Fiction: Nighthawks

I wrote this story awhile ago. I’ve always loved the painting that inspired it. In fact, I love most of Hopper’s work. As a very good friend of mine once said that his subjects appear to be lost in their own world. Their faces and postures have an interiority that invites interpretation. I couldn’t help but write this. It’s a very short story, with a serial point of view. In other words, the narrator spends a brief amount of time in each of the  characters’ heads. This drives some readers crazy, (my apologies if you’re one), but I think the convention works for this image. There was no other way to do it, in my book.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. 1942

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. 1942

“Nighthawks” by Madeleine Mitchell. (Inspired by Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper. 1942)

Rose looked at her reflection in the polished mahogany counter. She didn’t look good. The day had caught up to her, stripped her of color and sharpened her face. She dabbed at her lipstick with a napkin. Too red. It looked funny. Rose put the napkin down. She used to like that red. So had Eddie. Eddie had liked that color.

Red, red lips for my red, red, Rose….

Rose’s hand plucked at her earring, her coffee, her locket, before inching over to rest on Rob’s sleeve. She liked the feel of his woolen jacket under her quick, nervous fingers. Nice and warm. Solid. Rob. She shivered. It had been a long day. It was time to go home. She wanted to say that. It’s been a long day. It’s time to go home. But his downcast eyes trapped the words in her mouth. He wasn’t ready yet. She could wait.

Widow at thirty. What a laugh. She smiled at her reflection. She looked bitter and old—not pretty anymore. Her eyes slid to the floor. She didn’t really care. Everyone was dead. Eddie was dead. The baby was dead. Her father—hers and Rob’s—was dead, but that was nothing to cry about. Their father had always been lucky. He was a lucky son-of-a-bitch.

Rose glanced at her brother and cut off the thought, as if Rob could read her mind. He couldn’t. She knew it. Just like she couldn’t read his, but sometimes they got close…sometimes.

It’s been a long day. It’s time to go home.

She looked at his profile, his hawkish face, and quietly looked away.

Rose knew the dead were lucky, but Rob didn’t need to hear it. He’d done enough already. More than she wanted him to. He’d visited her in the hospital and tied pink ribbons around her wrists. He came by or called every day. He worried, she knew. She made him worry.

You worry, honey. You worry too much.

She was tired. It was time to go home.

Rose sighed, a small, shallow breath. Everything was done. This time he’d have nothing to find. Rob…. She was glad they’d spent the whole day. Rose fingered her locket. The gold was warm. It felt soft when she pressed it. There was a picture of Eddie and the baby inside.

She glanced at her brother through her sweep of red hair. Red, red hair. Red, red Rose. Poor Rob. His face looked dark, like a shuttered house. No lights. Locked doors. She could wait. They would sit together in this anonymous place, coffee cold in their cups. When he was ready, he would take her home. She loved him. She could wait.

###

Robert knew Rose was going to try it again. He could read it like newsprint in the lines around her mouth. He missed her smile, her real smile, her cracking, half-cocked grin. He hadn’t seen it in months. Instead he got what she gave him now…pale lips under too much red. Her hand was cold on his arm.

She’d gotten dressed up for their day together, special occasion dressed up—Hayworth hair, her favorite pink dress, she’d even worn perfume. But her bones were sharp beneath her collar. Her wrists were thin and hard. He wished she’d worn a sweater. It was turning cold, too cold for a thin, silk dress.

Why don’t you bring a sweater, Rosy?

No, I’ll be okay.

The second she’d said that, he’d known. That dress, her hair, her too bright face…he’d known exactly what was coming. He didn’t want to know.

He lit a cigarette and let it burn. Tiny column of ash. Then he lit another. Beside him Rose shifted, patient, silent. She wanted to go home.

See you tomorrow, Rose

I love you, Rob.

Robert sipped his coffee. He should say something. He should stop her. But, Jesus, she looked spent…. Rob glanced at his sister, though the sweep of her strawberry hair, but he couldn’t see her face. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Robert signaled for the check. It was time to take her home.

“More coffee?”

Robert paused.

The waiter poured.

One more cup. He wasn’t ready yet.

###

Wish that kid would quit staring and do his job. Goddamn coffee’s cold.

Across the diner, Charlie hunched over the counter, like a bulldog over a bone. He eyed the yellow-haired waiter, who was eyeing the redheaded girl. Like staring was going help. A gal like that never left her man, not if he beat her into the ground. After thirty years he knew.

Charlie rubbed his bum knee. He wished he could sleep. He hadn’t slept since he’d retired. Not a full eight hours. Not in a month. Way to go Charlie. Retirement—you lucky son-of-a-bitch….

Yeah. Real lucky.

Charlie leaned back into the diner chair, and thought about what he’d retired to. He hated fishing, hated crosswords. His buddies were still on the force. Doris was remarried and Katie was busy, making a life of her own. She’d even gotten a job—secretary at some firm. Smart girl. Katie had always been smart. Maybe not pretty, but smart. He could hear Doris telling her to dress up nice for work. Christ, he wished Doris would shut-up.

Charlie shot the waiter a look and softly clacked his cup. The kid strolled over, refilled it from the urn and handed it back to him. Up close, Charlie realized, the kid wasn’t much of a kid. Mid-twenties maybe. Charlie grunted. At twenty-six, he’d been on the force for five years. Guy should get a real job.

Charlie looked out the diner’s plate-glass window at the dark, disinterested street. Good pension. Big thanks. What did you do when you got cut loose? What the hell did you do? Kid’s got his whole life and he wastes it, like it’s something to toss away. Charlie shifted on the narrow seat. He was starting to hate that kid….

He should probably head home. It was a long walk back to his place. Maybe that would wear him out. He reached for his wallet, straining the seams of his suit. Cheap suit. Work suit. He took out his Luckies instead. One cigarette. One more cup. Then he’d toss a buck on the counter and take the long walk home. Back to his apartment. He hated that apartment. He hated the way it looked—half empty, full of nothing, like old newsprint. He hadn’t seen it that way before. He hadn’t had time—he’d barely ever been home. Now he saw every night. Charlie sipped his coffee, sucking it slowly between his teeth.

Christ, he wished he could sleep.

###

That lady looks sick. Joe glanced up from a tray of half-empty saltshakers. What’s she doing out so late with that guy, anyway? She looks like she should be in a hospital or something….

Joe shook his head and refilled the shakers without taking his eyes off the lady in the dark pink dress. He was good at working and watching. He never spilled.

Look at how she’s holding his arm, he thought. Like she’s gonna drown and he’s the only thing keeping her afloat.

Joe stopped pouring and wiped off his hands. That was good. He had to write that down.

He loved working the late shift. Nothing like it for writer’s block. Nothing like it for inspiration. The lady and her fella were great. He had to use them somewhere…maybe he’d put her in a sanitarium and make the guy her lover. And the guy… a private eye with a shady past? Maybe he broke her out and now they’re on the run. However Joe wrote it, it was gonna be tragic. That lady was tragic all over.

Joe glanced across the counter at the old guy with the coffee habit, sitting on his own. He wasn’t as compelling but he’d find his way in too. Maybe a crime boss or a has-been reporter. Joe studied the man nursing his twelve-hundredth cup. Thickset. Stubborn face. Angry mug. No. He was the woman’s father. Iron fist with heart of gold.

The old guy shot Joe a belligerent look.

Skip the heart of gold.

Joe shrugged. Even after he’d sold the novel, he’d still work the graveyard shift. He loved the diner at night. Nothing like it for writer’s block. Nothing like it for inspiration.

Joe pulled out a pen. Down the counter, the man paid the tab and helped the lady up. She stumbled. He caught her. Joe bent over his notes. He barely looked up as they left.

THE END

Posted in Fictions & Absurdities, Relationships, Shorts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Virgin and the Whore Walk Into a Bar

Modern daguerrotype. Image courtesy thedaglab.com

Modern daguerrotype. Image courtesy thedaglab.com

As you can see, I haven’t posted here in awhile. This isn’t from laziness or lack or commitment. Rather, it’s the product of a happy fact–I’m super busy with work on the other side of my career, (that would be the smutty side, for those who don’t know). Posts on this blog will probably be fairly sporadic for the next little while, or at least until I finish the massive project that is my novel. That said, they will pop up as I can manage. In the meantime, you can take a peek at what my erotica writing alter ego, Malin James, is up to here. Or not.. It’s totally up to you.

Which brings me to the virgin and the whore. I’ve always loved that paradox, mostly because I’ve always felt like both–the virgin and the whore, I mean. I am equally comfortable eating ice cream with my daughter and writing articles about the death of the Dewey Decimal System, (this is a greatly contested death, FYI), as I am doing and writing any number of things that I’m not going to mention here because my mother reads this blog. Of course, you can always check out the following to get a sense of what I mean: link, link, link. Click at your own risk.

There’s a common notion that a person is one particular thing–a mother, a teacher, a daughter, a parent, a slut, a virgin, a whore…you get the picture. I would contest this notion though. I think that, much as Meredith Brooks sang in her song, “Bitch,” (what a rockin’ good title), most of us are both sinners and saints. It’s only when we get too attached to one static identity that things get complicated and often unfulfilling.

Yes, I’m a mother and, I hope, a good one, but that doesn’t mean I can’t write things that would make my own mother supremely uncomfortable, (sorry mom–definitely don’t click those links). It doesn’t mean that I can’t have an identity outside of motherhood that many might find unorthodox at best, and somewhat distasteful at worst.

After years of wrestling and apologizing, the fact is that there’s a lot of dark in me–there’s anger and sex and rage and violence. But there’s also a lot of light. I’m nurturing and empathic. I’ve got compassion on tap. These things should be in violent contrast. They shouldn’t be able to coexist, and yet they do, quite naturally, in me, just as they do in most people. All you have to do is choose the two, (or three, or four), contrasting archetypes that resonate with you.

Of course, nothing is never as simple or easy as that. But that’s sort of my point–personalities aren’t static things. They are constantly in motion, acting and reacting. Really, when it gets down to it, personalities are simply a series of reactions, habituated over time. So, the virgin and the whore are part of who I am, and it’s only in cultivating both of them equally that I can truly be whole.

I wanted to give a quick, but very sincere thank you to Eric Mertens at The Dag Lab for letting me use one of his beautiful images in this post. You can see more of his work by clicking here. Mr. Merten does old-fashioned daguerreotype portraits in his lab in Oakland, CA. The work is gorgeous. Please, go check it out. 

Posted in Buddhism, Culture, Personal, Sex, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Eva Green’s Breast

Earlier in the week, I discovered two things. The first was super exciting. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, is getting released August 22. I loved the first film and I gobbled up the graphic novels so I’m excited to see the next installment, especially since it’s been in the works for years.

The second didn’t make me nearly so happy. Apparently, Eva Green’s poster for Sin City has been banned in the United States because it contains too much “visible breast.” Rather than get into the nitty gritty of what the hell that means, I’m going to post the banned image below so you can see it for yourself. If you have an issue with “visible breasts” consider yourself warned.

Image courtesy of the Weinstein Company and the Huffington Post

Image courtesy of the Weinstein Company and the Huffington Post

According to Fox News, (there’s irony in there somewhere), the MPAA disapproved of the image “for nudity — curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown.” The oh-so-effective fix? Make the gown a little less sheer, so it’s harder to make out quite so much of that offending nipple. If you’d like to see the edited image, you can check it out here.

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company & Dimension Films

Now, why am I posting on this? Two reasons. The first is that I think Eva Green is gorgeous and wanted to write about Sin City. The second, and far more substantial reason, is that I think the MPAA’s disapproval of the original image is a bit ridiculous, especially given the fact that the ratings board approved both Jessica Alba’s far more suggestive image, as well as a poster of a super sexy Rosario Dawson holding a massive knife.

movies-sin-city-character-poster-1

Image courtesy The Weinstein Company

What is it about the curve under a breast and the shadow of a nipple that is so offensive, when images of hot women holding weapons and stripping are ok? Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with the posters of Alba or Dawson. In fact, I think they’re both gorgeous little bits of visual marketing. What I have a problem with is the fact that the MPAA objected to the mere suggestion of female anatomy under a gauzy robe while approving other, even more highly sexualized images. Whose sensibilities, exactly, are they trying to protect?

Personally, I have no clue. As far as I’m concerned, that show of oddly placed morality is laughable at best and hypocritical at worst. There is nothing wrong with the curve of a breast, any more than there is anything wrong with a long stretch of leg or a lovely, well-toned ass. It’s all anatomy. It’s all sexualized female anatomy, juxtaposed with images of sexual agency, desperation, or violence. If you’re going to get up in a flap over a breast, get up in a flap over all of it. Otherwise I’d rather you left the gown sheer. At least that’s an honest, open appeal to sex, rather than the semi-nuetered wink they ended up with.

Posted in Culture, Sex | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Little Demons

Medieval woodcut. Image courtesy www.cvltnation.com

I don’t have big demons. I don’t have monsters, or addictions, or obsessions, or compulsions. I like to drink, but not to excess. I love pleasure, but not to my own detriment. I have patience, (hard won), and a certain amount fallible perspective, (also hard won). I am stable and strong, (extremely hard won)…

What I have instead are little demons. Little demons aren’t the demons that make you hit rock bottom. They’ve never pushed me to the edge. I’ve never woken up in places without knowing how I got there, (though I have woken up in places that I didn’t expect), and though I have quite a lot of regrets, I wouldn’t take even one of them back. Little demons don’t care about big things like that. They’re different. They’re quieter. Silkier. They are, by definition, small. But there are often quite a lot of them, and they all sound like the voice of reason in your head.

Let me unpack that a bit. Most people have a little voice of reason – the one that says, isn’t two donuts enough, you moron? and seriously, babe, DON’T sleep with your best friend. Sometimes we listen and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the voice is wrong, but more often than not, it’s dead right. Whether or not you listen to your gut, your conscience, you instinct, or whatever else you want to call it, is up to you, but you can trust that voice, almost implicitly, if you listen carefully enough.

Little demons mimic that voice. They tell you to be careful when you should take the risk. They tell you toss the dice when you should call it a night. Little demons tell you, with the conviction of god (if you believe in that sort of thing), that you should do the opposite of what is wise at any given time.

They convince you that you know it all when you know nothing, or that you know nothing when you’ve got it dialed in just right. They tell you that you’re brilliant and then undermine your worth. Little demons offer input and whisper “truths”, but the perspective they have is skewed. They shadow the lens of your perception and make it hard to see.

I’ve been thinking about my little demons a fair bit of late. My little demons like to keep me safe. In fact, that’s the only program they run, because that’s what little demons really are – inculturated values, programs that we literally absorb as we grow up. Did your mother have issues with body image? Odds are there’s a little demon pushing that button in you. Did your grandparents overcome hardship? Did your father succeed, but at a heavy cost?

The experiences of those we love inform who we become. They color the house we grew up in and the lessons we subconsciously learned. That’s what I mean by “programming” and “inculturated values”. That said, they, and the effect they have, aren’t inherently negative. They just are. It’s the amount of influence we allow them to have that matters.

The trick is to figure out which of those values are inherited and which are native to you, the finite individual. Once you know that, you can listen to your gut more closely. You can tell the difference between your own instincts, and the little demons that would keep you safe, or push you to the brink.

I’d like to say that I’ve developed an ear for my own little demons, and to a certain degree, I have, but it’s far from 100%. I still get tripped up. I suspect I always will, just as I know that my daughter will carry some of the results of my experiences with her, regardless of how hard I try to control their influence. I can’t immunize her any more than my parents could immunize me. The little demons, the programs, the inherited values, are as much a part of the human experience as breathing or death.

My goal then, ultimately, is to make choices on my own terms – to listen to my reason, rather than the programs I learned. My hope is that, in doing so, I’ll give my daughter the tools she’ll need to do the same for herself.

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On Style in Prose

Letter & CoffeeI’ve been writing for about 11 years now, and I can honestly say that it’s only been in the past 2 that I’ve begun to find my style… Or rather, styles, because I have several – it just depends on what I’m writing.

For the first 8 years of that 11, I was terrifically preoccupied with finding “my style”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that you have to be able to write first. Hemingway didn’t start off sounding like Hemingway. You can see hints of  Papa’s style in his early novels, but his authorial voice was still in the developmental stages until it peaked with “The Killers” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” Unfortunately, Hemingway also demonstrates the danger of being too wedded to any one style – later in his career, he fell off the ledge into self-parody… Please don’t hate me fans of Hemingway.

What I failed to realize as a young writer is that, in much the same way that a teenager is a human work in progress, a new writer isn’t fully formed until she gets some experience, (i.e.: shitty stories and lots of rejection), under her belt. The idea that I would have to live through tons of rejection, and that every story I wrote for years would be nothing more than a learning experience terrified and daunted me 11 years ago. Luckily, I’m incredibly stubborn…and I really love to write. So I plowed ahead through all that shittiness until my writer-self began to grow up.

It was a long and painful process – not just for me, but for the people who valiantly read 10th, 20th and 25th revisions, (I’m not kidding), of a stories that were never going to work – not because I’d used the work “enamored” twice on one page, but because the damn things just didn’t have a plot. It took awhile to figure that out, (sorry valiant people), but as soon as I did, things started to fall into place.

And that’s when I realized that a writer’s style is really just a reflection of the writer’s personality. Very often it’s surprisingly subtle. Word choice is part of it, sure, but even more than that, it’s the quirks and humor and punch and flow that form your sentences. It’s the way you turn a phrase. It’s the “sound” of your writing, the rhythmic rise and fall in your tension and pacing – that’s not something you can force, nor is it something you can develop on purpose. It just has to come. In other words, don’t ask the caterpillar how it walks – it’ll trip all over itself. Just let the little guy do his thing.

When it comes down to it, style is just one more lens through which to read a writer’s work. And yes, it is important. That said, it’s also something that works itself out. You don’t need to worry about finding it – if you give it enough time, it will find you.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Books, or My Fetish

Image courtesy sherhaps.wordpress.com

Image courtesy sherhaps.wordpress.com

So, let’s play a game. When I say fetish, you say…

SEX!!!

Probably. Or possible not, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume you say, SEX!! Most people, including myself, do. After all, in Western popular culture, fetish really does = sex.

And why not? There are plenty of fabulous sexual fetishes out there – feet, hands, pain, exhibitionism, voyeurism.. hell, there’s even an eyeball-licking fetish.

But not all fetishes are strictly sexual. In fact, traditionally speaking, (and by traditional I mean dating back to the early 17th century), fetishes were spiritual in nature, and were almost always objects worshipped for their supposed magical powers. If you go by the original meaning, anything from a voodoo doll to a saint’s relic is a fetish – an object used or revered for it’s spiritual power.

This made me realize something. I have a book fetish – a serious, committed, barely-restrained book fetish.

It isn’t that I literally worship books because I think they’re literally magical. It’s more that, for me, books have an inherent value and, because of that, they are the locus of my compulsion to acquire new things. In other words, some people have shoes, other people have exes, and I have books.

Nigella Lawson's private library. Image courtesy bookmania.me

Nigella Lawson’s private library. Image courtesy bookmania.me

Since I was old enough to buy my first Nancy Drew with my very own money, I have surrounded myself with books. I buy, borrow, give, and receive books with a pure, transactional joy that should be acquisitive but isn’t. Really, I just love books. I love stacking them, collecting them, rearranging and classifying them. I love holding them and writing in their margins, and of course, I love reading them.  The book, as an object, is comforting to me. It doesn’t matter if I’ve read it five times or never heard of it, books are totems. They are, quite literally, a mental escape hatch, and in that way they are an incredibly significant part of my personal growth.

I can trace my development as a person back through my reading material, from Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House books to A.S. Byatt, Dorothy Parker and Anais Nin. Each phase in my reading reflects an emotional phase in my life, and the books that I read during those phases are, in essence, relics of the person I was. My books are a map of my past, and an indicator of future interests and selves. So yes, I have a old-fashioned fetish. I attach spiritual significance to books. I will never read every book I own, and I will never own enough… That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.

 

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On Burning Your Boats

When I decided to move to writing full time, I did so with the caveat that if anything really promising in librarianship came up, I would do it and write part-time again, which means that my choice to write full time was always, in some way conditional – I had a sort of mental escape hatch that allowed me to do the frightening thing and write while still feeling like I had a safety net.

About two months ago, I was approached about a contract position in a library, which definitely qualified as “something exciting”. On the surface, the opportunity made a lot of sense. It was a part-time situation that would net a decent, very stable income and replace the worry and comparative instability of freelancing. Score. I would work in the library part time and write part time. The family schedule would be “interesting” (meaning INSANE), but it overall, that would be okay because everything else would be good… except for the fact that I would lose some traction on current WIP’s and projects… and that  the idea never quite settled right with me. At all.

Last week interviews and phone meetings were scheduled for the position. This week would basically be spent talking to people and deterring the terms of the contract. Should have been exciting, right? But it wasn’t. I just felt vaguely sick. I couldn’t focus on the writing I had to do – I was too preoccupied by the fact that soon I would have far less time to work.. meaning write.

So, after much debate, I just sent a series of very nice emails saying thanks but no thanks to the contract. You’d think that torching that safe little boat would be empowering or, at the very least, kind of fun. It wasn’t not. It was very gently terrifying, because it meant that now I’m doing this. No safety net. No back-up. This is it. I’m a writer – not a writer on condition – and that means I need to up my game and kick some serious ass. Seriously.

On the flip side, it feels good to have a challenge to rise to. I’ve never done the safe thing, though it’s never been from lack of trying – safe was always a siren song, even as I auditioned for play after play, all while trying to figure out how to be an actor *and* have a stable, routine life. Ha.

It was that trying to be safe that kept the risks I took from paying off. Now, for the first time in my life, I’m taking an unabashed, no-holding back risk. And I’m free – from myself and the little demon that whispered in my ear. Be safe. Be safe. Be safe. 

Sometimes, safe isn’t really that safe, not if it isn’t honestly safe, and my pursuit of safety, and my inability to see a risk through was never honest. It was always based in fear. So now, my boats are finally burning and that little safety demon can go straight to hell. In declining the contract position, I finally sent it there, and that does feel good.

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The Devil’s in the Details (and The Deep Blue Sea)

Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer. Image courtesy www.goldderby.com

Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer. Image courtesy http://www.goldderby.com

I watched a film awhile ago – Terrence Davies’ adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s play, The Deep Blue Sea. It’s a beautiful, melancholy play, and a beautiful melancholy film about a woman named Hester Collyer, who escapes a stifling marriage to have an affair with a damaged RAF pilot named Freddie Page.

Set in the years following WWII, the film, (and the play), examines a particular slice of cultural history through Hester’s emotional decent. She’s a beautiful woman with two choices – remain wedded to stifling traditions or deviate from accepted social norms. Neither is particularly promising as they are born out in the choice between a dry, unsatisfying marriage to a  kind, older judge, or wildly sexual but emotionally fraught affair with a younger man.

There are a lot of things I like about this film. Visually, it’s a beautiful thing, full of saturated color and all the  soft edges of an old Hollywood film. The acting is also first rate – Rachel Weisz is heart-breaking as Hester and Tom Hiddleston turns in a edgy, nuanced performance as Freddie Page. But, as they say, the devil’s in the details, and that’s true for this film.

Take a look at this short trailer, and keep your ear open to one of Freddie’s lines. It starts about 19 seconds in.

That line – “I really think you’re the most attractive girl I’ve ever met” – is the detail that stands out most to me in this film. That one line, and Hester’s silent response to it, tells viewers everything they need to know about what’s going to happen. Here’s what I mean.

Arguably, Hester’s defining characteristic is that she needs. She is driven by unfulfilled need, and her needs – for love, and respect, and fulfillment, and romance, and desire, and safety, and belonging, and etc. etc. etc. – run incredibly deep. Freddie, on the other hand, skates the surface of need. He cannot tolerate entanglements for reasons of his own.

So, while he can offer Hester, “I really think you’re the most attractive girl I’ve ever met”, what Hesters needs is “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. I love you. Stay with me.” That need of hers is naked on her face, and as soon as you see her cling to the bon-bon Freddie’s offered, you know it’s going to go badly for them.  There is too much distance between what Hester needs, and what Freddie can give.

And that’s why I love this film, even though it makes my stomach hurt. No one is at fault. They are just, fundamentally, not right for each other. Love and attraction are not enough. What breaks my heart is that nothing will ever be enough for Hester. Her needs went ignored for so long that there is a hole inside of her that cannot be filled. That’s why this film is a tragedy, and that’s why it’s so good.

Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Places That Draw You

Image courtesy of www.libraries.uc.edu

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image courtesy of http://www.libraries.uc.edu

There are certain places that draw you. It could be the diner where you fell in love or the beach where you said good-bye; the house where you grew up or the park where you sat, journal in hand, sorting through yourself and your place in the world.

These places represent tiny shards of memory, or experience, that lodge themselves inside you. They get internalized, and through that process, become resonant, like tiny bells only you can hear. The associations with that place might be happy, sad or complicated, but they become a part of you, and they tend to draw you back.

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to New York. It’s a special city for me, one I lived in, briefly, as a much younger person, but it made an indelible mark. There are a lot of places that resonate with me in New York, like Washington Square Park. In my mind’s eye, it will always be black and white – wrought iron covered in pristine snow, lit by a gray, January dawn. There’s the coffee house on Avenue A where my friends and I trekked to get tea and chat when we should have been studying. There’s the blues bar on Second Ave., where I ordered my first gin and tonic, and the pizza place on Spring that still makes the best pizza I’ve ever had.

The American Wing. My favorite place, in my favorite place.

The American Wing. My favorite place, in my favorite place.

There are a lot of little places like that for me in New York, but the biggest one, the one that is lodged most deeply inside me, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was eighteen the first time I walked up the wide front steps. Even then, I knew that the massive museum was going to be a special place. I’ve been back countless times since – most recently two days ago, when I wandered around with a good friend – and still, there was that same familiar feeling. It still felt like my place.

There was a period during my freshman year at NYU that I went to the Met once a week. I should have been studying or rehearsing, but I needed to think. I was foggy about everything, from what I wanted and needed to who the hell I was. The only place I could think was in the Met, with it’s hushed galleries and wooden floors that creak and stretch forever. Over fifteen years later, I’m still drawn it, even though I know exactly who I am now. Every trip to NY means a trip to the Met.

I’ve changed, but it hasn’t. And yet, there’s always room for me in it. It’s a comforting, comfortable place. Walking through the front doors feels like slipping my hand into a well-worn pocket. It’s just one of those places for me. It just keeps drawing me back.

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Defining Literature

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. Cover image for ames Joyce: A Critical Guide, by Lee Spinks. Image courtesy  Columbia University Press blog.

Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. Cover image for James Joyce: A Critical Guide, by Lee Spinks. Image courtesy of Bloomsbury and Columbia University Press blog.

Tuesday was April 1st, which means that no one on the internet could be trusted, including Sparky Sweets, PhD., one of the awesome minds behind Thug Notes, a weekly series on YouTube in which Dr. Sweets systematically breaks down the Western Canon, 4 minutes at a time, in a gangsta version of Cliff’s Notes.

At some point, I’m going to do a post on why I love Thug Notes, because the show is doing something incredibly important, but for today I’m going to focus on Tuesday’s installment – Summary and Analysis for Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight… APRIL FOOL’S! It was actually Huck Finn masquerading as Twilight. I laughed my ass off – they got me :)

Anyway, a friend posted the link to my Facebook wall and there followed a short thread in which people enjoyed the joke. One commenter also mentioned that it’s important to get kids to read “real literature”, (I’m paraphrasing). The thread ended when another commenter posted that she had greatly enjoyed the Twilight series, and felt that the definition of “literature” is “in the eye of the reader.” This, of course, got me to thinking..

This small disagreement points to a larger scale dispute in Western publishing, education and culture. Why do people read? Are certain books more valuable than others? How, in fact, should we define “literature”?

While I don’t think that the definition of literature is in the eye of the beholder, I do think that the value of a book is. The commenter who had enjoyed Twilight did something that is perfectly reasonable – she enjoyed Twilight. That series was not designed with any greater purpose than to be enjoyed. As a result, it’s value lies in how well the reader enjoys it. This reader enjoyed it a great deal, so Twilight is legitimately valuable to her – just as valuable as Anna Karenina or Huck Finn is to someone else.

The value placed on a book is personal, and it has to do with two things – the reader and the book’s intended purpose. The Firm, Cuckoo’s Calling and the entire Danielle Steel catalog were written to be enjoyed and consumed, and there is great value in that. Vehicles for escapism are, actually, valuable. It does not, however, make them literature, and here’s why:

Literature is a specific kind of fiction. Literature can, and often does, entertain, but it has a twin purpose –  to examine something in some way. This examination can be anything from the American dream (The Great Gatsby) to the nature of sexual submission, (The Story of O). Literature doesn’t want you to escape, it wants you to engage, and therein lies the difference.

The problem comes when people assign judgements to these two different purposes by devaluing a fun read, like Twilight, while falsely elevating “literature”, like Ulysses. In fact, what I like about Thug Notes is that it topples the ivory tower that literature is placed on so often – literature can, and should, be enjoyed. It just also asks you to think, or analyze, or ponder, or consider.

If you’d prefer to get lost in a story and escape, read an awesome book – that’s great. If you prefer cultural commentary with your enjoyment, read literature. Better yet, read both. Enjoy both. And find the value in both. Really, when it comes down to it, just read. That’s the most important thing.

 

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