Soon after this picture was taken, he disappeared over the South of France
“I am looking for friends. What does that mean — tame?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near—
Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you …”
Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
Then it has done you no good at all!”
It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from The Little Prince
Morning Mist on Lake Mapourika, New Zealand by Richard Palmer (2008)
“Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live . . . the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.” ~ Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo
Well, we made it through the November nor’easter all right: no tree damage, no water damage, no loss of power. We were luckier than many people, for a change, and for that, I am truly thankful. I am also truly thankful that I no longer feel as if I am existing in a wind tunnel. One day is intriguing. Two days is numbing. Three days is irritating. Moving into the fourth day is like the waking dead: I can no longer tell if I am hearing the wind or if it is a constant buzzing in my ears. Oh well.
Many, many strange dreams in the past few nights: my father appeared in at least two, and that is always disconcerting. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel that I did not disappoint my father terribly before he died, but that is not the subject for tonight. Much too hard of a subject, and always leaves me depleted for a long time, and since I am beginning the post in an already depleted state, I will not even attempt to tackle something as weighty as that.
The other night I had this dream about being on a sinking boat. The dream was a complete metaphor for my life: the boat was cluttered and dirty and badly in need of a complete cleaning. And there was one other problem: there was no bottom in the boat. At some point, the boat fell (?) off the support beams on which it had been resting and flew through the air, landing atop the bottom of an old military vessel. The top of the boat and the bottom of the military vessel came together, and both pieces rushed forward into the ocean.
I thought to myself that some remedy had to be found other than the makeshift coupling of the two halves, otherwise, the ocean would be able to dislodge the two pieces, and we would surely sink. In the meantime, someone was complaining about washing the windows of the boat, which were not portholes, but panes of glass like a house, and no one could clean because there was too much clutter—boxes and storage bins and whatever else. I awoke from the dream crying because it was a fast-sinking ship, and I knew that, and just as certainly I knew that the boat in my dream was my life.
Last night I dreamed that I worked at Dillard’s again, and asked to have the home store back because that was always my favorite department. But instead of a home store, there were lawn mowers. Very strange. The weirdest part was that I had all of these great marketing ideas for different departments, and I decided that I should be the store’s roving marketing manager, going from department to department coming up with selling ideas. Also very strange as my marketing background is my least favorite part of my skill set.
So I’m still not sleeping well, even more so since the drop-off for trees and limbs that were felled by the storm is right behind the house in the parking lot of the community park that our house abuts. After Hurricane Isabel in 2003, the City set up a similar drop-off in the parking lot, but is was on the other side of the park, so the sound of the wood chipper and large trucks backing up with their beeping alarms was more removed; now, it is jarringly loud, and it seems to be right outside the bedroom window. It’s not, but that’s how it seems to my head. Lovely.
“The weight of the world is love, under the burden of solitude, under the burden of dissatisfaction.” ~ Allen Ginsburg
Anyway . . . I have had the following quote on my mind for days, but for the life of me, I cannot find out who said it originally (if anyone knows, please pass along the information): Do what you love, and the rest will follow.
Now, I know that there is a book entitled Do what you love and the money will follow, but that is not the sentiment that I am pondering.
Do what you love . . .
What do I love, exactly? I thought that I loved to write, more than anything else in the world. But lately, I have come to question that belief, especially since I am having such a hard time piecing together a coherent blog post. What kind of writer is that? I sit down at these keys everyday, but I do not write everyday. More often than not, I open a computer game and play mindlessly for hours, attempting to lull myself into fatigue. I feel more often than not that I am existing in an endless fog.
Let me pause here. I know that I am depressed, considerably so. That I am not taking my usual dose of antidepressant is not helping matters. Granted. However, I am depending upon samples from my doctor, and I am trying to stretch those as far as they go. No one needs to tell me that this is not how you take a medication that needs to be maintained at a constant level in order to fight the chemical imbalances that lead to clinical depression. I know all of this.
I also know that my particular antidepressant costs over $200 without prescription coverage, which I still don’t have because of the ongoing battle with my health insurance. Not even worth going into that old scenario.
And even though I know that not having my medication is affecting me, and November is affecting me, and being just above poverty level is affecting me, and the upcoming anniversary of my dad’s death is affecting me, and the upcoming holidays are affecting me . . . wait, I lost the subject of that sentence. In other words—everything in the world is affecting me.
“A fierce unrest seethes at the core, of all existing things: it was the eager wish to soar, that gave the gods their wings.” ~ Don Marquis
Last night I was standing at the sink doing dishes (because the dishwasher no longer works because this is the best possible time for yet another appliance to break), anyway, I was doing dishes and crying. Weeping, actually, and no, it wasn’t because I was washing dishes. Why so sad, joker asks?
Let’s see, other than the litany mentioned above, Corey burned his arm two nights ago, bad burn with scalding water, but he has no health insurance. As I applied antibiotic ointment and dressing, all I could think of was that burns get infected so easily. Corey shrugged it off, but I’ve been watching it carefully. It seems to be healing well, but still . . .
And then, the dryer isn’t working right. The dishwasher is now broken. The house as a whole is in horrible shape, cluttered, dirty, depressingly in disrepair. I used to be so anal about cleaning, every weekend, top to bottom. Now, I cannot run the vacuum for the clutter. Did I mention that I cannot write? My phone has been turned off, and basically, I hate life. To be more specific, my life. I hate my life.
Don’t misunderstand. I do not hate the people in my life. I love the people in my life. They are probably the one thing that sustains me at the moment. But my life, per se? The circumstances of my life? I hate, h-a-t-e it. I want to go back to work. I want to have a career again. I don’t want to feel like a burden for which Corey must bear the full weight. I don’t want my spouse to feel that he is a caretaker. That gets old, fast.
I want to sleep through the night, wake up in the morning, get dressed, and go to work.
That I should be happy that I awaken each morning with a roof over my head and some food in my fridge . . . yes, I know that. We’re talking emotions here. Logically, I know that I have so much for which to be grateful. Logically, I know that millions upon millions of people have it so much worse. Logically, I know that in the big scheme of things, my problems are a tiny little puddle in comparison to the monsoons that invade so may people’s lives.
Yes, I know that. Does it makes me seem ungrateful to say that knowing that, I still feel as if I am slowly losing my mind? Losing patience with everything? Losing the ability to cope? Probably, yes, I probably seem ungrateful.
But damn, it just feels as if I am existing, counting days, not living. That’s it. It took me all of these words to get to the heart of it: existing, not living. I want to enjoy life again. I want to be the woman I used to be, the woman who took pleasure in small things, who thrived on stress and pressure, who laughed more, bantered frequently, and bemoaned fate less.
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.” ~ Sylvia Plath
Do what I love and the rest will follow . . . such a seemingly innocuous platitude. Perhaps even good advice. But how do I do what I love when I can no longer identify what I love? And what is it that will follow? What is the rest?
How did I get to this place in my life, this place at which life is a calendar filled with numbers but not with days? How does anyone get here? What scares me the most is the fear that perhaps I have lost hope.
Lost my way? Is my path occluded? Have I forgotten to pay attention to the journey in my single-minded pursuit to survive? Yes, maybe that’s it. Maybe I have allowed myself to get so caught up in counting the days until our situation changes that I have completely forgotten that life is to be lived, not endured.
What do I love? I love to write, to read, to engage my mind, to watch the sun set, to walk along the shore, to find a shell, to smell the rain, to discourse, to converse, to contemplate, to cherish, to embrace. I love the smell of a baby’s skin and the scent on the air after I have a bath. I love a cup of tea and a good movie. I love freshly cut herbs and spring blossoms. I love the sound of water and the blue of the deep ocean. I love the wind in my face and the touch of the first snow on my lashes. I love the company of good friends and the peace of the mountains in the fall. I love to listen to good music on a Sunday afternoon, and I love the freedom to sing at the top of my lungs in the shower.
I love to be loved, to feel love, to exude love, to share love.
“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” ~ Paul Coehlo
Do what I love? That is so much harder than it seems. Life is so much harder than it should be. Please don’t think me small-minded, and yet, why do I take the time in my stream-of-consciousness to apologize, to care what other people think? Isn’t that always the way?
I have some pondering to do, some searching. Perhaps, though, my search has already brought me to this place of realization: I must get back to myself somehow, before the bottom of the boat falls out and I find myself at sea, a castaway along with the scattered debris that is my life.
I am reminded of a poem by Raymond Carver, one of my favorites:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth
Yes. To feel beloved and to love. Perhaps that is truly all that is necessary.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Cicero
I’ve been reading like a mad woman for the past few days: The Alchemist(Paul Coelho), The Hours (Michael Cunningham), an older one by Jonathan Kellerman, The Butcher’s Theater, and a very early one from James Lee Burke, Black Cherry Blues. (I plan to write some reviews soon, here’s hoping.)
Why so much reading? The alternative is to sit down at this computer and produce something. Each night, I approach my desk as if it were an anathema to me: my body feels alien in the curves of my chair; my screen looms in front of me—tasking me like the white whale. I fear that to sit in my chair for any amount of time might somehow completely drain my body of the little energy I have left. So I walk back to the bed, pick up a book off the stack, or turn on the television.
I have regressed to my amoebic state: I am being whipped about in my single-cell form, a body in motion not of its own volition. I have to tell you that this is a very odd position in which to find myself: being propelled along by forces beyond my control and not having the least idea as to how to escape this eddying current without smashing myself against the rocks.
“The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man perfected without trials” ~ Chinese Proverb
I suppose an update is in order. The current state of affairs is that the job that Corey had hoped would still be open with Vane Brothers is, of course, no longer available because it took so long to get his Coast Guard certifications. He is making telephone calls, sending out e-mails, doing everything he can, but our hopes that with the arrival of the certified documents from the Coast Guard would come a job seem to be all for naught.
He is so beside himself with feelings of self-doubt that it just wounds me to my core. Having gone through a period of unemployment myself, I know all too well how it affects the psyche, chips away at your sense of self-worth, tears at the very fabric of your soul.
Corey is a wonderful, caring person. He does not deserve this continued assault on his self-esteem. And I am powerless to do anything about it. In fact, it seems that the more that I try, the harder it is for him. I don’t mean in the sense of negating his feelings, but rather, by trying to be there for him, it seems to heighten the issues.
It’s as if my presence serves as a constant reminder of all of the things that are going wrong. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just how it is. His failure at finding a job in his field in this economy is moot. What stands out is the failure itself, regardless of the fact that it is not his. I fear that my words of encouragement sound hollow to him. At times, I let them die on my tongue like sand baked in the sun.
“In the part of this universe that we know there is great injustice, and often the good suffer, and often the wicked prosper, and one hardly knows which of those is the more annoying.” ~ Bertrand Russell
I am reminded of the many closings of mill towns across America, the ways in which once thriving communities were left as mere shells of their former days of productivity. With one decision somewhere in a boardroom in another city far, far away, entire towns were dealt death blows, the only reminder of their once prosperous slice of the American pie remaining in abandoned rusting factories, blights on the landscape.
As could be predicted, in many of those communities with nothing left, alcoholism and drug addiction statistics rose. Of those citizens who decided to stay, the rate of unemployment skyrocketed as did the incidences of spousal abuse.
We are a careless society. We throw away entire communities and never look back. And then when the need for assistance increases, we have obtuse politicians making comments about hunger being a great motivator. It sickens and frightens me simultaneously: Everything can disappear in a moment.
“The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.” ~ Ellen Goodman
And so we are now left with accepting help from Corey’s parents to fix the disaster of the dead Trooper. The engine cannot be rebuilt. It would cost more to do so than the Trooper is currently worth. So Izzie is off to an Ohio junkyard. I try not to think about it.
So Corey’s mom and dad are stepping in with a vehicle. It is a life-saver and an anchor. While their intentions are incredibly generous—to help us out of this fix, Corey is finding it very hard to reconcile himself to the idea of accepting support in this way at this point in his life. It makes him feel as if he is a child again, dependent upon his parents to fix things.
After previous years of doing well with our combined incomes, being brought back to square one is akin to starting all over again.
I understand Corey’s frustrations. I felt exactly the same way when my father stepped in and bought the big ugly Buick after my Oldsmobile was totaled. Here I was, a grown woman with children, a job, obligations. But I was in a bind, and my father knew it. He did what came second nature to him. He stepped in and bought a car for me.
I never asked. I never would have been able to ask. It wasn’t a matter of pride, more a matter of feeling overwhelming failure at being at a point in my life in which I should have had the resources to take care of my problems myself without my father stepping in to save me once again.
“There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings.” ~ Hodding Carter, Jr.
I have often thought about the parent-child cycle: Exactly when does it stop? Does it ever stop? Do we ever stop being our parents’ children? Do we ever stop looking to them, needing them?
Doubtful. We grow up looking to our parents for love, support, help. If we are lucky—and indeed, not everyone is—We get those things from our parents, and so much more. We get our lessons about caring for those who have less than we do. We see our parents doing the right things day after day, and we want to emulate that. We watch carefully, silently, during those times in which we are caught off guard at the echoes of sadness in their voices, and we feel completely unprepared the first time we see our parents cry.
We vow that we will never be the cause of their pain, and then thoughtlessly, we become the very source of their anguish. We promise to do better, and our promises are filled with that toss-of-the-hat carelessness that we do not recognize until years later.
And then later, if and when we become parents ourselves, we realize exactly how fraught with sorrow and pain the prospect of raising a child can be. We vow to do better than our parents, to listen more, to be more available, to be more patient. But things never really work out that way.
At times, we become careless with our love for our children, and they know it, and they store this little nugget away and vow never to be that way with their own children when they have them.
But if we are very lucky, we also remember to cherish those sweet, sweet moments that come around only once in a while: taking an afternoon nap in the hammock in the spring sun with Alexis, barely moving so as not to disturb her slumber; singing “Unchained Melody” to Eamonn in the middle of the night when he could not sleep because of his stomachaches, sitting in the Bentwood rocker, the two of us completely immersed in each other; sitting in the backyard with Brett, in companionable silence, reading books and enjoying the quiet days of spring.
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” ~ Kenji Miyazawa
Corey and I are finding our way back as best we can. It’s a tricky path, filled with branches just waiting to trip us when we least expect it. He worries that when I look at him I see a man who has failed, that I am filled with anger and impatience. I worry that when he looks at me he sees a woman who is past her prime, who no longer has anything to contribute.
Of course, we are both wrong. When I look at Corey, I see the man who has brought great joy to my life, who has gone through hell and back and still stands by my side. I hope that when he looks at me he recognizes the force of the love that I carry in my heart for him, that it is inviolable, immense, and without judgment.
We are finding our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.
I am not some starry-eyed hopeless romantic that believes that love conquers all. I am a hopeful romantic who understands that love is but one part, and that if the loving is to be successful, it must be based on mutual respect, trust, and an unrelenting belief in the person who is your partner in this life.We are just beginning this arduous task of working our way back slowly, but this much I know: Whatever is left out there for us to conquer, to overcome, we will do it just as we have done everything else: together.
“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University
Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.
Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.
The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.
As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.
It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.
“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
I always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:
“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”
The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?
If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?
A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).
He is also taking with him the following lessons:
Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night
“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman
Okay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.
I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?
Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.
The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?
And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”
And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain
Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.
But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.
It’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.
I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.
Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.
And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”
“I’m not frightened. I’m not frightened of anything. The more I suffer, the more I love. Danger will only increase my love. It will sharpen it, forgive its vice. I will be the only angel you need. You will leave life even more beautiful than you entered it. Heaven will take you back and look at you and say: Only one thing can make a soul complete and that thing is love.” ~ Intrigue and Love by Friedrich Von Schiller
I finally had a chance to watch The Reader. If I had seen this movie before I made my favorite movies list, then The Reader, based on the 1995 novel by Bernhard Schlink, would have definitely been in the top 10, maybe even the top 5.
It’s a forceful movie, and Kate Winslet’s performance as Hanna Schmitz is academy-award worthy. I ached for her character and then wondered if I should. The movie raises some incredible questions about love, secrets, regret, blame, and the past; it delves into the arena of being able to reconcile an individual’s actions in the past with the actions of that person in the present. Very tough issues.
Can a person change? Is forgiveness for incredibly heinous actions possible? How much are we responsible for those we love? Those who changed us? If a person will not save herself, do we have the obligation to save her if we can?
Corey and I finished watching the movie, and I realized that I had been holding my breath during certain parts. The actor who plays Winslet’s young lover, David Kross, is remarkable. His emotions were palpable and believable. Ralph Fiennes, one of my favorite actors, plays the elder Michael Berg. Fiennes, a master at evoking lost love, is restrained in his characterization of the older Berg, but his restraint reflects the character’s inability to connect with people, even his daughter.
Some have called the movie a Holocaust movie because of Hanna’s past actions, but I strongly disagree. The movie is not about the Holocaust; rather, it is a movie about the German generation after the Holocaust and how betrayed they felt by their parents’ actions or inactions. This generation is trying to come to terms with a period in its country that will never be explained easily or without pain. Cross, as Michael the law student, embodies this generation.
The character of Hanna Schmitz is both sympathetic and villified. Michael as law student realizes the motivation behind Hanna’s decision to become a prison guard, as well as her decision to accept the blame for all of those involved: Hanna is illiterate and so ashamed by her illiteracy that she allows it to define her life.
Does her illiteracy excuse her actions as a prison guard? No. Does Hanna deserve our sympathy? Yes but no. It’s a complicated paradox, and I realize that some people will not sympathize with her character at all. But this movie and the characters that it embodies, are multi-layered. The characters’ motivations are not simple, and dissecting their motivations should not be approached single-mindedly.
That being said, the movie itself is beautiful. The cinematography is stylish. The sex scenes between Winslet and Cross (which were not filmed until the actor had turned 18) are tasteful and in my mind, reflect the way a teenage boy would look upon his older lover: somewhat idealized. Whereas the scenes with the elder cross as depicted by Fiennes are more sterile, reflecting the internalized pain the older Berg carries with him at all times.
Some critics did not like the back and forth between past and present; however, I did not find the flashbacks problematic. In fact, I found the non-linear time to be one of the best aspects of the movie, much better than a voiced-over recollection of past events.
The scenes in which the teenage Michael reads to Hanna come full circle when Fiennes’ Michael makes audio tapes of the same books and sends them to Hanna in prison. Without the flashbacks, this connection would not have been as effective.
That being said, criticism of the movie in general ran the gamut. Although Winslet received several awards for her performance, some critics were exceedingly sharp in their reactions. One critic called the relationship between Hanna and Michael “abusive” (Huffington Post). Some have said that the movie is an excuse for soft-porn. Several could not move beyond Hanna’s role as a guard in the concentration camps and how she sent prisoners to their deaths. Some praised the movie and put it on their best lists for 2008.
I think the fact that Winslet won SAG, Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy awards for her performance speaks for itself.
Granted, it is not an easy movie; it was never intended to be easy. The questions that The Reader raises are complicated and Daedelean, just as the characters are. Some people will be put off by the sex scenes depicting a teenage boy and a grown woman who is 17 years his elder. Others will be repelled by Hanna’s seeming obliviousness to the effect of her words during the concentration camp trials.
I am not attempting to downplay Hanna’s role as a camp guard. But I will admit that I am more focused upon the psychology of the characters: their actions and reactions and how those affect each character’s life as it unfolds.
The Reader is not a movie to be watched lightly. Personally, I found it to be a provocative story, one that presents the audience with complex issues worthy of consideration. In its own way, it is a quiet movie about issues that are not usually associated with stillness. The inclusion of selections from beautiful literature such as the Odyssey, Lady With a Pet Dog, and Intrigue and Love contribute to this sense of stillness amidst the social unrest of post-war Germany.
If you enjoy marvelous movies with wonderful actors and a meaningful plot, then The Reader, which is now available on DVD, may be for you.
These are some of the things that makes me happy in life (in no particular order):
Playing ball in the pool with Shakes and Tillie
Pepsi over crushed ice
A great mix of music that I have created
Knowing that I have just captured a great shot with my camera
Sharpies in new bright colors
A really great thunderstorm when the lights go out and the lightning is wild
The feel of Eamonn’s hair
When our bed turns into the family bed again because everyone piles onto it at once
The smell of Corey’s skin when he is wearing my favorite cologne
Pictures of my dad
Finishing the last twenty pages of a book without anyone interrupting me
Finding a new author to add to my collection
Discovering a new brand of ink pen that writes smoothly and isn’t too thin
Pepperidge Farm Chess Men cookies
When Corey wears jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt with the sleeves rolled up
Watching Tillie have a tantrum when she wants to get away with something
Floating in the pool and listening to the birds sing
The smell of fresh cut lilacs and gardenias
Waking up without too much pain
Getting a card for no reason at all
Having a good hair day
Finding the perfect pair of black boots
Watching The Lord of the Rings (again) with one of my sons
Taking Alexis shopping and being able to buy her anything she wants
Fresh peaches with just the right amount of juice running down my chin
Rolling over in the middle of the night and finding Corey’s arm
The feel of clean sheets on freshly shaved legs
Listening to Corey sing “I Cross My Heart” to me when we go to sing karaoke
The smell of fall
Seeing a perfect sunset over aqua blue water
Looking at old pictures and reliving good times
Looking at Alexis’s beautiful eyes
Thinking about Caitlin before the hospital
Writing a poem that I really like
Watching a movie that actually holds together and I that I wasn’t able to predict the ending of
Hearing from old friends and knowing that they really still love me in spite of time and distance
Seeing my exhusband and knowing that I don’t hate him, that I’ve made peace
A good vanilla bean milkshake
The fact that W will soon be out of the White House
The smell of 4711 and everything that it evokes
Wrapping Christmas presents and getting the house ready for the holidays
Going on a cruise with my husband and discovering new places
Learning new things
Watching my dogs sleep, even if they do hog all of the space on the bed
Being outside in the mountains at night with nothing else around except the stars and the sky
My beautiful computer screen and its uber high resolution
Listening to the bird song just before dawn
Knowing that even though we have our rough patches, my family is what saves me
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
Reading a book that is so good that it leaves me gasping when I’ve turned the last page
Looking at all of the beautiful gardens that Corey has created around our house
Slow dancing with Corey
Having Corey wash my hair
Getting my nails done with Alexis and stopping for slurpees on the way
Having long talks with either one of my sons
Knowing that I’ve nailed it when I sing “The Georgia Rain”
Driving over a bridge and seeing the water when it’s particularly beautiful
Taking a long bath with all of the candles lit
Painting my toenails
Finding pictures of old doors or arches
Making love in front of the fireplace
Getting a foot massage
Corey’s tequila salmon over rice
Memories of my mom and dad getting dressed up to go out to the club in London
Memories of dancing on the table at the Christmas party when the Beach Boys played
Finding seashells on the beach after a storm
Watching the sun go down from the pier with Corey’s arm around me
A big kiss on the cheek from one of the dogs
A big hug from Brett when he knows that I need one
Listening to Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”
and finally, for now, faith, hope, and belief when I need it most.