (breaking up the traditional lines of verse, doing away with punctuation and capital letters) really all that big a deal? Or was it an annoying ruse for attention?

I happen to think that it was a big deal. Here's a wonderful article about the complex and argued-over legacy of e.e. cummings. I especially find this section to be very wise:

"No one else wrote like Cummings, and Cummings wrote like no one else" is how the poet's latest biographer, Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno, delivers the bad and good news in E.E. Cummings: A Biography. And a prescient Harriet Monroe tempered her praise by warning, "But beware his imitators!"

Yup. For e.e. cummings, it appears that his way of writing was an organic expression. In the same way that Vincent Van Gogh tried to make us see what HE saw in the starry night sky ... e.e. cummings experienced language in a very specific way and wanted us to experience it that way too. He saw language, as opposed to just hearing it. That is why you can tell an e.e. cummings poem just by looking at the page, without reading one word. But oh yes, indeed: beware the imitators!! We all can probably name a few writers who think if they

just break up

the lines
on (the
in a seeeeeeemingly r-a-n-d-o-m
then that means
it must be


Get some technique, please. Write a classical sonnet, write a haiku, follow the rules. KNOW the forms before you throw them away. Martha Graham, pretty much the godmother of modern dance, was a ballet dancer beforehand, with years of classical ballet training. Breaking free of that tradition, and creating her own style of dance, was not a random "ooh, let me express myself" kind of thing. It was a highly intelligent rebellion: "The forms that exist now, which I know very well, do not suit me, and I cannot create what I want to create inside the old tradition. So using the old tradition as a firm foundation, let's experiment with new forms."

e.e. cumming knew the traditional forms of poetry well, and so when he threw them away, he was able to replace it with an underlying structure of his own.

I actually really like his work. He wrote one of my favorite poems ever. It makes me cry:

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

April 20, 2005

The Boston Marathon Continuum

My grandparents lived in Wellesley (actually, my grandmother still lives there, in the same house). Wellesley is just about the halfway mark in the Boston marathon - which just took place a couple of days ago. It's always in April, and watching the Boston marathon was part of my childhood experience. A yearly thing, like Thanksgiving, or going to camp.

When we were kids, we made a whole day of the marathon. It was hugely exciting. Some of my "Boston marathon memories" go way back and become fuzzy and dream-like - so I must have been very small. These qualify as "first memories", because they all reside in the senses - not the intellect. Going to my Uncle Jimmy's apartment before heading out to the marathon. I think it was Uncle Jimmy, my godfather. I remember a really thick rug. Cool air-conditioned air. A beanbag chair. Cold ginger ale.

Later memories though: we would convene at my grandparents house. My cousins would also be there, because the Boston Marathon is a big deal. And we LOVED that we got to see all the runners at the halfway point.

My cousins and I would mix Kool-aid in big pictchers, or we would get Gatorade, or we would mix sugar-free Crystal Light-y stuff, and then take a couple packages of Dixie cups from out of my grandmother's cupboards, and traipse down the hill to join the crowds lining the street. Everyone waited for the first runners to appear. You could sense it - the streets stretched back, empty, waiting to be pounded over by the runners.

Feeling suffused with seriousness and purpose, we would pour out Dixie cups of liquid, line them up behind us, and wait, peering up the street, tense, thrilled.

Then - one by one - they would come.

The first runners who pounded by never stopped for a drink. They were about to finish a Marathon in less than 3 hours, and were usually from Ethiopia. These people are barely human, in terms of their endurance. They do not need Gatorade. They are definitely in the lonely realm of the long-distance runner.

We watched them pound by, in awe. It looked like they were on the first mile of the race, as opposed to the 13th. No sign of strain, and intense speed. Amazing.

Then - we could feel it. We just could feel the crowds approaching. The throngs of other runners, the ones way behind the leaders, the pack. We knew that they were going to NEED us. We trembled with the responsibility, which felt awesome to us, as 8 and 9 year old kids.

I remember holding out cups with my wee 9 year old arm, and a thundering sweaty giant would swoop by, snatch it out of my hand, and pour it over his head, his mouth open and gaping, without even stopping.

There was a skill to this hand-off. Definitely. I made a couple of mistakes at first, but I learned quickly. I never made the same mistake twice.

You had to keep a very gentle touch on your Dixie cup. No gripping. You didn't want the runner to have to struggle to take the cup away.

You had to be ready to let go.

Hold it very lightly with your fingertips. Keep your body out of the road, only let your arm go into the road. They are looking for you. As they pound down the pavement, they are looking for you. They need you. Make your arm stick out, stand out.

Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to make this drink-exchange as easy as possible for the runner.

You must be invisible. You must merge with the Dixie cup. And then the second they grasp it, you must let go of it. That way, nothing will be spilled.

Oh, my cousins and I spent rapturous hours getting all of this down to a science. We loved this job. We loved being all important, like little Boston Marathon Florence Nightingales. We felt essential to the effort, we knew we were a part of the big day, not just spectators.

I remember the first time we went to the finish line. We had watched the first big batch of runners go by, holding out Dixie cups to them, and then one of our aunts - or maybe it was Uncle Jimmy - piled us all into the car to go watch the finish of the Marathon. Obviously, we would beat the runners there. Being at the finish line (I was about 9 or 10) was a whole other story, and not at all fun. The runners were past the need of liquids. We could not help them. A Dixie cup became meaningless. We saw grown adults (men and women) weeping, being held up by their parents or spouse, we saw people throwing up, we saw people leaned over spitting onto the ground - draped with these silver Mylar jackets - I think that's the name of the body-heat material - So the runners at the finish line, lying on the ground, covered in silver, falling against their friends, being unable to speak, all wearing silver tin-foil cloaks, was a surreal sight. We saw people lying on the ground surrounded by doctors, while others staggered around in a dazed way looking like disoriented refugees.

By that point, after 26 miles, people's personalities have broken down. I remember reading some quote somewhere, from someone who has run a ton of marathons: "A marathon is actually 2 races. The first 20 miles, and then the last 6." Having watched marathons at all stages of the race (mile 13, mile 18, mile 10, and then mile 26) I can say, without a doubt, that that is the case. People are still themselves at mile 13. People are no longer themselves at mile 26. (Except for the speed-of-light Ethiopians who didn't need our Dixie cups.)

I saw this phenomenon again when I watched my friend Liz cross the finish line at the New York marathon a couple years ago. I saw her at the halfway mark, and then we went to Central Park to see her cross the finish line. The transformation of human beings, runners we had just seen an hour or so before, was startling. Unbelievable. I'm not just talking physically, although you can see people obviously struggling with pain. It's the other transformation - the psychological transformation - that really struck me. The look in the eyes.

When I was a little kid at the finish line, I thought all of that vomiting and falling-over stuff was terrible. I felt so BAD for everyone. I much preferred standing at the halfway mark with my cousins, watching the giants thundering down towards us, holding out their arms for our Dixie cups of Gatorade.

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Sitting on a cornflake ...

Okay, very funny list of 100 worst song lyrics of all time. The commentary is hilarious.

I especially like this impression of any and every Creed song:

Blah blah blah
We’re not Christian Rock
Blah blah blah
I’m a total flop ass llama
Blah blah blah
Scotty likes Chicken
Blah blah blah
Creed, Any Creed Song

hahaha So true.

And this:


Laughing ...

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Great Expectations ...

My reading of Great Expectations moves along at breakneck speed. Things are getting much more serious now. Pip has discovered who his benefactor has been all of these years, and is having an extended panic-attack about it.

One of my favorite chapters so far is when Pip and Herbert go to see Mr. Wopsle in an amateur production of Hamlet (an awful amateur production of Hamlet - is there any other kind?). Pip's description of why the play is bad, the absurdity of the badness of the show, and also - how embarrassed they were to see Mr. Wopsle backstage afterwards, because how could they say "nice job" convincingly - hits very close to home. I laughed out loud from beginning to end of the chapter. We've got the ghost of Hamlet's father, walking around with his script in hand. We've got the heckling of the audience. We've got the general incompetence of the actor playing Hamlet. It's all there. I feel like I was in the audience for this awful show myself.

Here's an excerpt:

Several curious little circumstances transpired as the action proceeded. The late king of the country not only appeared to have been troubled with a cough at the time of his decease but to have taken it with him to the tomb, and to have brought it back. The royal phantom also carried a ghostly manuscript round its truncheon, to which it had the appearance of occasionally referring, and that, too, with an air of anxiety and a tendency to lose the place of reference which were suggestive of a state of mortality. It was this, I conceive, which led to the Shade's being advised by the gallery to "turn over!" -- a recommendation which it took extremely ill. It was likewise to be noted of this majestic spirit that whereas it always appeared with an air of having been out a long time and walked an immense distance, it perceptibly came from a closely-contiguous wall.

The Queen of Denmark, a very buxom lady, though no doubt historically brazen, was considered by the public to have too much brass about her; her chin being attached to her diadem by a broad band of that metal (as if she had a gorgeous toothache), her waist being encircled by another, and each of her arms by another, so that she was openly mentioned as "the kettledrum".

The noble boy in the ancestral boots was inconsistent, representing himself, as it were in one breath, as an able seaman, a strolling actor, a grave digger, a clergyman, and a person of the utmost importance at a Court fencing match, on the authority of whose practised eye and nice discrimination the finest strokes were judged. This gradually led to a want of toleration for him, and even -- on his being detected in holy orders, and declining to perform the funeral service -- to the general indignation taking the form of nuts.

Lastly, Ophelia was a prey to such slow musical madness, that when, in course of time, she had taken off her white muslin scarf, folded it up, and bured it, a sulky man who had been long cooling his impatient nose agaginst an iron bar in the front row of the gallery growled, "Now the baby's put to bed, let's have supper!" Which, to say the least of it, was out of keeping.

This reminds me of the man shouting at the stage as I was performing in some god-awful play: "WHO THE HELL WROTE THIS SHIT???"

Good old-fashioned heckling is no longer in style in the theatre, although it used to be. I feel lucky that I got to participate, albeit unwillingly, in such an age-old tradition.

Mr. Wopsle, Pip's acquaintance, plays Hamlet, to awful results. Pip describes:

Whenever that unfortunate Prince had to ask a question or state a doubt, the public helped him out with it. As for example; on the question whether 'twas nobler in the mind to suffer, some roared yes, and some no, and some inclining to both opinions said "toss up for it"; and quite a Debating Society arose. When he asked what should such fellows as he do crawling between earth and heaven, he was encouraged with loud cries of "Hear, hear!" When he appeared with his stocking disordered (its disorder expressed, according to usage, by one very neat fold in the top, which I suppose to be always got up with a flat iron), a conversation took place in the gallery respecting the paleness of his leg, and whether it was occasioned by the turn the ghost had given him. On his taking the recorders -- very like a little black flute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out at the door -- he was called upon unanimously for Rule Britannia. When he recommended the player not to saw the air thus, the sulky man said, "And don't you do it, neither; you're a deal worse than him!" And I grieve to add that peals of laughter greeted Mr. Wopsle on every one of these occasions.

Ah yes. Hamlet's advice to the actors: "Don't saw the air" "Don't tear a passion to rags" ... It's a mini treatise on acting. Forget about all the different schools and methods. Just do what Hamlet tells you to do, and you should be all right.

Here is Pip's description of the agony of embarrassment he felt, watching Mr. Wopsle fail so badly:

We had made some pale efforts in the beginning to applaud Mr. Wopsle, but they were too hopeless to be persisted in. Therefore we had sat, feeling keenly for him, but laughing, nevertheless, from ear to ear. I laughed in spite of myself all the time, the whole thing was so droll; and yet I had a latent impression that there was something decidedly fine in Mr. Wopsle's elocution -- not for old associations' sake, I am afraid, but because it was very slow, very dreary, very up-hill and down-hill, and very unlike any way in which any man in any natural circumstances of life or death ever expressed himself about anything.

This book is awesome, I'm loving every word.

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A must-read piece ...

... on Ward Churchill. It's long, but so worth it. Matt Labash hangs out with Churchill for two days, observes him, has conversations with his supporters (and the lone guy protesting), and ends up in a bar with Churchill, drinking, smoking, arguing. Read it. Ward Churchill is obviously an idiot - not even an intelligent human being. Note to Churchill: No, Easter is not the day they crucified Jesus. Mkay?

Matt Labash is such a funny writer. He somehow is able to describe the entire experience with a mounting sense of absurdity. The whole cow-puppet section made me laugh out loud, and I pretty much laughed until the end.

Favorite quotes from the article:

Daniel Burton-Rose, a guy with hoop earrings and an AK Press T-shirt, is sitting in a nearby chair, reading a book on Chinese medicine. He is himself the author of Confronting Capitalism, and when I carelessly identify him as an anarchist, he corrects me, saying he's an "anarcho-daoist." Clearly I've reached the rarefied strata where even people's shorthand IDs contain dialectical disputes.


All this anarchism has made me thirsty

And this one:

But after reading his Indigenist platform, I'm yearning for the carefree kegger that was Das Kapital.

"the carefree kegger that was Das Kapital". hahahaha Genius.

But you have to go read the whole thing. It's a great piece.

(Thanks, Steve, for pointing to it.)

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The Books: "Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy" (Jostein Gaarder)

Moving right along with the excerpt-a-day thing. Top shelf of Bookshelf # 3 in the kitchen (my science and philosophy books)

SophiesWorld.gifNext to Hollywood Babylon we've got the book Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (FSG Classics), by Jostein Gaarder. The book takes the form of mysterious letters left in the mailbox, for a little curious girl to read. She's about 10, and just waking up to the beauty and wonder of the world around her. Letters from a mysterious entity start arriving, and each letter describes for Sophie (the little girl) a different philosopher or philosophical school of thought - a survey course. Because she's a child, the letters are geared towards making things simple for her. (This is a device, obviously, to make things simple for the reader)

Today's excerpt is from the chapter about Socrates (every time I think about Socrates I think about that old Steve Martin sketch ... it's literally the first thing that comes into my mind when I hear the name - heh heh):

EXCERPT FROM Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (FSG Classics), by Jostein Gaarder

Socrates (470 - 399 BC) is possibly the most enigmatic figure in the entire history of philosophy. He never wrote a single line. Yet he is one of the philosophers who has had the greatest influence on European thought, not least because of the dramatic manner of his death.

We know he was born in Athens, and that he spent most of his life in the city squares and marketplaces talking with the people he met there. "The trees in the countryside can teach me nothing," he said. He could also stand lost in thought for hours on end.

Even during his lifetime he was considered somewhat enigmatic, and fairly soon after his death he was held to be the founder of any number of different philisophical schools of thought. The very fact that he was so enigmatic and ambiguous made it possible for widely differing schools of thought to claim him as their own.

We know for a certainty that he was extremely ugly. He was potbellied and had bulging eyes and a snub nose. But inside he was said to be "perfectly delightful". It was also said of him that "You can seek him in the present, you can seek him in the past, but you will never find his equal." Nevertheless he was sentenced to death for his philosopical activities.

The life of Socrates is mainly known to us through the writings of Plato, who was one of his pupils and who became one of the greatest philosophers of all time. Plato wrote a number of Dialogues, or dramatized discussions on philosophy, in which he uses Socrates as his principal character and mouthpiece.

Since Plato is putting his own philosophy in Socrates' mouth, we cannot be sure that the words he speaks in the dialogues were ever actually uttered by him. So it is no easy matter to distinguish between the teachings of Socrates and the philosophy of Plato. Exactly the same problem applies to many other historical persons who left no written accounts. The classic example, of course, is Jesus. We cannot be certain that the "historical" Jesus actually spoke the words that Matthew or Luke ascribed to him. Similarly, what the "historical" Socrates actually said will always be shrouded in mystery.

But who Socrates "really" was is relatively unimportant. It is Plato's portrait of Socrates that has inspired thinkers in the Western world for nearly 2,500 years.

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April 19, 2005

The two sides of nostalgia - Part deux

Here is part 1 - the discussion of what the movie Pleasantville seems to be saying about nostalgia.

This post will be about the movie Blast from the Past, which takes quite another view of nostalgia - almost completely opposite from Pleasantville (and yet equally valid).

I have always thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast these two theories of nostalgia, these two responses to "oh, those were the good old days, weren't they?" Pleasantville came out in 1998, and Blast from the Past came out in 1999. To me, it seems like there's some kind of correspondence between them, although they are very different movies. I think that these two movies should be shown together on a double-bill. I've watched them back to back, and it is a fascinating exercise.

Neither movie is "right" about nostalgia, I don't think. I can see both sides (mainly because both sides express themselves very well - with humor, tenderness, and a great eye for detail.) A balance between the two "sides" of nostalgia would be ideal.

And a few words about Blast from the Past:

It's one of my cherished movies. I loved it the moment I saw it, and it never fails to delight me, make me laugh. It's a wonderful little movie, and I highly recommend it, if you haven't seen it.

So. Now. Here is the plot.

The movie opens in October, 1962. Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek (two very very funny performances - I love it - Sissy Spacek so rarely gets to be funny) play a married couple - Helen and Calvin Webber. They live in a split-level home in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and the movie opens with the two of them throwing a cocktail party. (The soundtrack to this film is phenomenal.) Helen Webber, in her cute little cocktail dress, wearing oven mits, and largely pregnant, fusses over the hors d'ouevres. Calvin Webber holds court at the bar, making martinis for his guests, telling awful jokes, and whispering in a conspiratorial way about the commies. (Walken is so funny in this movie. Okay. I'll stop saying that, but one last time: I love his performance). Calvin Webber is obsessed with the Communist threat (you get this immediately) and obsessed with the fact that at any moment they could all be incinerated in a fiery nuclear maelstrom. You hear, as the camera pans through the party, certain guests gossiping quietly about Calvin's eccentricities - and that he had built a highly secret bomb shelter beneath his house, in the event of a nuclear war, and he had been working on it for years. Nobody had ever been down there though. Calvin is way too paranoid.

And then ... someone flips on the television ... and you see President Kennedy addressing the nation, very somberly. The guests, one by one, all turn to look at the TV screen, sensing that something important is happening.

Then: the screen cuts to a pilot flying over Los Angeles. He starts to have engine trouble. He radios back to the base wiht a Mayday. He decides that he's going to try to make it to the ocean before bailing out ... he doesn't want the plane to crash in the residential area below. But then things become more urgent, and he has no choice. He bails out, and the plane begins to descend on its own, zooming towards the suburbs below.

Then: cut back to the cocktail party. We hear President Kennedy talking about the missiles discovered in Cuba. All of the guests listen to the news, and yes, they are concerned, maybe worried ... but Calvin goes into Defcon One mode. It is the moment he has been waiting for all his life. The Commies have arrived. And he alone is prepared. He throws everybody out of the house. "Please, just go - now - you must go - go home, go into your basements, lock yourselves in ... but go. Now." Sissy Spacek (she plays absolutely the most proper little woman you could ever want to meet ... although she also enjoys a little nip from the flask on occasion) is horrified at how rude he is, but there is no stopping Calvin at this point. He hustles his pregnant wife into an industrial-sized elevator, and they descend, until they emerge in the fallout shelter which is an exact replica of their home aboveground, only it's way down in the earth. It also has fish tanks, a grocery-market sized supply of canned goods, it is enormous. He locks the doors. He knows the attack is coming. The locks are on a timer - they will unlock themselves in 35 years, when the contamination of the nuclear fallout will be lessened. So that's that.

And at that moment, the abandoned plane crashes right into their house. They are safe, below ground, but they feel the explosion up there... and of course they think that it was the impact of a nuclear bomb.

So they settle in to wait. For 35 years. Until the doors can open again.

Time passes. Her baby is born. He is a little boy, and they name him, appropriately, Adam, after the first man. 35 years go by, and they never leave the fallout shelter.


On his 35th birthday (the same day that the locks are set to open), we see that that baby has grown up to be Brendan Fraser!

He only knows his parents. His mother gave him jitterbug and swing-dance lessons every day. His father taught him about baseball, and taught him math and chemistry. He learns languages. He is sheltered, but not an idiot. His parents give him, for his birthday, a pair of homemade rollerskates, and a blazer made out of hideous green silky material. He is thrilled beyond belief about his presents. He's open-faced, sweet, not like a grown man. The scene is set up perfectly, so we can see where the film is going: They start to eat the cake, and Sissy Spacek says to him, in a tone of shock, "Adam! Elbows off the table! Please!" Adam smiles goofily, removes his elbows, and says, "Gosh, Mom, I'm sorry - I don't know what I was thinking!!"

Mkay, you got that one?


That night, there is a huge booming sound, a creaking of gears, and then ... voila ... the elevator door slowly swings open. They are terrified to go back up. What will they find? What kind of devastation will await them?

Christopher Walken does a reconnaissance mission. He goes up, filled with fear, it's a rainy night in Los Angeles - the nice orange-groved suburbs are no more. He is confronted with concrete, barbed wire fences around used car lots, a crossdressing hooker who solicits sex from him, and a guy lurching out of a bar and vomiting on the sidewalk. Walken is so upset by this obvious nuclear devastation that he immediately goes back down in the elevator and announces that there is now a race of mutants living on planet earth, and it is not at ALL safe for them to go up. They must lock the doors for another 35 years, and wait it out. Sissy Spacek is crushed by this. She's crushed because she is stir-crazy, but she is also crushed because she is almost out of liquor. The parents send the son up top to see if he can find a grocery store, and get a ton of supplies. They are fearful for his health amongst the mutants, they tell him to be careful, they tell him what to look for (grocery store, hotel if he needs one, and, says his mother, "This is very important, son. There used to be something called ... a liquor store ...") Adam is the most easy-going agreeable character. He tells them he will be brave, he will do exactly what they ask, and to not worry about him. He will be all right.

So he goes up the elevator, with the huge grocery list in his hand, and walks out into the outside world for the first time. It is now morning. A beautiful sunny day. He stands and just gapes up at the sky. He can't get over it. Finally, he tears his eyes away, starts walking down the street, and sees a black woman coming towards him. He stops in his tracks, and exclaims, "Oh my word!! A Negro!" She looks at him like he's an escaped lunatic. "What did you just say to me?" He holds out his hand, friendly, open, "Ma'am, it is very nice to meet you."

So obviously Adam is going to have a steep learning curve out here in the world. His good manners are engrained in him. He treats every single person he meets (with one exception) with respect and tolerance. That's what real good manners are about: making other people feel comfortable and okay. He SO can do that. But the responses he get from the modern-day 1998 citizens of Los Angeles are: "Are you cracked, dude? Why you bein' so nice?"

Good manners have gone out of style.


But Adam keeps going on his merry way, being nice to people, polite, attentive, etc. His parents have taught him well.

And of course: he meets a jaded young woman (her name is Eve, naturally) played so adorably by Alicia Silverstone. She is tough, kind of bitter, not into sentiment at all, and only dates guys because she likes their "butts and hair". She's shallow, she's a product of divorce, and she is totally cynical about love.

Adam falls head over heels in love with her instantly.

He needs help finding a grocery store, and renting a van to bring back all the groceries, etc., and he enlists her help. He is nothing but a gentleman to her, and she CANNOT DEAL WITH IT. She thinks he's trying to pull a fast one on her, she thinks he's messing with her mind. She wears a hard shell over her emotions, and won't let him come near her. She doesn't know what to make of him.

There are some wonderful bits throughout here. She takes him home to her apartment that she shares with her gay roommate Troy (played so funnily by Dave Foley, from Kids in the Hall). Somehow, Adam asks Troy if he has a girlfriend, and Troy replies, blithely, putting a plate of snacks on the table, "I'm gay." Adam of course has no idea what this means, but you can see him pondering it, pondering the meaning of the actual words, and then he says emphatically and supportively, "Good for you." It's so funny. Troy is pretty much stunned into silence by that one.

Another great bit is when Troy and Eve take Adam out for a night on the town (Troy takes Adam clothes-shopping, so he can lose the green-silk blazer). They go to a swing-club, with a live band and a huge dance floor (this was at the height of the swing-dance craze in the mid to late 90s). Eve has been treating Adam all along like he's kind of retarded, a goofy puppy dog, an idiot. But then (in my favorite scene in the movie) - a song starts to play, and somehow - Adam ends up on the dance floor, with two gorgeous blondes - and they do this three-way jitterbug thing and not only does he know the steps, but he is a terrific dancer. (It's all Brendan Fraser, too - no stunt-double people that I can tell). A crowd gathers, and he cuts up the rug, as Eve watches from afar, stunned. Who is this guy? Where did he learn how to dance like that?


Instead of warming up to him, she is enRAGED. It seems like it's just another trick he's playing on her.

Now what does all this have to do with nostalgia?

The film clearly states: "You know what? There's no need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, there are things that are better now. The civil rights movement is something to be grateful for. We could list many improvements. BUT. Let us not throw out what was done RIGHT by that generation."

There is a great scene when Troy talks to Eve about what he learned from Adam, in regards to his philosophy on good manners. Troy says, "You know, I always thought that people who made a big deal about good manners meant that they were stuck up, or trying to act better than you - but Adam says that's not true. Do you know what Adam said? He said that having good manners is a way to put everyone around you at ease. Isn't that amazing? And do you know what else he said? He said that he thinks I'm a gentleman and you're a lady." Eve's expression is priceless. "Huh? I'm a lady?" Naturally, she is not used to being treated with respect, with having him open doors, and treat her with kindness, and not play mind-games. She is highly suspicious of him. Men and women have lost the ability to be kind to one another, to court one another, to be open, to have boundaries and yet also to let intimacy grow. In a weird way, the boundaries are what helps the intimacy to blossom. If you leap into something head-first, if you give it all away immediately ... then where's the intimacy in that? Eve has that to learn.

Blast from the Past is not a rigid movie, it is not a "Oh, look at the good old days" theme (which often conceals a hostility towards any progress whatsoever). But it does have a message, a very clear and moving message.

Our parents, and their parents, and their parents before them, knew what they were about. They instilled in their kids the life-skills they would need to be a full and likable adult: You have good manners, you treat people with respect, you put others before yourself, etc.

And while we mustn't look at the past with rose-colored glasses, we also mustn't think that we are re-inventing the wheel with each generation.

There is a tradition to our lives. Let us remember what John Adams said once, a mild warning about Tom Paine: "He is only good at tearing things down. We need to have people of talent who can build things up again."

Blast from the Past seems to me to be about that. Let's not just tear down our past. Let's not condescend to the generations before us. Let's not be so knowing, so over-it, so sure that there is nothing to learn from them. Isn't it possible that the parents back then, without Oprah, without an entire section in bookstores devoted to childrearing (they had Dr. Spock and that was it!!), were pretty good at their jobs? Honor thy father and mother. That's the main jist of the film.

It's not hokey though, somehow. At least I don't find it hokey. The way the movie presents its message - it seems very straightforward, very commonsensical. Adam doesn't treat everyone with politeness and respect because he is trying to get something from them. Adam doesn't obey his mother's chastisement about elbows on the table with a storm of rebellion or a sulky roll of the eyes. He laughs, and does what she says. He's a good boy, but he's not a pussy.

I love this film. And I love its alternative message about nostalgia - pretty much a polar opposite from Pleasantville.

I swing on a pendulum between those two sides of nostalgia, and that's okay. These two films, in tandem, are perfect reminders of the importance of memory, and the importance of progress. Rose-tinted glasses make everything the same color, you lose subtlety, you lose the differences between people which is what really makes life a grand adventure. Neither film wants that.

There's a rich world of experience in the here and now, and there's eons of experience behind us. How do we incorporate the past into our present-day living? How do we take down the lessons from our parents, and their parents ... and then turn them into our own?

Blast from the Past suggests that we have done too much cleaning of the slate. And way too much that is precious and beautiful has been lost in the transfer.

I don't want to make the movie sound ponderous. It's actually a hoot. But it always makes me think, and deeply. It's one of my favorites. It has a really good heart.

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Some thoughts on nostalgia ...

... before I move from Part 1 to Part 2.

It may seem interesting or odd that I am so fixated on nostalgia. Does it seem like I am? It feels like I am. A friend said to me once, "Sheila, you are in love with the past." This can be a great thing. Why? I have great memories, and I cherish them and honor them. Not only do I cherish and honor them, but I protect my memories fiercely. I will not have them messed with, and I will not have anyone try to get in there and muck it up. You think people can't mess up the past? Oh yes, they can. And so if I have a precious memory, one of those save-it-for-a-rainy-day memories, I guard it like the feckin' Holy Grail. You want to see Sheila tear you to shreds with her bare hands? Stomp on a memory she holds dear. Watch her go NUTS.

But this obsession with the past can also be a torment, for obvious reasons. I have a hard time letting things go. I am now convinced that it's just how I'm wired, and so I have accepted that this not-letting-go thing is one of my great struggles in life. For me, "letting go" eventually takes an enormous act of WILL, because time don't heal SHITE, in my opinion. So over the years, as I have learned from my mistakes, etc., I have tried to assert my will earlier and earlier in the letting-go process. I have realized that if I wait for time to do its job, then months will pass with me still mourning the loss of whatever it is ... and I no longer want to spend months in that fashion. So I give myself time limits, I force myself to do things I don't want to do (go out with friends, go running, whatever) - I know I won't enjoy these activities, but I have become a late convert to the "fake it til you make it" school of human psychology. I can't snap out of things, but I can expedite the process of getting over a disappointment, I can talk myself off the ledge easier, etc.

Regardless. There remains this overwhelming tenderness for the past - a tenderness bordering on pain. The pain gets worse when I'm vaguely dissatisfied in my present-day life (which makes sense), and so suddenly, it seems that everything back then was so beautiful and everything now SUCKS. A lot of my thoughts around the past take the form of: "Day-um, I had no idea how good I had it back then." You know, you take things for granted. This is one of the privileges of youth. But nostalgia, and yearning for what is back there, and pondering the past, and thinking about and writing about the past etc ... is one of the "themes" of the literary conceit that is my life. It's weird. Sometimes it's a blessing. And other times it's a curse.

I've noticed that it's the weirdest things that sometimes remain, the weirdest most unexpected things that time refuses to heal. I think of these "things" as what is left behind in the sieve, after you shake out the water and the dust. Something ALWAYS remains, and with me, at least, it's not always the most obvious thing. For example: I've had 2 year-long relationships that I don't remember as vividly as the night with the doppelganger. I can't think of that doppelganger night without a vague echo-stab of pain. (Vague ... not sharp. I don't want to make it seem like I am still staggering about, crying in public about him. No. But still. There's a vague echo-stab whenever he pops into my head). It was ONE NIGHT. 8 hours of my life. We played charades and Trivial Pursuit, and years later, I still get an echo-stab? What the feck is that? I know it's because of what came afterwards, and so I can't think about our first meeting with anything even approaching joy. Our joy in meeting one another is completely shadowed by the awfulness that followed. But still. It was an 8 hour encounter, and it hurts me to think about it. I can feel the bruise in my heart right as I type this. Meanwhile, I run into major ex-boyfriends at parties and I'm like: "Hey, what's up, good to see you, how've you been..." Kiss on the cheek, casual conversation ... Strange.

Maybe I'm shallow. But I don't think so.

Certain events work on us in very subconscious ways, and it is not until years after the fact that you can discern what was really going on back there. The doppelganger, I believe, is like that. There has to be some reason that it was so huge, and that we got so entangled so quickly, and then - just as quickly - could never speak to one another Ever. Again. It was a whirlwind, and in chronological time it makes no sense. But some poet said you count time by heartbeats, and that was what that Trivial Pursuit night was about. Time accordion-folded out, stretched, elongated ... And I'm not sure that the repercussions of that night, or what I was supposed to learn that night, are clear to me even now. A part of me thinks: "That was so unnecessary, God. I mean, really." (Talking to God there.) "I mean, I think it's a bit of an overkill, God, to put that man in my path. I really do." Let me be clear: I almost never think about doppelganger anymore. I'm on this newsletter thing he edits, so I read that, but other than that, we have zero contact. We tried - once - he invited me to some event, I went, and it was - to put it mildly - a disaster. It was awful. I had thought I was fine, and seeing him just confirmed how incredible I thought he was, how much we clicked ... It was the worst possible thing I could have done. Through that night, I realized I could not be normal with him or casual. Nope. I can be casual with some people, but him? Not a chance, bub. I don't think of him (when I do think of him) with malevolence, or bitterness, or anger. He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't betray me, deceive me, mess with my mind. No, it just plain old didn't work out. That's all. There is no blame here. He's on my mind right now because he is, primarily, what comes to my mind when I think about the tenderness-pain thing I have going on with certain events in my past.

It seems to me that something is there for me to be learned.

With other boyfriends, everything was much more on the surface, and the lessons were more immediate. And so there's no need to look back, to excavate the event, to examine the findings at the bottom of the seive, put them on little scales, try to determine the value ...

But with other events - (doppelganger being the first example) it's all about examining that sieve over and over again. What's left? Is it valuable? Do I need this? Is it gold? Or can I toss it back? What exactly was the impact of that event?

Therefore, my intense interest in nostalgia, and how it works.

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10 years ago today

.... read this in-person account of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Here's the front page of the NY Times, April 20, 1995. Looking at that photo, and the big type, just makes this PIT open up in my stomach. Awful. So frightening, and so awful.

No, we will not forget.

I got this from Sadie.

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The two sides of nostalgia - Part 1

First we have the movie Pleasantville.


Then we have the movie Blast from the Past.


First, I'll tackle Pleasantville. The plot of Pleasantville is thus:

Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon play modern-day teenagers, brother and sister, the children of divorced parents. Tobey is David - the kind of geeky guy in high school who doesn't have a chance with girls because he's too sensitive and nice, and also because he's the type of kid who can recite entire episodes of The Brady Bunch. Only in this movie, he can recite entire episodes of Pleasantville, a fictional black and white family drama, from the 1950s. The kind of show you can see on Nick at Nite. Like Life with Father. Reese plays Jennnifer, his slutty sister. She only cares about boys, and she is obviously very promiscuous. She thinks her brother is the biggest dork on the planet, basically because he's smart and does well in school.

The movie opens with a battle for the TV. There's a Pleasantville marathon happening, and David has set his sights to sit in front of the television for 24 hours. There is also a concert on MTV and Jennifer wants to watch it with her hot date. A fight between them heats up, they struggle over the remote until it finally flies against the wall and breaks. Then, mysteriously, the doorbell rings. And there is Don Knotts, who plays a crotchety TV repair guy who somehow showed up at just the right time with an old-fashioned "new" remote. There's something weird about the whole situation ... how would he know immediately that a new remote was needed ... but David and Jennifer, still in a fight, start to struggle again over this new remote, and eventually, the magical thing occurs: David and Jennifer, two modern kids, in color, find themselves inside the television, in black and white, in the world of Pleasantville. They are dressed up in the styles of the 1950s, and they find themselves transformed into Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the two kids from the show Pleasantville. There is William Macy as their father, George Parker - a jovial guy, always in a suit, who every day comes home, takes off his hat, puts down his briefcase, and calls out: "Honey! I'm home!" (Laugh track to follow) Joan Allen plays Betty Parker - the mother. She is, of course, the perfect smiling housewife. David and Jennifer decide to play along with their new roles until they can figure out a way to get back out of the television.

Things are weird in Pleasantville. There is no outside world. The geography classes in high school are all about "the geography of Pleasantville". The basketball team has never lost a game. The roles are clear, the characters are rigid. There is no change in Pleasantville. It never rains.


Jeff Daniels plays the owner of the local soda shop, and he can only open the store if he does everything in exactly the same order. Tobey (as Bud) is a bit late to his job one day, as a soda clerk, and Jeff Daniels' entire world is shattered. He is immobilized. There is a fire department in Pleasantville, only there are never any fires there. The only thing the firemen do is rescue kittens out of trees. Everyone is white. There's a very funny scene when David and Jennifer sit down to breakfast with their TV parents ... and look at the SPREAD their mother has put out for them. Now in our health-conscious society, you would eat this stuff and feel guilty about it later. But back then? Towering stacks of pancakes drenched in whole butter, mounds of fatty sizzling bacon, huge ham steaks, etc. Reese Witherspoon, as a modern-day calorie-counting girl, stares at the breakfast with horror and revulsion.

Of course the two modern-day kids start to change things in Pleasantville. A whiff of the future comes with them. It becomes apparent that things are only "pleasant" in Pleasantville because reality is so fiercely left out of the picture. Things like: love, sex, curiosity, risk-taking, asking questions, knowledge ... all of these things threaten the fragile equilibrium of this town.

But once the changes start blossoming, it's a runaway train. Tobey Maguire, who in his modern-day manifestation, is a huge FAN of the show, is disturbed by the changes. He doesn't want Pleasantville to change. Reese Witherspoon takes a different view. She does her best to wreak havoc (I love in her geography class when she raises her hand and asks, "Yeah, what's outside Pleasantville?" and the entire class stares at her, in awe and horror, at the question.), she starts dating one of the basketball players, and instead of sitting and having a sundae at the soda shop, she drags him off to Lover's Lane and molests him. Until then, there was no sex in Pleasantville.

The startling thing about this movie (or one of the things, anyway) is the look of it. As Pleasantville starts to experience upheaval, rebellion, certain things start to become color, while the rest of the world is still black and white. At first, all you see is one rose blooming red out of the monochromatic palette, but after that ... patches of color start showing up everywhere. However they managed to accomplish this is amazing. You see startling images like a couple making out - he is still in black and white, she is in full color. Or, you see a black and white girl blowing a bubble and the gum-bubble is bright pink.


Things becoming colorful is thrilling to some, and awful to others. Resistance starts against "the coloreds". People want to halt the forces of change. Suddenly teenagers are hanging out at LOver's Lane, and skinny-dipping. Other things start happening too. It's not just about sex, and that's one of the reasons why I appreciate this film. It's not just like: "whoo-hoo, look how repressed everyone was back then - If you have sex, you're free from all of that!" If that were the plot of the movie, it wouldn't have worked. That would be too simplistic.

No - it's different for every character. At one point, 3/4 of the way through the film, Reese is sitting on her bed, kind of perturbed. She says to her brother, "Can I ask you something? Why am I still in black and white? I have been having ten times as much sex as everyone else, and I'm still like this." Turns out, that for her, of course, a slut in her former life, having tons of sex is no liberation at all. She needs to be liberated from something else. But she doesn't know what it is. Then, one night, for whatever reason, she starts to read a book - I think it's DH Lawrence. She wants to read it, because she heard it was "sexy" ... but then, she finds herself wrapped up in the story. For the first time in her life, she becomes interested in reading. So much so that she cancels her date with the basketball player, and sits up all night with her book. She falls asleep finally, holding the book in her hand, and when she wakes up the next morning she is in full color. For her, the liberation comes from looking at the world outside herself, and from also discovering that there's more to life than sex ... that she is actually a very smart girl, and likes learning things.

For me, that one detail (her character becoming technicolor after READING) is why this movie is so special. Yup. There's a deep point being made here, about life, and change, and growth. What will work for one person will not work for another, and we need to have that room to find our own way, make our own mistakes.


Finally, they figure out a way to return home ... once Pleasantville is in full color. Only Jennifer (the Reese character) decides to stay on in the imaginary world. She can't go back to her old self, and her old horrible GPA. She will now become Mary Sue, the smart girl with glasses in the old TV show.

David returns home, back to our modern-day world.

It's not a complex movie, obviously, except in the black-and-white next to color technology. The theme is simple: "Pleasant" is over-rated, and people who look to the past as some kind of golden age, of simplicity, are being highly selective in what they allow themselves to remember. Sure things might have been "simpler" back then, but at what cost? At what cost?


The film makes no bones about the modern world. David and Jennifer are two teenagers, kind of adrift, left to their own devices, because their parents are too self-consumed to pay attention to them. At the opening of the film, the mother is on the phone with her ex-husband, the father of her kids, arguing wtih him, about it's "his turn" to have them for the weekend, and besides - she's going away for the weekend with her hot younger boyfriend. She's selfish, she's like a rebellious teenager herself.

The film is not saying: "Hey, everything's SO MUCH BETTER now." It is clear that we have paid a price in opening up Pleasantville, in letting in the forces of change.

But the film is also saying: Be careful about nostalgia. Nostalgia, in some lights, is nothing more than a big fat lie. You can go ahead and lie to yourself and talk about the Golden Age 'back then' - but you're leaving out enormous swaths of experience and life in order to see that time 'back then' as simple. Nostalgia can be a force for good, it can help us maintain our collective cultural memory, it can help us remember that things are not always complex and dreary - like it seems to be now. I have a friend who romanticizes her adolescence to such a degree that it does seem to me that she is lying to herself a little bit. It is her way of not taking responsibility for who she is now. "Wasn't it so much easier back then? You go to dances, you hang out with your friends, you didn't have to worry about money, or the future..." I just can't get on board with that rosy-glasses view. I say to her, "I don't know ... sure, there were SOME things back then I didn't have to worry about. I didn't have to pay rent, and stuff like that. But I remember there being all kinds of heartache and stress and insecurity - when I was a teenager. I wouldn't go back to that time for anything. I can look back on it NOW and laugh at how upset I was over not going to the Junior Prom, but I will NOT say that it was not a big deal to me at the time. It was hugely upsetting."

Her insistence on believing that everything was great "back then" is a way to avoid what she should do to make things better right now.

Nostalgia for the "good old days" has that feeling to me as well. Pleasantville takes the stance that simplicity and pleasantness was only possible through vigorously keeping change to a minimum. And so there is a warning in this film - as light-hearted and comedic as it is (and it is, indeed, very funny.)

We have lost quite a bit, in the transference from Pleasantville to now. But we mustn't fool ourselves. There HAS been progress. Not ALL change is bad. You can't control the pace of change, and you can't say "Okay, so let's let THIS change happen, but let's not let THAT change happen." Or, you CAN, but it's a losing battle.

I'll write about an opposing view of Nostalgia in my next post - which will be about Blast from the Past, one of my favorite movies ever.

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The Books: Hollywood Babylon (Kenneth Anger)

When I first started blogging (back on blog-spot ... I can hardly believe now I put up with Blogger for so long ... man!) I posted a daily excerpt from any one of my 20,000 books. Sometimes a fiction excerpt, sometimes non-fiction ... As is obvious, I enjoy putting book excerpts up here. It seems to me that they usually generate some pretty cool discussions.

So. I am going to do the "daily excerpt" thing again. Only with this method behind it, because I think it will be interesting:

I am going to post an excerpt from every book I have read, going from bookshelf to bookshelf through my house. One a day. This obviously will take me until 2017 probably, but that's all right. I will start at the top of one bookshelf, and go book by book til I get to the bottom and then move to the next one.

Why will I do this? Because it seems like it would be fun.

So. I will begin at the top of Bookcase # 3 in the kitchen.

This will be the beginning of my books about Hollywood. We'll come back to it.

HollywoodBabylon.jpgFirst book on the top shelf? Kenneth Anger's underground trash classic: Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets

Here's an excerpt from it. This is from the chapter on the life and death of silent screen film star and heartthrob Rudolph Valentino - he died in 1926.

Ha. The book is a riot. Apparently, a "lady in Black" still visits his mausoleum on the anniversary of his death, to this day. The tradition carries on.

Here's a still from Valentino's biggest hit, The Sheik:


And, for your continued reading pleasure, here is a list of Valentino trivia from IMDB:

Ranked #80 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]

In 1923 he recorded two songs for Brunswick Records, you can actually hear his heavly accented voice 73 years later.

A portion of Irving Boulevard in Hollywood, California, was renamed Rudolph Valentino Street in 1978.

Considered to be the first male sex symbol of the cinema during the silent era.

Published a thin volume of sentimental poetry titled "Day Dreams" in 1923. The book sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

For many years on the anniversary of Valentino's death, a mysterious woman, dressed all in black, was seen laying a wreath of flowers on his grave. Her identity was never established.

Following his untimely death, a bogus, composite photograph of Valentino ascending up to heaven was released for sale, and was snatched up by his legion of fans.

After Valentino's death, his family announced that his body would lie in an open casket in order to be seen by his fans. However, the family was worried that grief-stricken fans might rush the casket and damage the body, so they had a sculptor fashion a lifelike wax dummy of Valentino, and that was the "body" exhibited in the casket. Valentino's real body was kept in a hidden room in the funeral home.

He was half French and half Italian

Pictured on one of ten 29? US commemorative postage stamps celebrating stars of the silent screen, issued 27 April 1994. Designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, this set of stamps also honored Clara Bow, Charles Chaplin, Lon Chaney, John Gilbert, Zasu Pitts, Harold Lloyd, Theda Bara, Buster Keaton, and the Keystone Kops.

Valentino and Jean Acker had one of the shortest celebrity marriages on record - six hours. After courting for just a few days, they impulsively married November 5 1919, but Jean locked him out of their hotel room later that night after a spat. They separated, and their divorce was finalized in 1922. Ironically, after their divorce, they became good friends.

At the time of his death, Valentino was severely in debt, and his heirs could not afford a burial plot for him. June Mathis, screenwriter of Rudy's hit films The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922), graciously agreed to temporarily loan him a space in her family crypt at Hollywood Park Cemetery so he could be interred upon his body's arrival in Los Angeles following a coast-to-coast funeral train ride from New York. Valentino's body remains in that "borrowed" crypt, interestingly placed between Ms. Mathis and her last husband, to this day.

A few months before Valentino's death, a Chicago newspaper columnist attacked his masculinity in print, referring to him as a "pink powder puff." A lawsuit was pending when Valentino was fatally stricken. One of his last questions to his doctor was, "Well, doctor, and do I now act like a 'pink powder puff'?" His doctor reportedly replied, "No, sir. You have been very brave. Braver than most."

At the height of his popularity, Valentino went on a brief sojurn in his native Italy to visit friends and family and, in general, to get a much-needed rest. When he returned to Hollywood, friends asked him if he'd been mobbed by fans while on vacation. Valentino said no, explaining that, "over there, I look like every other Italian fellow on the street."

He is responsible for bringing the Argentine Tango to America, first performing the famous dance in his film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), and later in a successful American national dance tour with his wife, Natacha Rambova, who, like Valentine himself, was once a professional dancer.

He was voted the 32nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Excerpt below:

EXCERPT FROM Hollywood Babylon: The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets

While Rudy may have been maneuvered into matrimony with an assist from Alla, there is no doubt he sought women stronger than himself and was attracted to "butch" ladies. Valentino called Natacha "the Boss" and she lived up to the name so well -- constantly high-handing her husband's career at Paramount -- that Zukor resorted to a contract with a clause barring her from the set. She retaliated by ordering Rudy to leave Paramount. She then wrote a screenplay for Valentino, The Hooded Falcon, which proved "unproducible" after a considerable investment in time and money. One collaboration of Natacha and Rudy saw the light of day, a slim volume of verse entitled Daydreams, whose closing lines are:

At times
I find
Exquisite bitterness
Your Kiss.

Whatever his private accommodations with his virile wives may have been, the public slurs on his manhood caused him such bitterness that even as he lay dying, fighting stoically against terrible pain, he asked the physicians at his bedside: "And now, do I act like a pink powder puff?"

At the news of Valentino's death, two women attempted suicide in front of Polyclinic Hospital; in London a girl took poison before Rudy's inscribed photograph; an elevator boy of the Ritz in Paris was found dead on a bed covered with Valentino's photos.

While Valentino was lying in state at Campbell's Funeral Home, New York streets became the scene of a ghoulish carnival as a mob of over 100,000 fought for a last glimpse of the Great Lover. The body was flanked by phony Fascist Black Shirt guards at attention, with an equally phony wreath labeled "From Benito" nearby -- a press-agent stunt by Campbell's whose cosmeticians really made Rudy's corpse resemble a "pink powder puff".

Among those who won admittance to the candlelit bier were his ex-wife Jean Acker, whose display of grief at the coffin's edge might have been tempered had she known Rudy left her a solitary dollar in his will, and Pola Negri, who upstaged everybody by rushing in from Hollywood decked out in chic-est mourning weeds. She sobbed and fainted before the coffin ... and the photographers. Between sobs, Pola claimed she had promised her hand to Rudy. Another claim was immediately filed in the papers by Ziegfeld Girl Marion Kay Brenda, who stated Valentino had proposed to her in Texas Guinan's night club the evening before he was stricken.

As Rudy's body was shipped west for entombment in the Court of the Apostles of Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, a commemorative song was crooned by Rudy Vallee over the nation's radios: "There's a New Star in Heaven Tonight -- R-u-d-y V-a-l-e-n-t-i-n-o."

Valentino's demise at thirty-one left inconsolable paramours of both sexes, to judge by the tear-streaked testimonials. Aside from the "Lady in Black" bearing flowers annually to the mausoleum on the anniversary of his death, the memory of Rudy was cherished by Roman Navarro, who kept a black lead Art Deco dildo embellished with Valentino's silver signature in a bedroom shrine. A present from Rudy.

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April 18, 2005

Today in history


On this day, in 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride. (To quote Longfellow: "On the 18th of April in 75, hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year ...")

The spring of 1775 was a tense time. Prominent Bostonians were under constant threat of arrest from the British, and so many of them - to avoid this - moved their families to outlying communities. However, two of the main patriotic leaders (Benjamin Church and Joseph Warren) stayed in Boston - Paul Revere did as well, and kept a close eye on British movements through that spring. Revere was trusted as a messenger, he knew everybody, he was just one of those guys. In mid-April, Revere started to notice some ominous signs: mainly that the British ships were taken out of the water, to be worked on, repaired. He could sense that something was coming. He felt the British were preparing for some kind of attack.

Revere went to Concord on April 16 (most of the weaponry was stored there) and warned the leaders of that community that the British were preparing something, up to something, and if they were going to strike, they would most definitely try to seize the weapons stash in Concord. So the people of Concord went to work, hiding their store of weapons in barns, cellars, swamps, etc. (Like I mentioned: Paul Revere was trusted. He knew everybody. If you're interested, read the excerpt I posted of Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating analysis of Paul Revere - and his comparison with the far less successful messenger William Dawes.)

So. April 16. Revere returned to Boston from Concord, and met with other revolutionary leaders, and that is when they came up with the "one if by land, two if by sea" warning system. Revere knew they needed a way to have some advance warning about which route the British were going to take when they finally did attack.

By land? Or by sea?

So, Revere set up the system: Signal lanterns would be placed in the belfry of Old North Church (the steeple can be seen across the Charles River). If two lanterns were hung, then the British would be crossing the Charles by boat. If one lantern was hung, then the British would choose to attack using a land route.

"One if by land, two if by sea."

This plan was put in place just in time. On April 18, in the early evening, a stable boy came to Paul Revere, telling him that he had overheard some British soldiers discussing the upcoming attack, and that it was planned for early the next morning. The stable boy knew who to bring this information to, and that was Paul Revere. (Again, check out Gladwell's analysis of Paul Revere's personality. Really interesting.)

Revere, on receiving this urgent piece of information, knew he had to get the warning out (and that he especially had to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams who, at that time, were hiding out in Lexington).

So off he went onto his now legendary ride. Revere took the water route out of Boston, rowed across the Charles, and galloped through the communities north of Boston sounding the alarm. (Medford, Charlestown, Lexington, Concord.) Because of Paul Revere, the British had completely lost the element of surprise. When they came to attack, they found the rebellious colonists waiting for them everywhere, ambushing them left and right, from behind stone walls, hiding behind trees ... they were everywhere.

An interesting tidbit (this is why I love this time in American history - yeah, the events themselves are really cool ... but it's details like the following one that really have me hooked, like a crack addict):

In his hurry to depart, Revere forgot to bring along pieces of cloth to wrap the oars of his boat. The purpose of this was to muffle the sound of them cutting through the water. The Somerset (the British man-of-war) was at anchor, right there in the harbor. Paul Revere had to row right by them, and so any sound at all would have alerted the crew, and if Revere was busted, the whole jig would be up. Revere was in a bit of a pickle ... standing by his boat, trying to figure out how he could improvise ... could he take off his stockings? Tie them around the end of the oars?

One of the boatmen involved in helping Revere make this crossing came to the rescue. He ran to his girlfriend's house and asked her for her petticoat. hahaha One can only imagine her startled response!! "Please, dear. It's 10 pm, and I need you to take off your petticoat, give it to me, and don't ask me ANY questions about it!!" But apparently, this girl, whoever she was, complied - took off her petticoat, gave it up, and Revere used that to wrap up the ends of his oars.

I love that woman, whoever she is.

So. In honor of the great Paul Revere, I have a couple other things to post. One is, my conversation with Cashel about the American Revolution. I read this on the radio last year. I love it. It's one of my favorite conversations I've ever had with him.

And lastly, in the extended entry, please find Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's celebrated poem "Paul Revere's Ride". I know large swaths of it by heart ... To me, it's a thrilling poem. Because of the story it tells, but also because of its rollicking rhythm, you can feel the suspense, you can feel the urgency.

April 18, 1775. A great day in American history. One of my personal favorite "stories" of the American revolution.

Paul Revere's Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (1)

April 17, 2005

You guys are really lucky

You know why? Because apparently, I am "a human Google".

Here's the story. I took the Metro North today to my friend Jen's parent's house. They invited me to their Passover seder (yes, a week early) ... I have been invited for, oh, 8 years now? This is the first year I have been able to go. So I got up at the fiery crack of 8 a.m., made my way to Grand Central, and got onto the train.

I sat there, looking out the window at the gleaming Hudson to my right, the cliffs of Jersey, and yes, because I'm a geek, I thought of all of the things that happened up and down that river and along that cliff during the Revolutionary War.

10 minutes into the ride north, I heard the guy in the seat in front of me say into his cell phone:

"No, man, listen, I heard that there's a Red Sox bar in Manhattan." Pause, pause. "I have no idea where it is, bro - but I heard that there is one. Look it up or something ... I know there is one ..." Pause, pause, pause. "All right, man ... I'll talk to you later. All right. Bye."

He hangs up.

And I could not resist.

I leaned over the seat in front of me and said, "Hi ... sorry ... couldn't help but overhearing ..."

And he looked at me with... that look. I can't explain it. It was polite, but reserved. Maybe a little fearful. Like: why is this random person talking to me? The guy was just a classic Boston guy. Can't explain that either, but you just knew he was from Boston. And NOT just because he was wearing a Red Sox hat. He had that blunt open face ... the kind of face you rarely see in Manhattan.

So I saw his hesitation and plunged on, getting to the point: "There is a Red Sox bar in Manhattan, and it's called The Riviera."

In that moment, all of his hesitation dissolved, and we suddenly became best friends. His whole face changed.

"Are you from Boston?"

"No, Rhode Island ... but, you know. Same thing."

"I'm from Belmont."

"Oh! Okay!"

Then came this huge laughing smile on his face ... "So wait ... what's the name of the bar?"

"The Riviera. It's awesome. 50 TVs, they've got NESN ... it's THE place to go to see Red Sox games in New York."

"Where is it?" He already had his phone out.

"It's right across from the Christopher Street stop, on the 1, 9. It's on 7th avenue south."

He dialed.

I heard the following conversation (this is pretty much word for word):

"Yo. Bro. The name of the Red Sox bar in New York is The Riviera." Pause. "Yeah - I was sitting here, and a very helpful woman just gave me the name of the bar." Pause. "It's on ..." He had forgotten, he glanced back at me.

I said, "It's on 7th Avenue South - across from the Christopher Street subway station."

He repeated into the phone: "It's on 7th Avenue South - across from the Christopher Street subway station." Then: long pause, as his friend spoke. Then: "Dude, you want the exact address? What?? Bro, I'm sittin' here next to a human Google, and you want the exact address? I say to you: 'There's a Red Sox bar in New York' - then this woman appears and tells me not only the name of the bar, but the subway stop and the street it's on - and you want an exact address? You're nuts, dude. Look it up."

I felt proud. I had helped this lost soul find a Red Sox home, and ... I got called "a human Google".

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (11)

Scariest moment in film ...

Watching some show right now on Bravo: The 100 scariest movies. It's a countdown. It's AWESOME. I'm watching television, and I am completely thrilled. I came in in the middle of it.

The films listed so far:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Shining

They have all these people commenting on why certain films are so frightening - film critics, directors ... it's awesome. I'll let you know what # 1 is. Please discuss in the comments, if you feel so inclined.

Scariest movie ever?? Discuss.

Rosemary's Baby needs to be on the list.


Next film on the list: Alien. (One commentator: "Any film that claustrophic has got to be terrifying. A nightmare." Another one: "You never saw that creature until the end." Ron Perlman said, in regards to the scene when the alient bursts out of John Hurt's stomach: "That scared me. Yeah, I had to change my underwear.")

Update: THIS JUST IN. The #1 scariest movie (according to this show) is Jaws. (Some film director said: "I remember after I saw that movie in the theatre, I went out to Denny's for something to eat, and I felt - in Denny's - that I was going to be attacked by a shark at any minute." Rob Reiner said: "The opening of that film cuts right to the chase and taps into a fear that every human being has.")

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (28)

Lauren Bacall and Harper's Bazaar

For background, please read this. If you don't feel like reading it, I will re-cap:

Lauren Bacall was 17 years old, and modeling clothes at various department stores in New York City. This is the early 1940s, understand, so here's the deal:

The body type in style at that time was pretty bodacious. The bullet bras, the miniscule waists, the curving hips ... This was what was "in". (I shoulda been born then, I tell ya.) Lauren Bacall, a lanky teenager, with a long lean body, was not at all in style. She said it herself, when she came to my school to do a seminar, "The clothes didn't hang right on my body. They didn't look good on me."

Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, thought differently. At the time, she was the only one. But that's what makes a visionary, and Vreeland was, indeed, a visionary.

She saw Betty Bacall, and decided to put her on the cover of Harper's Bazaar.

Now, I will be COMPLETELY obnoxious and quote myself, from the post above:

I believe the photo was taken in 1941 or 1942 - and she was standing in front of a huge Red Cross. It is an arresting image. She has a flat blank face, she stares straight at the camera - there is nothing coy about her. Her skin is pale, her lips are bright red. Again: she doesn't quite look like what models looked like in that time period. She looks like what models look like now. There is a very clear identity on her face - you can see her personality - which models didn't quite have at that time. Think of the runway models now - how they stalk right at you - with this flat blank "Yeah, this is who I am" stare. That was what Bacall looked like on that cover.

The Harper's Bazaar cover was, as Bacall described it to us, "the twist of fate that changed my life forever".

What did Bacall mean by that? Slim Hawks, Howard Hawks' wife, saw the cover and showed it to her husband, saying: "What about this girl?" Howard Hawks, incredible film director (my personal favorite) had been looking for a project. He was a Svengali, he wanted to create a certain type of woman for movies (ahem, let me point to myself again. Here's my post on the Howard Hawks woman.) As a result of Lauren Bacall's Harper's Bazaar cover, Howard Hawks called this skinny teenager out to Hollywood to put her under his own personal contract, to develop projects for her - the first being To Have and Have Not - starring (of course) Humphrey Bogart. Her performance in that film has got to go down in history as one of the greatest and most startling film debuts of all time. Also, you know, there was the little thing of that romance that began on that film!!

Anyway, there's the background.

And here's what just happened. In the original post, I mentioned that I had been Googling up a storm, looking for the exact image of Lauren Bacall's first cover for Harper's Bazaar. I knew the image, because it's in her first autobiography - but I had a HELL of a time finding it online. I found other images from the shoot (which showed up in the pages of that issue) - but not the cover.

So just now, I got an email from a woman named Anna. She must have tripped over that post, through a Google search of her own, and she very very kindly sent me the image of that first Harper's Bazaar cover.

I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled to have the image, and I'm thrilled to now be able to share it with you all. It's enormous - so I put it in the extended entry.

Enjoy. LOOK at that face!!! Isn't it so OBVIOUS why she would attract attention?? Isn't it so apparent that she was MEANT to be a star??


Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

Snapshots from last night ...

-- Watching bits of Muppets Take Manhattan with my sisters. My sisters know that movie by heart. Laughter!!

-- Siobhan made an absolutely deeeeee-lish lasagna. We loved it. We had one helping, then went out to a pub for a couple drinks, came back and chowed some more.

-- Siobhan has 440 CDs in her collection. Just so you know.

-- Jean's migraine was bad. She put on a purple liquid sleep-mask, and lay on Siobhan's bed with a pillow over her head. We all stood around the bed, continuing the conversation, Jean talking as well ... but if anyone had looked in, and not known what was going on, they would have been like: "WTF???"

-- We walked down the street, cool night air, to an Irish pub called The Brogue. A guy named Steve Reilly was playing guitar - playing stuff like Free Falling, and Harry Chapin of all things. LOUD. We had to shout to be heard.

-- Much Red Sox conversation.

-- Good to be together. Family is the best thing in the world. The only thing missing was our brother ... we called him and left him a collective "we wish you were here" message.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

"It's very simple"

Birthdays of famous dead people is my new thing. Obviously! But the fun thing is - if I'm interested in the person? Like JM Synge, for example? I usually have a bunch of books lying around my house, filled with quotes and excerpts about said person and it's wonderful - to be able to USE those books! Put them to some practical use.

Anyway, today is the birthday of Thornton Wilder, American playwright, author of what might be one of the most beloved American plays ever written: Our Town.

Here is one of my favorite anecdotes about Thornton Wilder. It's genius. If you want to understand the basics of theatre and the art of acting, it is ALL in this anecdote. (If you remember the plot of Our Town, so much the better.)

Peter Hunt (once Executive and Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival) relates a story about Thornton Wilder and Nikos Psacharopoulos (founder of Williamstown). Nikos, by all accounts (except for maybe Colleen Dewhurst's - she couldn't stand him) was a genius of the theatre. His productions of Chekhov plays are still talked about. He is considered one of the best interpreters of Chekhov we've ever had in this country. Anyway, Nikos created the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1955, and ran it until his death in 1988. Thornton Wilder was very involved in Williamstown, and Peter Hunt (who took over after Nikos' death) tells the following story about a rehearsal of a Nikos-directed production of Our Town at WTF:

Peter Hunt: Directing is sometimes doing nothing, sometimes dowin more than you ever thought you could do, every case is different. But what you just said about there being a way of doing Chekhov at Williamstown -- that struck me, because I am Nikos' offspring. I mean he was my teacher at Yale, my mentor at Williamstown, it all rubbed off. Now obviously I do certain things my own way, but still I'm an extension of that. So, what is that? Part of it is caring and having a commitment to all the elements of the theatre -- a lot of directors don't know how to incorporate a set, how to run a tech rehearsal, don't have a visual sense. At the same time caring about the rehearsal environment so that there is an emotional sense in the room that's correct for the play you're doing. I mean, are you having fun doing a comedy? When do you break tension with a joke, when do you allow it to become very serious? He knew how to play all that. Those are lessons I learned just watching him work. Also honesty. When you hit your head on a wall, back up and go another direction. Don't be afraid to say you're wrong.

My favorite example of that is the Our Town story. Thornton Wilder, as I said, was playing the Stage Manager [From Sheila: For those of you who don't remember the play, the "Stage Manager" is basically the narrator, a character in the play. Thornton Wilder often played the role.]. For some reason he and I struck up a friendship, and one day we were standing and talking ... and Nikos burst out of the rehearsal room and came up to Thornton and said, "The scene isn't working." And Thornton said: "What? The scene isn't working?" Nikos said, "Yeah, George and Emily, they're on the ladder, doing the homework scene." And Thornton said, "What's wrong with it?" And Nikos said, "It doesn't work." And Thornton said, "What are you talking about, it's a Pulitzer-Prize winning play, it works!" And Nikos said, "It's not working. They're up there, I'm playing all the values, they're in love, he's in love with her, they want to get married -- but it's not working." Thornton's jaw drops to the floor and he says, "My lord, what are you doing? It's very simple! He's stupid and she's smart, and if he doesn't get the algebra questions for tomorrow's homework, he's going to flunk. THAT'S IT!" And Nikos said, "But Thornton, it's a love scene!" And Thornton said, "That's for the audience to decide." And Nikos said, "Got it!" And he rips open the door to the rehearsal room and yells, "Everything we worked on is off! You're dumb, you're smart! Play it!" And people were grabbing their handkerchiefs and sobbing during the scene. But the beauty of this story was just -- Nikos' willingness to completely drop it. There was no ego. I mean, this was a man who had a considerable ego, but an ego strong enough to put the work and not himself first.

Beautiful. "Everything we worked on is off! You're dumb, you're smart - GO!" What a beautiful thing for a director to be so flexible.

First of all: There's Thornton Wilder saying: "It's very simple." That's the thing, that's the thing about great playwriting: at its heart, it's very simple. Streetcar Named Desire is a very very simple play. Usually it's the director and actors who over-complicate things. The "keep it simple stupid" mantra is one of the most important things to remember if you're ever blocked, artistically.

The other GENIUS thing about this anecdote is the following exchange:

"But Thornton, it's a love scene!"
"That's for the audience to decide."

And I'll tell ya, folks, that attitude of the playwright is why Our Town will be around long after all of us are gone, it will be performed for generations to come. It's not just a play anymore, it's become part of our cultural tradition. It's not just a respected play, or a well-known play - it is beloved.

Audiences LOVE to be allowed "to decide" things, to not have things handed to them or spelled out. It IS a love scene, but the two characters are talking about algebra. Let the audience decide. Let the audience decide.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (3)

April 16, 2005

The Playboy Riots


Today is also the birthday of Irish playwright John Millington Synge, author of Playboy of the Western World, Riders to the Sea, and many more - not to mention his wonderful book about his time on the Aran Islands, called, coincidentally, The Aran Islands. Playboy is now in the history books, not only for being a wonderful play, and part of the theatrical revolution going on in Ireland at the time (the creation of the Abbey Theatre, etc.) - but also because of the riots that broke out when it opened. Things got so out of hand that a police squad had to stand along the edge of the stage during the performance, so that the actors wouldn't get hurt or mobbed. If I had a time machine, I would feckin' LOVE to go back and be there on the opening night of that play. MAN! Sadly, there's a quote I have SOMEwhere but I just can't find it ... it's a quote from one of the actors in the play, I believe, and in it he describes his realization, when watching a couple of scenes during the dress rehearsal, that this was a genius play. And that Synge was a genius, and not only that - but that this play was going to be very IMPORTANT. The actor describes looking at the back of Synge's head, a couple rows in front of him, thinking: "This amazing piece of work came out of THAT HEAD". Synge was a young man, too - so it was even more extraordinary.

Synge wrote (and this is a bit of a mission statement):

Ireland, for a few years more, we have a popular imagination that is fiery and magnificent, and tender; so that those of us who wish to write start with a chance that is not given to writers in places where the springtime of the local life has been forgotten, and the harvest is a memory only, and the straw has been turned into bricks.

Monster-post below ... on JM Synge:

Synge's time out on the Aran Islands, off the wild west coast of Ireland, gave him the nuggets of inspiration for many of his plays. Out there the "native language" was still spoken, out there he could encounter the real Ireland.

Synge had spent a lot of time in Europe, taking courses in French literature, immersing himself in different cultures, reading Baudelaire, writing poems, chasing girls ... You know, all La Boheme stuff. He remained interested in his own country, his own heritage - but there wasn't really a place for him there. (Interesting: NOW it's hard to imagine Ireland without Synge, but he had to TAKE that ground, he had to claim it - it didn't exist before he came along.) Yeats' whole nationalistic literary (and theatrical) movement drew Synge back to his home country - the Abbey Theatre was formed - things were HAPPENING in Ireland. In retrospect, it all seems inevitable. Of course Synge would not only come back to be part of that movement, but he would end up defining that movement. But at the time, Synge had some reservations about Yeats' "let's bring back the fairies and the Celtic twilight" romanticism. Was that Ireland? Fairies? Leprechauns? Shivering grey twilights? Was that Irish culture? Couldn't there be something more there? Something ELSE to be expressed? (That Synge did so, and so powerfully, is proof of his genius).

Yeats gave Synge a piece of now legendary advice (and this is a direct quote):

Give up Paris, you will never create anything by reading Racine, and Arthur Symons will always be a better critic of French literature. Go to the Arran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has never found expression.

In the middle of what was, essentially, an Irish cultural revival, Yeats (having been out to the Islands) recognized that there was something untouched out there, a primitive life, Irish language still spoken, the culture not corrupted. Yet. It was a race against time.

The leaders of the cultural movement in Ireland at that time all had the same idea: Inspiration lay in the West of Ireland. Go west. Go west to find the real Ireland. (Interesting, to think of the final paragraphs of Joyce's The Dead in this context. I'm sure I'm not the first one to think of this- ha - but still, it's interesting.)

So Synge took Yeats' advice and went west.

The story of his four trips out to the Islands make up his book Aran Islands, a wonderful rich travelogue, a classic of the genre. He sits around turf fires with the various storytellers, and listens, and writes the folktales and anecdotes down later. These stories contain the germs of Playboy, the germs of Shadow of the Glen, the germs of Riders. Yeats was right. With all of Yeats' airy-fairy Celtic frippery, he understood that a powerful culture lay beneath the surface, a culture that had never been shown to the world, never been expressed.

Not surprising, then, that Playboy of the Western World would cause such an uproar.

Here is an excerpt from Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh's marvelous book The Splendid Years, which is the story of the Irish National Theatre. Maire was an actress, highly involved with the cultural revival of the time, and a member of the Abbey Theatre. Her memories of Synge (and also her memories of the "Playboy riots" are fascinating. Here she speaks of Synge:

It was early in June, 1903, that Lady Gregory called us to her rooms at the Nassau Hotel and read Synge's play [Shadow of the Glen] over to us. The piece was a one-act comedy based on an Irish folk-tale the author had heard from an old Aran Island seanachie -- the story of the aged husband feigning death to test his youthful wife's fidelity; denouncing her, but forgiving her lover. The plot, strictly speaking, was not original, but the treatment was. It was completely different to anything we had known before; the play itself was a masterpiece of dramatic construction. It was, in fact, the first of the Irish "realist" dramas, and the quiet young man who sat unobtrusively in the background while Lady Gregory read aloud his words, was to take his place amongst the greatest dramatists the Irish theatre produced.

John M. Synge who came to us with his play direct from the Aran Islands, where the material for most of his later works was gathered, was born near Dublin in 1871, graduated at Trinity College, and shortly afterwards left Ireland for the Continent, living alternately in Germany and France, where he made a rather precarious livelihood as a violinist and contributor to literary magazines. Yeats had discovered him in Paris in about 1897 and, recognizing the quality of his writings, had brought him back to Ireland, where he introduced him to Aran, prophesying that in the beautiful lyrical prose of the western peasant he would find an original vehicle for dramatic composition. He was right. Synge went to Aran for a month, and stayed there, on and off, for a matter of years. He drew his inspiration from the hearths of the tiny whitewashed cabins and the harsh rocks of the western seaboard, gathering tales and expressions from the old and the young of the most picturesque portion of Ireland. In a short life -- he died at the early age of 38 -- he wove them into sombre dramatic tapestries, embroidered with the rhythmic language of the Irish peasant. His prose, highly musical and enriched with flashes of the most beautiful poetry, he devised simly by transcribing direct from the Gaelic of the islands. It is most difficult for an actor to master; most effective if delivered correctly.

Ahem. She's got that right. "Popskull" (a regular commenter here) and I did a scene from Playboy in a class in graduate school, and while we had a hell of a lot of fun doing it, it was DAMN difficult to get that language right. Not just the language either, but the rhythm, the tone. It doesn't matter at all if you get the words all correct, and remember all your lines, if you say them in the wrong rhythm. It was fun, though, to work on it. To try to hear where Synge was coming from.

Back to Synge.

He was a gentle fellow, shy, with that deep sense of humour that is sometimes found in the quietest people. His bulky figure and heavy black moustache gave him a rather austere appearance -- an impression quickly dispelled when he spoke. His voice was mellow, low; he seldom raised it. But for his quiet personality he might have passed unnoticed at any gathering. During rehearsals of his play, he would sit quietly in the background, endlessly rolling cigarettes. This was a typical gesture, born more of habit than of any desire for tobacco -- he gave away more cigarettes than he smoked. At the first opportunity, he would lever his huge frame out of a chair and come up on to the stage, a half-rolled cigarette in eaach hand. Then he would look enquiringly round and thrust the little paper cylinders forward towards whoever was going to smoke them. In later years he became the terror of fire-conscious Abbey stage-managers. He used to sit timidly in the wings during plays, rolling cigarettes and handing them to the players as they made their exits.

I love him. Here's more from Maire:

Synge was a genius, one of the great literary figures of his time, but brilliance often ripens under the most difficult conditions. In the Shadow of the Glen was sufficiently in advance of its time to arouse in Dublin audiences a completely unfounded indignation. Its production raised a storm of protest in some sections of the Press that was stupid and ridiculous, disconcerting its unfortunate author and amazing most of us, who had never looked upon the play as anything but an exceptionally well-written comedy.

And THAT'S why the guy is a genius. He didn't set out to revolutionize Irish theatre. He didn't set out to be a genius, or to write great plays. He just wrote down what he knew. That was the ONLY way this guy could write. And it turned everything upside down.

Here is Maire's description of some of the objections to Shadow, just to give you an idea of what was going on, and to also set the stage for the "Playboy riots". Synge was, indeed, ahead of his time. The world is NEVER kind to those born ahead of their time.

The piece was "un-Irish" wrote some reviewers, an "insult" in fact to the peasant women of Ireland whom Nora Burke was taken to typify. There was an immense verbal furore about it. A number of writers claiming that Synge was slyly attacking the institution known as the "made marriage", and attributing it solely to Ireland, raised all sorts of objections. Others wrote of the character of Nora Burke: "Nora Burke is a lie". Of the play they said: "It is no more Irish than the Decameron. It is a staging of the old-world libel on womankind -- the Widow of Ephesus."

Now, I do not propose to analyse the extraordinary attitude adopted towards the play. Indeed, the attacks were launched so suddenly that few of us were even able to gather what they were all about. Perhaps it was that the Irish play-going public of that time was so used to the "genteel" comedy of the established theatre which I mentioned earlier -- the entertaining but not very realistic stuff that was time and again put before it -- that it couldn't swallow a credible satire. In those days if an actress played an unpleasant part, then it followed that she was an unpleasant person. Similarly, if a dramatist wrote a nasty play he was a nasty fellow. Then, of course, there was the fact that Ireland was on the threshold of a renaissance. Everybody, writer, politician, artist, was at pains to eulogise over the beauty of the Irish character. The advent of a comparatively unknown writer who painted an unpleasant if realistic picture of the peasantry at such a time was, to say the least, unwelcome. The Dubliners who raised the loudest objections could not accept In the Shadow of the Glen as a play. They refused to be entertained.

In 1907, the Abbey Theatre produced Playboy of the Western World. Maire, who was there, writes:

The "Playboy Riots", as they came to be known, indicate very clearly some of the difficulties that the Abbey was called upon to face during its first years -- and they show how the theatre, under Yeats, managed to surmount them. When this play is produced in Dublin now it is recognised and enjoyed as a work of art. In 1907 it drove a number of people into such a frenzy that they nearly wrecked the Abbey. I am in rather a good position to describe the riots because I was in the audience during some of them. Curiosity had taken me into the theatre, as it had taken many another person that week.

It was about the end of 1906 that Synge finished the Playboy ... Yeats later mentioned that Synge took considerable trouble over the piece and scrapped a number of earlier versions before he fixed on the one which was eventually produced...Yeats never tired of recounting the care which Synge lavished on the piece. This, indeed, may have been indirectly responsible for the reception accorded the play by some sections of the public, whose main argument against it was that it was "a slander on the peasantry of Ireland". As in the case of The Shadow of the Glen, its realism gave offence. The only differnce between it and any other play that did not take was that the public, instead of showing its lack of interest in the accepted way -- by its non-attendance -- displayed its disapproval by rioting in the theatre throughout the play's run. The most unusual feature of the affair was that although the players appeared on the stage and acted their parts for a whole week, the uproar caused by the audience was so great that the play was never really heard on any night but the first, and those who took part in the demonstrations on subsequent occasions were dependent on opinions of the firstnight audience and a few rather hysterical newspaper reports. As the week progressed, the trouble instead of lessening, increased, and before the run of the play was half over, the management felt compelled to call for the assistance of the police to preserve order.

The explanations put forward by the rioters during the week were many and varied and it is worth remarking that no two people appeared to base their objections on exactly the same thing. Some objected to the piece because "it made a hero out of a murderer" (the play deals in part with the welcome accorded by a West of Ireland village to a weak-willed boy who believes he has just killed his father); others claimed that the language used was too strong; more contented themselves by saying that the play was "vicious, untrue, and uncalled for" -- a "hideous caricature" in fact; while a considerable number based their objections on the assumption that the piece was a deliberate attack by Synge on Ireland in retaliation for the manner in which The Shadow of the Glen and The Well of the Saints had been received.

(All of this makes me think of what Joyce said, when it became apparent that no Irish publisher would go near The Dubliners and he would have to look outside his own country for a publisher: "It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilization in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass." Obviously Synge had approached the same territory - he had held up a "nicely polished looking-glass" to the Irish people, and the Irish people were having NONE of it. At the time.)

Maire describes what it was like in the theatre, on the opening night of Playboy of the Western World, January 26, 1907.

The first act went well. There was laughter at the right places and the correct degree of solemnity was maintained when it was demanded. But during the second act I began to feel a tenseness in the air around me -- I was sitting in the pit -- and there were murmurs from the stalls and parts of the gallery. Before the curtain fell it was obvious that there was going to be some sort of trouble. Faint calls and ejaculations like "Oh, no! Take it off!" came from various parts of the house and the atmosphere gradually grew taut. In the third act things really came to a head and those around began to stamp the floor and shout towards the stage, the noise gradually increasing until the voices of the players were drowned. People stood up in their seats and demanded the withdrawal of the play, and when it became clear that the cast was determined to see the thing out to the end, tempers began to fray. The auditorium became a mass of people pulling and pushing in all directions. By the time the curtain fell on the last act, the crowd was arguing and fighting with itself. People in front leaned over the back of seats and demanded quiet -- a lot of people seemed to be doing this -- and those at the back responded by shouting and hissing loudly. The crowd which eventually emerged into the street was in an ugly mood.

Despite vicious and hysterical reviews the play went on. One of the objections was that the word "shift" appeared in the play (meaning: "chemise", or "slip", whatever you want to call it. Christy - the lead character in the play - says - in what is now acknowledged to be a finE piece of dramatic literature, and one of the classic monologues of the stage: "It's Pegeen I'm seeking only, and what'd I care if you brought me a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself, maybe, from this place to the eastern world?" People were shocked and outraged by this, it was seen as an insult to all Irish women.

The Press and the public called for the play to be closed, the hysteria mounted, but the Abbey refused to capitulate. Obviously, Synge had struck a nerve. But things were getting out of hand, it was a violent atmosphere in the audience ... and so Yeats tried to quell this fire. Maire describes:

On the third night Yeats addressed the audience before the curtain rose. If anyone had anything to say against the piece they would be welcomed at a debate which he would be glad to arrange in the theatre at some other time. He was interrupted several times. He asked the interrupters to at least listen to the play so that they would know what it was they were objecting to.

It is just like those feckin' fundie idiots who protested Scorsese's Last Temptation without even seeing it. Idiots. Ignorant idiots. I have no patience and no tolerance for people like that. To me, they are a scourge upon this planet. I'm pretty open-minded, you know "live and let live" but people like that put me into a rage and I have no problem with openly scorning their stupid fearful little lives. Everyone has their limits, everyone has their thing that they cannot endure - and I cannot bear people like that. I don't want to listen, understand where they're coming from. No. I DO understand where they are coming from, and I DESPISE where they are coming from. Their "faith" and their sense of themselves is so fragile that it's a house of cards. Even the fact that Scorsese's movie EXISTED threatened their entire world view. Ah, bah humbug. Losers. Go the feck home and read your feckin' Bible and close the blinds and don't let the big bad nasty world touch your precious house of cards, and let those of us who actually want to SEE the movie and decide for ourselves - live in peace. Feckin' idiots.

Back to the Playboy Riots:

As on the first night, the opening passages were listened to quietly, and even evoked a little laughter. Halfway through the second act, however, a murmur arose in the pit and a man a few rows away stood up and, without any apparent reason, hit the person beside him. A gasp ran around the whole house and the lights went up. All around him the crowd was breaking into disorder.

Within minutes, the audience in the pit and stalls was completely disorganised, and the crowd in thte back and side galleries was almost as bad. Almost everyone was standing. The noise was deafening. Yeats appeared on the stage and pleaded with the sensible members of the audience to remain quiet. His voice was drowned by catcalls, cheers, much stamping of feet, and from somewhere at the back ,the notes of a toy trumpet which came from the centre of a group of young men who looked like university students. He continued to speak, but his words were apparently objected to by those in front, for a howl of protest went up from the stalls and parts of the side gallery, which increased in volume as those behind joined in or tried to cheer the protest down. On the stage the players stood in little knots, discussing the occurrences amongst themselves.

As the noise increased and several arguments broke out around the theatre, Yeats left his place on the stage. A few minutes later the doors into the auditorium opened and to the horror and surprise of most of those present, a body of police entered. At the same time the curtain came down and a semblance of order was restored -- partly due to the sight of the uniforms ...

After a brief speech by Yeats, and the ejection of the more truculent members of the audience, peace was partially restored, and everyone sat down again. At this stage it would have been impossible for anyone to get out. After everyone had been quietened and the greater part of the audience reseated, it would have been dangerous for anyone to stand up. Those who did so were immediately surrounded by hefty policement and shepherded, not too gently, in the direction of the vestibule.

Meanwhile, the orchestra, a recent addition to the theatre, began to play. The music seemed to help matters somewhat, and things almost returned to what they were before the play began. There was much discussion and gesticulation going on however. The affair was still far from settled.

After some time the orchestra retired, the lights were lowered and the curtain went up. Almost immediately the audience reverted to what it had been before the arrival of the police. Not a word of the play could be heard. The cast eventually gave up speaking altogether and went through the piece in pantomime. [Note from Sheila: God, I wish I had been there to see this. It must have been extraordinary.] As the play progressed the noise increased. Men and women stamped the floor, banged the backs of their seats with their fists, shouted and sang alternately. On the stairs from the stalls a man stood, dramatically addressing no one in particular.

The players courageously went through the whole piece. During this time several arrests were made and the police were kept busy operating between the doors and the hall. Just before the play ended I saw an opportunity to escape and took it. Almost everyone in the row where I had been sitting had vanished. I was able to make a dash for the door at the rear of the pit while the police were busy in the front of the house. My last impression of the scene was the sight of a figure standing on a seat somewhere about the centre of the stalls and the sound of a few bars of God Save the King, which were quickly stifled as someone pulled the singer down.

Amazing. The play continued to be performed, and continued to generate riots and protests, garnering the attention of the world. "What the feck is going on over in Ireland right now? What exactly are they protesting??"

Synge died an early death, in 1909, but he left an indelible mark - not only on Ireland, but on theatre as a whole.

I'll end this ganormous-post now, with a quote from Synge's beautiful book The Aran Islands (and I will post a photo, too, of Synge staring out into the Atlantic, from one of the Aran Islands)

In the following excerpt, he describes leaving the Arans after a couple months' stay ... and returning to the bustle of Galway:

I have come out of an hotel full of tourists and commercial travellers, to stroll along the edge of Galway Bay, and look out in the direction of the islands. The sort of yearning I feel towards those lonely rocks is indescribably acute. This town, that is usually so full of wild human interest, seems in my present mood a tawdry medley of all that is crudest in modern life. The nullity of the rich and the squalor of the poor give me the same pang of wondering disgust; yet the islands are fading already and I can hardly realize that the smell of the seaweed and the drone of the Atlantic are still moving round them.

Happy birthday, JM Synge. We are in your debt.


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Happy birthday ... to the little tramp

Today is the birthday of Charlie Chaplin!


"Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." - Charlie Chaplin

(An incredible quote, huh?)

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The "get over it" crowd

Mitch - a good blog-friend of mine (we will meet some day! Of that I am sure!) has a specTACular piece up right now about conservatives and art. I really can't add anything to it. All I can do is echo his sentiments, and say to him: "Job well done". He explains perfectly (and Mitch and I have discussed this before, in various posts on my blog) what I call the "get over it" mentality of many conservatives, which I share - on some level. HOWEVER: when that "get over it" mentality is applied to art, I lose interest. Completely. If you say "Get over it" to Hamlet, you've got no play. You say "Jesus, dude, get your act together, and stop whining" to Van Gogh, you've got no great paintings. I am more interested in the mess and bother of life, and the art I'm interested in (Dostoevsky is a perfect example) shows people in the middle of crisis - how do they handle grief, rage, sorrow, etc? There's a strain of conservatism that gets impatient with human weakness. Half the blog-posts I read out there (and many of the blog posts I write myself!) link to some human-interest story, and the bloggers comment is: "GET OVER IT." or "STOP WHINING" or "GROW UP". "Pull yourself up by your boot straps." "Don't complain. Just suck it up, and do better next time." Etc. There is a lack of patience with indecision, frailty, weakness. Again: I understand where they're coming from, theoretically, and I feel that way myself at times - but NOT when it comes to the role of art in society. No.

Regardless: I can't say any of this better than Mitch did. Mitch is a cool person, complex, interesting, with a ton of interests. His views towards art are very similar towards mine, and this essay he has written is awesome. Good job, man.

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Cashel's book "on nature and storms"

I was walking across town last night (after attending Jess' 30th birthday party - at a great place called Grass Roots on St. Mark's Place - Fun! Dart boards, creaky wooden floors, an absolutely harassed bartender, and the famous "Hot Bouncer" - it was a great time) and I looked at my phone, saw that I had 1 message. So I called my voice mail.

At first, I didn't understand who was calling me. I thought I heard the word "Brooke" - which is the name of a good friend of mine - but if it was Brooke calling me, then she sounded like she was reaaaalllly upset, or something - the voice was very very small, so maybe she was out of breath? From crying? Or ... oh my God - was Brooke calling me in a state of emergency or something? Then I heard the small voice (which kept talking) say at the very end of the message: "This is Cashel."

At the sound of his name, my heart LEAPT with excitement! I love hearing his voice on the phone. It's so funny. So sweet. His personality is so enormous, but his voice on the phone sounds so teeny. I love him.

As a small update on our writing project (you know - our book on "nature and storms"):

About a week and a half ago, I got started on the book he asked me to write. I bought him two huge books - one on "weather" and one on "nature" - with great pictures of flowing lava, and swirling typhoon clouds, and pictures of cracked desert earth. Cashel's 7, and these books were maybe a bit more advanced, but I think he's ready for it. (After all, he wants me to include "tuberculosis" in the book. I think he can handle conversations about "geology" and water tables.) He can grow into the books. There are maps in the book, and satellite photos, and explanations of how tectonic plates shift ... etc. So I thought these would be good books for him to have. Not just for our project, but in general.

I also did my first illustration for the book. Or maybe it's the cover art. We'll see. It was so fun - I set up my watercolors in the kitchen, and did some sketches, and then went to town. The painting is of a small blonde boy standing in the foreground, staring at a massive lightning storm going on in the distance. The sky is a swirling purply black, and the lightning gleams out white.

I put all of this in a package and sent it off to him. With a note from his Auntie Sheila. (I hope even when he's 18, he still calls me "Auntie Sheila".)

I didn't hear anything for a bit, but then my mother told me that she talked to Maria for awhile and the package did, indeed, arrive. (It's the giving of gifts that is really THE thing in life. I was as excited as a little kid to put this package in the mail to my wee nephew.) Cashel was very excited, and was poring over one of the books, and apparently he started looking at a map - maybe of Australia? And he noticed on the map that there was something called "Fraser Island", and this excited him SO MUCH because his best friend down the street is named "Fraser". He took "the book from Auntie Sheila" and ran down to Fraser's house - SO EXCITED to show his friend that there was an island named after him.

Why does this bring tears to my eyes?

It's just so sweet. I love him, that's all.

So last night came the "thank you" call, which, sadly, I missed. I have already listened to it three times. It's so adorable.

Here's what I hear - the undercurrent of it, I mean:

Obviously, he didn't just pick up the phone and dial my number himself. Maria said, "Okay, let's call Auntie Sheila and thank her for the gifts." So he was pretty much obeying orders at the beginning of the call. Maria probably said: "Just tell her it was really nice of her, and thank her for the book."

So the BEGINNING of the message is a bit rote, he's just saying his lines (and this is why he didn't tell me who he was until the END of the message - because he basically just launched into his pre-planned script immediately - Maria hadn't said to him: "Say to her, Hi Auntie Sheila, this is Cashel..." ). But THEN ... after he gets the script out of the way, he can't help but add his own sentiments. I can hear the change in his voice when that happens.

The message goes something like: "Thank you for the books, Auntie Sheila. It was very nice of you." (this is obviously the script part. Then comes...a change of tone.) "The books are ... reaaallly cool. Really cool." (haha So cute. ) Then he says: "Oh. This is Cashel. Bye." And he hangs up.

This was the best. phone message. EVER.

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April 15, 2005

Happy update

I now have internet access at home. Problems resolved through the intercession (at long last) of an absolutely amazing tech-support guy named John. Truly, this guy was DEDICATED. He gave me his direct line if I had any further problems. Amazing.

I was out last night, and he left a message on my home machine, saying, "Please let me know if you had any problems uploading that program I told you about today..." Maybe this is good customer support and all, but I had had a helluva week in terms of getting anyone to help me, being transferred from Bangladesh to Ottawa ... so his dedication was truly something.

He was so CALM, and so PATIENT, and also: CLEAR-HEADED. That was what I found comforting. He listened, he really listened to me (and by the time I got to him, I was pretty much beside myself with frustration) ... but he listened through that, and I explained to him the issues ... etc.

I still can hardly believe it. Internet access now seems a very very fragile thing that must never be taken for granted.

Thank you, John. Whoever you are. I wish I could send you a card.

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Diary Friday

This is another repeat (sorry) - I am printing it in honor of one of the co-stars of the entry, my dear friend Ann Marie. It was just her birthday (and I missed it - sorry!!!) - so here, for her, is one of the MANY favorite memories I share with her. Honestly, it is difficult to choose. I met Ann Marie in 1992, and we pretty much became soul-sisters almost immediately. We HAD to be friends. The insanity she and I reached is mythical to this day. The stories are many. Maybe someday, just for amusement, I will list some of them. Analyzing the light through a window ("Hm, that looks like it was accidentally left on after he went to sleep ...") is just one example.

And speaking of memories I would like to take with me when I die, the entirety of one specific autumn would have to be on that list. Specifically, October and November. AS it was happening, Ann and I knew it was amazing, and we referred to it as "the magic time". NOT in retrospect, I want to make that clear. In the middle of those two months, we kept saying, "This is the Magic Time". One of those weird times in life when you are fully aware of how amazing and exciting life is. She and I were on an enormous adventure.

She's a dear friend, one of the funniest and warmest people I know ... and so here, for your enjoyment (and probably bafflement ... because if there is one word to describe "the magic time", besides "magic" that is, it is "manic".) But in a good way, not a self-destructive or bad way.

Our friendship exploded, we had romances going on (mine with a guy I call Max in this entry - he was a really important person in my life), and everything was humorous, fun, and unexpected.

We begin on a snowy evening in November. We begin with "Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack." Follow us, if you dare.


Ann Marie and I had an adventure. Casey (one of Ann's friends from work) won a party at the Beaumont. Ann was invited and so was I, by association. We both felt out of it but we decided to go.

There was a major snowfall. We drove around looking for parking for 45 MINUTES.

The bar was jam-packed for the first Bulls game. Everyone was shrieking, "4-PEAT! 4-PEAT!" People, it's the first game! Stop re-hashing the future! Can you let the season happen, please?

Ann's British friend Trevor stood at the bar, the whole place erupting into insanity over some play or other, and Trevor yelled at the top of his lungs in his British accent, "GOD BLESS AMERICA!" This made Ann and I laugh very hard.

Ann Marie and I were so into each other that we found it difficult to be social with others. We were pretending to be gorillas, picking bugs off of each other and then eating them. We began discussing patty cake games, and of course we had to try them out and see what we remembered.

And that was that. We patty caked FOREVER. Ann Marie literally had bruises on her hands the next day.

We lost the words in the middle of Miss Mary Mack – at the same time – a big blank overcame the both of us at the same time. But we got Coke and a Smile down to perfection. We couldn't stop. People kept craning their necks over to look, because it sounded like some kind of fight was going on with all that slapping.

Ann Marie said, totally business-like, "I'll call my sister tonight for those Miss Mary Mack words." Then she had to stop herself and say, "Ann Marie, what are you talking about?"

Finally we left, having made a spectacle of ourselves as always.

Big beautiful snowstorm.

Then came a once-in-a-lifetime event: There was a bouncer at the door. Very chunky, no neck, flat top, He-Man Action Figure. He spoke to us and Ann and I were both immediately aloof.

"Hey, what was that hand thing you girls was doin'?"

Hand thing? Believe it or not, we didn't know what he was talking about. We looked at each other, confused, and he went on, imitating our patty-caking, "You know!"

Light dawned on us. "Oh! That!"

Ann confessed to this person, this stranger, "We can't remember the words to Miss Mary Mack though."

He said, "I do!"

So … he sang the words for us (with gusto too) and Ann and I patty-caked to his accompaniment. We made him do it 6 times.

It was so wonderful, so hilarious, so joyful: the snow coming down, our hands stinging, tears of laughter in our eyes, patty-caking on the sidewalk with his tough-guy voice singing:

"Miss Mary Mack Mack Mack
All dressed in black black black
With silver buttons buttons buttons
All down her back back back"

He kind of bounced up and down as he sang, too. I will never forget it! Totally classic!

"I hate to ask you this," Ann or I would say to him, breathless, "but could you do that one more time?"

All of his friends walked by during this insane time, and made fun of him mercilessly, but we couldn't stop. I felt that if we didn't keep going the spell would be broken, and Ann and I would be dressed in rags, and the bouncer would turn into a pumpkin or a mouse.

Finally we left, calling good-bye to our momentary soulmate joyously. It made us both so HIGH. We raved about it the whole way home.

And Jim arrived from London yesterday. He's staying with me and Mitchell.

Ann, Mitchell and I dragged Jim and his jet lag along to go see Pat. Ann and I are getting so juvenile and it's got to stop. We decided to "go glam", so she came over to primp with me. She had on this navy blue flowing thing with brass buttons (just like my eggplant flowing thing). I had on this long green blazer and flowing pants.

We were scurrying about like lunatics.

Jim and Mitchell were down the hall in Mitchell's room talking, but also listening to our girly blither from the bathroom. Mitchell informed Jim bluntly, "They're 7."

And at that moment, as if on cue, came the sounds of Miss Mary Mack from the living room.

We headed to Lounge Ax.

Jim was in some kind of Zen state. He said later that sitting in that bar, watching Pat and the cultish audience was unbelievable. "It was like Pat McCurdy was some kind of god."

Now, let me just tell two separate things that Pat said last night (I am so insane):

1. He began work on the new CD which will be called "Show Tunes". He announced to the audience in this monolithic voice, "There WILL be a duet on my new CD."

2. He also said, during the show, "Hey, you wanna hear a song I wrote last week? It's not finished yet." He began it and – for some reason – I thought: I wonder if this is the duet I'll be singing with him on his new CD. I took this HUGE LEAP in my brain that – the "duet" he mentioned was obviously gonna be with me – So suddenly I assumed that I would be singing on the CD and then I assumed that it would be this particular song. I know it sounds crazy – but actually, as it turns out, I'm not crazy at all. I have frighteningly good instincts, that's all.

Here's the latest: I WILL be appearing on Pat's new CD, and it WILL be that "song he wrote last week". So … maybe I'm not crazy.

Speaking of crazy, Ann and I basically stormed the stage to perform Coke and a Smile for all. Pat said, as we got up there, "These two met at one of my shows … and will soon be wed." He loves us.

Later on, Mitchell came back from the bathroom and said, "Max is here." He showed! I did not think he would! I was very happy.

The new thing Ann Marie and I say all the time is, "My heart cracks with love." So I heard that Max had showed up looking for me, and my heart cracked with love.

I'm a lunatic.

I went out to find Max and we hugged hello (a new development). Within two seconds, we were talking about his new apartment, his first apartment. I asked him how things were going. He conferred with me about how he cleaned out his coffee pot with vinegar: "You know how they tell you you're supposed to do that?" (Another heart-crack moment). He said the coffee still tasted like vinegar. "Is that supposed to happen? Will it go away?"

Me: How is your utensil situation?
Max: We have one pan.
Me: Really. No pots? I would need at least one pot to cook my pasta.
Max: We have one pan. The other day I fried an egg.

He kills me.

He makes fun of how I insist of finding coincidences all about me. I'll say to him, "God, isn't that so weird?? What do you think it MEANS??" and he responds flatly, "Sheer coincidence."

I told this to Ann Marie, and she said, "Thanks for the magic, Max."

So I said something to him, at Lounge Ax, about this "weird coincidence", and I started blithering in his face, wondering what it all meant – and he launched into this monologue about our mass-media instant-information society and how we are all bombarded with identical images, so that the chances for global "coincidences" skyrocket.

He really shot me down. Laughing in my face.

The night ended in a whirl of chaos. People swirled by and around us. Jim and Mitchell went home. There were group plans to hit the Emerald Queen.

(Ed: A bit of background: There was a nearby bar called "The Everleigh Club". The tradition was this: we would all go "to Pat", and then go over to The Everleigh Club. I had told Max this, when he started joining me "at Pat", "So after the show, what we all do is, we go over to The Everleigh Club." One night, wondering what was going to happen next, Max said to me, totally seriously, "So … now we go over to The Emerald Queen?" The EMERALD QUEEN. It immediately became folklore.)

Everyone calls it The Emerald Queen now. Rick goes to me, casually, as he passed by, "Meet us at The Emerald Queen, okay?"

Max wanted to finish his beer, so we decided to hang out for a bit and meet everyone over there. We sat at the bar talking about frying pans and velociraptors.

Pat came up from downstairs and came over to me. Said to me, "I have to talk to you."


"I have something to show you."

"Show me now."

"I can't. I don't have my guitar. Next week. Remind me, cause I might forget, but I really have to talk to you. Okay?"


Then he was gone, and the second he was gone, I blithered in poor Max's bemused face. "Did you hear that?? I think he wrote me a song!! I really think he did! I wouldn't be surprised if I were gonna be on his new CD!!"

"You are not gonna be on his CD." Total scorn from Max.

"I am too. I can feel it, Max. I can just feel it."

"You are NOT gonna be on his new CD."

"I am TOO."

(Ed: I was right. On all counts. Pat needed to talk to me about a new song he had written, which he wanted to record with me. I appear on the Show Tunes CD, in a duet with Pat McCurdy, entitled: "You and I Are Just About to Fall in Love".)

Max finally said, to shut me up, "I'm gonna be on Pat's new CD." This made me laugh, so he kept going. "I am all over Pat's new CD."

When Max is with me, his goal in life is to make me laugh. Whatever it takes.

Like Pat was nearby, talking to someone else, and Max would pretend to respond to a wave from Pat, ultra blasι, and say, "Hey, Pat, how's it goin', man…" – Meanwhile, Pat is totally not paying attention, so Max ended up looking like a pathetic loser, waving at someone who had no idea he existed. I was crying with laughter.

Max and I emerged onto empty Lincoln Avenue, and then walked over to The Emerald Queen. When we entered, the throngs hailed us. The JFK Jr. look-alike was working. He loves me. He loves Max (they used to bartend together.)

Max and I were ensconced in a corner at the bar, talking about the things we talk about.

I kept calling him a dirigible. I couldn't stop myself.

"Well, just think of yourself as a dirigible, Max … That is who you are to me. A total and complete dirigible."

The man should get a medal for dealing with me. But he loves it.

He said to me, "You're a different girl from the one I met a year ago."

"I am?"



"The girl back then was much shyer than the girl now."

Max played pinball and as Ann left, she swarmed about him, teasing him, "I am in your life! I am in your life!" Max always responds to this by yelling, "You are not in my life!" He resists permanence.

Max had to get up early because his mother was coming over with a coffee table, that he raved about to me. He explained the coffee table to me in intimate detail. It was literally a 30-minute monologue (I am not exaggerating) about the new coffee table.

My heart cracks, repeatedly, with love.

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Weekend survey ...

From Right Thinking Girl:

1. Free associate these:

a. Celebrity stalkers

David Letterman coming home and finding some strange woman sitting in his house

b. South African diamonds

Nelson Denoon

c. Aeroflot stewardesses


d. Bazooka gum


e. Suburbia

Parker Posey

2. True or false: the Tinsley/MacStansbury hookup is the most surprising event since the RTG/Z pregnancy.

Tinsley? MacStansbury? Who?

3. Do you think that America is ready for (ie, "will elect") a female president? How about a Black president? Which do you think will happen first?

Sure, America is ready. For both.

4. George Clooney is to Free Health Care as _____ is to RTG.


5. The following list contains issues that are facing America today. Please prioritize them from Most Important to Least Important:

j. RTG's pregnancy
a. War on Terror
g. Illegal immigration
c. Poverty
f. National deficit
h. School voucher programs
i. Social Security reform
d. Judicial filibusters
e. Right to Die
b. Drug absuse

6. What are you doing this weekend?

My sister and her boyfriend are coming down tomorrow. We're all having dinner out at my sister Siobhan's apartment - very excited about that. Sunday, I'm attending a seder at the house of a great friend of mine. I also have to make about 20 phone calls and get back in touch with a bunch of people.

7. If you found out you had six months to live, how would you spend your time?

I'd probably spend it in Rhode Island, with my family and friends. I'd go to the beach, go to the Ocean Mist, go to all my old haunts, hang out on my friend Beth's deck, talk with my parents ... and I'd have to have some really good quality time with Cashel, too. Maybe we could color, or play with Legos, or work on our book. I would make sure we finished the book.

8. What memories do you want to take with you when you die?

Here's a good list. I will continue to add to this one, hopefully. Lots of good memories to come.

9. When you were a kid, did you dream about your wedding day?

No. The wedding-day dreams came much later, when I was in my 20s, watching my friends get married. That's when I started thinking about what I wanted, and how I would want that day to go. But when I was a kid? No. I was too busy playing Land of the Lost in the woods with my friends, and ignoring the call from my mom to come in to dinner.

10. Name five items that you can't live without.

-- a tiny piece of beach glass given to me by ....
-- my Cary Grant video collection
-- my Riverside Shakespeare
-- this is so goofy, but my tape of the HBO documentary Do You Believe in Miracles, about the 1980 Olympic hockey team.
-- my Converse hightops

11. What's your theme song?

Nobody's Girl, Bonnie Raitt


Oops, I did it again, by Mrs. Federline

(heh. I'm actually quite serious. When I first heard that first song, I felt like: Ms. Raitt - have you been reading my journal??)

12. If you had a thousand extra bucks this month, what would you do with it?

Probably clothes and shoes. I'd also get a massage and a facial. Oh and what the hell - I'd buy about 40 books, too.

13. Mountains or ocean?


14. Favorite kind of pie?

I'm not really a pie kind of girl

15. What's your favorite song right now?

Somebody to Love, by Queen

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (4)

The Federal Convention

Nobody went into the "Constitutional Convention" calling it the "Constitutional Convention". For the most part (except for maybe Madison, Hamilton, and Washington who pretty much wanted to create a strong "energetic" national government from the getgo) they were all there to battle over the deficiencies of the Articles of Confederation. They were all big on "sovereignty" - that word comes up a lot. Each state being "sovereign" - blah blah. A strong government was a dirty word (small wonder - look at the system they had all just fought to escape). Here is a really interesting excerpt from Miracle at Philadelphia about what made the Convention in 1787 different from the Convention in 1776 when they decided to declare their independence. I mean, the difference is obvious in the externals, but Catherine Drinker-Bowen (the author) describes a philosophical differnce:

Characteristically, the Convention never stayed long upon theory. Its business was not to defend "freedom" or to vindicate a revolution. That had been done long ago, in July of 1776 and later, when colony after colony created its state constitution, flinging out its particular preamble of political and religious freedom. The Convention of 1787 would debate the rights of states, not the rights of man in general. The records show nothing grandly declaratory or defiant, as in the French constituent assembly of 1789. America had passed that phase; had anyone challenged members, they would have said such declarations are already cemented with their blood. In 1787 the states sat not to justify the term United States but to institute a working government for those United States. One finds no quotations from Rousseau, John Locke, Burlamaqui or the French philosophes, and if Montesquieu is invoked it is deffend the practical organization of a tripartite government. When the Federal Convention discussed political power, governmental authority, they discussed it in terms of what was likely to happen to Delaware or Pennsylvania , New Jersey or Georgia.

Most members of the Philadelphia Convention, in short, were old hands, politicians to the bone. That some of them happened also to be men of vision, educated in law and the science of government, did not distract them from the matters impending. There was a minimum of oratory or showing off. Each time a member seemed about to soar into the empyrean of social theory -- the eighteenth century called it "reason" -- somebody brought him round, and shortly. "Experience must be our only guide," said John Dickinson of Delaware. "Reason may mislead us."

The practical matter of how the national legislature should be elected was to take up half the summer. Roger Sherman of Connecticut, on May thirty-first, declared the people "should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled." Elbridge Gerry, man of business affairs and money, agreed. "The evils we experience," he said, "flow from the excess of democrazy. The people do not want virtue, but are the dupes of pretended patriots." There is small doubt that Gerry's mind turned as he said it to Captain Shays and his band of debt-ridden farmers, breaking up the meetings of county law courts and demanding "reforms" in the legislature. That the farmers had been badly treated did not enter into Gerry's philosophy. To this Boston merchant a mob was a mob. And were men of this stamp to be permitted authority in government?

Elbridge Gerry, friend of Samuel Adams, was one of the"old patriots"; he had signed the Declaration of Independence. Yet to the members of the Federal Convention the word democracy carried another meaning than it does today. Democrazy signified anarchy; demos was not the people but the mob. When Paterson of New Jersey said "the democratic spirit beats high," it was meant in derogation, not in praise. Again and again we meet these phrases: if aristocracy was "baleful" and "baneful," unchecked democracy was equally to be shunned. Edmund Randolph desired, he said, "to restrain the fury of democracy," and spoke also of "the democratic licentiousness of the State legislatures."

Gerry went on with his speech. "I am still republican," he said. "But I have been taught by experience the danger of the levelling spirit."

Drinker-Bowen's comment that there was "little oratory or showing off" reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from John Adams. He wrote home to his wife, Abigail, during the first Continental Congress, in 1774, and here is what he had to say:

This assembly is like no other that ever existed. Every man in it is a great man -- an orator, a critic, a statesman, and therefore every man upon every question must show his oratory, his criticism, his political abilities. The consequence of this is that business is drawn and spun out to immeasurable length. I believe if it was moved and seconded that we should come to a resolution that three and two make five, we should be entertained with logic and rhetoric, law, history, politics, and mathematics concerning the subject for two whole days, and then we should pass the resolution unanimously in the affirmative.

ha ha ha

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

April 14, 2005

Great expectations

I am re-reading Great Expectations at the moment and am having such a good time with it that I never want it to end. Not only is it mysterious, and interesting ... but some of his descriptions just ... I GUFFAW. I love the "voice" of Pip.

There's one long section when Mr. Pocket (the "pale young gentleman" Pip beat up for no reason at the Havisham's) and he are having dinner in London, and Mr. Pocket tells Pip the story of why M. Havisham is such a lunatic. But through the whole story, he ALSO is kindly correcting Pip's table manners. He doesn't do so in a judging or condescending way, he has no desire to make Pip feel bad. No. He is just trying to be helpful. BUT - it's all part of the same narrative. Like: "And so then, on the morning of her wedding day, just as the clock struck quarter past nine -- It is certainly not necessary to tip the glass all the way back so that you get every last drop down your throat." Pip then apologizes. Mr. Pocket says, "Not at all..." and goes on with his story. But it's just HOW Dickens does this ... it's feckin' hilarious. I was howling. And you get this mental image of Pip's awful table manners and fidgety posture ... it's hysterical. But it's not just the situation - it's how Dickens tells it. He doesn't ever have Pip tell us what he's doing. He never has Pip say: "And so then I ate my peas with my knife, not realizing it was a faux pas." All of this is going on without Pip telling us of it - because he's the narrator. That's why it's so funny. At one point, apparently, Pip is trying to stuff his entire dinner napkin into his empty tumbler. That's the one that really killed me. Like: Pip - what on earth is the purpose of that??? On and on goes Mr. Pocket's narrative about M. Havisham, and then, with no interruption, he says: "I honestly do not believe that dinner napkins were meant to be stuffed into tumblers." Pip apologizes, embarrassed. Mr. Pocket says, "Oh, not at all" and goes on with his story.

It's RIDICULOUS, and kind of slapstick, and I am loving every stinking minute of it.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

April 13, 2005

Washington's head

Here's an article analyzing George Washington's head, via the Jean-Antoine Houdon bust. It's a famous bust - Houdon poured plaster over Washington's head - and I believe he had a bit of a dodgy time getting the dern stuff off of the father of our country ... [ Update: or maybe that was Jefferson - Yeah, that's right. It was Jefferson who had a really bad experience with a plaster-cast at the end of his life. Sorry, wrong Founding Father. It's an awful story - Jefferson really panicked, the plaster hardened, and the artist had to conk him about the head and face with a hammer, in order to crack the hardened plaster. Jefferson thought he would suffocate, and was pretty shook up for a couple of months afterwards. He wrote about it in a letter to Adams. Sorry - it was haunting me for a bit: Was it George or Jefferson that happened to???]

But back to George! Here's the bust:


Using this bust, they're somehow trying to recreate what Washington really looked like. All of this is in preparation for an upcoming Washington exhibit at Mount Vernon, which will be called "The Real Washington".

But what I found really interesting, because of the synchronicity, was that just this morning, I read in Miracle at Philadelphia the following section about Washington (and there's a quote specifically about his head):

On the twenty-fifth of May, when a quorum was obtained, Washington was unanimously elected president of the Convention and escorted to the chair. From his desk on the raised dais he made a little speech of acceptance, depreciating his ability to give satisfaction in a scene so novel. "When seated," wrote a member, "he declared that as he never had been in such a situation he felt himself embarrassed, that he hoped his errors, as they would be unintentional, would be excused. He lamented his want of qualifications."

There is something touching in the way Washington always lamented his want of qualifications and called on God to help, whether it was a nomination as Commander in Chief of the army, as president of the Federal Convention or as President of the United States. One feels he meant it, this was not false modesty. To his colleagues it must have been reassuring. Washington was everywhere known as "the greatest character in America" -- a man of prestige, with a landed estate and a magnificent physical appearance. An English traveler, impressed, wrote a detailed account, beginning with the General's commanding height and going on to say that "his chest is full and his limbs, though rather slender, well shaped and muscular. His head is small ... his eyes are of a light grey color ... and, in proportion to the length of his face, his nose is long. Mr. Stewart, the eminent portrait painter, told me there are features in his face totally different from those he had observed in that of any human being. The sockets of the eyes, for instance, are larger than what he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose broader. All his features ... were indicative of the strongest passions, and had he been born in the forest ... he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes."

A person of such passions had need of control. "This Vesuvius of a man," the biographer Beveridge has called him. Washington's self-discipline is legendary, as is his anger when aroused. Officers who served under him in the war testified they had never seen him smile, that his countenance held something austere and his manners were uncommonly reserved.

An interesting coincidence, huh? Some random project going on right now to determine the size and shape of George Washington's head, and I read that this morning.

Two tangential things:

-- "Mr. Stewart" is, of course, the portrait painter Gilbert Stuart (nice bio of him here). He did quite a few portraits of Washington, and here is one you will probably recognize:


There are many more, though - he became known for his portraits of all "those guys".

Stuart was born a town over from where I grew up in Rhode Island - born in 1755, and field trips to his birthplace were par for the course throughout school. If you're ever driving through Rhode Island, by the way, his birthplace is quite nice, and very accessible. It's right off the highway - there are signs from Route 1 telling you where to go. I remember that he had constructed a clock, making it himself - somehow - using paintbrushes as the hands of the clock.

-- Every time I hear about Washington's "uncommon reserve" (and the record is FULL of such mentions ... apparently, his manners were just a wee bit glacial - and ALWAYS formal - except when he got enraged, and then he went batshit. If he was pissed off or frustrated, he had no problem with chewing someone - or all of Congress for that matter - out.) But anyway: I hear about his "reserve" and I can't help but remember the anecdote about Alexander Hamilton: There was some party (dodgy on the details, forgive - maybe one of you will remember) - Anyway, a large gathering of all the main characters of the American Revolution. It was a party, though, not a business gathering. So there was liquor flowing, and a bit more of a free atmosphere. George Washington, however, remained - as always - perfectly correct. His correct-ness was interpreted by many as coldness. You couldn't warm up to the guy, you could never just hang out with George. His sense of propriety would not allow it. So Alexander Hamilton, yukking it up in the corner (troublemaker!!) with a couple other fellows, dared one of them to walk up to Washington, throw his arm around him, and say, "Hello, George!" Not "General Washington", not "Mr. Washington" - but "George". This was an unthinkable prospect (which goes to show you the effect Washington's reserve had on others - People couldn't even imagine what would happen if anyone acted in a familiar way with him). Hamilton goaded this one particular gentleman, "I dare you, I dare you to go do it ... I dare you" until finally the guy caved, and did it. While Hamilton watched from across the room, laughing hysterically. Washington was never rude, just always distant and chill. And this poor guy threw his arm around him and called him "George!" in a buddy-buddy way and Washington just would not have any of it. I think the gentleman in question never forgave himself for insulting George Washington, but I may be making up that part of the story.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (9)

"The Old Pilot"

I found a beautiful little poem on the NPR Writers Almanac page (love. love. love. that page).

The poem for today is called "The Old Pilot", and it's by Donald Hall (read more here about the long life of this incredible poet).

"The Old Pilot" plays out like a small movie in my mind, I can smell it - see it - hear it - and it's also like a film in that it has an interesting character at the center of it (the "old pilot" - who is he? What was his life?) There's such detail (broken glass over the instruments, a biplane standing in the weeds - beautiful imagery) ... it made me think of one of my favorite movies, Only Angels Have Wings (and how that movie, while - sure - a Hollywood movie with actors, etc. - actually made you smell the grease, the oil, the gasoline ... you could smell the cigarette smoke in that canteen, you could feel the mugginess of that foggy night ... It made those days of flying seem intimately real in a sensory way. You are inside the movie, instead of an observer, if that makes sense.)

Anyway, enjoy this mini-movie about an "old pilot"

The Old Pilot
He discovers himself on an old airfield.
He thinks he was there before,
but rain has washed out the lettering of a sign.
A single biplane, all struts and wires,
stands in the long grass and wildflowers.
He pulls himself into the narrow cockpit
although his muscles are stiff
and sits like an egg in a nest of canvas.
He sees that the machine gun has rusted.
The glass over the instruments
has broken, and the red arrows are gone
from his gas gauge and his altimeter.
When he looks up, his propeller is turning,
although no one was there to snap it.
He lets out the throttle. The engine catches
and the propeller spins into the wind.
He bumps over holes in the grass,
and he remembers to pull back on the stick.
He rises from the land in a high bounce
which gets higher, and suddenly he is flying again.
He feels the old fear, and rising over the fields
the old gratitude. In the distance, circling
in a beam of late sun like birds migrating,
there are the wings of a thousand biplanes.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (8)

Happy birthday, Seamus!

It's the birthday of Nobel Laureate Mr. Seamus Heaney!


I went to hear him read at NYU a couple of years ago, and it was so much fun. Who knew a poetry reading could be such a humorous event? We sat in the auditorium at NYU, and the laughter never stopped - it was completely due to his own commentary, his own way. He recited his own poems with no notes, no papers, all memorized, the beautiful lilt of his voice ... and after he finished reciting one of his poems, he would immediately start to talk about it, in the most prosaic and amusing way. This is not a man precious with his art, although he most certainly takes it very very seriously. But his personality was what impressed itself upon me. I could fall in love with such a man.

And so, it is his birthday today. For more information on this amazing artist, check out his biography here (that's on the Nobel Prize site). He won the Nobel Prize in 1995.

His Nobel lecture (also included in his book The Redress of Poetry - thanks, peteb!!) is astonishing. It's quite long, but so worth it. I read it years ago, and immediately had to print it out to put into my 'commonplace book'. It's beautiful, heartfelt, political, and evocative.

I was brought up with Seamus Heaney's poems. My dad loves his work, and has for years. I remember Jean and I returning from Ireland (this was in the late 1990s) and telling my dad about our stop at Clonmacnoise. We had pulled off the highway on our way to Galway to walk around Clonmacnoise, and it was great because it was November, so nobody was there, and we shared memories of our first time there, when we all were kids. Anyway, the moment Jean and I said the word "Clonmacnoise" to my dad, my dad stood up, walked over to the bookshelf, pulled down a book and read out loud Seamus Heaney's goosebump-inducing poem about the legend of Clonmacnoise (I love this poem, and whenever I read it silently, I somehow hear it in my dad's voice):

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
'This man can't bear our life here and will drown,'

The abbot said, 'unless we help him.' So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Ahhh. God, it never fails to get me. "Out of the marvellous as he had known it." A strangely sad poem. At least I find it sad. I have had my own experiences of "climbing back out of the marvellous" and it's always a bit sad.

(I wrote about the Clonmacnoise legend a bit here. But the poem pretty much tells the whole story. I'll just repeat what I said before: for me, the entirety of Seamus Heaney's power and magic as a poet is in the last line of that poem. It's simply breathtaking.)

And lastly, I am going to post his poem "Digging". It is one of his earlier efforts, but he refers to it often as the moment he really became a poet. I wish I had the essay he wrote on this poem at hand, but I do not. The subject of the poem is a cliche: Son will choose a different path from father - perhaps this choice will not be understood - but son knows he must go his own way.

Cliche? Sure. But oh, what a lovely and moving poem it is. Yes, Mr. Heaney, you do dig with your pen. You do. And for that I am very grateful.


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground.
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (5)

The Soothing "miracle" at Philadelphia

Obviously I'm really upset right now. To the point where I am finding it hard to even think straight. I want to wave a magic wand over my computer, and have it all be well again.

So what do I do when I feel this way? I find comfort any way I can.

Right now, I'm reading with GREAT enjoyment Catherine Drinker-Bowen's classic Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May - September 1787. Ahhhh. Now I read her spectacular book John Adams and the American Revolution (my dad loved this book, and passed on that love to me.) I had never read Miracle though, so I am having a blast. A total BLAST.

It is the story of the Constitutional Convention - from start to finish, day to day. You do get brief backgrounds on the Articles of Confederation, etc., but primarily - it is the story of those months, hashing out the constitution, bit by bit by bit. She tells us when each delegate arrived, and how they arrived ... where did they stay, what did they all do for entertainment ... how did they regard one another? Pieced together through letters, journals, and (primarily) James Madison's scrupulous notes (how he managed to keep such detailed notes, as well as making speeches, and paying close attention so he could report it all to Jefferson - is another miracle. More evidence of the unbelievably cool and logical mind of this extraordinary gentleman) ... anyway, she has pieced them together and writes the book like a novel. You feel that you are in those rooms. You feel the stifling heat, the mugginess, you see the green baize tables ... It's a wonderful book, rightly called a classic.

I'm finding it reaaallllly comforting to read right now. In my unbelievable stress.

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Let me rant my frustration. I got internet hookup on Sunday. Within 3 hours, something funky was happening with my computer ... random hourglasses, random freezing up of screen whenever I tried to do anything (like delete an email, etc.) I have, since then, spent (this is not a lie) over 6 hours on the phone with various representatives from my computer company as well as my cable company. I am now so frustrated that I am near tears about it. The customer service is actually awesome, I never have to wait ... and we went through this whole rigmarole with re-installing this, taking off that, putting the drivers back on ... yadda yadda, but now, suddenly I cannot get onto the Internet. Someone finally said: "We need to schedule a technician to come out to your house." But ... I have literally been unable to do so because of the loops of their voice mail systems. I keep running into dead ends, and being transferred to the same non-workable area, until I want to tear my hair out. I am beside myself. I am in a fury. I just want the fucking thing fixed, and I am sick of giving my service code, service tag, order number, phone number, as well as case number ... and I am sick of explaining the situation over and over and over to different representatives. Seriously. I started crying this morning.

I have to keep in mind the "more bees with honey" mandate because every time I call the help desk again I want to SCREAM at whoever answers the phone, even though it's not their fault. I have been unfailingly patient, trying to bear up under it, I tell myself "this too shall pass" but I have to be honest. I feel fucking cursed. I am pissed the fuck OFF. 3 hours of Internet hookup and everything goes to hell. This kind of shite always seems to happen to me. You want Internet service? We're gonna put you through HELL before we give it to you!

And it is still unresolved. I cannot take a day off of work to fucking stay on the phone with these people. I don't know what to do.

It will be resolved, but I'll be honest, I feel frazzled, upset, and enraged. One person tells me one thing, then they transfer me to another person, I have to tell the whole story again, and then they tell me aNOTHER thing. My cable company says one thing, the help desk says another ... and I feel like throwing the whole fucking thing out the window.

I just want someone to come to my house and FIX the thing - which is what I keep trying to schedule. I am no longer going to explain the situation to a guy named Mohammed in Bangladesh. I am no longer going to give my case # to some chick sitting in Ottawa. I want a person to come to my house. Is that so wrong???

To add to all of this, last night in a matter of half an hour:

-- my cell phone stopped working. I turned it on, and the display came up - only the display was upside down. And since that moment I can't get a display to show up at all.

-- Randomly, my toaster stopped working. I went to make an English muffin, and I could not make the thing stay down.

-- Also, I was on hold forEVER waiting to schedule a technician to come to my house, yadda yadda, literally I was on hold for 20 minutes. Then, out of NOWHERE, the lights in my main room turned off. Everything went off. My phone is not through the phone jack, but hooked up with the cable line and so suddenly - I lost the connection. I sat in pitch blackness for maybe 30 seconds, and then the lights came on again. Let me say this: This never happens. My lights do not randomly flicker. So now - in the middle of holding, 20 minutes of my life put into that experience - I lose the connection?

After the lights went out, I became convinced that some kind of poltergeist was in my midst, fucking with me. Just for laughs. Now, with my cell phone broken, I am sure that this is the case.

I feel like a lunatic. I'm really upset. Everything is breaking down. All at once. Even just writing this down makes me want to start throwing things. I have had it - but it doesn't MATTER that I've had it. I have got to get this issue with my computer resolved. I have all this research I need to do, at home, stuff I want to look up, etc. My hands are tied. I'm so feckin' mad.

I have no conclusions. Nothing else to say. Except that I am RIPSHIT right now.

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April 12, 2005

Waiting for Guffman lovers ...

... You don't want to miss this post by Alex. That movie is a litmus test of humor. Just like The Office is. If someone says, "Oh my God, have you seen The Office? Is that the funniest thing ever?" - it tells me that on some deep and very important level - I will be able to connect with that person. Same with Guffman and Best in Show. The comedy litmus test. But what I love about Alex's post is her unabashed claim that this will someday be regarded as a classic. I agree. It is the kind of movie people will maintain their affection for over many years. (Same with Spinal Tap, if you think about it.) Beautiful work, Alex.

She also has a post of Guffman photos.

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The missing 727

CW has yet another post on this fascinating topic. He's kind of the go-to guy in this arena and I've pretty much only followed the story through his intermittent posts on it.

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April 11, 2005

Quincy Jones' theory of horizontal money

I thought about this story last night because of Affair to Remember (you know. That I watched last night when it was ON TELEVISION. Anyway.) Quincy Jones and Cary Grant became very very good friends in the last 20 years of Cary Grant's life. Jones said about their friendship:

The upper-class English viewed the lower-class like black people. Cary and I both had an identification with the underdog. My perception is that we could be really open with each other because there was a serious parallel in our experience.

I would add to that - they shared a determination (and obstinacy, almost) to not let their outward circumstances define who they were and what they could do. I love the couple of different stories I've heard about their friendship. They met in 1961, but their friendship didn't really begin until 1965: Here's Quincy Jones telling the story:

I was conducting for Peggy Lee, who introduced me to Grant at Basin Street East. I saw him one other time, at a great party at Peggy's. Tony Bennett sang, then Peggy sang, and then Judy Garland. There were musicians everywhere. It was the kind of house party jam session Peggy was known for.

And then in 1965, Cary said, "Mr. Jones, you probably don't remember that we met, but I'd like you to do my last film." Everybody was retiring. Frank Sinatra, for whom I was also conducting, was in his second retirement. So I didn't believe him.

Cary asked me to meet him at Columbia at two o'clock. It was the most important day of my life. My wife had the car but would return in time to drive me because I don't drive. At a quarter to two I knew she couldn't make it. I jumped in a laundry truck and asked the guy to let me out at the newsstand at the corner before Columbia. He insisted on taking me right there. I kept telling him to let me out. I wore my Italian suit and carried an attache case. Since there was no place to sit down, I stood up. When the guy did a U-turn, he drew the attention of Cary and Sol Siegel, the film's producer. It was so embarrassing to have them see me get out of that truck.

For me, the movie stars at that time were Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, and Katherine Hepburn. I'd learned that behind the reputation is a human being. People have a frequency range of common interests and chemistry. They like each other, tolerate each other, or can't stand each other -- immediately. The connection wtih Cary was instantaneous, starting with the laundry truck.

Ha. I love that story.

Jones and Grant both loved word-games and puns and cleverness with language. Here is Quincy's story of how he introduced Cary Grant to the concept of "horizontal money":

Sometimes I would get into a lot of mixed metaphors. The way I expressed things cracked Cary up because it was so un-British. For instance, I would say, 'I'm getting to the age where I've got to start making some more horizontal money.' He asked me what that meant. I explained, 'Well, when I'm up in the studio conducting, that's vertical money. But when you're at home watching TV and An Affair to Remember comes on, that's horizontal money.' Cary talked about that for years. He told all his friends.
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Oh joy

I am watching Affair to Remember RIGHT NOW. But what is really exciting is that I am watching it ON TELEVISION.

So so happy. It was randomly on, and so I am randomly watching it. And life is a gorgeous adventure.

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Saturday night snapshots ... with some helpful information

-- I met up with Liam and Paul at a bar called The Magician on Rivington Street. I had never been there before, but within 5 minutes it became one of my favorite joints in town. (New York is packed full of bars and clubs, but most of them suck. Or are so pretentious you can barely breathe.) The Magician is an enormous bar, but not alienatingly so. It's candlelit, with a back room... the whole place has a white tile floor, a big neon clock, a polished dark wood bar, a gleaming mirror behind the bar, and film-noir-esque blinds on the windows. You walk in and step into another time (but it's not pretentious, or like a movie set). It really looks like it's from another time, when life was a bit slower, and you had a bit more room in life. Lydia joined us later, after she got off work. It's always good to be with family, to see my family, to connect with them. The night was a real blessing, in that way. Especially because we had been planning this night for 2 months. How rare does that happen, in New York!!! You say, "Oh yeah, we really should do that, that sounds cool" and then you so rarely actually DO that. One of my New Year's resolutions has been to actually DO the things that I say "Ooh, that would be cool" about. (Hence: the Hamilton exhibit, the Diane Arbus exhibit, making sure I saw The Gates, seeing Kathleen Turner in Virginia Woolf, etc. You see there's a theme here, a method to my madness). So. The O'Malley cousins SAID we wanted to do this back at Liam's birthday party ... and whaddya know ... there we were, following through. Sadly, my cousin Kerry could not join us - she was much missed.

-- Doors at Bowery Ballroom opened at 8:30, so we hung out at The Magician for a couple of hours, drinking beer, catching up. Marveling at how much the city can change in a matter of days - suddenly it's springtime weather, the days are a bit longer, and now the streets are clogged with people. You can feel it in the air, the change-over of seasons. We were on the Lower East Side, and there was a parade of Saturday-night traffic strolling by, people with jackets over their shoulders, wearing short skirts, flip-flops ... a visible and tangible sense of freedom, release from the winter.

-- Many funny stories told. Much laughter round the table.

-- After the Queen show, we reconvened on the sidewalk outside the Ballroom, all blissed OUT. Just raving at each other, "Wasn't it inCREDIBLE?" "God, that was SO. MUCH. FUN." It was about midnight, so we wandered off in an easterly direction, deciding to have another drink somewhere. We didn't know where. We didn't care. There are so many bars down there, all you have to do is walk half a block and you have 6 choices. We ended up finding the funniest randomest place, and hanging out there for about an hour. It had no name - at least no signage, nothing that I could see. It was a hole in the wall. It was PACKED. I said to Lydia, "I have no idea where I am right now but this is great." I can't tell you what street it was on, nothing. We strolled by it, said, "This looks okay" and walked in. Music was blaring, there were ratty old 1950s style tables (not retro-chic either. These tables looked like they actually came out of somebody's grandmother's garage). Chrome and leather ... big long red-leather seats, stuff pasted all over the walls (furry dice, old postcards ... but everything very haphazard and ratty). We drank PBR out of the can (ha!) and played pinball. FUN. Just FUN. I need to figure out just where exactly that place was, because it would definitely be a fun place to re-visit. It was jam-packed, and loud - but not TOO packed, and not TOO loud.

And finally:

-- At around 9:15 or so (earlier in the evening) we left to head to Bowery Ballroom to see the show. And on the way there, some information was passed onto us, which I would like to impart to you. Because: IT'S NOT TOO LATE. IT'S NEVER TOO LATE. We walked across Rivington (I love it down there, it's so grimy, grafitti, huge padlocks on the grilles in front of shops, pitch-black brick walls, random pristine galleries, and teetery tenements ... an odd mix). At one point, we passed a sex shop. None of us noticed it (because you just don't notice those things in New York), but as we strolled by it, Liam noticed a large sign in the window which declared: IT'S ANAL APRIL. Liam stopped us when he saw the sign: "You guys! It's Anal April!" Laughter ... hahaha We all had to see the sign, because it was just so ridiculous. We kept walking, laughing about having a MONTH devoted to "Anal" - and having this be proclaimed with no shame in the window of some dingy sex shop on Rivington Street. I said, "It's Anal April, huh? I better get on the stick!" which, naturally, ushered in a ton of other terrible puns. "I gotta get my ass in gear for Anal April!" "Bottoms up, everyone! It's Anal April!" So, dear readers. Just in case you missed the announcement, just in case you didn't see the full-page ad in the New York Times: Consider yourself enlightened now. You still have a good three weeks to fully celebrate Anal April.

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"I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me ..."

Saturday night I met up with my cousin Liam, his wife Lydia, and Paul - one of Liam's friends - and went to go see the Losers Lounge tribute to Queen at the Bowery Ballroom. I didn't know what to expect, what exactly I was going to see ... Neither did Lydia. We kept joking about it. "Uhm ... what are we doing tonight? What IS this thing??" But once we were there, crammed up in the balcony of the Bowery Ballroom (the thing was sold out - it was AWESOME), we succumbed to the energy. It was one of the funnest most joyous nights in recent memory. That was the word that kept coming up - joy. What it is is: there is a core group of people, a core band. And they do various tribute nights to different artists, and they invite a cornucopia of talent from around New York (singers, performance artists, etc.) to come in and perform the different songs. It's hard to explain ... but we saw, over the night, probably 30 Queen songs performed, with almost as many performers. And let me tell you: this was not amateur night. They were amazing. And everyone was there for the sole reason of celebrating Queen.

It was one of those nights when you are proud and happy to be what I call "an obsessive". There are people out there who don't get obsessed with things, who just don't have that kind of drive, or who think that you should put away "obsessions" in order to be classed an adult. Etc. I actually don't KNOW any of these people, because my friends are all obsessives, too. If something comes along in our lives that shouts at us: "I'M INTERESTING. LEARN MORE ABOUT ME" we say "Yes" with no question.

It's part of the energy of being a "fan". Many people go through their lives without ever being a true and devoted FAN of any one thing (a band, an actor, an author, whatever). I can't imagine NOT having a "fan" personality, since I've always been this way.

What was SO wonderful and SO joyous about Saturday night was that the Bowery Ballroom was sold out with fellow Queen fanatics - an entire ballroom chock-full of obsessives. Happy joyous obsessives. The band themselves were happy joyous obsessives. It was so COOL to be in such a crowd. So much fun. We would hear the opening strains of this or that song, and - as a massive group - burst into cheers. Since we were up in the balcony, we got a good view of what was going on down on the floor, and it was BEAUTIFUL. Throngs of people, swaying, dancing, freaking out, singing at the tops of their lungs ...

It was beautiful. What I liked, too, was that the band didn't "interpret" Queen, or try to put their own stamp on Queen's songs. No. When they played "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", you recognized it. Even down to the guitar solos, etc. It was humble, in a funny way. And respectful. But NOT precious. A fine line. After all, this tribute was to a band named QUEEN, mkay? Subtlety was not their thing. heh So the guest-performers would come out, all dolled up for their songs ... in that high-camp hilarious way that Queen used to do ... and it was a celebration of the kind of music Queen made, and also a celebration of who that band was to all of us. It was awesome.

You could feel the Love in the air. You know? The open-hearted cheering innocent love. A beautiful energy.

We had so. much. fun.

They even did "Flash Gordon" - complete with interjected apocalyptic-sounding lines from the script ("Flash - Flash ... I love you! But we only have 14 hours to save the earth!") And the entire audience screamed those lines along with the performer up on stage. We all know every single song by heart. There was the lead singer in a long red cape, dressed up AS Flash Gordon ... You know that the evening is not overly reverent when they decide to put "Flash feckin' Gordon" on the play list. HA!! This was a night for the FANS.

Another highlight for me was they chose to do "Barcelona", a song Freddie Mercury wrote for the Olympics when they were held in Barcelona. He was (as is probably obvious) greatly influenced by opera, so he wrote a duet for himself and some Italian opera chick - the song was called "Barcelona", and I have it on one of my Greatest Hits albums. There's a full orchestra, the music is bombastic, open ... Mercury is singing HIS way, and opera-chick is singing her way - and the result is pretty much goosebump material. I've always loved it. Mercury was BORN to create shit like that.

So out onto the Bowery Ballroom stage come two people: a curvaceous brunette woman in a red-satin dress, holding a red rose, and a skinny raggedy rocker-boy in blue jeans and a torn-up T-shirt ... to sing the duet. Her soprano busting out the windows, his Robert Plant screeching in counterpoint - the two of them holding hands, and supporting each other, and singing the SHITE out of that song. The place went absolutely MAD. Mad, I tell ya.

So yeah, the night was full of the "hit songs". (I realized, on an even deeper level, just how unbelievable a song is "Somebody to Love". Oh. My. God.) But they also did stuff like "Barcelona", and more obscure stuff - but stuff that those guys up there loved.

And they ended the night with "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions". The entire cavernous space of the Bowery Ballroom was filled with that thumping beat - the audience clapping along thunderously - screaming at the tops of our lungs: "WEEE WILL WEE WILL ROCK YOU ..."

The guest-singer for this one was this guy. (Liam sent me the link today, because we all had been talking about him - "who WAS that guy?" He was just a feckin' rock star is what he was. He wore a silver sleeveless tanktop, tight PINK pants, and big sunglasses. His hair was long. And he sang the CRAP out of those two songs.) I can't even tell you how much we dug him.

We referred to him as "tight pants" afterwards.

"Who the hell was Tight Pants? Wasn't he GREAT?"

His "bio" on that site I linked to says this:

Rene Risque's yearning for experience is fueled by his vast wealth, allowing his whims total license...

To watch him perform is to see a man who is hypnotically sure of his message, however misguided and self-centered it might be.


The guy's entire life is a piece of performance art. I love him.

One of the other performers (who sang "Fat-Bottomed Girls") I actually had met and hung out with before. It took me a while to pinpoint it but once I remembered, it all came back. He was what I referred to as "scruffy Elvis Costello dude" at the Bloomsday celebration I attended last year. A huge group of us sat around outside after the Bloomsday stuff was over, drinking pitchers of beer (we were at the bar called, appropriately, Ulysses), and it was 3 or 4 in the afternoon, we had been doing Bloomsday stuff ALL DAY, as well as drinking ALL DAY, and somehow, someone started singing a song from "Oliver!", which then caught on - until an entire group of us, Irish and Irish-Americans all of us, sang through the entire score of "Oliver!" . Shouting "OOM PAH PAH OOM PAH PAH THAT'S HOW IT GOES ..." etc. etc. etc. We were OUTSIDE. In Wall Street. It was so much fun. So anyway, the guy I mention ("scruffy Elvis Costello dude") acted as our conductor. And there he was on the stage of the Bowery Ballroom, still scruffy, still all in black, with the pale Irish skin, the Elvis Costello glasses, the wacko black hair, singing "Fat Bottomed Girls" - out of his MIND. He's got a Tom Waits kind of voice, and a pleasantly lecherous and humorous personality - so that song was perfect for him!! It was awesome. Ha!! I met that guy!! (He's played in a ton of bands - that link is to his website. Joe Hurley is his name.)

It was a great great night. Liam, Lydia, Paul and I had a blast. So glad we went.

On nights like that, I think to myself: "I would never live anywhere else but New York City". The fact that it was sold out, jam-packed, out-of-control, filled with others who felt like we did about Queen ... that it was a night of innocence and singing-along at the tops of one's lungs (even to Flash Gordon) ... just made me LOVE this city.

Saturday night was a display of all the GOOD things that can be found on this sometimes-hard-and-bitter concrete island.

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Hilarious ...

review of Sahara on the very funny blog Miscellaneous, Etc.

You can read all of his other great 10-minute Reviews here. They're laugh-out-loud funny. Swimfan?? Ha ha).

Some of his choice words on Sahara:

It sounds like I'm being petty and picking on the realism of a popcorn movie, but it's important to understand that when you already know your characters are invincible -- like Indiana Jones or James Bond -- then the excitement comes from putting them in impossible situations and seeing how they get out of them. With Bond, it might be with the help of a totally cool gadget that you were shown at the start of the movie; with Indy, it might be through sheer, hard-assed grit and punching a lot of Nazis right in their faces.

With Dirk Pitt, Matthew McConaughey's character, it appears to be by having a craaaaaaaaazy idea that just might work! every single time.

I also feel completely vindicated by his lackluster response to the lackluster Penelope Cruz. Awesome. Except for her one over-the-top turn in Blow (that was the name of it, I think ... with Johnny Depp), I have been completely underwhelmed by her presence, her performances, her whole thing. And let's not even talk about her incomprehensible English. Cannot understand that chick's speech at ALL. Has anyone even approached her, someone she trusts, and said: "Listen, babe, this is a problem. Here's a book of How-to-Pronunciate-English-Words. You should study it."?? I wish I was her best friend, because I could tell her. I'd set her straight. I'd say, "Pen, I love you. But when you speak, my mind glazes over, because I don't know what. the. HELL. you are saying." (I wish I was best friends with Olivier Martinez too. We could have the same conversation.)

But here's how Mike puts it:

Before I go on, I should like to have a word about Penelope Cruz: Boring. Of the dozen lines of dialogue that she's given, you might think that her character was at some point meant to be plucky, independent, fiesty or something, but since everything is delivered with the same dead-eyed blandess, you're left wondering if she's in the WHO for the free access to morphine. I'm among those who are unconvinced by her sex appeal, given that if you spend any amount of time looking at her, you begin to wonder whether she was actually assembled from spare parts off the set of Latin Lover. I keep waiting to see the charisma and charm that made her the sensation of Latin cinema, and am instead only really fascinated by the raw, unavoidable flatness of her ass.


So, very quickly, you begin to realize that Sahara is going to be a sequence of nutty predicaments and craaaaaaaaaaaaazy ideas meant to get out of them. Depending on your gender, the only real excitement comes from seeing Matthew McConaughey take his shirt off, or wondering how much farther up Penelope Cruz's stupid boring tank top is going to creep up her stupid boring midriff before she'll notice and make the movie even more stupid-boring by pulling it back down again.

Oookaayyyy ... You know, I wasn't gonna go see this movie anyway, but now I REALLY won't go see it. heh heh

Mike's blog is my new addiction. Any blog that has in its heading: "Comedy, by any means necessary" certainly has my vote. A fabulous philosophy. It doesn't matter WHAT you do or HOW you do it, as long as it's funny.

Comedy, by any means necessary! That's my kind of outlook on life.

But anyway: please go read the rest of the review of Sahara.

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April 10, 2005

The end of a book

I finished Middlemarch a couple days ago. My main response is: "Well. Okay. So THAT'S why everybody talks about that book."

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A sense-memory of intense joy

... surges through my heart in a crescendo ... at the mere sound of the HBO theme music.

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I am beside myself with joy

I am watching television RIGHT NOW. I have a remote control. I am watching all the crap I can find. I just watched Project Greenlight and was beyond happy. I watched a bit of April 1865 on the History Channel, and I also watched a bit of While You Were Sleeping on some random movie channel. I actually own that movie already (ahem. I love it. I love Bill Pullman. I love the Chicago setting. I love the whole damn movie.) But it didn't matter that I already own the movie. I watched some of it again because IT WAS ON TELEVISION.

This phase will pass, eventually. But for now? I will babble about what I am watching on television ad nauseum. I love how not used to television I am. It's hilarious. I flip around the channels using the remote and I am happy as can be.

Simple pleasures for simple simple people. I'm glad I'm not complex or deep. How boring that would be.

Okay, gotta go! Gonna catch some of The Outsiders on A & E! Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.

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April 9, 2005

She's a Killah Que--eeeen

Tonight? Going with some cousins to the Bowery Ballroom to see the Losers Lounge tribute to Queen. We have been planning this since our karaoke extravaganza months ago, when Liam and I suddenly started raving about Queen. Enough linkage there for ya?

These Losers Lounge guys sound like a bunch of nuts, and we can't wait to see them. Back by popular demand! They had another "Queen tribute" in February and we all tried to get tickets but it sold out in a matter of moments. So now we have waited, and put off gratification ... but tonight's the night!

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April 8, 2005

Movie quote

"I was fresh off the Destroyer, and all I had was, you know, a dance belt and a tube of Chapstick."

I'm taking off to go see the Red Sox game ... so if you feel like guessing, etc., the answer is in the section below, if you want to peek.

Waiting for Guffman, said by Corky St. Clair. It may not be word for word, mind you ... but the sentence included the words "Destroyer", "dance belt" and "tube of Chapstick". Corky on a Destroyer? With a tube of Chapstick? Trying to make it on Broadway? Genius.

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EM Forster on Dostoevsky and Moby Dick

More from EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. (I introduce what this book is about here.)

Moby Dick is one of the grandest most exciting reading experiences I've ever had. It wasn't like a book at all. It was an experience. The kind of book where you get goosebumps because you can sense you are in the presence of something enormously great, and also ultimately mysterious. It's not a ponderous book at all. It's rollicking, chaotic, it goes here, it goes there, we've got omniscent narrator, we've got first-person ... You just have to SUCCUMB. Because the reward is so damn great.

Anyway, enough ranting. I'm posting this one for Chai-rista, who is in the process of reading it for the first time. I am always thrilled when someone "discovers" that book, so her post excited me.

Forster talks about different elements in novels: story (which is different from plot), people, pattern ... but then he gets into the really good stuff, and talks about "fantasy" and "prophecy".

Here, in brief, is what Forster says about the very rare novels which can be called "prophetic":

With prophecy in the narrow sense of foretelling the future we have no concern, and we have not much concern with it as an appeal for righteousness. What will interest us today -- what we must respond to, for interest now becomes an inappropriate word -- is an accent in the novelist's voice, an accent for which the flutes and saxophones of fantasy may have prepared us. His theme is the universe; he proposes to sing, and the strangeness of song arising in the halls of fiction is bound to give us a shock. How will song combine with the furniture of common sense? we shall ask ourselves, and shall have to answer "not too well": the singer does not always have room for his gestures, the tables and chairs get broken, and the novel through which bardic influence has passed often has a wrecked air, like a drawing-room after an earthquake or a children's party. Readers of DH Lawrence will understand what I mean.

Prophecy -- in our sense -- is a tone of voice. It may imply any of the faiths that have haunted humanity -- Christianity, Buddhism, dualism, Satanism, or the mere raising of human love and hatred to such a power that their normal receptacles no longer contain them: but what particular view of the universe is recommended -- with that we are not directly concerned. It is the implication that signifies and will filter into the turns of the novelist's phrase, and in this lecture, which promises to be so vague and grandiose, we may come nearer than elsewhere to the minutiae of style.

Forster says that the Russians do prophetic novels better than anybody. I cannot say that I disagree. And he theorizes why that this is so, which is a very interesting section of the book. But these lectures have to do with "English" literature, so he can't dwell on the Russians, as much as he obviously wants to. However, he continuously steps back to acknowledge their greatness in these arenas. He does have this to say about Dostoevsky's writing in Brothers Karamazov (a beautiful analysis, just wonderful):

In Dostoevsky the characters and situations always stand for more than themselves; infinity attends them; though yet they remain individuals they expand to embrace it and summon it to embrace them ... Every sentence he writes implies this extension, and the implication is the dominant aspect of his work. He is a great novelist in the ordinary sense -- that is to say his characters have relation to ordinary life and also live in their own surroundings, there are incidents which keep us excited, and so on; he has also the greatness of a prophet, to which our ordinary standards are inapplicable.

Good God, ain't this the truth...More on Dostoevsky and then we'll move to Melville as prophet:

Dostoevsky's characters ask us to share something deeper than their experience. They convey to us a sensation that is partly physical -- the sensation of sinking into a translucent globe and seeing our experience floating far above us on its surface, tiny, remote, yet ours. We have not ceased to be people, we have given nothing up, but "the sea is in the fish and the fish is in the sea".

After all of this, though, here is what Forster says about that great rarity: the prophetic novelist:

So although this lecture is on a genuine aspect of the novel, not a fake aspect, I can only think of four writers to illustrate it -- Dostoevsky, Melville, DH Lawrence, and Emily Bronte.

And here, finally, is what Forster has to say about Moby Dick.

Moby Dick is an easy book, as long as we read it as a yarn or an account of whaling interspersed with snatches of poetry. But as soon as we catch the song in it, it grows difficult and immensely important. Narrowed and hardened into words the spiritual theme of Moby Dick is as follows: a battle against evil conducted too long or in the wrong way. The White Whale is evil, and Captain Ahab is warped by constant pursuit until his knight-errantry turns into revenge. These are words -- a symbol for the book if we want one -- but they do not carry us much further than the acceptance of the book as a yarn -- perhaps they carry us backwards, for they may mislead us into harmonizing the incidents, and so losing their roughness and richness. The idea of a contest we may retain: all action is a battle, the only happiness is peace. But contest between what? We get false if we say that it is between good and evil or between two unreconciled evils. The essential in Moby Dick, its prophetic song, flows athwart the action and the surface morality like an undercurrent. It lies outside words...we cannot catch the words of the song. There has been stress, with intervals: but no explicable solution, certainly no reaching back into universal pity and love; no "Gentlemen, I've had a good dream." [That's from "Brothers K"]

The extraordinary nature of the book appears in two of its early incidents -- the sermon about Jonah and the friendship with Queequeg.

The sermon has nothing to do with Christianity. It asks for endurance or loyalty without hope of reward. The preacher "kneeling in the pulpit's bows, folded his large brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea." Then he works up and up and concludes on a note of joy that is far more terrifying than a menace...

Immediately after the sermon, Ishmael makes a passionate alliance with the cannibal Queequeg, and it looks for a moment that the book is to be a saga of blood-brotherhood. But human relationships mean little to Melville, and after a grotesque and violent entry, Queequeg is almost forgotten. Almost -- not quite...

Moby Dick is full of meanings: its meaning is a different problem. It is wrong to turn the Delight or the coffin into symbols, because even if the symbolism is correct, it silences the book. Nothing can be stated about Moby Dick except that it is a contest. The rest is song.

And when that book was taught to me in high school, with all the "this symbolises this" and "that symbolizes that" - it did, indeed, "silence" the book for me. A brilliant observation. Once I read it in adulthood, it was the SONG that swept me away.

I will never forget reading that book. Ever. It's up there on my top 5 reading-experiences in my lifetime.

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E.M. Forster on Henry James

More from EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. (I introduce what this book is about here.)

Now here's what THRILLED me about this book. It has to do with my enduring hatred of Henry James. EM Forster uses James' novels as examples in his lecture on "patterns". James' novels, of course, fit into highly rigid patterns ... and while EM Forster clearly admires the skill of the writing ... he has a lot of reservations about relying so heavily on patterns.

What thrilled me about this lecture is that it put into words for me just what it is that bothers me about Henry James. (And yes. I have read all his books. I have read them all, and I still think: two thumbs down, baby.) But my analysis of it has been ... well, there's no analysis of it at all. It's primal and unthought out: I can't stand his books, they leave me feeling NOTHING, I don't care for any of the characters ... and ... er ... maybe there's some good writing in there ... but I just never get inside his world. So. I DON'T LIKE HIM.

But in Forster's lecture on James and a novel's pattern - he expresses my reservations perfectly.

I feel vindicated. Read below, if you are interested:

Let us examine at some length another book of the rigid type, a book with a unity, and in this sense an easy book, although it is by Henry James. We shall see in it pattern triumphant, and we shall also be able to see the sacrifices an author must make if he wants his pattern and nothing else to triumph.

Wow. Okay then. Forster then breaks down the plot and pattern of The Ambassadors which, yes, I have read.

The Ambassadors ... is the shape of an hourglass... The plot is elaborate and subtle, and proceeds by action or conversation or meditation through every paragraph. Everything is planned, everything fits; none of the minor characters are just decorative ... they elaborate on the main theme, they work. The final effect is pre-arranged, dawns gradually on the reader, and is completely successful when it comes. Details of intrigue, of the various missions from America, may be forgotten, but the symmetry they have created is enduring.

Plot description follows for many pages. I want to make clear that Forster has great admiration for James' writing. He is quite complimentary here and there. But the books leave him cold. Here is his explanation, finally, why:

The beauty that suffuses The Ambasadors is the reward due to a fine artist for hard work. James knew exactly what he wanted, he pursued the narrow path of aesthetic duty, and success to the full extent of his possibilities has crowned him. The pattern has woven itself with modulation and reservations Anatole France will never attain. Woven itself wonderfully. But at what sacrifice!

So enormous is the sacrifice that many readers cannot get interested in James, although they can follow what he says (his difficulty has been much exaggerated), and can appreciate his effects. They cannot grant his premise, which is that most of human life has to disappear before he can do us a novel.

I almost screamed HURRAY when I read that. That's IT. Yes, I do feel that James' "difficulty has been much exaggerated". I do not find his books "difficult" at all. I find them boring and lifeless. His characters do not make an impression. I do not care, basically. But Forster gets to the heart of it. Yes - I "cannot grant [James'] premise" ... I cannot grant "that most of human life has to disappear" for him to write a good novel.

Forster ends his lecture with this:

The James novels are a unique possession and the reader who cannot accept his premises misses some valuable and exquisite sensations. But I do not want more of his novels, especially when they are written by someone else, just as I do not want the art of Akhenaton to extend into the reign of Tutankhamen.

Thanks, EM. You just made my own feelings clear.

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"I'm hell at whacking"

Okay, let me give this some thought. I got it from Big Dan at Popping Culture.

Here is his topic:
Things I've enjoyed greatly in my life, but never been very good at:

Tap dancing
Complicated card games - anything that involves strategy
Keeping plants alive
Socializing at parties where I don't know that many people
Handling rejection

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My Zoo story

There is an inevitable and eternal cycle to events. So wherever we start is arbitrary, because it will be in the middle, end or beginning of the cycle. Here's where we will start:

-- I declare (as I did somewhere in the wilds of this comments section) that I can't stand going to the zoo. I never have a good time at zoos. Zoos make me depressed. They ALWAYS HAVE, too. So ... I walk out of a zoo, and say firmly: "That's IT. I am NEVER going to the zoo again." I have been saying "I'm never going to the zoo again" since I was 10 years old.

-- Invariably, I cave. Because I need to see animals. I love animals almost more than I love people. I could stand and watch polar bears all day and not yawn ONCE. I would not even have the impulse to yawn. I just love to watch animals doing their thing. So. I cave. I go to the zoo.

-- While at the zoo, I suddenly remember: "THIS is why you hate zoos. Sheila ... they depress you. EVERY TIME. Why do you keep forgetting??"

-- I retain this self-knowledge for a while, I remember that I hate zoos. I am able to resist the call. And so I decline invitations to go to the zoo, I don't take trips by myself to the zoo - No. I am able to say to myself: "Sheila, zoos bum you out. Don't go. You won't have fun. You never do."

-- Invariably, I FORGET this. Because I am dying to see some "wild" animals. I wish I could see giraffes every day. So ... I decide to find a better attitude about zoos ... and I decide to be calm, and rational ... I decide to recite the litany of statements that zoo-lovers have said to me in an endless loop: ("animals are safe in zoos, they don't know any other life than the one in the zoo, stop anthropomorphizing, Sheila ...") ... All of this rationalization works, and I walk through the gates of some random zoo, and within 5 minutes, I think: "THIS is why I hate zoos. Sheila ... what are you, nuts? Why do you keep forgetting??"

-- Repeat cycle ad nauseum.

All of this is brought on by Stephen's latest gorgeous photos of his trip to the zoo. It makes my heart ache to see some animals. Those parrots! That baboon monkey guy with the old man's face. I want to see one!

I can feel the yearning build once again. And so now I know how this all will turn out. Over the next couple of weeks, will come the rationalization phase, where I convince myself that wild animals are happier in zoos than out in the wild. And ... well ... if there HAVE to be zoos ... and if I LOVE animals ... isn't it worth it to feel sad for them a bit, in order to just lay your eyes on them? It will take a couple of weeks, but mark my words: I will eventually talk myself into a trip to the zoo.

Within 5 minutes of entering the zoo, I will be muttering to myself, "Sheila, THIS is why you hate zoos ... Honestly, will you ever learn ...."

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Cary Grant's streetcar

Cary Grant and Peter Bogdonavich were very good friends, despite the age difference, and also their wildly different ways of handling celebrity status.

Cary Grant kept as low a profile as he possibly could, and did his best to avoid scandal and bad publicity. He kept his personal life as hidden as he was able, although inevitably people were interested in his marriages, divorces, etc. But he never saw it as part of being a celebrity that he should open up his personal life to the tabloids.

Peter Bogdonavich, while certainly an incredible director, kind of went off the deep end with how much publicity he got - and he courted it (during his romance to Cybill Shepherd). The two of them in their day were the equivalent of ... oh, Angelina and Brad now. No, that's not a good analogy, because those two seem desperate to hide what is really going on between them. A better analogy still gives me shivers: J-Lo and Ben Affleck. (Actually, J-Lo and anybody would be an appropriate comparison. The chick does not feel that she is alive if she isn't on the covers of magazines). Anyway, the FATIGUE that I experienced (and many of us experienced) during the J-Lo Ben Affleck 'WE'RE IN LOVE' onslaught, was similar to what went on during the Bogdonovich-Shepherd onslaught. Also, Shepherd broke up his marriage (to his long-time creative partner - many people credited much of his success to her - so it wasn't just an anonymous wife he dumped. She was a part of the industry, people knew her, respected her, worked with her ... Bogdonavich made a lot of enemies when he dumped her). So Cybill Shepherd (barely out of her teenage years) had an aura of "the other woman" around her through the whole thing, and scandal swirled about the pair, and there they were - out at every party, at every awards show, grinning, and gushing, and laughing at the camera.

Cary Grant, with his sense of propriety, etc., thought it was unseemly. And very soon, that publicity onslaught crashed, and inverted, and Bogdonavich sunk down into a morass of his own making, when the circumstances of his life went catastrophically bad. (The whole Dorothy Stratten thing. Awful.) While Bogdonavich and Shepherd were doing the talk-show circuit, and flaunting their happiness (seen by many in the public as being stolen from someone else - Bogdonavich's ex-wife), Cary Grant pulled Bogdonavich aside and said something like: "Peter, nobody cares that you are happy. Stop telling everyone how in love you are and how happy you are. It will make people hate you, because in general, people are NOT in love and people are NOT happy." heh heh

Bogdonavich related this story much later in his life, saying that only with time passing could he realize how right Grant was. Grant always held stuff back from the public, knowing how fickle the public was, and how easily tired the public got. Grant was completely open and available in his acting, and then was reserved and withdrawn about his private life. So Bogdonavich went from being wonder-boy-of-Hollywood to ruined-man in the space of a couple of years.

ANYWAY. Cary Grant stuck by Bogdonavich through his troubles, and at one point, Grant shared with Bogdonavich an analogy he came up with for how Hollywood operated. I love it. And I also love the very end of it. heh heh Typical Cary Grant humility.

Check it out:

Becoming a movie star is something like getting on a streetcar. Actors and actresses are packed in like sardines. When I arrived in Hollywood, Carole Lombard, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Warner Baxter, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, and others were crammed onto the car. A few stood, holding tightly to leather straps to avoid being pushed aside. Others were firmly seated in the center of the car. They were the big stars. At the front, new actors and actresses pushed and shoved to get aboard. Some made it and slowly moved toward the center.

When a new "star" came aboard, an old one had to be edged out the rear exit. The crowd was so big you were pushed right off. There was room for only so many and no more.

One well-known star, Adolphe Menjou, was constantly being pushed off the rear. He would pick himself up, brush himself off, and run to the front to fight his way aboard again. In a short time he was back in the center only to be pushed off once more. This went on for years. He never did get to sit down.

It took me quite a while to reach the center. When I did make it, I remained standing. I held on to that leather strap for dear life. Then Warner Baxter fell out the back, and I got to sit down.

When Gregory Peck got on, it was Ronald Colman who fell off.

The only man who refused to budge was Gary Cooper. Gary was firmly seated in the center of the car. He just leaned back, stuck those long legs of his out in the aisle, and tripped everyone who came along.

When Joan Fontaine got on, she stood right in front of me and held on to one of those leather straps. I naturally got to my feet, giving her my seat. Joan sat down and got an Academy Award!


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You know, I read Tuesdays with Morrie and was swept away by it for about ... oh ... 5 minutes, before I got annoyed. The book was too pat, too easy, too neat. I don't like neat. I also intensely dislike how he capitalized on that success (although who can really blame him, right?) If I had liked Tuesdays with Morrie, maybe I wouldn't have been so disgusted by the prospect of The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Ah yes, he writes one hit book and now feels compelled to share all his wisdom in easily digestible doses ... Ick.

But anyway.

Now comes this news.

(via Book Slut)

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Diary Friday

This is actually a repeat. I posted this a year and a half ago, but I decided to unearth it. It is the story of my first date in college with this boy. Heh heh. Now a couple things before it begins, and it's kind of long, so only die-hard Diary Friday fans will be into it. But here's one thing that strikes me as I re-read this:

-- Not to be vain, but let me talk about the writing. It's rough, it's emotional, it's unaware of itself - but I can sense that a writer's sensibility is starting to come out. It's the story of a date, that's it. A date I had with this guy I really liked, and who eventually became my boyfriend for a while. But the way I wrote about the date makes me believe that I was starting to see things in terms of story-telling potential.

-- Secondly, and this is only in the retrospect of many many years: This boy and I were both 18 years old here. This was our first date, and it has such a tone of innocence, sweetness ... We were still teenagers. A date is a date. BUT, underneath all of that runs an ominous energy. It's a very very weird entry to me, because of that. It's writerly, in a strange way. Like - the surface events are this: we meet, we have dinner, we go to a movie. But underneath that surges a darkness. Not between US, no ... we're fine. But something else. It's like there's a sense that innocence itself is threatened by something, innocence's very existence is threatened - What lies out there in the darkness, waiting to pounce? Something does, that's for sure. I could not have been aware of all that at the time, because I was innocent and unaware. I was a young girl, not even bloomed yet. But there are details in the story, this story of an innocent first date, that strike a menacing tone. (The "condescending" line of fir trees comes to mind. The water tower that reminds me of "Ozymandius". How I started thinking, when I took off my shoes, about Sylvia Plath's recurring shoe-as-death symbolism. The fact that the beginning of the date takes place in a secluded garden. Like Adam and Eve. And that he and I characterized the end of the date as "hell". I mean, you can't make this stuff up. It really happened that way. Something occurred at the end of the date which was "Hell" with a capital "H" for both of us, and it left us both shaken up.) I mean, it all really happened just as I described it, but there's something else going on there. Something archetypal, maybe. I'm tapping into something universal. At least in the way I wrote about it. I don't mean to discuss my own life in this literary way, but there you have it, I am. My friend David always says that my life is a "literary conceit", and in this one journal entry I can see what he means. I wrote this entry spontaneously, pouring out the experience onto the page unthinkingly. I wasn't trying to engineer some kind of effect, I wasn't thinking: "Oooh, let me mention Ozymandius ... that would be a good touch." I just blabbed it out. It is only now that I can look back and think that maybe I was onto something back then, without even knowing it.

My innocence WAS threatened then, as all innocence is. Innocence like that cannot last forever. And so there were signs and portents all around me ... but I didn't put them together into anything cohesive. I couldn't see what was coming. Of course not.

But there it is in the writing - I read it now, and it's like the Silhouettes (Part 1 and Part 2) I keep an eye out for silhouettes, as superstitious as that might seem. I feel that they might mean something, they might go deeper than surfaces.. I find it strangely moving, and also - well. I guess I'm glad I wrote it all down in the way that I did. I always think of this entry in particular as the birth of me as a writer, as a chronicler - not only of surface events, but of the dark unconscious beneath all events.


It was the Monday night before the massive blizzard but it was spring-warm, misty, mild. Not like November at all. We had plans to meet for dinner. The two of us.

He was in Julius' lab, and I knew they were all in J Studio so I sat in the Actor's Lobby waiting for him, listening to The Manhattan Transfer in a state of pretty-near-perfect content. (Ed: Manhattan Transfer!! Ha! We LOVED Manhattan Transfer in college.) Life contains so many interesting twists and surprises – little subtle things. I was engrossed in the music, reading something, and singing "Barkely Square" outloud to the empty lobby, choosing a harmony line to follow: "The moon that lingered over London T---" I stopped the song in mid-word, cause I looked up and saw Jack coming in, catching me in my private moment. He started laughing at me immediately, and we still laugh about it. He recreates the moment, pretending to be – but the way he does it is, he sings absolutely unintelligible words, in a supersonically high disconnected voice – which is probably what he heard – and stops it very short too. "T----" As though someone stabbed me with an axe in the middle of the word "Town".

We started off. We had no definite plans. Just dinner.

We decided to go to Del Mor's. (Ed: This is absolutely hysterical. Del Mor's no longer exists, but it was THE restaurant on campus – basically a cavernous dark place, where you could have bottomless cups of coffee, and big sandwiches. Sandwiches which cost 2 dollars. I love that we went on a date to Del Mor's – a place we ate in every single day anyway. Ah, college. Also, I'm sure we were broke. We were teenagers.) Talk for some reason was rather stilted. I didn't know why I felt awkward and uncomfortable but I did. He looked so nice. He had a tie on!!

He made an observation about how I always look away whenever I take a bite. "What's over there? Why do you always avert your eyes when you take a bite?"

"Uh … I never realized I did."

And once he made me conscious of it, it completely shocked me. Every single time I took a bite, I looked over to the right. And every single time I did that, we'd both start laughing.

Oh, and we had a lot of trouble with our food that night. Spitting, dropping things in our lap, spills. I took a sip of Coke and it dribbled down my chin. It was a chronic situation, for both of us. And by the end of the night, when one of us would spill something, or drop cole slaw on ourselves, we would start to laugh absolutely uproariously. I am sure we seemed very obnoxious to nearby tables, since none of our food would stay in our mouths and all we did was guffaw with laughter. He kept trying to shove French fries in my mouth and I would say, "No, I don't want any" which he would ignore. "Jack, please … no thank you."

He kept this blank inquisitive look on his face like, "You want this? You don't want a fry? You sure? You want a fry?" He acted deaf.

Finally, I opened my mouth wide to say, "NO" and he popped the fry into my mouth.

We were howling.

I began to get itchy. Restless. I wasn't sure why. I felt like I needed to be active. He commented on my jiggling leg. "Are you nervous?"

"Yeah. I don't know why. I'm really antsy for some reason."

So we decided to go. We took a walk around campus. It was a perfect night for a walk. Not chilly at all, no wind, a light mist. We walked across the Quad. Surrounded by huge stone buildings, a few windows lit, orange lamplight fuzzed by the mist, the sky a velvety musty black with an orange tint from the lamps.

It struck me as we meandered along, not talking, "This is how I always thought college would be. This is exactly what I pictured." The deserted campus. The light mist.

I wanted to hug the whole big beautiful world.

We were walking by the biological science building, which is all underground, like Bilbo Baggins' house – The top of it is like this mound of grass with a big space on top of it, with a cinder-block ground – doorways leading down into the depths. It's like a future world – or another world. Especially at night. We climbed up the mound of grass to get the top of this strange alien world – cinder-blocks stretching to the horizon, strange cement formations popping up with lights on them – like a martian world – or like a futuristic Stone Henge. We discussed all of this as we explored. There was no sound. It was dead quiet. Mist getting a little thicker. We skulked around. We lay down on our backs for a while, and talked about how much it looked like a deserted planet. A deserted martian world.

A stray person, nondescript in shadow, strolled by the two of us, laying spreadeagled on the cement ground like lunatics, and didn't say a word.

We found an open door leading down into the underworld (or: the biological science building). Feeling more and more like imposters, we tiptoed down the stairs, went through the door at the bottom, and found ourselves in this deserted courtyard, surrounded by glassed-in hallways. From the top, you could peek down over the railing into the enclosed space. We felt like we were in a terrarium, or an aquarium.

I said, "What would we do if the door had locked behind us? Also – what would we do if the door had locked, and out from behind that corner over there came a huge hungry lion?"

On such a misty deserted night, I almost believed that such a thing could happen.

But he suddenly didn't like that thought, and he felt confined, and he suddenly got this ominous feeling. "Let's get out of here."

So we left, and went back up to above-ground. We left the biological science area, off the opposite side, down a long sloping grassy hill. He ran down the hill. So did I. I felt like we were Anne and Gilbert (our two roles in the musical).

We walked along the main road, up towards Fine Arts, talking. I talked about my Moliere monologue that I was going to do for class that night. I recited some of it for him.

We both were still in an exploring frame of mind. And as we passed the dark form of the Fine Arts building, I felt so much revulsion for it. All I wanted to do was stay outside, stay away from it, stay free. I didn't feel the sucking draw of it at all, like I usually do. He and I stalked defiantly past it, and decided to go explore the water tower in the woods across the street from the building.

Once again, we were plunged into a world other than our own.

We stumbled down a rocky rutted path, through the forest. There was no light now, and everything looked very different. And towering way way over us was this massive ballooning water tower. It looked like a huge satellite, or so massive that it just couldn't be man-made. It had an ominous quality too, standing alone in the dark woods. Like Ozymandius or something – a structure left behind on earth long long after man had left it. There was a lone red light shining way at the top. We circled around it looking for a ladder.

And I am telling you, as scared as I am of heights, and as overwhelmed as I was by that tower – if we had found a ladder I would have climbed it. It was that kind of night.

What a spectacular adventure that would have been – to be so high up – to see the whole campus below us.

But there wasn't a ladder accessible to us. We made our way through the brush under the tower, to the column that we knew contained the stairway, but we saw with the glow of Jack's cigarette lighter that it was quite locked.

So we made our way back out to the main road. We still had some time to kill before class. I said, "Where to next?"

He thought a minute as we walked. Then suggested, "How about the botanical gardens?"

Sounded good to me.

The whole night had a charged anticipatory feeling – superaware – we were comfortable with each other, but the whole night had this feeling that something else should be happening – we were looking for an adventure of some kind. Whatever it was we were currently up to was not enough, and we had to go seek out more. Even if it was just looking at a water-tower.

We headed for the gardens. The gardens were black and shadowy and hidden from the main road.

This entire time I had been lugging around my cumbersome duffel bag, and I was very tired of it so I dumped it in a bush, making a mental note of where it was for later. The garden is surrounded by a tall thick stone wall, about as tall as me, and to get into the garden, you walk through an opening in the gate, with two thick pine trees making it almost necessary to go single file. And in this way, we entered the garden.

It was tres symbolic. The evening was so innocent. Of course, he and I would hang out in a garden.

Some digging had obviously been going on, there were these long black furrows in the ground. Jack said, "They look like graves."


From inside the garden you can't see anything else outside. There is a row of huge tall pine trees skirting the whole space. It is a separate world in there.

Between two of the dug rows was a strip of clear grass. Jack leaned down to pat it with his hand. "It's dry!"

He flung himself face down on the grass, and I followed. We are silly together. We are impractical. As I got settled in, I kicked my legs out, and one of my loosely tied shoes flew spontaneously off my foot, flew over my head, and landed in the grass, facing us.

"Look at that shoe pointing at us." Jack said.

We stared at it. It looked like it was coming to get us. I got a little weird feeling then. Because of Sylvia Plath and her whole shoes-as-death theme. Any time in her poems or in The Bell Jar a shoe shows up – it is an omen of death, a whiff of mortality. Especially if they are pointing AT you.

But I suppose that is just me being silly and superstitious. But still it was weird. I got up and went and retrieved the shoe to put it back on. I didn't want it staring at me like that.

The grass was lusciously thick, it was like a cushion. Hypnotic. I wanted to fall asleep.

He said after a while, "Don't those trees look like a row of people watching us?"

They sure did. An immovable row of tall towering black forms, some leaning into others as though they were whispering about us, some just standing stiff and tall in righteous judgment of us.

"What do they remind me of?" mused Jack, trying to figure it out.

They reminded me of people from Whoville. I said, "They look like Whovilles to me."


"You know. The Grinch. The people from Whoville." I sang a little bit of the "Whoville" song, and it was exactly what Jack had been trying to remember.

"That's it! Yes! That is so perfect!!"

For a while, we didn't talk, and just looked up at those surrounding trees, all the silently watching pine trees.

Finally Jack murmured, "They're so fucking condescending."

Behind us, keeping their eye on us, was the Mommy and Daddy – two huge fat pine trees, practically merged into one, and their two pointed heads leaning into each other.

I was deep in thought. I remember feeling for the first time in a long time like all my pores were OPEN. The beginning of the first semester was not unhappy, in fact it was pretty positive, and I was extremely busy, and juggling 6 classes and homework and a job – I only had one breakdown in that whole time. But still – during that time, I don't remember feeling particularly aware or alive or sensitive – the way I remember being all the time in high school, when EVERYTHING affected me. It's been a long time, come to think of it, since I've been that aware.

Like – seeing the trees as sentinels of some kind … and seeing the biological science building as a deserted martian planet … It seemed like I was seeing things in this new way because of Jack.

He looks like James Dean. He was smoking there, in the garden, not caring that the trees judged him, blowing smoke up into the air.

And eventually – we started talking. I don't remember most of what we talked about, but it was special. It was our first real conversation. It felt like communion.

We discussed our thoughts, our dreams, we discussed acting. We discussed each other, our first impressions of each other.

He said to me, "How would you describe me to someone who didn't know me?"

I thought for a while. I wanted to make sure that my thoughts came out precisely the way I wanted them to so I took my time. Finally I said, "He is very very psyched about being intelligent."

I was aware of a little to-himself laugh beside me. I knew I had gotten him, right where it counted. Zap!

I said, "He is trustworthy. I do trust him, although I am not sure why I do. He is honest, and although he wants everyone to think that he is the most serious person who has ever lived, underneath it all, he's really just a goofball."

I'm only guessing. I really don't know him at all, so I said, "Is that right?"

He was looking at me, kind of surprised. (He thinks he is so deep, so DEEP, but he's really not.) "Yeah, that's right."

"Okay, so how about me? How would you describe me?"

He thought for a minute and said, "She's very talented. She has great cheekbones. She's intelligent. She's funny. She's cautious. She's cautious but at the same time carefree." He waited. "Is that right?"

I nodded. "Except about the cheekbones."

He burst out laughing. "I knew you were gonna say that!! I knew it!"

He said, "What was your first impression of me? Before you knew me?"

I said, "I saw you that first day and thought, 'Oh, what a jackass.'" (Jack snorted with laughter beside me - I went on:)"'He wants everyone to buy his image – this deep tortured image – with the trenchcoat and the walkman and the scarf and the cigarette – and I don't buy it at all. He's also unbelievably antisocial.'"

He roared with laughter.

Anyway, during all of this, this conversation that went on for some time, I just could not, for the life of me, imagine getting up in 10 minutes, and going off to class to do my stupid Moliere monologue. I just could not see it happening. I had never in my life not wanted to do something as badly as I didn't want to go to that class. All I wanted to do was stay put, and see where the night took us. the time was right for a major breakthrough in our friendship, and I knew it, I could feel it in the air, and I just did not want to ruin it.

So I groaned, and began to verbalize my inner torment. Rationalizing everything.

"I have gone to every class this semester! For Christ's sake! I haven't missed ONE class! Other people cut class on occasion – why can't I?" Then I launched into a major defensive monologue about how the faculty seemed to be harder on me than on others, other people get breaks, other people are forgiven – but I never get a break. I cut a class, and the entire department goes into an uproar as though it is the approach of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Also, other students don't get huge guilt pangs when they skip ONE CLASS – how come I do? I am always so hard on myself. I wanted to blow my whole night off and spend it playing with Jack – this feeling was so strong that it was a driving beat in my brain. But I was scared to skip class. What would everyone think? They all KNEW I had a date with Jack earlier – what would they say?

God, I can be so dramatic. Just chill out.

Jack quietly listened to my raving monologue, and didn't say a word. It seemed he knew I had to talk myself through the whole thing, but he also seemed to know that eventually I would decide to blow everything off.

Finally, I felt this wild breath of freedom and irresponsibility, happiness rushed in my lungs, and I turned to him and said, "Let's go to a movie!!"

He stared at me flatly, and then said, "You're not gonna spend the entire night talking about class and how guilty you feel, are you?"

"No! Let's go! Come on!"

The excitement I felt about merely going to a movie is embarrassing. I felt like I was 5 years old and it was Christmas Eve. It was the thrill of being irresponsible, and suddenly not GIVING A SHIT what everybody thinks.

We decided to use my parents car. We went back to the bush to retrieve my duffel bag, now in full view of the staff parking lot at Fine Arts. I felt like an escaped felon. Jack was a little surprised at how scared I was to skip one class. He skips class constantly. It got to be a joke.

"Haven't you ever skipped a class before?"

"Never Judith's. [Ed: Judith was the brilliant and rather terrifying chairman of the department] I have never skipped an ACTING class in my life."

I stood at a pay phone and called Mum – Mum came to pick us up. we sat on the curb waiting for her. it was very pathetic. She had never met Jack before. I got in front, he in back. I introduced them. He initiated shaking her hand – it was cute. I wanted to kiss him. But we hadn't kissed yet at all, so I couldn't. I took Jack in our house, he met Dad, there was some casual banter about his last name – which was a last name in our family too – Jack said, "I bet you don't acknowledge that side of the family" and Dad roared.

It's so easy to get along with Dad. If he likes you, you know right away.

Then we were off to see a movie. Listening to Depeche Mode. And having a hell of a time. Free free free.

We decided to go see Fatal Attraction, but it was too late to catch the 7 pm show, so we decided to go up to the malls and look around for an hour or so.

I did have quite a few moments of guilty conscience, thinking about everyone else in acting class, but I would check my tongue, and not mention it to him.

We went to the Midland Malls. We went into the kitchen appliance section. We wandered through acres of fake kitchens, and we became a newlywed couple. An absolutely obnoxious newlywed couple.

"I am partial to the rustic look, you know that. Nothing too modern," he said at one point, with a completely straight face.

Did we want an island in our kitchen? We had a very important discussion about that. We become 8 years old together. Playing pretend games.

"There are two more things I want to look at today, honey," I said. "Beds and leather whips."

(This was a 9 ½ Weeks reference – a movie we had had a conversation about – and he got it immediately and howled with laughter.)

We spent a good 15 minutes playing in the cassio section. We practically caused a scene. I blasted my cassio – rhumba beat, big band – disco – heavy metal – cha cha. We both were quite busy creating things on our own, going from cassio to cassio, engrossed. I messed with the song book, experimenting. Other people who had been browsing stopped after 5 minutes of close contact with us. We took over the area, and all around us was the ruckus of 5 or 6 cassios all doggedly pursuing their own contrasting beats at the same time.

At one point, as we meandered around, he looked at me and said, "Promise me you will never cut your hair."

I thought it was still part of our newlywed-game, so I laughed at him, and he said, "No, I'm serious, Sheila. Don't ever cut it."


We made a beeline for the bookstore, and plopped down with a TV trivia book to find out the name of Genie's evil twin – something that had tormented us earlier. We crouched on the floor, heads bent over this one book – and I still had this reckless feeling inside from missing class.

We went to Newport Creamery. I bought him a shake, I had some ice cream. We ate, and made cynical comments about everyone around us. We also kept (in accordance with the theme of the night) dribbling stuff onto the table, or onto our clothes, by accident. We were behaving in an extremely immature way, and it was fun. We had a very unfriendly waitress, and we couldn't stop laughing about her. Everything he said about her would come at an inopportune time, so I would spit stuff out of my mouth.

We browsed in Midland Records for quite some time. I also showed him the store where I had bought my prom shoes.

He said, "Who'd you go to the prom with?"

"Oh, some asshole."

He burst out laughing. And then he squeezed my shoulders roughly and said, in a Dean Martin kind of tone, "Who loves ya, baby…"

We rode in the glass elevator, which was extremely exciting for us, seeing as we were EIGHT YEARS OLD.

The malls had become this enormous sparkling playground. Constructed strictly to keep us amused.

We went to the pet shop and looked at sleeping puppies. We kissed our lips up against the glass of the fish tank and watched all the little glowing fish flutter away or kiss us back.

The two of us sat on the floor in the mall, and he had a cigarette. [Ed: Woah, now that's a time-travel moment.] There were benches nearby, I am sure, but the two of us were on the floor, quite content. I became aware of two people who appeared to be staring at us. The woman seemed to be smiling right at me. I had no idea who they were. Jack noticed them too. I said, " Jack, do you know those people?" "No." We looked around us to see if they were looking at someone near us. Nope. We glanced at each other, and then back at them, the two of them smiling straight at us. We both said, "Us? You mean us?" They gestured at us. We were in a sea of confusion. "Jack – is she waving at me?" "I have no idea – what do they want?" Of course, as it turns out, (you dipshits) they were store managers telling us to please not sit on the floor.

Finally, we got the picture. "Oh! They want us—" "Oh! Okay – I get it…"

Jack said, "Let us leave this place if we can not sit on the floor in peace."

As we left, Jack stated, "We are the best-dressed couple in this mall. Hands down."

Outside in the parking lot – it was still warm and misty. It felt like it might rain. There was a dampness, and the sky looked heavier with clouds. We walked to my car, and Jack stopped me before I could put in my keys and said, "Look! Let's go rock-climbing!"

The mall parking lots are at the bottom of a hill, the highway runs along the top, and if one was inclined to climb from the lot up to the highway, one would have to literally go rock-climbing up a vertical way in order to get to the grassy side of the highway. He took off running towards the wall. So did I.

And what the hell, we went rock-climbing. In the parking lot of the Midland Mall.

Jack said, later, "See? Now – when you look back on this night – will you be sorry you skipped class? If you had gone to class, you would not have cared 10 years from now, but 10 years from now you will be glad you did this."

[Ed: Well, this is now more than 10 years ago, and I have to say, in retrospect, he was right!]

Eventually we both reached the grassy top of the wall, even though neither of us had one proper rock-climbing gear. We turned to look victoriously at the mall and the wide parking lot below us. We both flopped down on the grass, it was a gentle accommodating slope. And we looked down over the view. At one point he took an entire handful of cut grass and tried to put it in my mouth, and then put on this totally perplexed expression when I wouldn't let him – as though he were shocked. "You don't want this? Why?"

At one point, when I was on my back, I felt a raindrop hit my face.

At the same moment, Jack said, "Oh, I felt a raindrop."

"Me too. Let's go."

We climbed back down, which was much more difficult. I suddenly became terrified – because of the show. "What if I fall and totally sprain my ankle? I can't get hurt, I can't get hurt."

The mixture of caution and carefree – which he pointed out.

The drizzle began and we booked it for the car. We cranked the tunes, and peeled out. [Ed: Sheila – who are you? "cranked the tunes"?? "peeled out"??]

The movie was really crowded – it's a huge hit right now. We sat down together, bounced around in the fun seats for a while … He was like a little boy when he discovered the fun seats.

"Look! Look at me!" bouncing madly.

Yes, Jack. I know about the seats.

The theatre filled up around us, we munched on popcorn, and finally the lights dimmed. We grinned at each other, excited, eyes glimmering, popcorn balanced between us.

Then the movie.

It was one of the scariest things I have ever seen in my life. We were totally riveted. We both absolutely fell in LOVE with the little girl who played the daughter. And throughout the whole thing – we basically lost our minds. We totally lost our minds. The movie grabs you by the neck and does not let you go. Does not let you breathe. Glenn Close was horrifying.

We forgot the popcorn, we forgot our surroundings, we were on a roller-coaster ride. The movie was like having your picture taken with the flash too close.

During one of the crazy sex scenes (which made us both so uncomfortable to watch, it was hysterical) – they were screwing on the kitchen counter. We watched the scene in silence for a while, and then Jack leaned over and murmured to me, "This is rated R?"

We DIED of embarrassment during all of the sex scenes. I told Mitchell about this later and he laughed so hard. "Oh my God, I wish I could have a film of you two then … of the body language … it must have been hilarious."

At one point, Jack murmured again, trying to break up our embarrassment, "I really do think that some of these camera angles are unnecessary."

So cute.

By the end of the movie, I had actually stood up at one point and screamed at the top of my lungs. Jack had become a human pretzel, everyone was FREAKED. The audience was a quivering mass of shrieking exclaiming people. It was raw. He and I just grabbed for each other when we saw the bubbling pot on the stove.

Later, while madly discussing the movie, we found that we had both had the same experience – the thought of the rabbit never crossed our minds, as obvious as it now seems. The first thing I thought (and he thought, too, which was weird) was that it was a massive spaghetti dinner. Like she had shared with him during their weekend of sordid lust filled with unnecessary camera angles. Neither of us anticipated the rabbit. So when we finally made the connection, simultaneously, we grabbed for each other, and exclaimed, "NO!"

And, like I said before, the two of us were absolutely slain by that poor little girl. At one point, she started to cry – this little girl is like 5 or 6 years old – and those tears looked real. It was awful. Jack saw her start to cry, and put his hand over his eyes – I thought he was gonna have to leave. He said to me later, "Either she is the most amazing actress in the world, or she has a really terrible home life."

When the lights came up at the end, he and I were in twisted mangled positions of horror. You feel a little ashamed of yourself walking out of that movie. We could not calm down. All the credits were done, the theatre was empty. Finally I put on my coat and said, "Wow, that really SUCKED."

"Yeah," Jack said, disengaging himself from the pretzel twist, "I'm really disappointed."

We drove home, the rain was coming down hard, and we talked and talked and talked about it.

We kept exploding:

"SHIT! What a MOVIE!"

"That little girl – I literally thought I was going to die when she was in the doorway. I couldn't take it."

Then - on the way home, we experienced something that we now call "Can Hell".

I don't even know if I am going to be able to describe it, but it was a significantly frightening experience, and I was not equipped to deal with it. I almost had a nervous breakdown at the wheel, calling out his name, "Jack! Jack!" It was scary. NOW, it's funny to remember – but it was terrifying – and I was already jumpy after that movie.

So we came to the rotary after the Sunoco station – (This was directly before "Can Hell") – and as we swerved around the rain-wet rotary, Jack said, "Want to hit the beach?"

I wish I could take things calmly. It's just an invitation. You are 19 years old. You are not being asked to transport illegal drugs across international borders. It's a walk on the beach.

But I kind of lost my head. I realized in that moment how much fun we had had that night, and also how much I really like him. And my heart slip-slid down into my toes. I looked at him and said, "Are you serious?" Clutching the wheel, trying to drive (having no idea that "Can Hell" was approaching.) I was behaving like a clichι in a John Hughes movie. I am a movie clichι! But those clichιs exist for a reason! I nodded that sure, let's go 'hit the beach'.

And then – "Can Hell" began. And from then on, we were otherwise occupied with trying not to get killed – and trying to drive on whatever the right side of the road was – (the street was filled with trash cans, zigzagging us through different lanes, but nothing was marked, nothing was clear, we feared we would drive between two of the wrong "cans" and end up in a head-on collision – It was an obstacle course – it was pouring rain – and none of it was funny at the time. I was terrified – and he was trying to be calm – it was awful. "Can Hell".)

Finally everything straightened out and the highway looked like itself again.

We were both pretty freaked out.

I know it's superstitious and all, but I thought of that shoe, in the botanical garden, pointing at us. I got this chill of fear, like - something bad was going to happen. Okay. I need to get off the road. NOW.

We drove to the beach. By then, we were calming down a bit, letting the horror of "Can Hell" fade into memory. We got out of the car, there was a drizzle in the air, not really a rain. It was a very black night, not really misty anymore, and the ocean was turbulent. And loud.

It reminded me of the end of my junior year when Betsy ran into the water fully-clothed. There was really foamy turbulent waves that night too.

He and I walked down the stairs onto the sand, and started to walk the beach. We were quiet, though. It was like … I don't know. We were both lost in thought, no longer finishing each other's sentences.

"Can Hell" had broken the intimate spell between us.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (9)

This is going to be painful

... but it is necessary. Jess? This is primarily for you, but I think we all will find what I am about to post edifying, as well as scary.

It reminds me of that great quote from Catherine Aird:

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.


Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (6)

April 7, 2005

EM Forster on the "pseudo-scholar"

An excerpt from EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. (I introduce what this book is about here.)

In this excerpt, EM Forster takes on what he calls the "pseudo-scholar". The pseudo-scholar can find employment in many different areas of literature (teaching, editing, etc.) - but it is when the pseudo-scholar becomes a critic that EM Forster finds him most "pernicious". You'll recognize the type immediately.

Here, again, you will see EM Forster's distaste for chronology.

It is when he comes to criticism -- to a job like the present -- that he can be so pernicious, because he follows the method of a true scholar without having his equipment. He classes books before he has understood or read them; that is his first crime. Classification by chronology. Books written before 1847, books written after it, books written after or before 1848. The novel in the reign of Queen Anne, the prenovel, the ur-novel, the novel of the future. Classification by subject matter -- sillier still. The literature of Inns, beginning with Tom Jones; the literature of the Women's Movement, beginning with Shirley; the literature of Desert Islands, from Robinson Crusoe to The Blue Lagoon; the literature of Rogues -- dreariest of all, though the Open Road runs it pretty close; the literature of Sussex (perhaps the most devoted of the Home Counties); improper books -- a serious though dreadful branch of inquiry, only to be pursued by pseudo-scholars of riper years, novels relating to industrialism, aviation, chiropody, the weather.

I include the weather on the authority of the most amazing work on the novel that I have met for many years. It came over the Atlantic to me, nor shall I ever forget it. It was a literary manual entitled Materials and Methods of Fiction. The writer's name shall be concealed. He was a pseudo-scholar and a good one. He classified novels by their dates, their length, their locality, their sex, their point of view, till no more seemed possible. But he still had the weather up his sleeve, and when he brought it out, it had nine heads. He gave an example under each head, for he was anything but slovenly, and we will run through his list. In the first place, weather can be "decorative", as in Pierre Loti; then "utilitarian", as in The Mill on the Floss (no Floss, no Mill; no Mill, no Tullivers); "illustrative" as in The Egoist; "planned in preestablished harmony," as by Fiona MacLeod; "in emotional contrast," as in The Master of Ballantrae; "determinative of action," as in a certain Kipling story, where a man proposes to the wrong girl on account of a mud storm; a "controlling influence," Richard Feverel; "itself a hero", like Vesuvius in The Last Days of Pompeii; and ninthly, it can be "non-existence", as in a nursery tale. I liked him flinging in nonexistence. It made everything so scientific and trim. But he himself remained a little dissatisfied, and having finished his classification he said yes, of course there was one more thing, and that was genius; it was useless for a novelist to know there are nine sorts of weather, unless he has genius also. Cheered by this reflection, he classified novels by their tones. There are only two tones, personal and impersonal, and having given examples of each he grew pensive again and said, "Yes, but you must have genius too, or neither tone will profit."

This constant reference to genius is another characteristic of the pseudo-scholar. He loves mentioning genius, because the sound of the word exempts him from trying to discover its meaning. Literature is written by geniuses. Novelists are geniuses. There we are; now let us classify them. Which he does. Everything he says may be accurate but all is useless because he is moving round books instead of through them, he either has not read them or cannot read them properly.

"the sound of the word exempts him from trying to discover its meaning"

Still true. I've seen that "genius" thing used time and time again. Funny.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (6)

EM Forster: "this preliminary shadow"

An excerpt from EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. (I introduce what this book is about here.)

Now, I found this excerpt kind of shocking (not because I disagree with it, don't misunderstand). It's just one of those bold statements which re-configures the landscape, and requires some thinking over. At least I need to think it over. EM Forster speaks of "an unpleasant and unpatriotic truth" which I find quite convincing. Quite. It probably pissed off his audience (in Cambridge, remember!), when you consider what he is actually saying about English novels. But I have to say - when he puts it that way, when he compares and contrasts, I completely agree with him.

This excerpt has to do with provincialism in literature and criticism. Now remember - these lectures are all about "English literature". The field is necessarily narrowed, and so EM Forster deals with that narrow-vision (and what it means) in the following section:

I want to talk as little as possible about influence during these lectures. My subject is a particular kind of book and the aspects that book has assumed in English. Can we ignore its collateral aspects on the continent? Not entirely. An unpleasant and unpatriotic truth has here to be faced. No English novelist is as great as Tolstoy -- that is to say has given so complete a picture of man's life, both on its domestic and heroic side. No English novelist has explored man's soul as deeply as Dostoevsky. And no novelist anywhere has analysed the modern consciousness as successfully as Marcel Proust. Before these triumphs we must pause. English poetry fears no one -- excels in quality as well as quantity. But English fiction is less triumphant: it does not contain the best stuff yet written, and if we deny this we become guilty of provincialism.

Now, provincialism does not signify in a writer, and may indeed be the chief source of his strength: only a prig or a fool would complain that Defoe is cockneyfied or Thomas Hardy countrified. But provincialism in a critic is a serious fault. A critic has no right to the narrowness which is the frequent prerogative of the creative artist. He has to have a wide outlook or he has not anything at all. Although the novel exercises the rights of a created object, criticism has not those rights, and too many little mansions in English fiction have been acclaimed to their own detriment as important edifices. Take four at random: Cranford, The Heart of Midlothian, Jane Eyre, Richard Feverel. For various personal and local reasons we may be attached to these four books. Cranford radiates the humour of the urban midlands, Midlothian is a handful out of Edinburgh, Jane Eyre is the passionate dream of a fine but still undeveloped woman, Richard Feverel exudes farmhouse lyricism and flickers with modish wit, but all four are little mansions, not mighty edifices, and we shall see and respect them for what they are if we stand them for an instant in the colonnades of War and Peace, or the vaults of The Brothers Karamazov.

I shall not often refer to foreign novels in these lectures, still less would I pose as an expert on them who is debarred from discussing them by his terms of reference. But I do want to emphasize their greatness before we start; to cast, so to speak, this preliminary shadow over our subject, so that when we look backon it at the end we may have the better chance of seeing it in its true lights.

Posted by sheila Permalink

More writers on writing ...

So this is my new thing, reading books by writers about writing. They're usually short, snappy, and if I like the writer really enjoyable to read. (Best one read so far is Stephen King's On Writing. Hands down.)

I just finished Margaret Atwood's fun little book Negotiating with the Dead yesterday, and now I've picked up EM Forster's Aspects of the Novel. I read a bit of it this morning.

EM Forster was invited to come and give a series of "Clark lectures" at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1927. (The Clark lecture series is still going on, by the way.) The lectures all have to do with "English literature", and EM Forster came and talked about "aspects of the novel" (duh) in 1927. The lectures are printed up in book-form, so that they have a very colloquial unedited feel to them, which is really fun. He was, of course, extremely well-prepared, with tons of notes and examples, etc., but his off-the-cuff remarks, and little jokes, are maintained in the text of the book I am reading. I love it. It feels like I am attending the lecture.

He takes a very informal and also unconventional approach to how he looks at "aspects of the novel". One of the things he is completely against is putting authors into chronological order. He is against chronology, in general. I guess you could say he is against "historical context".

Fascinating - and the way he talks about authors, divorced from their chronological moments in the time, has helped me to see some of them in a different light.

Forster says at the beginning of the first lecture:

Time, all the way through, is to be our enemy. We are to visualize the English novelists not as floating down that stream which bears all its sons away unless they are careful, but as seated together in a room, a circular room, a sort of British Museum reading-room -- all writing their novels simultaneously. They do not, as they sit there, think, "I live under Queen Victoria, I under Anne, I carry on the tradition of Trollope, I am reacting against Aldous Huxley." The fact that their pens are in their hands is far more vivid to them. They are half mesmerized, their sorrows and joys are pouring out through the ink, they are approximated by the act of creation, and when Professor Oliver Elton says, as he does, that "after 1847 the novel of passion was never to be the same again," none of them understand what he means. That is to be our vision of them -- an imperfect vision, but it is suited to our powers, it will preserve us from a serious danger, the danger of pseudo-scholarship.

Forster, help us!! We still need to be preserved from pseudo-scholarship!! You said that in 1927, it's now 2005 ... we still need you!

Forster keeps coming back to that image - of novelists throughout time all sitting in the same room, writing simultaneously. He thinks that's a better way to study "aspects of the novel" than to look at trends, or Victorian influences, or post-war malaise influences, whatever.

An exciting way to look at literature.

More excerpts to come.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (2)

Another "Have I Ever" meme

At first I thought it was the same as this one, but turns out it is a different list of Have I Evers. Got this one from Cakeeater Chronicles.

snuck out of the house
gotten lost in your city (I still get confused in the West Village. Especially now that there are no twin towers to tell me which way is south. I get very very confused down there on a regular basis, and I have lived here 9 years.)
saw a shooting star
been to any other countries besides the United States
had a serious surgery
gone out in public in your pajamas (We used to have something called "Pajama Day" in high school.)
kissed a stranger (Ahem. Well, he kissed me on the cheek, but I am CERTAINLY counting it.)
hugged a stranger
been in a fist fight (Well. Technically, no fists were involved. But she did crack a pool cue across my back, and I flipped out, and had to be dragged away from her by a bunch of firemen. Ah, Carolyn. I knew you when.)
been arrested
done drugs (hard drugs? No.)
had alcohol
laughed and had milk/coke come out of your nose
pushed all the buttons on an elevator
made out in an elevator
slept in an elevator
swore at your parents (Awful. I'm so sorry.)
kicked a guy where it hurts
been in love
been close to love
been to a casino
been skydiving
broken a bone
been high
skipped school (high school? Would you believe I never skipped school? I skipped classes plenty of time in college, though, so I'm counting that.)
flashed someone (I have no idea when. But I just am sure that I have.)
saw a therapist
done the splits
played spin the bottle
gotten stitches
had an IV
drank a whole gallon of milk in one hour
bitten someone
been to Niagara Falls
gotten the chicken pox
kissed a member of the opposite sex
kissed a member of the same sex
crashed into a friend's car (No, but I did crash into a car DURING MY DRIVER'S TEST. And it was filled with people ready to take the test after me. One of the most mortifying moments of my life.)
been to Japan
ridden in a taxi
been dumped
been fired
had a crush on someone of the same sex (Does Joan Jett count? Also, when I was little, 8,9 years old, I had a ton of nonsexual girl-crushes on classmates. I just LOVED them, in the way I would LOVE boys a mere year later)
had feelings for someone who didn't have them back
stole something from your job
gone on a blind date
lied to a friend
had a crush on a teacher (My Math TA freshman year in college. hahaha He looked like Matthew Broderick. I loved him.)
celebrated Mardi-Gras in New Orleans
been to Europe
slept with a co-worker
been married
gotten divorced
had children
saw someone die
been to Africa
driven over 400 miles in one day
been to Canada
been to Mexico
been on a plane
seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show
thrown up in a bar
purposely set a part of yourself on fire - hahaha I know it's not funny, and no, I never have done this, but I think it's a funny "have you ever"
eaten sushi
been snowboarding
met someone in person from the internet
been moshing at a rock show
cut yourself on purpose
been to a moto cross show
lost a child
gone to college
graduated from college
done hard drugs - hm. Wasn't this on here before? No. Never done hard drugs.
taken painkillers
love someone or miss someone right now

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (11)

April 6, 2005


Or true? I can't even tell anymore.

The announcement has just been made that Daniel Craig will be the new Bond

The picture they chose to go along with the story makes him look anemic and watery-eyed. The opposite is true. He's a hunk, pretty much.

I saw him play Ted Hughes in Sylvia and he was incredible - sexy, manly, etc. etc. He had that tiny sense of danger about him, like you didn't know what he was going to do.


So this seems like good casting to me. I can't understand why they picked such a wimpy-looking picture to go with the announcement. Like: Hi, here's a consumptive-looking guy with a runny nose ... to play 007.

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (7)

I am joining the modern world

and I'm a bit scared, having turned into a complete Luddite since circa 2003.

For almost two years now, I have been without a television. I mean, I have an actual television, but I do not have cable. I've never been a TV addict, in general, but when I love a show, I watch it fervently, religiously, seriously, and so I do miss those shows, and I also miss watching the news, and being in touch with pop culture trends, no matter how minute. ("Ooh, everyone's wearing sparkley butterfly barrettes? WHY DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?") I love to watch the History channel, and I love to watch E! True Hollywood Story.

But due to finances, pinching pennies like you wouldn't believe, I just had to cut some stuff out. TV was one of them.

However, I am now going to emerge from my dark tunnel. Cable-Guy is coming over on Sunday to hook me up.

I am so used to not having television, and so used to living in an apartment that has no distractions except for 10,000 books and 389 Cary Grant movies, that I fear the repercussions of finally having it again. I figure I am going to have to give myself a good month of straight TV watching. I will watch the commercials, I will watch Seinfeld re-runs, I will revel in Law and Order, I will watch the news, I will watch Letterman ... I WILL PARTICIPATE IN TELEVISION CULTURE AGAIN.

I can't wait.

(And yes. This news did have something to do with my finally taking the plunge. I cannot miss that. I cannot.)

Posted by sheila Permalink | Comments (42)

Pi in the sky

A very interesting and fun piece about two mathematician brothers, Gregory and David Chudnovsky, who have devoted their lives to "pi". Originally published in the magazine in 1992, the piece is a peek into the lives of two interesting and obsessed people, brothers who built a supercomputer (named "m zero") which sits in the cramped Upper West Side apartment they share, calculating "pi" out to millions of numbers. (Richard Preston, author of the essay, writes: "The Chudnovsky brothers insist that they are functionally one mathematician who happens to occupy two human bodies.") The New Yorker unearthed the essay from their archives this week, and I knew I wanted to pass it on to anyone who is interested. I have this piece in a compilation at home, and it's well worth your while to read it, if you have the time.

From the essay:

[Pi] is a bloody mess. No apparent pattern emerges in the succession of digits. The digits of pi march to infinity in a predestined yet unfathomable code: they do not repeat periodically, seeming to pop up by blind chance, lacking any perceivable order, rule, reason, or design—“random” integers, ad infinitum. If a deep and beautiful design hides in the digits of pi, no one knows what it is, and no one has ever been able to see it by staring at the digits. Among mathematicians, there is a nearly universal feeling that it will never be possible, in principle, for an inhabitant of our finite universe to discover the system in the digits of pi. But for the present, if you want to attempt it, you need a supercomputer to probe the endless scrap of leftover pi.

So the brothers built a computer which hums away in their teeny apartment (they did not clear this with the landlord) ... but they used to do these calculations by hand, I believe. They are two very interesting people, a very good profile piece.

I have often wondered what ever became of their project, if it's still going, if anything has changed, etc. What is great is that The New Yorker has an update, of sorts. The two mathematicians, older now, but still working together, in yet another interesting project having to do with a medieval tapestry at the Cloisters.

In general, I love obsessives. These two certainly fit the bill.

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Middlemarch in the middle of the night

Had a pretty much sleepless night last night. I normally have no problems with descending into oblivion, but last night was terrible. I lay awake, eyes wide open, staring into the darkness, pretty much worrying myself into a nervous attack. I couldn't stop the old brain. Took me a while to even admit that I was having a bout of insomnia, I lay there wide-awake and worrying for waaayyyy too long. Finally, I had had it.

I got up. Turned on the light. Poured a glass of water and started reading Middlemarch, curled up under a fleece blanket in my now diagonally-placed chair. I read until 5 o'clock this morning. And then finally, I felt like sleeping. Put the book down, slept a couple of hours.

I had to have read 250 pages of Middlemarch last night, although I didn't count. I finished the second-to-last part (called "Two Temptations"), and now I am in the final part of the book, entitled "Sunrise and Sunset".

In a weird way, it was the worst thing to read during a sleepless night, because as the book races towards its conclusion, things keep getting worse and worse. George Eliot describes things so exquisitely well that it is impossible to not find examples in your own life and reflect upon your own regrets, the mistakes you have made, the bleaker moments of existence that we all have in our past.

Mr. Balustrode has emerged as a very important character (which I should have foreseen), and he, in a very short time, has become a ruined man.

Lydgate, too. The description of his marriage, and what it had become, is beyond awful. You feel for the guy. Rosamond ... one of those people in the world who cannot believe that life is not set up to please her, to make her life easy. She has no sense of loyalty to her husband. None. She thinks nothing of going behind his back, she does not stand by him. As a matter of fact, as her contempt and disappointment grows, she begins to subvert him. IN the sneakiest ways. When she wrote to Lydgate's uncle and asked him for money, I wanted to reach through the pages and smack the complacency off her face. I felt like I was Lydgate, and that she had betrayed me. How DARE you shame your husband like that? How dare you, you ignorant little bitch? She's an enraging character. Circa 3 a.m., when I got to the part of her letter to Uncle Godwin, I had to put the book down for a second. I got too angry. It was making me nervous. And then comes Uncle Godwin's letter to Lydgate, saying: "Don't send your wife to do your business. It's disgusting." Meanwhile, Lydgate had no idea that Rosamond had gone behind his back ... so even though I was thrilled that Rosamond would feel at least SOME humiliation for her appalling behavior, I felt - on the flipside - true dismay for Lydgate, because her secrecy and ignorance of how the world works (God, I want to smack her face, I'm serious) has ruined his chances to have a happy life. What a character. Rosamond is so alive that I felt her presence in my room. I wanted to speak to her, I wanted to make her realize how mistaken she is, how much she has missed the point, and how she has NO business being a wife. NONE. Her mind is completely undeveloped, and she has no sense that she ever needs to work on herself. No. Everything is justified, in her mind. She has no self-reflection. And in this, she completely abandons Lydgate (her husband) to his fate.

Another thing which struck me: The description of Lydgate's mounting debt, and what it feels like to be in debt, how it creeps up on you, and how it suddenly takes over all of your thoughts after the debt reaches a certain point ... Lydgate's debt is described with such chilling accuracy that I found myself getting a little upset. Is there a better description of the emotional side of being in debt than in George Eliot's book? It's incredible. It is so accurate. Lydgate becomes more and more obsessed with this load of DEBT and how it poisons his entire life, and if he could just get RID of it - if he could just make it GO AWAY, then real life could begin. The desperation becomes so acute (and his wife is so supremely unsympathetic) that he does something so out of character that you ache for him. You ache for his loss of principles, you ache for the character you met at the beginning of the book. Because now, by the end, that character is no more. In his place, is a miserable desperate lonely man, pretty much under the control of the wife he once "loved" (ha - No, he didn't.) - He thought she would be the comfort he could come home to, he thought she would be the soft pillow he could rest on at the end of a hard day. He did not recognize the faults in her character. He couldn't see her essential selfishness and ignorance. She's an awful person. I can't stand her.

I am very sorry that Lydgate is being punished so completely, and his psyche so shattered - but he made a terrible choice in a wife, and that's his fault. He was blinded by her beauty. He couldn't imagine that that soft and pleasing exterior could hide such a sneaky hard disloyal person underneath. Her appearance fooled him. It is my hope that Rosamond gets hers in the end. And BADLY. (Please, don't reveal what happens if you've read it. I will probably finish it tonight or tomorrow.)

So I found the entire "Two Temptations" section of the book really nerve-wracking (I could feel that events were spiralling out of control, and that things were going from bad to worse) - but I still couldn't put it down. Also, and even more disturbing: I actually care about some of these characters now. I care about what happens to them.

One word: Caleb Garth is pretty much the only person in the book who acts according to his principles. I find that intensely moving. I love Caleb Garth.

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April 5, 2005

The Wizard of Oz ...

Excerpt from Margaret Atwood's book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. This is the section on The Wizard of Oz. Nothing new here, nothing revolutionary, but definitely interesting to contemplate and discuss. I assume we all remember the story of the Wizard, and what he does??

He's had to pretend to be magical and fearsome, so that the evil witches -- who really do have supernatural powers -- would not destroy them all. Thus he has created either a utopia or a benevolent despotism, however you choose to look at it. Also he has fooled Dorothy into doing battle with the remaining evil witch by holding out false promises: he doesn't really know how to get her back to Kansas.

Dorothy is not impressed. "I think you are a very bad man," she says.

"Oh no, my dear," says the Wizard. "I'm really a very good man; but I'm a very bad Wizard ..."

If you're an artist, being a good man -- or a good woman -- is pretty much beside the point when it comes to your actual accomplishments. Moral perfection won't compensate for your badness as an artist; not being able to hit high C is not redeemed by being kind to dogs. However, whether you are a good man or a bad man is not beside the point if you happen to be a good wizard -- good at doing your magic, making your "marvellous clear jelly," creating illusions that can convince people of their truth -- because if you are good at being a wizard in this sense, then power of various sorts may well come your way -- power in relation to society -- and then your goodness or badness as a human being will have a part in determining what you do with this power.

The Wizard of Oz -- soi-disant magician, wielder of power, manipulator, illusionist, and fraud -- has a long geneology. His remote ancestor was probably a shaman or high priest or conjuror, or one who combined these functions. Other ancestors can be found in folklore. More recently, and in literature, he can be traced from Marlowe's Dr. Faustus through Prospero of The Tempest.

I'll post the Prospero bit next.

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Writer as illusionist

I'm reading Margaret Atwood's book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. This book began when she was requested to give the Empson Lectures at the University of Cambridge (I think it was a series of six lectures). She describes, amusingly, how excited she was - but how that excitement slowly drained out of her when she actually sat down to write, and to think about what to write for the lectures.

I love it. It's a messy book, she flies about in her references - which I really enjoy: from Chaucer to Elmore Leonard. Stephen King to Shakespeare. She's not a snob in her reading, and she can find inspiration anywhere. I very much appreciate that. I am kind of the same way. This is a book about writing - it's not a how-to book (although I am finding it quite exciting to read). It's more a rumination on different aspects of writing. Also: what IS a writer, and is it possible to define our terms? is it possible to reconcile art and commerce? She did one lecture on Jekyll and Hyde (which I love - she talks a lot about "the double" - in art and also in life. Writers live double lives - they have to eat, live, pay rent. But then they have to be the mad solitary genius. This is the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. Fascinating lecture.)

The fourth lecture, she entitled: "Temptation: Prospero, the Wizard of Oz, Mephisto & Co. Who waves the wand, pulls the strings, or signs the Devil's book?" In this lecture, she looks at the Faustian conflicts inherent in trying to be an artist of any kind.

She uses, as her primary examples, three characters from fiction:

--The Wizard of Oz, from Frank Baum's book of the same name.
--Prospero, from Shakespeare's The Tempest
--and the German actor "Mephisto" in Klaus Mann's novel (has anyone seen that movie, by the way? Un REAL. So good.)

What do these three have in common?

Atwood writes:

All exist at the intersection of art with power, and therefore with moral and social responsibility. And all three are illusionists, of one kind or another.

Anyway, I'm gonna post some excerpts from her discussions of these three characters, and what message they may have for all of us. It's really cool.

Posted by sheila Permalink

Miss Krumholtz, immortalized

I am posting this for my friend Mitchell, who played my boss in the show How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying. Well, I'm posting it for you all, too, of course, but he was there.

In How to Succeed, I played Miss Krumholtz, one of the eternally hopeful (and single) secretaries in the secretary pool. Of course, all we really cared about was getting married, and so we lived in a state of eternal waiting. (In one catastrophic scene, we all show up at an office party, one by one, thrilled, thinking maybe this will be the night we meet "him"? And we each had ordered a dress that we have been told is a "Paris original". Of course we all then show up in the exact same dress. Tragedy. END of a woman's LIFE.)

Regardless. Miss Krumholtz is, sadly, not cut out for marriage. But she doesn't know it yet. She lives in hope. She believes she will meet her Prince Charming at any moment, although anyone with a brain in her head could see that she will NEVER meet her Prince Charming. She is clumsy, awkward, and not sexy at all. (Obvious typecasting.) She is way too eager, way too pathetic, has nothing of interest to say, and men see her coming and basically run the other way. But still! SHE LIVES IN HOPE!!!

Mitchell played my abusive boss. Which, as you can probably imagine, caused much hilarity for us backstage. Anyone see the movie Secretary? That was what we imagined.

Poor Miss Krummy. Hopeful for a husband. But doomed for spinsterhood.

Ehm ... see photo of me as Miss Krumholtz below.



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Profile of Hirsi Ali

An in-depth fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine about the extraordinary Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I've been aware of her for some time, even more so since the murder of Theo van Gogh, but there was much in this article I didn't know. I highly recommend it. It describes this woman's entire journey, from Somali fundamentalist girl, eager to be a martyr (I found it especially chilling how she "suddenly hated Israel", even though she had never heard of Israel, didn't even know what it is), and then her move to "unbeliever" now and member of Dutch parliament, living under armed guard, dealing with daily death threats from outraged Muslims worldwide.

The present Dutch crisis looks very different if you believe a tribal principle is at work. It can look apocalyptic, in fact. In late February, sitting in an empty conference room in The Hague, clutching her black woolen wrap, Hirsi Ali speculated on one consequence. ''The Netherlands is an art country,'' she said. ''If the citizens of Amsterdam, 60 percent of whom will soon be of non-Western origin, are not made part of that, all of this will decay and be destroyed. When the municipality has to vote on whether funds go to preserve art or build a mosque, they may ask, 'Why should I pay for this stupid painting?' They may do a host of other things that are undemocratic, illiberal and unfriendly toward women and homosexuals and unbelievers.'' Hirsi Ali fears that inaction will be grist for the mill of an extreme right that is on the rise. ''If we don't take effective measures, now,'' she said, ''the Netherlands could be torn between two extreme rights'': an Islamic one and a non-Islamic one.

It's a problem. "Inaction will be grist for the mill". Uhm ... it already has been "grist for the mill". The enemy isn't at the gates, the enemy is inside the gates. I applaud those like Theo van Gogh and Hirsi Ali, these lone voices of protest against this tide of inaction. Speak the truth. Speak the truth about what is happening in Europe.

After stabbing van Gogh, the killer left impaled on the corpse a five-page letter addressed to Hirsi Ali. As the Netherlands suffered an explosion of mosque-burnings and attacks on churches, Hirsi Ali was moved under heavy guard from secret location to secret location, sometimes more than once a day. After six days of that, she had had enough. She was told that the only safe alternative was for her to leave the country for a spell. Hirsi Ali insisted on going to either Israel or the United States. ''Those are the only places,'' she recalls thinking, ''where people will understand what happened Nov. 2.''

Yup. Pretty much.

A quote from Hirsi Ali's book Cage of Virginis:

When a 'Life of Brian' comes out with Muhammad in the lead role, directed by an Arab equivalent of Theo van Gogh, it will be a huge step forward.
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18" high Stone Henge

That's all I should have to say. 18" high Stone Henge, and you will know the movie I watched last night for the 20th time.

The image of that tiny Stone Henge descending behind Michael McKean is one of the funniest visual gags I can think of. Funny, because the humor has already been set up in the scene between the artist (Anjelica Huston - haha) and the producer. You suddenly realize that Christopher Guest had given her incorrect specs ... and so once the concert begins you wait for the appearance of the tiny Stone Henge. And no matter how many times I've seen it, it doesn't lose its funniness.

And then come the RIDICULOUS dancing dwarves who knock over the Stone Henge ... and Michael McKean's irritated comment after the show, "No, the real problem out there was that two dwarves knocked over our Stone Henge."

I just ... it's funny every single time I see it.


Hahahaha That is so RIDICULOUS!

More funniness:

-- Fran Drescher as the record company exec, explaining why the album cover for Spinal Tap's latest (called Sniff the Glove) is sexist and offensive.

-- Billy Crystal as the pissed-off mime catering manager. hahaha

-- All of them trying (and badly) to harmonize "Heartbreak Hotel" while standing over Elvis Presley's grave.

-- Rob Reiner, in general

-- Anjelica Huston's one teeny scene. It is so funny. How she realizes, with horror, that she has built the Stone Henge too small. "What do you mean - the real thing? This ... this is the real thing..."

-- the one random scene where they're all at the zoo, and they start talking about apes, and Christopher Guest says casually that apes can speak, they can say little things like "Yes, please" and "no" - it's just that they CHOOSE not to speak.

-- the concert scene at the Air Force Base where they sing "Sex Farm" to a horrified military public. hahaha "Sex Farm".

-- Christopher Guest showing off all his guitars to Rob Reiner, and then there's the one that is so special that Reiner can't touch it - and can't even look at it

-- Harry Shearer caught inside that chrysalis-thing onstage during a performance. His desperation growing, banging on the inside to be let out, the stage-hand finally coming on with the blowtorch ... hahahaha

-- oh, and Bruno Kirby as the irritable Frank Sinatra-loving limo driver, who confesses, quietly, to the producer of Spinal Tap: "These guys don't know, do they?" "Know what?" asks the producer. Kirby answers, "That this is all just a fad."

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April 4, 2005

There's a boy's club? Why didn't anyone tell me??

What a ridiculous and enraging article. "Why are the top bloggers all men? It's a boy's club! Wah, wah, wah, let girls into the club, let blacks into the club!" As though there is some sinister design here ...

Sadie, at Fistful of Rights, goes OFF on this guy - great post. Awesome stuff. She writes:

It's silly enough that in 2005, business still have to behave as if they're operating out of Alabama, circa 1897. Like the parents of every child in the world, I can muster up mock sympathy, "Gee, this makes you feel defeated and sad? Well, I'm sorry, but you cannot have everything you desire." Now Stephen Levy is bitching about the lack of diversity in the Technorati Top 100 list of blogs. He claims it's just not fair that so many of these 'alpha blogs' are written by white males, and he demands corrective action. Correction of what problem?

It's the usual affirmative action bullshit, where the utopian ideal would be "A blogosphere whose elite tier reflects the actual population." A blogger census, if you will. So I suppose in order to be listed in the Top 100, you not only have to achieve the requisite linkage, but now you must submit to a face-to-face interview where your apparent race is noted and they strip search for gender verification. Levy's article claims that the real problem is that too many white people are linking to other white people. Oh well, fuck me over a barrel. Let's just establish linkage quotas now, shall we? In fact, I think I'll just hack my blogroll and start afresh, since it's such an ingenious idea. Let's start some blog unions too... doesn't that sound exciting??? Fuck that.

Blogging is not restricted. You don't need to pass an entrance exam. You can blog for free. You don't need to post pictures of yourself. NOBODY needs to know your race or your gender, if that is what floats your boat. So this kind of stuff just makes me nuts. Give minorities and women incentive to start blogging? What? Are you people out of your minds?

Let me explain to anyone out there whining about "the men's club" of blogging:

You can blog FOR FREE. You need NO INCENTIVE except that you need to WANT to blog. You need to want to set yourself up on your soapbox, and see who shows up to hear your rants.

This kind of diversity stuff goes up my ass, especially since blogging is not a regulated activity in any way. You don't even have to TELL your race or gender if you don't want to. You can be invisible, and just be a mouthpiece.

Besides, all of this is besides the point. WHO CARES? I read blogs written by women and by men. I do not think my blog-roll has to be 50/50 just to keep the balance. Some of the blogs written by men SUCK. Just because you're a man doesn't mean your blog is good. I mean, it's ridiculous that I even have to say this, but apparently I do. And just because you're a woman, or you're black, doesn't mean that your blog is good either.

"White males only link to other white males!" comes the whining cry.

Well. I'm a white girl, and most of the people who link to me are white males. So there goes that theory. Additionally, what - because Glenn Reynolds doesn't link to your sorry-ass blog, you're gonna cry discrimination or racism or sexism? That's pathetic.

You gotta come up with the goods, you have to write, you have to write well, you have to involve yourself in the larger world, get your posts out there, yadda yadda. This is not a gender-based problem. WHO CARES?

When it comes down to silliness like this, I am totally serious: the word "diversity" is starting to make me roll my eyes, which is a shame. In this context, I don't ever want to hear that word again, trying to "level the playing field", blah blah blah. And now we've got some bozo decrying the "lack of diversity" in BLOGGING, of all things. So now will my blog-roll be regulated? Will I get an email from the Blog-Police, saying: "Uhm, you need to have more black people on your blog-roll or we will report you. We have noticed there are more men on your blog-roll and so here is a list of approved female bloggers - please choose a couple and post them by early next week. Thank you."

Yawn. I'm so OVER that. I link to people because I like what they have to say. That's it. I imagine that's the case with the rest of the blog-world, too. You link to who you like, you link to people you think are interesting, yadda yadda, common sense. You don't tally it up in your head.

"Ooh, I linked to a man in my last post. Better balance it out by linking to a woman now."

What a tiresome way to live. And if anyone EVER linked to me to throw me a bone, to "balance" things out gender-wise, I would have to stab someone with a fork. Don't do me any favors. Link to me cause you like me. I don't ever ever want to be a token.

(via Cake-Eater Chronicles)

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Congratulations to John Patrick Shanley ...

... one of my favorite playwrights, for winning the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for his new play Doubt. The play is now on Broadway, after a run at the Manhattan Theatre Club, and stars Cherry Jones, one of the best stage actresses (or, hell, best actresses I mean) working today. I need to figure out a way to go see Doubt. I love me some Shanley! The review ends with:

While all the performances are excellent, Ms. Jones's and Mr. O'Byrne's are extraordinary, master classes in the use of body language and vocal inflection to convey internal conflict. Each has one especially stunning moment. In Mr. O'Byrne's case, it involves his framing his mouth with the fingers of one hand. For Ms. Jones, it is simply a matter of dropping her voice an octave.

"Doubt" is an unusually quiet work for Mr. Shanley, a writer who made his name with rowdy portraits of bruising love affairs. But gentleness becomes this dramatist. Even as "Doubt" holds your conscious attention as an intelligently measured debate play, it sends off emotional stealth charges that go far deeper.

John Patrick Shanley, bravo!!

I'll post the following excerpt, which was his preface to his play The Big Funk. I cherish this essay on the art of acting and have it tacked up on my bulletin board. No, wait. It's not just about acting, although that's of course his impetus, his world, his experience. He's writing about how to make a living in the theatre, how to survive, how to DO IT, how to stay true, etc. But more than that, it's an essay about how to live life... The ending is killer. Packs a punch no matter how many times I have read it.

Congratulations to one of my favorite living playwrights on your Pulitzer.

John Patrick Shanley's preface to his play "The Big Funk"

A man in our society is not left alone. Not in the cities. Not in the woods. We msut have commerce with our fellows, and that commerce is difficult and uneasy. I do not understand how to live in this society. I don't get it. Each person has an enormous effect. Call it environmental impact if you like. Where my foot falls, I leave a mark, whether I want to or not. We are linked together, each to each. You can't breathe without taking a breath from somebody else. You can't smile without changing the landscape. And so I ask the question: Why is theatre so ineffectual, unnew, not exciting, fussy, not connected to the thrilling recognition possible in dreams?

It's a question of spirit. My ungainly spirit thrashes around inside me making me feel lumpy and sick. My spirit is this moment dissatisfied with the outward life I inhabit. Why does my outward life not reflect the enormity of the miracle of existence? Why are my eyes blinded with always new scales, my ears stopped with thick chunks of fresh wax, why are my fingers calloused again?

I don't ask these questions lightly. I beat on the stone door of my tomb. I want out! Some days I wake up in a tomb, some days on a grassy mound by a river. Today, I woke up in a tomb. Why does my spirit sometimes retreat into a deathly closet? Perhaps it is not my spirit leading the way at such times, but my body, longing to lie down in marble gloom, and rot away.

Theatre is a safe place to do the unsafe things that need to be done. When it's not a safe place, it's abusive to actors and audiences alike. When its safety is used to protect cowards masquerading as heroes, it's a boring travesty. An actor who is truly heroic reveals the divine that passes through him, that aspect of himself that he does not own and cannot control. The control and the artistry of the heroic actor is in service to his soul.

We live in an era of enormous cynicism. Do not be fooled.

Don't act for money. You'll start to feel dead and bitter.

Don't act for glory. You'll start to feel dead, fat, and fearful.

We live in an era of enormous cynicism. Do not be fooled.

You can't avoid all the pitfalls. There are lies you must tell. But experience the lie. See it as something dead and unconnected you clutch. And let it go.

Act from the depth of your feeling imagination. Act for celebration, for search, for grieving, for worship, to express that desolate sensation of wandering through the howling wilderness.

Don't worry about Art.

Do these things, and it will be Art.

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I am laughing out loud ...

The 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers.

I was glad to see that insufferable Rocco DiSpirito made the list. I'm not really a gleefully mean-spirited girl (although Jewel and Renee Zellweger are the exceptions and definitely bring out my inner mean girl), but I became addicted to that show The Restaurant MERELY because of how AWFUL I thought Rocco DiSpirito was. I watched that show religiously, just to get furious. I YEARNED for his downfall. And now it looks like it has come to pass. He's on the list. And yeah, he is indeed loathsome.

Here's what it says in the article:

A few short years ago, Italian-by-way-of-Queens chef Rocco DiSpirito was the toast of Gotham. Young and handsome, classically trained, the mofo could whip up a wicked pasta fagioli. Then Rocco jumped at the chance to be the next Anna Nicole Smith, and viewers watched the behind-the-scenes story of how he and Jeffrey Chodorow opened Rocco's on 22nd St. Suddenly he was more interested in schmoozing Bay Ridge butterfaces and screaming at his sous chef than actually cooking. As a shrinking legion of fans looked on, Rocco and Chodorow's relationship sunk quicker than a chocolate soufflι too soon out of the oven, and before long the guy was legally barred from the restaurant that bore his name. The Restaurant was canceled, the restaurant was padlocked and Rocco was without a job. Now he's hawking Mama's meatballs and a cooking-in-a-vacuum contraption on QVC, and flirting with endomorphic Midwestern housewives on his AM radio program: another sniveling ex-hipster with a motor scooter, an overbearing mother and no real job to speak of. It doesn't pain us to say he deserves it.

"endomorphic Midwestern housewives"

heh heh heh

But you have to read the snippet on wild-child Lindsey Lohan who has, indeed, been tearing up the tabloids here with her exploits:

This auburn-haired celebutante trainwreck poisons America's gossip pages daily. Late-night sloppy barhops are followed by mysterious illnesses and insane diva tantrums. She refuses to rehearse and shuts down sets because she can't remember her lines. The most discordant detail in this grim Muppet show is that most of this happened while she was filming a movie called Herbie: Fully Loaded. What's her encore gonna be? Getting caught having crack smoke blown up her ass on the set of Lassie Y2K5?


(got this from Dan)

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Maxfield Parrish ...

He was the first artist I ever was aware of, as a youngun, because my aunt Regina had a book of his artwork in her room, and I used to look through it, in total wonder, when we would go to my grandmother's house. It was something I loved to visit, that book.

I'll write more about him someday. I have lots of thoughts about his stuff, but they're rather vague, not fully formulated yet.

There's one of a naked girl, perched on a rock by the calm ocean, looking up at the stars. The whole painting is a soft calm creamy blue. Her nakedness is completely innocent. She looks like a nymph, she happily stares up at the stars, her skin the same creamy blue as the night around her. (I posted the image in the Extended Entry below). That painting was like a crack in the atmosphere to me, when I was little. I stared at it, and I could slip inside, like Alice through the Looking Glass. I was on that rock, with the blue night, the starry universe, the calm quiet blue ocean, the soft chilly air on my arms ... It was a doorway into another world. That other world felt more real than the actual world I was in.

Here's a post with some of Parrish's work. The first two in particular really strike me.

I need to get a big book of all of Parrish's stuff. I need to have his stuff nearby, so I can look at it from time to time.


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April 3, 2005

Happiness is ...

... a confluence of these different sensory details:

-- wind-storm outside

-- slate grey sky, bare trees whipping in the wind, grass shriveled and brown

-- the dark grey Hudson River, darker than the sky

-- the sound of the rattling window panes

-- warm cozy lamplight inside, a pot of coffee brewing

-- a morning of writing accomplished at my desk (in its new spot!)

-- a leisurely watching of Ball of Fire, starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, a movie I have almost memorized by now. ("Those must be the statistics on San Salvador saltpeter." "Miss O'Shea ... could you ... yum-yum me ... one more time?") I love it. It's such a satisfying movie.

It is the disparity between the indoor and outdoor world that leads to true contentment. Outside is bleak and inhospitable. Inside is warm and safe.

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The pope and the Ark of Nowa Huta

The Pope has died.

I will not defend the Pope's stance on gay marriage, on women in the priesthood, on (fill in the blank). I'm a Catholic, but I won't sit around defending what I see to be backwards and foolish stances. On the flipside, I also don't expect the Catholic Church to modernize itself and its attitudes in any way that even resembles speed! People who are waiting for that kind of change from that kind of institution have no idea how institutions like that operate. So. That being said. I also will not tolerate generalized Catholic-bashing. I just won't have it. [Especially from people who go on and on about how we have to tolerate this or that other religion - wiccans, fire-worshipers, Muslims ... and yet somehow that tolerance is not inclusive towards Christians or Catholics. Nope. Hypocrites.] I'm no idiot, and I'm no blind follower. I'm against dogma, anyway, which ... makes it surprising that I am able to call myself a Catholic at all. But oh well. It's my faith. Love it or leave it, Tommy. The Pope has pissed me off recently more than he has enlightened and inspired, this is true, but he - being a human being - like all of us - was a mixed bag, part good, part evil, part wrong-headed, part visionary.

I like this quote from Secular Blasphemy:

I am no fan of Karol Joseph Wojtyla, a deeply conservative man, but one positive thing he leaves the world was his tremendous part in bringing down communism in Eastern Europe. That is something nobody can take away from his record.

Exactly. And so: what I will remember him for (and this probably isn't a surprise) is his courageous and active stance against Communism, and how instrumental he was in the crackup of the Soviet Union. His actions in the late 1970s and early 80s stand as an example of one human being, one small human being, holding up a light, shining it not only so that his followers know which way to go - but also shining it onto the evil itself, illuminating it for all to see. That is what he did. His presence gave people hope. He said to the people of Poland (and, by proxy, to all people suffering under the communist yoke): "You are already free. They cannot enslave you. You are free already."

I think the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for, in terms of its handling of social problems and its own problems and necessary change in general, but in a strange way, I am glad it has been embroiled in scandal recently. Because maybe now the truth will come out, and true reform can occur. The truth shall set you free and all that.

But today, of all days, I do not want to dwell on that. It is not appropriate, and it's not my thing. I never talk about religion on this blog, because frankly, it's such a private thing for me that even putting any of it into words feels weird. I find evangelism frightening and off-putting. If evengelism floats your boat, then do it - but you'll find no conversion from me. My faith is a private thing. It exists, it's my own, and the thought of getting into doctrinal arguments with people is ... it's just not right for me. My spirit says to that: NO. I will not do that. I have no need to convert others, I have no need to even TALK about my beliefs to people. I think righteousness has no place in religion (which is why so much of organized religion and its followers, in particular, disgust me.) Humility is what seems most holy to me. Humility, and a sense that whatever it is we are doing here in church, whatever it is ... is basically a mystery. The Holy Ghost part of the equation. St. Augustine said, "If you think you understand, it isn't God." I am with you Augie!!!

Anyway. I'm getting off track here. What I really want to do is post a long excerpt from a book I really love: Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by journalist Michael Dobbs. Poland and the Solidarity movement (inspired, in part, by the Pope), were at the forefront of the "fall of the Soviet Union" - The stirrings began in Poland, and then spread like wildfire until nothing could stop the crack-up.

And that's all I want to say about the Pope. My feelings about the other policies of the Church and the way it is going right now have no place in this conversation. At least not today. Today, I think it is important to remember the magnitude of his contribution to the fall of the Soviet Empire.

Here is the story of the Polish Pope, and the extraordinary thing that happened at Nowa Huta, Poland, on June 22, 1983:

An excerpt from Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by journalist Michael Dobbs.

While the leaders of world communism were bidding farewell to Brezhnev, a little drama was being played out on the periphery of the Soviet empire that captured the scale of the ideological challenge confronting his successors. The workers of Nowa Huta, a city of 200,000 people in southern Poland, had taken a passionate dislike to a statue to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin adorning their central square. They had marched on it, scrawled anti-Communist graffiti on it, and attempted to pull it down with picks and ropes. On one occasion they had even set the father of the international proletariat on fire, drenching his billowing overcoat in gasoline and blowing off one of his hands.

Determined to protect Vladimir Ilyich from his ungrateful offspring, the Communist authorities erected a corrugated iron fence around the charred two-story-high monument. Thousands of ZOMO riot police moved into Nowa Huta. Armed policement patrolled the square day and night. At moments of tension a dozen police vehicles threw a defensive circle of steel around the statue. Water cannon were stationed nearby to repel a surprise attack.

For a nation still reeling from the psychological shock of martial law, there was a delicious irony to these events. Nowa Huta - Polish for "new steelworks" -- had been planned as a model socialist community. Poland's rulers had wanted a socioeconomic laboratory where they could turn God-fearing Polish peasants into the new proletarian man described by Marx and Lenin. They saw the town as a political counterweight to the nearby city of Krakow, Poland's ancient capital, which they regarded as a bastion of conservative reaction. The construction of Nowa Huta in the early 1950s was accompanied by a propaganda barrage about the incredible feats of "heroes of socialist labor", which served as inspiration for Andrzej Wajda's film Man of Marble. To celebrate its completion, the giant Nowa Huta steelworks received the hallowed name of Lenin ...

Nowa Huta differed from other model socialist towns in one very important respect. At the corner of Karl Marx Avenue and Great Proletarian Avenue stood a soaring concrete structure that had not been part of the original plan. Topped by a huge steel cross, the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Poland was known to everyone in town as the Ark. The struggle to prove the planners wrong had infused the entire community with a sense of defiance.

The first cross appeared on this site in 1957, in the wake of the popular upheavals that swept Gormulka to power. Over the next decade the cross was repeatedly torn down by police and stubbornly put up again by the local inhabitants. Finally, in 1967, seventeen years after the building of Nowa Huta, the archibishop of Krakow had dug a spade into the earth to break the ground for the town's first church. It took another decade of bureaucratic obstruction and arbitrary shortages of building materials to complete the Ark. Much of the work, including carrying two million stones from mountain streams, was done by local inhabitants with their bare hands. Consecrating the completed church in 1977, the archbishop had declared: "Nowa Huta was built as a city without God, but the will of God and the people who worked here prevailed. Let this be a lesson."

The archbishop had gone on to become Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. On his first pilgrimage back to his homeland, in 1979, Karol Wojtyla had been refused permission to visit the Ark. So he had said mass across the cornfields in Krakow, against the backdrop of the dark, satanic steel mill. Now he was returning to Poland once again, and this time he would be visiting Nowa Huta. Frustrated in their attempts to put down the local Lenin monument, the inhabitants of the "city without God" were determined to show the world where their loyalties really lay.

The Pope's first visit had provided the spiritual boost that had paved the way for the rise of Solidarity. By turning out to greet their countrymean, and becoming part of the millions-strong crowd that followed his every move, Poles acquired a sense of solidarity with one another. Never again would they feel alone and isolated, as they had during the dark days of totalitarianism. If anyone was isolated, it was Poland's Communist rulers.

During the 1979 pilgrimage John Paul had spoken in a voice that was simple and direct, quite unlike the voice of the Communist regime. He talked of the 35-year Communist experience as a transitory phenomenon, insignificant in comparison with Poland's thousand-year devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. It was a message that came across clearly on the first day of the visit, in Warsaw's Victory Square, when the pope attacked the state for attempting to create an atheistic society. "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe," he had thundered. The crowd greeted his words with a ten-minute burst of applause, ending with rhythmic chants of "We want God, we want God!:

From that moment onward, Karol Wojtyla became the uncrowned king of Poland.

During his weeklaong tour of Poland the pope had elaborated on one of his favorite themes, the spiritual unity of Europe. He saw his beloved Krakow as part of a European-wide civilization, in which political boundaries were more or less irrelevant. In Wojtyla's Europe, the Europe of 966, when Poland was first converted to Christianity, there was no Iron Curtain and no Berlin Wall. Priests, scholars, and ideas traveled freely from one town to another. The pope was convinced that his election was God's way of reminding Western Europe that Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Bulgars, and even Russians were also part of a much broader Christian civilization.

Born in 1920, the year Poland defeated Soviet Russia in the "Miracle on the Vistula," Karol Wojtyla had firsthand experience of family tragedy, backbreaking labor, and political oppression. He had scarcely known his mother, a schoolteacher, who died when he was only six, while giving birth to a stillborn girl. His father, who had served in the Austro-Hungarian army, was killed in the opening year of World War II. "At the age of twenty," Wojtyla later recalled, "I had already lost all the people I loved and even the ones I might have loved, such as my big sister who had died, I was told, six years before my birth." Psychologists have speculated that the future pope sought compensation for the maternal love he never received in the Marian cult of the Black Madonna.

As a theological student in Krakow, Wojtyla experienced the terror of German occupation. A particularly brutal Nazi gauleiter, Hans Frank, installed himself in the royal Warsaw Castle with orders from Hitler to treat the POles as a slave race. "The standard of living in POland must be kept low," Hitler instructed. "The priests will preach what we want them to preach. Their task is to keep the Poles quiet, stupid, and dull-witted." Wojtyla saw Krakow Jews being taken to the death camp at Auschwitz, just a few miles down the road. Polish intellectuals were disposed of in a similar fashion. The Germans put Wojtyla to work, first in a stone quarry and later carrying buckets of lime in a water purification plant. On the night of August 6, 1944, the Gestapo arrested all Polish males between the age of fifteen and fifty in retaliation for the Warsaw uprising. Had they found Wojtyla, they would probably have killed him. Fortunately for the young theologian, he was given shelter by the archibishop of Krakow, Prince Adam Sapieha.

Wojtyla lived in the residence on Franciscan Street, off and on, for nearly fifteen years, as both student and archbishop. When he returned in June, 1983, as pope, it was as if he were coming home. He greeted the nuns by name and sang and joked with the thousands of young people who waited to greet him in the street outside. "Holy Father, we trust you," they chanted. "Save Poland!"

On the last full day of his visit the pope said mass on the Blonie, the vast meadow in front of Wawel Castle. Banners reading "Solidarity Lives" and "There Is No Freedom Without Solidarity" fluttered above the crowd of two million people. Alluding to Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law, the pope urged his listeners never to give up. The nation had been "called to victory," he declared.

As he said these words, two million people raised their hands silently in the air in the V for victory sign. An underground Solidarity leader, Eugeniusz Szumiejko, who had managed to escape the police roundup, was standing at the back of the huge throng, on top of an embankment. All of a sudden he saw a sea of black heads submerged in a wave of white fists. It was an awe-inspiring sight, proof that Jaruzelski had been unable to crush the spirit that had given birth to Solidarity. At the end of the mass a large chunk of the crowd set off on foot for Nowa Huta, beneath their Solidarity banners, to see the pope consecrate a new church.

"Khodz z namy," they chanted, the battle cry of 1970 and 1980. "Come with us. There will be no beatings today."

When they reached the site of the new church, the joined a congregation of a quarter of a million people. The entire population of the "city without God" had turned out to greet the pope. Here was proof that history could not be reversed by tanks, internment camps, and corrugated iron fences, that martial law too would pass, and that Nowa Huta's two-story monument to the founder of world communism would one day come down.

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April 2, 2005


A monsoon.

And the Diane Arbus show at the Met. She wrote:

Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It's what I've never seen before that I recognise.

This statement is key. Whatever she came from did not fit. She was a square peg. But when she tripped over that which she had never seen before (the fire eaters, and midget performers, and burlesque dancers, and retarded adults) ... her work took off. She recognized these misfits, freaks and "geeks" - in a deeper and more compassionate way than she could recognize her own kind. That was her thing. It makes her work hard to take, at times, hard to look at.


It's an enormous show, it took us hours to get through the whole thing properly. It was dense, and emotional. Also PACKED. That's one of the many reasons why I love New York. If something is going on? Anywhere? The damn thing is PACKED. It's also a curse, because I hate crowds, but still. I love art, I love culture, I love to know that people give a shit about things ... and so in that sense, I love to see a crowd. You could barely move in the Diane Arbus exhibit. You had to inch this way, sidle that way ... the place was jam-PACKED.

I'm still thinking about her work. No conclusions. I think that may be one of Arbus' points, although I am not sure.

Her work doesn't "mean" anything. You can't look at it and say: "Aha, so THIS is what she is saying about modern life." Or - hell, you COULD look at it and say that, but I believe you would be over-simplifiying things to a massive degree.

It's important to take bad pictures. It's the bad ones that have to do with what you've never done before. They can make you recognize something you hadn't seen in a way that will make you recognize it when you see it again. -- Diane Arbus

I find her work disturbing, exhilarating, embarrassing, and on many levels totally disgusting. There were certain photographs (especially of the burlesque performers in their dressing rooms, circa 1950s) where I wanted to crawl into that world. The detail! But here, I think, is what Arbus' work is about:

We left the museum. We entered the MONSOON. We struggled with our umbrellas, we bent our heads against the wind, we started over towards Lexington.

My friend said, "It's weird. I feel like I'm looking at everyone now like they could be a Diane Arbus portrait. Don't you see everybody differently right now?"

Her work demands a response, sure. But not a specific response. She doesn't demand that you think: "oh, so the plight of the so-and-so class is awful ... we must all feel bad for those people ..." No. It's bleaker than that. It's simpler. No response is demanded of you. Nothing is supposed to happen. You can interpret all you want, fine, intellectualize it if that comforts you. But just know, that you are only guessing. Interpretation is not required.

What IS required of you, though, is that you LOOK. That's all. Just LOOK at these people. Make up your own mind, whatever. Make judgments, pass judgment, be judgmental, fine - it's a natural condescending response to those who are different from us. But you must LOOK. Just LOOK at these people.

We spent hours in that world today. Looking at all those people. And then staggering out into the Manhattan monsoon.


42nd Street movie theater audience, N.Y.C. 1958

God, to go to the movies in those days!!


A young Brooklyn Family going for a Sunday Outing, NYC. (1966) I do love this one. LOOK at that little boy. hahaha We saw that today at the exhibit, and just howled with laughter. LOOK AT HIM!! hahahaha

And then there's stuff like this photo below. Stuff you really don't want to look at. But Arbus says: LOOK. SEE THEM. THEY ARE NOT INVISIBLE. LOOK. (Not sayin' I want this shit on my walls! But I do think her message is of the utmost importance.)


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Feng shui triumph

My entire apartment is now transformed. The problem was: I was kind of thinking inside the box with how things should be arranged. You can't really see clearly what needs to change - but you know SOMETHING has to. My only certainty was: I need to move the desk from its current position.

So Jen arrived (she also was one of the 5 witches, by the way), and after a long time spent in my cozy kitchen, eating brie and crackers and olives, drinking wine, talking, laughing, we tackled the project.

Desk was moved. Huge bookshelf moved. Bedside table replaced with small bookcase. TV moved (that was a RADICAL choice, completely outside the box and gave me an anxiety attack for about 2 minutes, but it works!!) We moved my rug. Now there are lots of diagonals in my one small room. Rug placed on the diagonal, TV slanted inward, my comfy chair placed diagonally - and somehow (Stevie, am I insane?) having a couple of diagonals going on changes the character and feel of a room completely. I swear that by making a couple of diagonal placement-choices I have just made the room bigger.

We were on fast-forward. We moved with firmness and dispatch. We Endusted everything in sight. We tried out lamps here, there, we placed mirrors about, we tried plants in this corner, no, in that corner ... until finally all of that stopped, we looked around, and could see that everything was now exactly where it should be. The room declared: "Okay, stop!" to us. We stopped fussing and fidgeting with it.

I love where my desk now is. I look at it, and feel like sitting there and working. I basically want to just hang out all weekend, and putter around my apartment. Especially because it's pouring rain and bleak out today. But I'm going to the Metropolitan Museum today, to wander about the vaulted halls, losing myself in art appreciation ... but I get to come back home after that, and walk around, looking at the new placement of things - another form of "art appreciation", indeed. I will revel in the surprise that it is still the same room.

Do other people get such intense pleasure out of things that are so small? I love how the light from my lamp spills out onto my pale yellow walls. I love that. I stare at it, and sigh with pleasure. I love seeing my grandmother's blue chest on the Oriental rug. The blue chest (one of my favorite possessions) wasn't really shown off the way I had the room before. Now it is. I could sit and stare at the blue chest for an hour and not get tired of it. I love looking at my desk, with the map of the world on the wall above it. I love the end-table that I have now brought out into the room - before it was used as a bedside table, and could not be seen. I love how my candle looks in its holder on top of it. I love the silver-framed picture of Cashel and Brendan next to the candle. It makes everything look nice and homey.

That's what I'm going to do tomorrow (until game-time, that is). Putter about incessantly. Reveling in my new room.

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Welcome: to the Half-hour Macbeth

I have unearthed a couple of photos which I am going to share (they unfurl below you in a couple of different posts.) They all are part of that experience which I now refer to as "the half-hour Macbeth". I have posted the story on this blog before, but here it is again. It is truly amusing, I assure you. Not as funny as the pictures are, though.

The half-hour Macbeth
At grad school, we had a season of thesis productions. Each one had to be half an hour long. So the actors would have half-hour scenes, whatever the playwrights wrote for their thesis projects had to be half-hour...you get the picture.

Well, there was a director in our program who wanted to somehow do the entirety of Macbeth in half an hour. Why his thesis project was approved, I have no clue.

I'm still angry that it was.

Angry because I was playing one of the five witches.

("Hold on a second," you might be thinking, "five witches? Aren't there only three witches in Macbeth?")

You may be thinking that but that is only because you are an intelligent person, with a sense of dignity and logic, which clearly was lacking in the mind of the director.

He made there be FIVE witches.

There are too many problems to even discuss ... because it is hard to get past the wrong-headed-ness of the entire idea of the project to begin with.

People were racing around, murdering each other, casting spells, having duels, seeing blood on their hands ... all in half an hour's time.

The man who played Macbeth had an accent. He was from Texas or something like that. So the line: "Have we eaten the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?" consistently came out as: "Have we et the insane RUHT that takes the reason prisoner??" RUHT. And he would emphasize that word. It got worse and worse.

Every time he would say it, every time he was even close to approaching saying it, the five witches (who all had to be onstage at all times, terrible luck, we could never escape to lick our wounds) would put our heads down, as we were casting our spooky spells on the five corners of the stage (not the four corners, the five corners), and shake with laughter.

Finally, the director said tentatively, "Uh ... yeah ... could you please say 'root' and not 'ruht'?"

Macbeth said, "I am saying 'ruht'."

Two or three of the witches burst into inappropriate laughter.

The director, trying to hold us all together, and keep us from spiralling out of control, said, tentatively again: "Actually ... you just did it again. The word is 'root'. With an 'oo' sound. If you say 'ruht', then the meaning of the line is lost."

I held myself back from saying, "If you attempt to do Macbeth in half an hour's time, then the meaning of the ENTIRE PLAY is lost."

Boom boom boom, scenes came fast and furious. Boom: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth conspire. Boom: Murder and carnage. Boom: The witches race into place and cackle gleefully. Boom: Lady Macbeth staggers on, shrieking "Out damn'd spot" ... and then just as quickly staggers off. Boom: There is a very quick sword fight. Who knows why. People just had duels back then, I guess. Boom: Everybody dies. Except for the five witches. Who live on, eternally. Exeunt

The whole thing was ridiculous.

Actors have different ways of surviving terrible shows. The five witches survived this nightmare by literally becoming ONE. We were a five-some. We completely separated ourselves from the poor stars of this stupid production, who still were trying to actually do Macbeth. We realized very early on that Macbeth could not be done properly in half an hour, so we refused to take anything seriously. Anything. Anything.

Nobody had told us what our makeup should be like, as witches, so the five of us designed our own looks. Our makeup and hair got more and more elaborate and out of control with every performance. We had to arrive at the theatre earlier and earlier in order to complete our transformations in time for curtain. Our faces were literally caked with Kabuki-mask makeup. The more grotesque the better.

At one point, Eileen, a beautiful girl, turned from the mirror, to display her horrific makeup job ... red circles around her eyes, red wrinkle lines radiating from her mouth, caved-in cheeks, and said to all of us, brightly, "Do I look really gross?"

We validated her. "Yup. Pretty gross."

My costume, unfortunately, made me look like the chair of a women's studies department at a small college in Vermont. We would all be sitting at our makeup mirrors, and I would suddenly start to pontificate about the evils of the patriarchy, or about holding focus groups to show women their cervixes, and everyone would absolutely die with laughter. I was also in the midst of reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at the time, so there are a couple of pictures of me, backstage, in my "wymyn's studies" Wiccan outfit, twigs sticking out of my hair, big brownish-purple circles around my eyes, seriously reading my book.

Jen, my roommate, with her long mane of curly hair, made her hair bigger and bigger and bigger every night. That became her main goal. To make her hair as large as possible, so that it would completely shield her face. Also, every time she had a line, Jen disguised her voice.

The five witches were so taken up by our stupid costumes and makeup that we would hang out in the backstage hallway before entering, taking pictures of ourselves.

Pictures of all the witches peeking their crazy heads around the corner.

Pictures of all the witches making their way down the stairs, like some demented version of the Von Trapp family singers.

Pictures of the witches lying about in death poses on the floor.

We were collectively late for our entrance one night because we were too busy taking pictures of ourselves. We resented the actual SHOW we were doing, for taking away from our time taking pictures of ourselves in costume.

Each witch had a big gnarled stick. The first witch-scene began with us doing what was supposed to be a Celtic dance, I suppose. Lots of drum-beats, and moving in circles, and banging the sticks on the floor. It was interminably stupid, and horrifically embarrassing to execute.

We had to enter, as one, holding up our sticks in front of our grotesque faces, moving as slowly as glaciers. The effect was supposed to be scary and ominous, I guess, but a couple of nights I heard someone in the audience burst into laughter at the first sight of us.

And occasionally, as we moved on like that, with our sticks, I would hear either Eileen or Jen or Kimberly start to giggle ...and try to choke it down ... but laughter like that catches on like wildfire. Once it begins, it is nearly impossible to stop. So there we all were, supposed to be the scary 5 witches, moving on, holding up our sticks, shaking silently with laughter.

Jen made a big announcement backstage to the rest of the witches, on the night of our dress reherarsal.

"I have decided ... that when we come on with our sticks----" Long pause. We all waited, breathlessly, hoping that she might actually have an IDEA about how we could make it all better. But then she concluded, finishing her thought, "We look like assholes."

And so click below ...

to see the 5 witches. It kind of says it all. Look at our faces. We are so PISSED that we are in such a terrible show. hahaha I also love that the witch on the far left is holding a cup of coffee. You know: "Double, double, toil and trouble ... yeah, could I have an iced mocha latte please? Fire burn and cauldron bubble..."


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Sneaky witches

I described in my original post about Macbeth how the 5 witches (yes. 5 witches. Not 3. 5.) became so obsessed with our makeup and hair (because the show was so bad) that we could not stop taking pictures of ourselves. I described it thus:

The five witches were so taken up by our stupid costumes and makeup that we would hang out in the backstage hallway before entering, taking pictures of ourselves.

Pictures of all the witches peeking their crazy heads around the corner.

Pictures of all the witches making their way down the stairs, like some demented version of the Von Trapp family singers.

Pictures of the witches lying about in death poses on the floor.

We were collectively late for our entrance one night because we were too busy taking pictures of ourselves. We resented the actual SHOW we were doing, for taking away from our time taking pictures of ourselves in costume.

Please click below, if you would like to see pictures of 5 witches creeping down the stairs for our own entertainment literally 20 seconds before we were supposed to go onstage.

Sneaky Witches, Part 1.


Sneaky Witches, Part 2.


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The rise and fall of Witch # 3

At the point in my life that I was doing Macbeth (see story here), I was also reading Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. So during tech rehearsals and stuff where the actors would have to wait around, you would get the incongrous image of me in my raggedy Witch-garb, with twigs in my hair, reading that book.

Here is what is obviously a posed version of what was really going on all the time.

Ahem. This one makes me laugh. The whole THING makes me laugh.


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Half-hour Macbeth ... more visual aids

In the original post about this production (and if you want a good laugh, I suggest you read it) I described my Witch costume in Macbeth as making me look like "the chair of a women's studies department at a small college in Vermont".

Please click below. I didn't exaggerate, did I?


Also one quick thing to note: I am smiling in that picture, yes. But I can sense the RAGE behind the smile, because it's so awful being in such a sucky show. It makes me laugh to think about it now.

Posted by sheila Permalink

April 1, 2005

Lauren Bacall ... Part III

Her third autobiography has come out. Of course I must read it. I read and loved the other two. A kind of funny article here which gives you a glimpse of Bacall, age 80, on her book tour.

I like, in particular, this quote from Bacall:

"I am always associated with [Bogart] in people's minds — 'the greatest love story ever told.' You can't get away from that. He'd never believe it, of course... It's great that he's still appreciated by so many, because he's worth it. He was a very special human being, Bogart."

I love the "he'd never believe it, of course." Such a nice glimpse into the commonsensical mind of that man.

And here for your viewing pleasure:


And here, what might be my favorite: This was before the romance even blossomed, a publicity shot for To Have and Have Not ... but it's beautifully obvious what was beginning to happen between these two individuals:

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She's 19 years old in that photo, about to embark on her first romance ever (ahem, we all should be so lucky to have THAT be our first romance!)

Finally, maybe the most famous picture of all:


That lovely young girl is 80 years old now, and she's still around, and not just as a faint echo of who she used to be, a memory in our collective unconscious, but still getting good parts, writing a new book, acting with great directors. Rare.

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I'm having a feng shui moment

... and it's a little bit scary.

The way my main room is now set up is: There are two doors that get you into the room (both are open doorways). One is from the kitchen, and one is from the hallway that leads to my front door. As it stands now, my desk (which I put together myself - I ROCK) stands against the wall across from my bed, which is a great spot for it theoretically, except for the fact that when I sit at the desk, I can look to my left, out the doorway, and see all the way to the front door.

Now, I'm not a feng shui expert, and I don't even know what I'm talking about here, but I do know this: I rarely feel like sitting at my desk. There's something about the configuration of it, there's something about being able to see the front door at all times which just ... doesn't ... work. I want my desk to be a place where I can sit, and work. My apartment is small, but I have enough wiggle-room to know that the desk needs to be moved.

I know where it must be moved: to the wall where my Bookshelf # 6 now stands. If my desk is there, then there is no doorway leading outward, to the left or right hand side. My desk will be up against the wall, and my back will be to the rest of the room, and something about that configuration in my mind is very pleasing and right to me.

Call it feng shui, call it spatial relations, call it whatever you want to call it ... I feel distinctly restless when I sit at my desk now. I do not think that you should always have a view of your own front door in the very place where you want to lose yourself in your work. No. It's too tempting. The energy is wrong. The front door summons me in moments of writer's block: "Come! It's a beautiful day! Leave the apartment! Go!"

I get weird about change, though ... and this will be a rather huge project. I must remove all the books from Bookshelf #6, pull it away from the wall to make room, and then empty my entire desk (of my computer, my plants, my office supplies) - and then move the massive desk to the other wall.

I need help.

My friend Jen is coming over to help me re-arrange everything. I feel strangely nervous but strangely excited. A new outlook, a new perspective, and hopefully a feng shui-approved workspace will now be set up.

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You can take it with you

In the comments section to this wonderful post (which I also recommend you read) is a really startling thought:

What memories would you like to take with you when you die?

I have enjoyed looking back over my life and choosing events/memories/sensations ... One of the reasons is that it gives me a sense of abundance, rather than scarcity. The abundance of my life. There is so much I would want to take with me. So much! This is a wonderful exercise, wonderful in that it helps one focus on gratitude.

And so: some memories I would like to take with me:

-- the moment Cashel was rolled out of the delivery room by my brother. He was a small wrapped-up amoeba creature with enormous staring eyeballs. That was Cashel. Brendan said, "It's a boy!" (they had waited to find out) - I was there with my parents, and Maria's parents, and when we saw Cashel in the flesh, and heard "It's a boy" we all just started hugging and crying and laughing. Such intense and piercing joy. The happiest moment of my life.

-- the night at Glendalough (and then Donnybrook and Dublin) with my sisters. Our laughing fit in the graveyard set the tone for the entire evening. One of those nights you will never ever forget.

-- running along Lake Michigan, every day, during my years in Chicago. Ahhh, that skyline. My walkman, the long sweep of shoreline ...

-- sitting around the table on Beth's deck, drinking wine with my dear friends from high school. Mere, Betsy, Beth ... ramekins ... stars overhead ... utter joy.

-- the night Miles played piano for me in the locked-up improv club in the middle of the night. Many people didn't understand why I loved that guy (although Mitchell always did) - but if they could have seen him on that night, they would never have asked any more questions. Miles played the piano for hours in the empty dark club, and I danced, and sang along, for hours. Our time together was coming to an end and so we reveled in it. That's why I loved that guy.

-- walks on Narragansett Beach with my parents, talking, or not talking. Enjoying one another's company.

-- the night of "the fabric morgue" - which honestly, deserves its own post. I can't even begin to describe it.

-- Sundays over at the Wagner apartment in Chicago. Our home away from home. Jackie, David, Maria, Me, Mitchell, Brian, Amy. We still talk about that time in our lives with such fondness, such love. The simplicity of those days.

-- sitting on the deck at the Ocean Mist, with my siblings and friends on a summer night. Waves crashing, moon rising, all of us there ... nowhere else to be, nothing urgent to do, an endless summer night ...

-- my long afternoons and weekends with Cashel in Brooklyn the first 4 years of his life. Precious time with him. Precious.

-- my 5-day stint in Milwaukee, performing at Summer Fest with Pat McCurdy. Never had so much fun in all my life. Ever. It was LIFE-CHANGINGLY fun. If I had had any more fun, I would have spontaneously combusted in a fiery mesh. Let me brag and bask in the memory: The image I particularly would like to take with me is: the feeling of walking out from behind the thick green curtains onto the stage as the opening strains of my song began. I was wearing a bowler-hat, a black bustier, fishnet stockings, tight black shorts, and combat boots (I looked awesome, I'm not ashamed to say it)... and hearing/feeling, as I appeared, the cheers of thousands of people. 4,000 people were there, screaming. Glory. Fame. Yeah. I was a rock star for 5 days. What're you gonna do about it??

-- the sound of waves, the sound of rain, the sound of wind

-- Oct. 27, 2004.

-- the feeling I got when I opened my first acceptance letter, and then the feeling immediately following: "Oh God, I have to call my parents right now to tell them." I am blessed.

-- Lenny Kravitz's "Fields of Joy". The song changed my life. I heard it at the right time, I guess. A dark time. The song said to me, "It's okay ... let joy back in ... it's okay ... There is still happiness to be had on this earth ..."

-- the weekends at Brian Jones' apartment surrounded by dear friends. Cooking spaghetti, jitterbugging, playing old records, swinging (it was an old warehouse, and he had a SWING in his kitchen), trying on old hats from his boxes of costumes, talking, napping, being together. Brian Jones sold that apartment 15 years ago and we all still talk about it. Time stretched out when we all would gather there. I swear, that a weekend would last 10 years.

-- making my dad laugh

-- playing with neighborhood kids during childhood, summer nights, fireflies, crickets, a feeling of complete safety, the sound of the mothers calling us in to dinner - from this house, that house ... as we scrambled through the grass, living fully in the land of our imaginations, ignoring the sounds of our mothers voices. The soft summer night on our skins. Such freedom. Such peace.

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A great story

Anne's run-in with one of Francois Mitterand's bodyguards. You've got to read it.

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Diary Friday.

Ah, finals week. The horrors of "finals week" in high school. I think I'm 15 here.


Day 1
Today is the last official day of school. Just finals - the SUMMER and CAMP!!!!!!!!!!!!! We had the funnest time in last period study. [I had completely forgotten this, until I re-read it this morning. It makes me laugh to remember:]

J. had her flute and we spent the time singing songs from Sesame Street, with J. improvising. "Letter B, Letter B, Letter B, yeah, Letter B ..." and "Sunny Days, sweepin' the -- clouds away ..." and "Letter 'n' it's not lonely anymore, the wind is very still for the lower case n..." [Does anyone else remember that Letter n song?? SO COOL! But please remember: that J. and I are sophomores in high school at this point, and THIS IS HOW WE PASSED THE TIME in study-hall. Hm. And then we wondered why we had no boyfriends. Oh well. It's funner to sing Sesame Street songs in study-hall than be tied down to some high-school boyfriend. I guess.] We also did: "Swing up high, swing up free - Nobody's gonna swing as high as me" and "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The whole thing was hysterical. J. had a hard time keeping up on her flute because she kept bursting into laughter. We both were laughing so hard. People kept saying to us, "Oh, blow it out your ear." Tough! When people said stuff like that, Mere would turn around and go, "WOOOOOH!" [Mere, you crack me up. You were such a warrior.] When the bell clanged, signifying THE END OF STUPID SCHOOL, everyone started screaming and clapping. I threw back my head and screamed at the top of my lungs: "STELLLAAAAAAAAA!"

It's so hot. Sticky hot. I can't wait for camp. I have finals tomorrow so I'll spend the whole day studying. And tonight I'll spend studying. Friday I have Health and French. Monday I have Latin and English. Tuesday I have Bio and Geometry. The only ones I'm really worried about are the languages. Those'll be killers. So I'll really study and Bio'll be hard because there is so much vocab. I mean, 39 goddamn hard chapters. Filled with VOCAB. [Damn that stupid vocab.] You know, since that class isn't cumulative I think we should have a big mid-term and then a final on the second half. This way, it's ridiculous. Geometry'll be easy because we get to take in an index card with as much info that we can fit on it. Isn't that COOL? I will write very very small. [Good plan, Sheila, good plan.]

Day 2
I didn't have any finals so I stayed home today. In spite of all my cramming, it was a fun day. I slept until 10:00. It was gorgeous! I got up, took a shower, and for once in my life had time for breakfast. I had the house to myself, so I listened to records [Oh, what a pang of nostalgia. Records!!] and studied French -- and studied -- and studied. I took a break for Ryan's Hope and General Hospital, but other than that, it was straight French. For six hours.

Yesterday we had a whopper thunderstorm [I wonder if it hit a termite mound?] that broke the heat wave and now it's cool and nice, but still sunny. After I did my paper route [that is so hilarious. I had a paper route.] I came home and studied more. I flipped on the TV and caught the last minute or so of Mork and Mindy. [Oh, more pangs of nostalgia!!] - It was so funny I have to write it. Mork is reporting to Orson (this is so juvenile, I know) and I guess the show was on politics because Mork was saying all these things, and then: Orson: Doesn't America have any leaders that they admire? Mork: Oh, yes, but all of them are dead. Orson: Like who? Mork: Oh, George Washington. Orson: What did he do? Mork: Oh, he slept here, he slept there. That is why politicians honor him by doing the same thing.

ISN'T THAT HYSTERICAL? It really brightened my day. [Ehm, thought you were already having a good day, Sheila ...]

I swear I have studied French straight for 6 hours. It is 12:45 a.m. right now. I am about to go back and study more. I have passé compose and plus-que-parfait streaming out of my nose right now [Ew.] but I have to keep going.


I have to go now. Back to les livres!

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ....


I made my way to the theatre last night, in the mild drizzle, slogging my way through the unbelievably dense play-going crowds. I never get over the excitement, first of all, of just going to the theatre, and I felt that quite a bit last night. I love it. I love the whole ritual of it. Even if the show sucks, I still love the ritual.

I was in the second balcony. The nosebleed seats. I thought of Vertigo.

However, it didn't matter. This is what is extraordinary to me about truly effective stage acting. I was almost in the back of the theatre, high up and way back, and yet ... it was as though the actors were doing the entire thing in close-up for me. So I know that they were completely aware of us up in that second balcony, and were making sure that we got the performance too. If you've ever sat in the back of a large theatre, and watched a movie actor try to get his performance to you and fail, you will know what an amazing accomplishment it is.

The performances were broad, huge, sweeping - and yet still completely personal. How that magic occurs is one of the reasons why I'm a theatre addict, and why I love to do plays myself.

Kathleen Turner is magnificent. But what I loved the best about the production was that there was an equal balance, completely, between the 4 actors. Now this also is very rare these days, when plays like this are set up to be "star vehicles", and the show is made to ride on the performance of one person. Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman was a great example. In order for the show to work, Dennehy had to be good. And frankly, he was NOT. The guy who played his young arrogant boss (a Chicago actor, I am proud to say) acted Dennehy off the stage. So there wasn't that nice balance. A play like that has to be an ensemble piece. Same with Virginia Woolf. If all of them aren't good, then it won't work.

So Kathleen Turner was wonderful, but WHY she was wonderful was because everybody around her was also fantastic. She wasn't acting by herself. Bill Irwin was incredible. And the two secondary characters, who get caught in the web of George and Martha, were so GREAT. Mireille Enos, who played Honey, gives what I would call a star-making performance. The way she comes undone over the night ... I was blown away by her. Not only did she get a laugh pretty much every time she opened her mouth, but in the revelation scene at the very end, when George decides to play "Get the Guests" and begins to tell the story of Honey's life as though it is a bed-time story (which reveals to Honey that her husband has told all her secrets to this stranger) - and by that point, Honey's hair is coming down, she is WASTED, she can barely speak, but as the story goes on, and she keeps making vague drunken comments like, "This sounds really familiar" or "I know these people" - finally she realizes what has happened. And her response - it was one of those moments in theatre that you never forget (because it's so rare). She turned to her husband and said, "You told them?" He starts to bluster about, and she then starts to attack him, not just crying, but screaming with rage and embarrassment - a primal moment - beating at him: "YOU TOLD THEM - YOU TOLD THEM - WHY WHY WHY ..." The way she did this, and where her voice went ... was so full of pain and horror that my throat clenched up involuntarily, and sympathetic tears filled my eyes. It was a spontaneous response, a spontaneous moment of feeling that woman's pain, 5 million miles below on the stage. Her emotions carried across to me - it was REAL.

That chick is the real deal. A great acting turn.

Watching Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin spar was at the same time hilariously fun and also exhausting - because those two characters LIVE to wear each other out, and to wear out any audience. They are relentless. I loved the humor the two of them found. Well, and also Albee's script itself is pretty much high comedy. It's awful, and it's painful, but it's also hysterical.

Kathleen Turner found all the right notes. She was vulgar, embarrassing - she was extremely convincing as a hardened drunk who could drink anyone under the table - but then at the end, when George "goes too far" - her devastation was so real and so awful - she had one moment where she cried out, as she kind of collapsed onto the floor - "Oh NO" which was so raw, and so naked, that you were embarrassed for her. (This is a high high compliment.) Kathleen Turner was not protecting her image, she wasn't up there doing "a star turn", she wasn't trying to show us she was still sexy, she could still get the guy ... she was up there as Martha. It was an amazingly humble performance.

A common mistake in playing Martha is to completely capture the vulgar loud "braying", and the bitchiness, and how mean she is - but not being able to capture the shattered girl inside this woman, not being able to fully do that final scene where she is devastated at the loss of her fantasy. The last lines of the play -

George, singing to her, trying to make her laugh using her own joke from the first act : "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf ..."

Her response is: "I am, George. I am."

If you hire an actress who can ONLY do big bitch-goddess, then that last scene will not work.

Kathleen Turner's acting in that last scene was vulnerable enough to make you want to turn away from her in respect - like, you would never want to witness someone who has just lost everything, you would want to give them their privacy in that terrible moment. Her acting in that last moment was like that.

The curtain calls, too, were an indication of the spirit behind this production. At the end of the play, the curtain fell - and when it rose again, the 4 actors stood there together, and took bows together. As the applause went on, Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin stepped back a bit, and let the two other actors bow together. After their bows, they stepped back, and Turner and Irwin stepped forward and bowed together. Then, they all joined hands, as a group - and bowed one last time together.

Kathleen Turner did not get her own bow. They did not hold her back until the very end, after everyone else's bows, and then have her come trotting out, by herself, to glory in her own success, while the other members of the ensemble stand behind her, clapping for her. (That was how Brian Dennehy's bow was in Salesman.) No. Kathleen Turner bowed with the group. If the play is a success, it is because of ALL of them, not just her. It is not a personal success for Ms. Turner. It is a success for everyone involved.

And what Ben Brantley said in his review is spot on. She has indeed developed into a deep and powerful stage actress. Her work in movies was always very broad - she never played introspective inward-looking characters, her performances never relied on many closeups. Her acting is BIG. (Uhm, Prizzi's Honor, mkay?) And so there she was, miles away from me on that stage, and yet - despite the distance - I could feel what she was feeling. I could see every nuance that passed by her face, fleeting thoughts, sudden bursts of laughter, moments of intense irritation. Her talent is amazingly generous. She isn't interested in being subtle, or hiding her gift - it is OUT there.

But what was greatest of all was her submission to the ensemble. She was a part of the ensemble, a collaborator - she was "in the cast". So often movie stars breeze back into Broadway, and take up starring roles in plays, and you never get the sense that they are actually a part of the production. Their egos won't allow that.

Kathleen Turner's ego was completely submerged into the personality of Martha. It's a glorious triumph for her, and I found the entire evening intensely moving.

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