“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

“I prefer neurotic people. I like to hear rumblings beneath the surface.” ~ Stephen Sondheim

Andrew Wyeth Master Bedroom

  Andrew Wyeth, “Master Bedroom”

“Neurotics are sure that no one understands them, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.” ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic’s Notebook, 1966

Well, I think that my body does not like the antibiotic Cipro. I started taking this wonderful med last week, thinking that my body would react as it normally does after taking an antibiotic for a few days: No more icky, everything all better. Not this time.

I’ve been waiting a week for the chills and weakness to go away. So far, no go. I stayed in bed all last week, didn’t even come near the computer. My desk began to look like a laundry rack. Finally, on Friday, I had to get out of bed to go to a family cookout for my German niece and nephew who were in the country. I look forward all year to these family parties, seeing everyone, getting out of the house, getting tipsy twice a year.

Not this time.

I was drinking Coke and ice (no Pepsi, pshaw), ate a grilled burger, no birthday cake even. Had to go home and change into jeans and a long sleeved shirt because I was freezing. Good thing we live so close together.

My one day out of bed earned me two more in it. Yesterday, I woke up early with big plans to put away the laundry and to write a blog. By 8 p.m., I knew that it was a lost cause. Today, we went to the airport to see off the travelers. I came home and crashed and woke up at 7. Unfortunately, I did not know if it was 7 in the morning or 7 in the evening.

Totally discombobulated. Don’t you hate that? I actually went out into the dining room and asked Corey if it was nighttime. But as I asked him, I realized the answer to my question because if it were morning, he would have been in bed, not sitting at the computer in the dining room.

It’s impossible to be able to tell time by the dogs because they are quite content to stay in bed with me day and night, occasionally moving under or above the covers depending on whether or not I’ve turned off the air conditioner.

Oh yes. Life has been pleasant for Corey since I’ve been shutting off the a/c in the bedroom since I’ve been sick. First I get chills, and then I’m too hot. A/C on and no covers . . . a/c off, lots and lots of covers. He said that he woke up a few mornings ago and I had completely buried myself under the blankets. He couldn’t even see my nose.

“No good neurotic finds it difficult to be both opinionated and indecisive.”  ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960 

Andy Warhol Diamond Dust Shoes
"Diamond Dust Shoes," by Andy Warhol

So that’s what life has been like in my house for a while. Completely unexciting. Nothing to tell. No energy to post. I have had plenty of time to ponder a few things, which I thought that I would share with you because that’s just the kind of person that I am:

  1. Why are there six pairs of shoes next to my desk and how did they get there?  I realize that I probably left all of them there, but when? When have I had time to wear six pairs of shoes since I’ve only been out of the house to go to the doctor and the store?
  2. Why did the x-ray technician at my doctor’s office try to take my blood while the lab technician (or whatever the proper term is, sorry) went to help the student x-ray technician do an x-ray? Doesn’t that seem weird to you? It does to me, especially since she missed my vein the first time. I think that my evil, ugly twin may have reared her head accidentally because she didn’t want to try to go for another vein. We waited for the real blood person to come back and stick me.
  3. Which one of the Jack Russells talked Tillie into taking a bag of hoagie rolls off the island in the kitchen when we weren’t home, and did they make her share? I’m pretty sure that Alfie did the conniving, while Shakes used his opposable thumbs to open the bag.
  4. Did you know that eldest son’s name has been changed to Ramonn? When they put all of the cousins’ names on the birthday cake at Costco, they spelled Eamonn’s name wrong. Do you want to know something even more bizarre? When Corey texted me to tell me that Eamonn’s new name was Ramonn, I actually texted him back and asked him ‘Why?’ That’s how out of it I am.
  5. Why is it that nothing I wear ever makes my mother happy? I show up at the cookout in my brown sundress and wedges. She announces loudly, “Why are you all dressed up? I thought this was a cookout. I don’t understand why you do this . . . ya da ya da ya da ya da.” She said the exact same thing on the day of Eamonn’s graduation. This has led to my adoption of the following standard: “I’m fat and ugly and my mother dresses me funny.”
  6. Why can’t there be another series of books like Harry Potter? While I’ve been in bed, I’ve reread books 6 and 7 in ancitipation of the movie coming out on Wednesday, which only makes me wish even more that there could be more books. And no, I’m not going to read any of the Twilight series, just on principle.
  7. Why do I continue to get notices that I’ve won the Irish Lottery, but no one is sending me any money? What’s up with that?
  8. Who will be the next to fall in the continuing saga of politicians who preach one thing but do another? And how does one go about getting on the payroll for John Ensign’s parents, you know, just to get helped out (as they put it)? (I know, I broke the whole tongue-in-cheek motif of the list, but I was just wondering . . .)
  9. Why does a commercial featuring a cartoon line drawing (Slim Shots) need a disclaimer at the bottom alerting people to the fact that results for a real person would not be the same as they are for a cartoon? Have we as a society really gotten that stupid?
  10. How can Bruno be at the top of the box office list? Is this somehow related to #9? You’re kidding me, right? People actually paid money to go see more of this crap cloaked as humor. Yeah, maybe I’ve lost my sense of humor, or maybe, I just don’t find annoying racist, bigoted skits posing as humor terribly entertaining.

I’m going to stop for now because I think that I’ve taxed my brain with just this little bit of fodder. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to piece together something more interesting; for instance, how can John Sandford of the Argentinian boddice-ripping e-mails actually compare himself to David in the Bible and do it with a straight face? Now that’s food for thought.

And to everyone who has been stopping by to check on me, thanks. It’s always nice to hear from you. Mean it.

More later. Peace.

“What we feel isn’t important. It’s utterly unimportant. The only question is what we do.” ~ From The Reader

reader_ver2

Suffering and Love in The Reader

“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.

kate-winslet-in-the-reader
Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz

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?

ralph_fiennes_in_the_reader
Ralph Fiennes as adult Michael Berg

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.

thereader-440x266
David Kross and Kate Winslet

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.

reader_ver3I 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.

More later. Peace.