“But suddenly you’re ripped into being alive. And life is pain, and life is suffering, and life is horror, but my god you’re alive and its spectacular.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Monet's "Water Lilies" at the MOMA (detail)

“We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.” ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

Saturday afternoon. Cloudy with dropping temperatures.

The headache is gone for now.

So earlier this afternoon was for cleaning. Corey gathered up clutter from outside and took it to the dump. Brett polished the furniture, and I swept the hardwood floors and cleaned off the dining room table. Eamonn is off at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ocean View, a continuation of his 21st birthday celebration. As I’m writing this, Corey is washing his truck; Tillie is helping. Need I tell you how happy he is to be doing this?

Anyway, I’ve done all that I can do for today, so it’s time to write. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word above—commuovere (pronounced kum-wo-ve-ray, with the emphasis on the first syllable). It’s Italian in origin, and while it has no direct English translation, the closest would be to touch, to affect, to stir, to move to tears.

What stirs me, touches me, moves me to tears? Wow. I’m not talking about grief or sadness; rather, it’s a matter of stirrings in the heart. Still, it’s a long and complicated list, but I thought that I would try to share some of the things in life that have moved me or do move me, so much so that I get misty-eyed.

“I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from“ Clown in the Moon”

Believe it or not, I don’t cry often, at least not as often as I used to, but I am very sentimental, which is why I don’t watch many movies on the Lifetime channel because they always have very sad endings. But what genuinely moves me, touches that tender spot in my heart? Here is a partial list, starting with movies:

  • The death of a beloved character in a book or movie. Oh I cried when Dumbledore died, and the death scene for Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring went straight to my heart.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life. Who can watch that movie and not be moved? George Bailey as everyman? Clarence the awkward angel? Slays me.
  • Wall-e. Okay, he’s a little robot, but he has such sad eyes, and he’s in love.
  • And speaking of Pixar, when Nemo’s mom dies in the beginning of Finding Nemo? Why do the moms always die in Disney and Pixar movies?
  • That scene in The Lion King when Mufasa, the daddy lion dies. Omigawd. Even though I love Jeremy Irons as Scar, I hated him at that moment. Yes, it was animated. What’s your point?

    The English Patient
  • I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, but when he does the St. Crispin’s Day speech, I literally get chills and tear up. I want to join the fray for England. Take me, take me!
  • Yes, Dead Poets’ Society was overly sentimental, but that didn’t stop me from liking it, so when Neil stands before the open window, I feel complete dread, but when the guys stand on their desks in the final scene? Oh yeah, I’m weeping. Every. Single. Time.
  • And then there is The English Patient. Almásy rubbing saffron across Katharine’s dead lips. Katharine’s final journal entry in the Cave of the Swimmers. Hana’s final injection of morphing into Almásy. What doesn’t make me cry in this movie.

“Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path — but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.” ~ William Stafford, from “Cutting Loose”

I remember when I was a child there was this commercial with a supposed Native American man paddling in a canoe amidst pollution. The camera zoomed in on his face to show a single tear. That commercial made me cry, as did the Miller (?) beer Christmas commercial that showed a couple in a sled traveling through the snow with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” playing in the background, no words. I cried. So here are some of the epic moments in television show that have tugged at my heartstrings:

  • When Mark finally succumbed to his brain tumor on “ER.” Agony. Another devastating ER episode was “Love’s Labours Lost,” in which Dr. Green tried to deliver a baby, ultimately losing the mother. Oh, how I cried.
  • When Bobby Simone dies in “NYPD Blue.”
  • When Radar comes into the operating room to tell everyone that Colonel Henry Blake’s plane went down.
  • On “Criminal Minds,” the “Riding the Lightning” episode in which Sarah Jean Dawes, who is an innocent woman, goes to her death in prison to protect the son that she gave up years before. Gideon’s complete helplessness rips my heart into pieces.

    From Dr. Who Episode "Vincent and the Doctor"
  • Two “Dr. Who” episodes in particular: “The End of Time,” in which David Tennant (10) says, “I don’t want to go.” His face in that scene is so sad. And the other one is “Vincent and the Doctor.” In one scene Vincent, the doctor, and Amy lie beneath the night sky as Vincent explains the stars as he sees them. In the final scene, Mr. Black (played by Bill Nighy) tells the doctor that Van Gogh was “the greatest painter of them all” and “one of the greatest men who ever lived,” while a stunned Van Gogh looks on in tears. Yep. That one is always good for a cry.
  • The ultimate crying fest came in the “M*A*S*H” episode, “Goodbye, Farewell, Amen” when Charles learns that the Chinese musicians that he had been teaching were killed. At that moment, I felt the absolute futility of war as only a civilian can.

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ~ Rumi 

Another weepy trigger for me is music, and this really depends upon my mood. Anything by Chopin really moves me. Apocalyptica’s “Nothing Else Matters” stops me in my tracks. When I’m crashing, certain pieces of music absolutely slay me, take Annie Lennox’s “Why,” for example. Before the bathtub developed rust holes, I would run myself a hot bath, light the candles, and set up my CD player in the bathroom. Then I would listen to the selected CD and weep until the water became too cold. Very cathartic, in an odd sort of way.

  • “I Hope You Dance,” be Lee Ann Womack. The first time I heard this song, which is about a mother and daughter, Alexis and I were going through a very rough patch. I think she was about 16 or 17.
  • Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” If you’ve never heard this, you are missing out on one of life’s true beautiful mysteries.
  • The swelling soundtrack from Legends of the Fall, which incorporates the same type of violin that was used in Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. I firmly believe that incorporation of beautiful string sections is a deliberate attempt by composers to cut to the heart.
  • Okay, this is a combination of music and a scene in a movie: “Everything You Do” (not with words) in the scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves in which Marion is going across the water through the mist. Something about that scene just gives me chills. I know. I’m a sucker for soundtracks, especially by James Horner or Howard Shore, both of whom know how to use a string section for maximum effect.
  • I’m also a sucker for country love songs, especially when Corey isn’t home or if we’ve had an argument. A few that get to me are “Whiskey Lullabye” and “Please Remember Me” do me in, but Garth Brooks’s “The Dance” is one that I listen to to torture myself.
  • Speaking of country songs, “Christmas Shoes” by New Union is one of the saddest songs ever. It’s about a little boy who doesn’t have enough money to buy a pair of shoes for his mother who is in the hospital dying. Can you think of anything sadder to write a song about?
  • One more: the sax solo in Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungle Land.” It is so beautiful and epic that it never fails to make a chill run down my spine.

“One must look for one thing only, to find many.” ~ Cesare Pavese

There are other things, of course. Works of art, like seeing Monet’s massive “Water Lilies” for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Images of animals that are hurt or sad kill me; I thought that if I saw that commercial for the SPCA with Sarah McLachlan one more time during the Christmas season, I was going to jump off a building. I mean some things are just too much. And then there are the words: passages, poetry, drama, memoirs—far too many to begin listing.

Homeless Man with His Best Friend

I was once in an Italian restaurant, and one of the servers sang “Nessum Dorma.” I cried into my Napoleon pastry. I used to drive through the cemetery with David Lanz’s “Cristofori’s Dream” cranked all the way up on the tinny car stereo, weeping at the splendor and the sadness.

I suppose that for me, it’s the beauty behind it all, the beauty behind the music, the beauty behind the visual, the beauty behind the combination of colors and swirls, or sounds and echoes. Or perhaps, it’s knowing that for many of those who create the stunning and the sublime, a little piece of the person creating goes into the finished product. I think of Beethoven and Van Gogh, of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, how they all suffered for their art, how they poured that pain into everything that they created so that the world could have a measure of that beauty, how that breath-taking beauty was birthed from suffering and sorrow.

I don’t know. I say that I don’t cry that much any more, which is true, yet I still can be reduced to weeping when faced with the ineffable, especially in nature, whether it is a breathtaking sunset, or the color of leaves in the fall, or a night sky. Serendipitous instances of kindness and caring, love and tenderness where it seems there should be nothing but sorrow.  I am a walking contradiction, and life is both my passion and my poison.

More later. Peace.

Music by, who else, Apocalyptica, “Nothing Else Matters.” Turn it up.

                   

The Hollow Men V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men V

“Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Post note: If for some reason you land on this particular post because it mentions a Kardashian, please understand that it was written over a decade ago when this site was very young. I still do not follow the Kardashians, nor do I give a wit about any of them, so don’t bother to leave nasty comments. I know that her body has changed greatly, in large part because of cosmetic surgery. The point of this post wasn’t her— it was that we all view beauty differently. If I could go back in time and remove any reference to KK, I would, simply because it’s such a lightning rod, but that was then, and this is now, and my contentions about beauty remain the same: we are all skewed in our opinions.

sophia-loren

Iconic, Magnificent Beauty: The Stunning Sophia Loren

Who decides what is beautiful?

“Beauty is power; a smile is its sword” ~ Charles Read

kim-kardashian1 I was reading a post on a blog a few days ago that really just made me sit up and take notice. Apparently, Jessica Simpson has gained some weight. Oh my. And Kim Kardashian has come to her defense. Well this particular blogger found the whole thing offensive because Kim Kardashian is too fat to have an opinion on Jessica Simpson, who apparently is humongous because she must have gained—omigawd—twenty pounds!

I am going to post here the picture that was on the blog showing Kim Kardashian’s horrible body, her “thunder thighs and fat a**.” Now, as with most women who have carried and delivered four children, I am not as thin as I used to be. But my body image is skewed, in large part because of the media and because of comments like the one in the blog that I read.

But in looking at this picture of Kim Kardashian, I have to say that I see nothing wrong with her body. She is not rail thin. She is wearing a bathing suit that flatters her body. It is not a thong; it has a strap that artfully conceals the little bit of tummy that she has. She has legs, yes. They aren’t bird legs, and how wonderful that is. How wonderful to see a beautiful, sexy woman who is proud of her body and full of self-confidence.

You can tell by how she carries herself. More women should use Ms. Kardashian as a role model as far as how they carry themselves. She has an aura of poise that reflects a confidence in her bearing and her demeanor. It is not hard to imagine that Ms. Kardashian can walk into any room and command attention.

I know nothing about her personal life. I’ve never watched “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” I know that Bruce Jenner is her step-father, and I know that she is relatively high profile. But other than that, I don’t know squat about this woman. My choice to write about her is purely because I am so tired of the media holding up wraith-like women and girls as role models in our society.

I mean, yes, women are taking much better care of themselves. Forty is the new thirty. Generationally, we are aging much better than our mothers. But there are numerous factors that come into play: better moisturizers, more knowledge of what ages the skin, better nutrition, less smoking among women, to name but a few. Look at Madonna. Her body does not look fifty years old. Personally, I would kill to have chiseled arms like hers, but I know that she works hard every day for those arms.

“Beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical” ~ Sophia Loren

undine-rising-from-the-water-by-chauncey-ives
Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

But it’s a matter of give and take, and what you consider to be beautiful and that for which you are willing to settle. And it is so hard to know what to settle for when you are constantly being bombarded with images of celebrities who look perfect two weeks after giving birth. Of course, their pictures are air brushed. They have personal trainers and chefs who cook high protein meals for them to assist in quick weight loss.

Young women with eating disorders have these problems for many reasons. First and foremost because of their distorted self-image. They might weigh 98 pounds, but when they look in the mirror, if they can pinch even a tiny bit of flesh between their fingers, then they feel fat and ugly. And then there are the fashion magazines, and every other advertisement is for a new diet or weight-loss pill or regimen. Commercials in the evening promote exercise machines and diet plans. Even women who don’t need to lose weight feel pressured to look like Heidi Klum and Angelina Jolie, neither of whom look like they have borne children, or Kiera Knightly, who has never seen cellulite in her life.

Skinny and beautiful sell. Anything over 150 pounds is considered obese. I am not immune to this societal obsession with weight, and skinny women, and perfect bodies. Everyday when I look in the mirror I see a fat sausage, and what makes me the maddest, is that I actually feel this way, that I cannot be happy with myself the way that I am. But I know that my low self-esteem comes from years of negative comments from someone in my family. You cannot escape that history easily. You cannot  jump an ingrained hurdle without a great deal of confidence to fight, which unfortunately, I do not possess.

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it” ~ Confucius

And then there is the matter of  cosmetic surgery. MaureenJ and I were discussing this overwhelming need our society has today for cosmetic surgery: everything from Botox to complete face lifts to butt lifts to nose reconstructions to thigh reductions. If it’s part of your body, it can be fine-tuned. Personally, I’m not big on cosmetic surgery, although I may have to get my chins lifted one day simply because my mother has given me crap about that since I was a teenager, and I am very, very sensitive about it.

But the truth about cosmetic surgery, I believe, is that the people who get it again and again are very insecure about themselves. My mother has had a lot of plastic surgery, and she is never happy with the results. She had her first face lift about 20 years ago. My theory about my mom is that she is very insecure about her own personal beauty, so she tries to compensate through surgery.

That’s my theory about most people who have cosmetic surgery: They are insecure about themselves, so they try to fix something that is wrong on the inside by fixing something on the outside.

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart” ~ Helen Keller

The old quote about beauty being in the eye of the beholder is probably truer than most people realize. Quite often, one man’s beauty is another man’s fodder.  How often is it that two people standing in front of the same painting will walk away with two completely different impressions? One man’s Escher is another man’s Monet. It’s a matter of preference, a matter of taste.

Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

But if you put ten women in a room together, how many of them will agree on what the standard of beauty should be by picking out the same pictures depicted in models? Long legs, big eyes, pert breasts, possibly bordering on larger round breasts, flat stomachs, firm buttocks, high cheekbones, beautiful hair, nice arms—the total package.

How many of us do not really believe our husbands when they tell us that they think that we are beautiful? We think, “oh, how sweet. But he doesn’t really mean it.” Yet psychologists will tell you again and again that beauty is determined by the heart, not the eyes. Yet at the same time, do we tell our significant others that we think that they look nice in that grey sweater? That we like those pants? Do we mean it? Then why can’t they?

“What is lovely never dies, But passes into other loveliness, Star-dust, or sea-foam, flower or winged air” ~ Thomas Baily Aldrich

AMERICA'S NEXT TOP MODELSo let me close with these two images of beauty. The first is a statue that I have always loved. It’s called “Undine Rising From the Water” and it was created by Chauncey Ives. One of the most incredible features of this statue is that the marble is so thin and shiny in some place that when the statue is placed in direct sunlight, the marble looks wet and almost transparent. That is quite a feat to attain with marble. Because her drape is so clingy, her body is revealed beneath the wet garment. I have always viewed this statue as incredibly sensuous and beautiful.

Undine is an immortal water nymph who is drawn to the man she loves, even though loving him will make her mortal. Once she becomes mortal, she begins to age, and her love no longer stays true. Undine slays her love for failing to remain true, and she returns to the water.

In comparison is the other image of beauty: America’s Next Top Model from cycle 8 (2007), 20-year-old Jaslene. This young woman is definitely beautiful, but again, her body, which is being held up as something young women should strive for as being idyllic, is in direct contrast to what I would call a realistic woman. Few women can achieve a body like this without starving themselves. Granted, there are people who are naturally very thin, but most of the time, that is an anomaly.

Undine Rising from the Water by Chauncey Ives

I chose this particular picture of Jaslene* because it is so reminiscent of the Undine statue, with the long flowing dress being reminiscent of the water pooling at Undine’s feet, and Jaslene’s arms above her head being similar to Undine’s arms reaching upwards. Both women have their eyes closed as if they are in a dream-like state. And Jaslene could definitely be compared to a water goddess.

In the end, we must define beauty not by what we see in a person, but by what that person makes us feel. Does this individual bring beauty into our lives in some way, through their songs? their poems? their words? Does this individual bring beauty into our lives in the way that she gives so much of herself in everything that she does? Does this person bring beauty in our lives by being genuine and passionate in everything that she does? Does this person reflect beauty in her kindness to others? Is this person someone you are glad to share time with?

Beauty of the soul is a gift. Physical beauty is nothing more than mascara, blush and lip gloss applied with some finesse to heighten something you naturally have. It cannot hide all of the ugliness on the inside, ugliness that calls someone ugly names just because they don’t happen to weigh 105 pounds.

More later. Peace.

*Photo of Jaslene by Jim DeYonker/CW