“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

The English Patient
(Ralph Fiennes & Kristin Scott Thomas)

                   

“Let the darkness transform into rock
across the wilderness of my memory” ~ Liu Xiaobo, from “Fifteen Years of Darkness” (trans. Jeffrey Yang)

Monday night. Stuffy outside, humidity. Seems like storms are looming but not actually becoming.

Count Almásy and Katherine Clifton Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek

Memory is a tricky thing, as I’m sure I have said before. The same memory can at times be nostalgic, conjuring a bittersweet longing for a return to the moment of conception. And then later, that same memory can be so fraught with emotion that tears are the only possible response.

For example: Last night I was flipping through the channels rather aimlessly. I happened upon a showing of The English Patient, a movie that has held the number 2 spot in my all-time favorite movies for well over a decade. (It was formerly in the number 1 spot, that is until the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and well, there is no surpassing that). As I noted the listing, I paused on the channel, thought that I would probably move on to something else, but never changed the channel.

This was a mistake.

I know that I have to be in the right frame of mind to watch The English Patient, and I wasn’t in that frame of mind. But by the time the credits rolled, I was in full emotional meltdown. I pulled my soundtrack off the rack, popped it into the computer, and waited for morning.

“The rapturous notes of an unendurable grief, of isolation and terror,
the nearly impossible to sustain slow phrases of the ascending figures—
they drifted out over the dark water
like an ecstasy.” ~ Louise Glück, from “The Balcony”

The English Patient
Naveen Andrews & Juliette Binoche

I first saw that movie upon its release in 1996, which was a very, very bad year for me. A friend of mine at the museum had recommended the Michael Ondaatje book to me the previous spring, but I had promptly forgotten about it. Immediately after watching the Anthony Minghella-directed movie, I did two things: I bought the soundtrack, and I bought the book. I didn’t look for the best price, or a sale, I just bought them, which, if you know how I shop, is very uncharacteristic.

In 1996, my marriage to my ex was quickly declining, for a multitude of reasons. I had been laid off from the Museum because of the massive deficit, and I was in a very dark, lonely place. My relationship with Mari, one of the bedrocks of my life, was also in rapid decline, for reasons of which I am still not fully aware. But I went to see this movie with her, and, as it turns out, with her young amour, the person who would be responsible for completely changing her.

But I digress.

We went to the Naro, an old renovated theater in the heart of downtown’s Ghent section. The sound in this particular theater is incredible, and from the opening notes of the first song I was totally enthralled.

“We have understood nothing of life until we have understood that it is one vast confusion.” ~ Henry de Montherlant, from The Bachelors

Almásy in the Desert

If you are unfamiliar with the movie (which holds very closely to Ondaatje’s book), I will briefly recap chronologically what is shown in two different timelines: Count Almásy (played by a then rather gorgeous golden Ralph Fiennes) is part of of a Royal Geographical Society archeological expedition in the deserts of Egypt and Libya in the 1930s. Katherine (played by a blond Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband (Colin Firth) join the group. An affair ensues, hearts are broken, promises are broken, WWII breaks out, Almásy trades important maps of the desert with the Germans in exchange for a plane and fuel so that he can keep his promise to return to Katherine, a plane crash follows, the Count is burned beyond recognition, loses his identity and simply becomes the English patient, Juliette Binoche, Naveen Andrews, and Willem Dafoe enter the picture, hearts are broken, betrayals occur, the war ends.

It all sounds so clinical when spelled out like that. It is anything but.

The cinematography is breathtaking. The music is heart-wrenching. The acting is impeccable. So how could something that I consider to be so good hurt me so bad(ly)? To provide a true answer to that would take a lot more time and space than this little forum.

“Once I conjugated every animal to sorrow . . . Even now it seems like every version of melancholy rescues a nocturne for the pallid sky. A type of permanent dusk. Fold down the bedsheet. The room has earned its sadness. Nondescript despite how we have rearranged ourselves inside it, undressing with cold hands. Us with our pilgrim hearts. Stationed fast to parentheses of sleep and winter.” ~ Allison Titus, from Sum of Every Lost Ship

Le me try a slightly sifted explanation in which the chaff has been mostly eradicated:

Final Walk to the Cave of the Swimmers

The love affair between Katherine and Almásy is epic. It is destiny. It is the kind of love between two people that those of us who are romantics firmly believe is possible, what we hope for but what we know we will never have. Even as she lays dying, Katherine offers her love a quiet peace within the last words she writes, and she writes these words even as the lamplight is dying, the air is chilling, and any hope of rescue is firmly quenched.

Later, as he lies in a foreign bed in a deserted house, Almásy spends his time daydreaming about the hours they shared. His copy of Herodotus is filled with love notes and personal commentaries on love and betrayal, overwriting the historian’s account of Greco-Roman history.

After watching the movie and then reading the book, I found a kind of running thread of words and phrases from both in the back of my mind at any given time during the day or night. I underlined passages. I wrote marginalia, the most telling of which was “I wish that I could find someone to love me like this.”

“Now and then, I remember you in times
Unbelievable. And in places not made for memory
But for the transient, the passing that does not remain.” ~ Yehuda Amichai, from “Little Ruth” (trans. by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav)

At that time in my life, I did not feel loved, or rather, I felt loved in the wrong way, if that makes any sense. Any sense of belonging that I felt came from outside my home. I felt stretched too thin, underappreciated, overworked, and mostly, mostly I felt hollow. So when I see this movie, all of those feelings come back to the surface. I remember exactly where I was sitting in the theater. I remember trying to tell my ex about the beauty of the movie, asking him to go see it with me (which never happened).

The English Patient Original Theatrical Release Poster

(Later that year, the owner of the Naro gave me the movie poster as he knew how much I coveted it. I still have it and am still waiting for that room of my own in which to hang it.)

The English Patient does for me exactly what Aristotle’s Poetics declared great drama would do to an audience: allow an empathy with the story so profound as to cause a purging of pity and fear. The mythos (plot) and ethos (character) of the movie combine to reopen old scars, leaving me stinging as if the scab has only recently been scratched, and then, a few days later, I am purged. But the reopening of the portal to that era in my life is not without consequences.

Or, to put it more simply, it’s an elevated version of The Way We Were, the Streisand/Redford collaboration of the 70’s that depicted two ill-fated lovers who loved too much, whose love was all-consuming, and consequently, couldn’t withstand time and circumstance. Of course, The English Patient won nine Academy Awards, and The Way We Were none. But the real point is this: Why is such passionate love always doomed?

But that’s a completely different entry.

More later. Peace.

Music from The English Patient, closing theme, composed by Gabriel Yared

                   

Light By Which I Read

One does not turn to the rose for shade, nor the charred song of the
redwing for solace.
This past I patch with words is a flaw in the silvering,
memory seen
through to.
There I find the shallow autumn waters, the three stolen pears,
The horizon edged with chalk, loose where the fabric frayed.
Each yesterday glacier-scored, each a dark passage illumined by a
honeycomb.

*

I begin to fathom the brittle intricacy of the window’s scrim of ice.
For years, I managed without memory—stalled, unnumbered,
abridged—
No more alive than a dismembered saint enthroned in two hundred
reliquaries.
Now, it is hard not to say I remember,
hard, in fact, not to remember.
Now, I hear the filament’s quiver, its annoying high frequency, light
by which I read.

*

River mist, mudbanks, and rushes mediate the dark matter
Between two tomorrows:
one an archive of chance effects,
The other a necropolis of momentary appearances and sensations.
One, a stain of green, where a second wash bleeds into the first.
The other time-bound, fecund, slick with early rain.

*

As if to impose a final hermeneutic, all at once the cicadas wind down.
The gooseberry bush looms like a moon: each berry taut, sour, aglow.
The creek runs tar in the cloud-light, mercury at dusk.
Then the frogs start up.
Clay-cold at the marrow. A hollow pulse-tick.
And it seems, at last, I’ve shed my scorched and papery husk.

~ Eric Pankey

(To see poem with original indents, click on link.)

“We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

Corey left today . . .

                   

Walk to the Cave of the Swimmers, From The English Patient

“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

One Hundred Things

A dock at sunset on White Sands Island in the Maldives.

These are the things . . .

I realized that even though I’ve done a few memes on here, I haven’t ever really talked about myself completely, honestly. So I thought that I would compose a random list, just to see where it takes me. So here we go:

  1. I like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. About the only vegetable I really hate is okra, and that’s because it’s slimey and hairy.
  2. I’ve never eaten escargot. No matter how much garlic you put on it, it’s still a snail.
  3. I love shrimp, but I will not eat lobster. If someone around me orders lobster, I make clawing motions with my hands and say “help me” in a high-pitched voice so as to shame them for eating something that could live for years and years in the ocean.
  4. I also will not eat lamb or veal. Do you know how they make veal? If you did, then you couldn’t possibly eat it.
  5. I love chocolate. I have tried to give up chocolate many times as it is not good for my headaches, and it is full of calories, but it keeps coming back and jumping into my mouth when I’m not looking.

    kayaking-at-first-landing-state-park-by-karen-roberts
    Kayaking at First Landing State Park by Karen Roberts
  6. The last time I was timed, I typed 126 words a minute. That was a long time ago, and I type much faster now.
  7. I have gone kayaking, and actually really enjoyed it. If I had the opportunity, I would own my own kayak and use it on the Chesapeake Bay.
  8. I like to go hiking in the foothills of Virginia, but I haven’t done it since I hurt my back. My ex and I once went hiking/camping with some friends of ours. The girl wore penny loafers to go hiking. That was her idea of old shoes. I ended up carrying the guy’s pack on the hike back. Not outdoor people.
  9. I love my dogs and treat them like children. Dogs are meant to be loved and talked to. People who abuse dogs should be put in jail as far as I’m concerned. A man who will beat a dog will beat a child or a woman. Don’t ever believe any differently.
  10. I enjoy the smell of fresh cut lilacs, rosemary, gardenias, and lavender.
  11. Butterflies are small miracles.
  12. tiger-swallowtail-on-lantana
    Tiger Swallowtail on Lantana by L. Liwag
  13. My three children, who are no longer small, are still my pride and joy, even when they screw up. After all, who doesn’t screw up once in a while?
  14. I would love to have more children, even though I am considered past my childbearing years. But what does that mean, anyway? I really don’t care.
  15. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would live somewhere where I could see water and mountains at the same time.
  16. I believe in nationalized medicine and a flat tax rate.
  17. I am a liberal liberal. I don’t mind paying more taxes if it means that there will be better schools and better healthcare. My only protest against paying more taxes is that I want the rich to pay their fair share, too, and to stop having so many loopholes so that they end up paying less than those of us in the middle of the road.
  18. I miss my father every day of every week of every year. I see him in my dreams often. I believe that he is looking out for me as best he can.
  19. When I was at the beach once, I asked god for a sign that things were going to be all right, and then the waves pulled back, and a perfect shell was there at my feet.
  20. I believe in angels.
  21. I wish that I remembered more from my publishing class on computer systems, but it was such a painful experience the first time that I think that I have blocked everything that I managed to learn.
  22. I love Beowulf (not the movie, the written version)
  23. I wish that I looked like Angelina Jolie, but I wish more that I had her ability to go to poor countries and do something for the people who live there.
  24. angelina-jolie-goodwill-ambassador
    Angelina Jolie as Goodwill Ambassador
  25. I collect stuffed bears, and I buy the ones who look like they need a home.
  26. I have a calendar fetish. I always have at least three calendars of my own: one next to my desk, one in my purse, and one in the kitchen. If I had more places to put them, I would have more.
  27. I am a speed reader, but I don’t scan in order to read more quickly. For example, I read each of the Harry Potter Books, even the longest one, in just one day.
  28. I have read The Lord of the Rings more times than I can remember.
  29. The English Patient is one of the most beautiful books ever written, and the movie is still one of my favorites.
  30. I get silly drunk about two times a year, but otherwise, I drink very seldom.
  31. I don’t do illegal drugs, and the worst thing I ever did when I was a teenager was speed, and I hated the way that it made me feel.
  32. I love to learn. I have one bachelor’s degree, and two master’s degrees. I would go for another degree in a heartbeat.
  33. I miss being in the front of the classroom but not enough to teach in the Norfolk Public School system.
  34. I’ve never been in a girl fight. How utterly stupid.
  35. I am very sentimental. I can cry at a Hallmark commercial, a Lifetime movie, or a YouTube clip. Sarah McLachlan’s commercials about animals in shelters just kills me.
  36. I am fiercely loyal and protective.
  37. I am an Aquarius.
  38. Eamonn and Caitlin’s birthdays are within ten days of each other in March (Pisces); Alexis and Brett’s birthdays are within three days of each other in July (Cancer).
  39. It’s far easier to give birth in March than in July.
  40. I’m not afraid of needles, as in having blood drawn, but I hate it when I get someone who is not good at putting in an IV. That hurts.
  41. I talk back to the computer and other inanimate objects. I also carry on conversations with other drivers, but they don’t know it.
  42. I love coffee and hot tea. I drink cream in most types of hot tea except for Earl Gray and Oolong.
  43. claire-lerner-blue-tea-cup1
    "Blue Tea Cup," by Claire Lerner
  44. My favorite dessert is Tiramisu, followed closely by real New York cheesecake.
  45. I used to be a shopaholic but have since reformed, for a variety of reasons.
  46. I believe that psychopharmaceuticals were developed for a reason and that no one should be ashamed of having to take them.
  47. I hate it when people jump to conclusions.
  48. I have a terrible habit of correcting other people’s English.
  49. My husband is younger than I am, and when we first got together, no one thought that it would last. We’ve been together for nine years, and it is the best relationship of my life.
  50. My mother is without a doubt the one person in this world who can get to me more than anyone else. She knows exactly what buttons to push.
  51. I wish that Alexis believed in herself more, but at this point, I have to let her be who she is and try not to interfere.
  52. My last beta, Mulder, decided that he didn’t like me and wouldn’t look at me any more. I took it very personally. He doesn’t live here any more.
  53. blue-beta
    Blue Beta: Mulder Did Not Look Like This
  54. I am hooked on crime shows: CSI, Without a Trace, Law & Order. I do not like sitcoms.
  55. Heidi Klum is über gorgeous, especially when she is pregnant.
  56. American society is fixated on how people look and doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to educating its children.
  57. Someday, I want to go to Australia, Ireland, and Greece.
  58. I love to take pictures but don’t like to have my picture taken.
  59. Cruises cease to be fun when you run out of money.
  60. My big goal in life is to be debt-free and to have good credit again.
  61. All of my children inherited my propensity for depression as I inherited it from my father. Sometimes genetics really sucks.
  62. I wish that Mari lived nearby so that we could spend time together again.
  63. I need to get off my ass and put together my book, but I am too scared of the whole rejection process.  
  64. point-woronzof-sunset-2-by-janson-jones
    Point Woronzof Sunset by Janson Jones of Floridana Alaskiana
  65. I managed a newsroom when I was 19-years-old.
  66. One day, I will figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
  67. Ending sentences in a preposition really bothers me.
  68. I love to use quotations by other people in my own work. It helps me to focus.
  69. I love sunsets and sunrises. I cannot think of anything more beautiful than a painted sky.
  70. I miss getting dressed, putting on make-up and going to work everyday. I love make-up.
  71. I hate dreaming that I am at work.
  72. I believe that men and women can be friends, but sooner or later, sex tries to get in the way.
  73. I love music: classical, pop, classic rock, country, new age (whatever the hell that means), opera, blues, even some hard rock.
  74. My birthstone is garnet, which I love, but I also love pearls, aquamarines, and diamonds.
  75. One day, I am going to have a big diamond ring, just because.
  76. I used to love to wear hats, but now I just look silly.
  77. I have long wavy hair, and I would like a new hairstyle, but I look like a monkey when I have short hair.
  78. I usually eat one big meal a day (dinner), and maybe a snack, but I cannot lose weight. I hate that.
  79. I can be very impatient, which can lead to my being snarky, especially when I’m driving.
  80. I find that I always end up telling Corey where to park, even though he doesn’t need my help. I wonder why I do that?speed-limit-sign
  81. I speed on the interstate, but I obey the speed limit in the city.
  82. I desperately need a new old car that is just mine because Eamonn ruined Izzie the Trooper, and it smells like cigarettes.
  83. I love ankle bracelets and earrings, and I love watches, but am down to about four now that still work.
  84. I smoked during college exams, but I hate cigarettes, and cigarette smoke.
  85. I don’t look my age, but that is because of good genes and Oil of Olay Regenerist, and I don’t ever tell people how old I really am.
  86. Writing my blog posts is my daily therapy.
  87. Both Shakes and Tillie snore, but Tillie snores louder. I snore louder than anyone in the house.
  88. I hate my body. I feel like a sausage most of the time.
  89. I really love shoes and boots, especially boots.
  90. I wear Christmas socks all year long.
  91. We are not friendly with most of our neighbors. I wonder why.
  92. I have never really wanted to own a horse, but I have considered living on an old farm.
  93. I am a hoarder when it comes to books and sentimental things like old cards and letters.
  94. I used to own a yard tractor and would mow the yard in my bathing suit. Of course, that was when I was in good shape. My nasty neighbor to my left thought that it was scandolous.
  95. I hold a grudge, expecially if I feel that I have been wronged unfairly.
  96. I think about revenge, but have never actually taken it.
  97. Bad manners offend me, and my sons know this and use it to drive me crazy.
  98. I wash my hands a lot, but I don’t think that I am OCD about it.
  99. One day, my bedroom will finally be painted, and I will be able to put in my new furniture.
  100. I like antiques even though my mother calls them “tired, old things” and believes that people should move on.  
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    Original Yoda
  102. I have a hard time moving on, and don’t adjust to change very well.
  103. I like the first three Star Wars movies (chronologically) a lot better than the last three (numerically).
  104. Corey brings me a cup of hot mint tea every night before bed. Isn’t that thoughtful?
  105. I am a pantheist: I believe that god, some kind of god, exists in all things: people, animals, trees, water, and that if we listen carefully enough, we can become one with all things in nature.
  106. One day, I will finally go on a poetry retreat.
  107.  

That’s quite enough for today. Peace.

Nothing A Hot Bath Won’t Cure

“Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas

“Water is life’s mater and matrix, mother and medium. There is no life without water.” ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

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Berthe Morisot's "A Woman at her Toilette"

I was thinking about baths today. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to have a long soak in our old tub without running out of hot water, which totally defeats the purpose of a long, hot bath. As Sylvia Plath once said, “there must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I can’t think of any of them.”

For years, though, a long, hot bath has been my escape. At one time, and this will sound completely insane, but you would have to have known me at this time, I used to run a really hot bath, filling the tub almost to overflowing. And then I would open a bottle of Spumanti and sip on my sparkling bubbly and talk on the telephone with one of my oldest and dearest friends. The catch here was that I would take a valium first.

You’re probably thinking, ‘my god, she had a real problem.’ Not exactly, it was only a few months after losing my daughter Caitlin, and I was having a very hard time deciding if I wanted to keep trying in this game known as life. So I would numb myself to the pain in the only way that I knew how at the time, and then I would let my friend Kathleen talk me through it. The water was usually cold by the end, and I would have cried myself silly and just go to bed and collapse.

I haven’t done anything like that in years, but when you are in pain, and you feel as if you have nowhere to go, sometimes the only thing that you can do is take a bath, because deep down, you know that if you get in a car, you probably won’t be coming home.

But over the years, the kids have learned to leave me alone when I am in the tub. Of course, when they were much younger, I could only take a long, hot bath after they had gone to bed; otherwise, they would be standing outside of the door saying, “What are you doing in there, Mommy? Why can’t we come in?” which definitely defeats the purpose of trying to have a bit of time to yourself.

Now, my routine is usually something along these lines: hot water plus bath salts, usually lavender or verbena, two or three candles, my small boombox and a few CD’s, depending upon how long I plan to retreat. I might just choose a collection of Bach or Chopin, or maybe one of my compilation disks. Also, I need a cup of tea, and then no bath would be complete without my dog Shakes . . .

Shakes? Yes, unfortunately, Shakes decided when he was very young that anytime I go in the bathroom and shut the door, he has to come in and protect me. And depending upon his mood, might take the whole protection thing a bit too far. For example, if Corey tries to bring my tea in after I’m in the bath, sometimes Shakes nips at his toes as if to say, ‘no one allowed except for me.’

Shakes is a very single-minded Jack Russell. The only thing that he loves more than me, possibly, is a tennis ball, and at one time, he would bring the ball with him into the bathroom and then very deliberately drop it into my bath—over and over again until my bath time was over or I tired of playing bath ball with him.

“Of the water drops that fall/ Into the stone bowl,/You will feel that all the dust/Of your mind is washed away.” ~ Sen-No-Rikyu

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Kurama Onsen Bath House in Kyoto

I have always been intrigued by the concept of the traditional Japanese bath or Ofuro. Because Japan sits between two volcanic belts, the country is replete with many natural hot springs. The tradition of the Japanese bath dates back to the Buddhist Monks around 550 AD, in which the bath was seen more as a religious ritual for purification of the body and soul. Bath houses that use water from a hot spring are called onsen. Bath houses in which the water is heated are called sento.

Bath houses were used not only a ritual cleansing of body, mind, and spirit; they were also used as a means of community socializing since few homes had their own bathhouses. Specific of the onsen or sento would be partitioned off for after-bath socializing, light meals, or tea. The method for a traditional Japanese bath is still quite ritualistic, even though since the mid 20th century, more private homes have their own baths, causing a great decline in the communal bathhouses.

To indulge in a Japanese bath, the bather usually has to perform certain key steps. First, the cleansing of body and hair are done in a separate area of the sento, which allows the communal water to remain clean. The individual bather removes his or her clothes changing room which usually provides bins or lockers for clothes. Afterwards, the bather enters naked into the actual bathroom, which is usually separated by a cloth to keep the bathing area quite warm and steamy, and then bathes and washes completely using a personal cloth brought from home.

Only after bathing in the actual bathing room is the bather allowed to enter the communal bath, which is very hot. Bathers are immersed up to their necks in the hot water, and can relax as long as they like. Often, there is a smaller pool of cool water to jump into before going into the very hot water. After the long soak, most Sentos offer Shiatsu, or massages.

The entire process can leave a person feeling completely relaxed and rejuvenated, but often not willing to do much more afterwards, which is why so many people bathe in the evening.

“We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see.” ~ Taoist Proverb

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"After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself," by Edward Degas

Anyway . . . I was thinking about some of the better bath tub scenes from movies that I can recall. Let’s see . . .

There is the scene in The English Patient in which Katharine and Almaszy are sharing a tub, and she makes Almaszy tell her what he loves and what he hates. It begins as a seemingly light-hearted scene, but ends with Katharine’s anguish when Almaszy declares that what he hates most is “ownership.” He tells her, “Ownership. Being owned. What you leave here you should forget me.” Not a good way to end a bath.

In Legends of the Fall Susannah and Tristan are bathing in a hot spring after Tristan has had to kill a calf that was caught in barbed wire. The scenery is beautiful, but the interaction between Susannah and Tristan is nonexistent because Tristan has already left in his mind.

Witness in which the newly-widowed Rachel gives herself a sponge bath in a standing tub, which John Book comes upon, is one of the most chaste moments of passion in film.

The Fountain contains a passionate bathtub scene between Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman that is more romantic than revealing.

The next one isn’t necessarily important to the movie, but I love the bathtub itself in A Perfect Murder, with Gwyneth Paltrow, Michael Douglas, and Viggo Mortensen.

Mustn’t forget Harry Potter’s gigantic bubble bath scene in the fourth installment of the series, The Goblet of Fire.

And just for grins, I thought that I’d throw in the bathtub scene from Fatal Attraction. Moral of the story: make sure the psychopath is dead before turning your back on her.

In reflecting on it, there are far more shower scenes in movies and on television than bathtub scenes; unless you are interested in gore, in which case bathtubs full of blood and gore abound in movies. But that’s not exactly what I would call relaxing.

More later. Peace.

If It’s Friday, It Must Mean Leftovers

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Elizabeth: The Golden Age (with Cate Blanchett and Clive Owen)

Best of List In No Particular Order

I just can’t put it together today cogently, so I’m doing something I’ve been thinking about doing: a Bests List. Feel free to tag me back with your bests if you want to play along.

Best Book:

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. The prose is beyond eloquent. Reading this book is akin to bathing in finely-scented oils: each time you read a beautiful passage, you think that nothing can possibly be any better than this, and then a few pages later, Ondaatje takes his words and lavishes them upon you until you feel utterly immersed in the exquisite way in which he mates his words to create something incredibly beautiful:

“New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything. For the heart is an organ of fire.” (Almaszy), or

“We die. We die rich with lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we’ve entered and swum up like rivers. Fears we’ve hidden in—like this wretched cave. I want all this marked on my body. Where the real countries are. Not boundaries drawn on maps with the names of powerful men. I know you’ll come carry me out to the Palace of Winds. That’s what I’ve wanted: to walk in such a place with you. With friends, on an earth without maps. The lamp has gone out and I’m writing in the darkness.” (Katharine Clifton)

Or this one: “He glares out, each eye a path, down the long bed at the end of which is Hana.  After she has bathed him she breaks the tip off an ampoule and turns to him with the morphine.  An effigy. A bed.  He rides the boat of morphine.  It races in him, imploding time and geography the way maps compress the world onto a two-dimensional sheet of paper.”

Best Character in a Movie:

This one was hard. I finally narrowed it to two characters: Henry the Fifth in Henry V,  starring Kenneth Branaugh. Henry V was one of England’s great king’s historically, and his depiction by William Shakespeare made him truly heroic and larger than life, a king men were willing to fight and die for. The St. Crispin’s Day speech delivered by King Henry before the battle is an incredible piece of oratory:

My other favorite movie character is William Wallace in Braveheart. Obviously, my choices have something in common. They are both men of valor, fighting for that in which they believe. Wallace is the less regal version of Henry.

Best Movie Soundtrack:

Hands down, for me it’s the soundtrack from Philadelphia. I know that the whole movie is incredibly sad, but the music on the soundtrack is, well, not quite as sad. But I think that it’s a wonderful compilation of artists and styles. Runner up would be the soundtrack from Hope Floats, which also features many unexpected artists and an eclectic fare. 

Best Coffee:

Starbucks Sumatra venti with half and half and sugar. Sumatra is a dark, bold coffee, which is the kind I prefer. I don’t like wimpy coffees, but I do like my half and half in my coffee. I’m trying to cut down on the sugar, though, since I just got the lab results back on my triglycerides (yikes!).

Best Song (five categories):

  • Rock n Roll: Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” tied with “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos
  • Country: “Amazed” by Lonestar
  • Classic: “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
  • Opera: Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” from the opera Turandot, especially as sung by Luciano Pavoratti
  • Classical: “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber

Again, this is a category that is very hard for me to pick just one Best of, so I thought that I would make it easier on myself by creating categories.


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Homicide: Life on the Street

Best Series No Longer on Television:

This one was easy: “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Set in Baltimore, this gritty cop show ran from 1993 to 1999 and featured one of the best ensemble casts ever. The only thing that I could never reconcile was the question posed in the first episode of the first season: Who killed Adena Watson?

Best Cable Series:

Again, no competition: ‘The Tudors” on Showtime. Admittedly, I never thought of Henry VIII as sexy before this finely-crafted show aired, but Jonathan Rhys Meyers changed my mind. Intrigue, deception, backstabbing, adultery, regal staging: almost American politics, but with better costuming.

Best News Show:

“Countdown With Keith Olbermann” on MSNBC. I love this guy. He appeals to my sardonic side in a way in which no other pundit ever has. He can also show emotion, such as on the night that Barack Obama was elected or on the night of Obama’s speech to the DNC. I like a human pundit who has wit and brains and a segment called “Worst Persons in the World.”

Best Ice Cream:

Edy’s Butter Pecan. Yummy. Nuf said.

Best Poem:

“The Olive-Wood Fire” by Galway Kinnell. I could name at least fifty others, but this poem has stuck with me for a while: a man, rocking his son to sleep by the fire, dozes off, and sees images of war in the fire. Awakens to the placid picture before him: his son on his arms before the olive-wood fire.

The Olive Wood Fire
Galway Kinnell

When Fergus woke crying at night.
I would carry him from his crib
to the rocking chair and sit holding him
before the fire of thousand-year-old olive wood.
Sometimes, for reasons I never knew
and he has forgotten, even after his bottle the big tears
would keep on rolling down his big cheeks
—the left cheek always more brilliant than the right—
and we would sit, some nights for hours, rocking
in the light eking itself out of the ancient wood,
and hold each other against the darkness,
his close behind and far away in the future,
mine I imagined all around.
One such time, fallen half-asleep myself,
I thought I heard a scream
—a flier crying out in horror
as he dropped fire on he didn’t know what or whom,
or else a child thus set aflame—
and sat up alert. The olive wood fire
had burned low. In my arms lay Fergus,
fast asleep, left cheek glowing, God

Best Karaoke Song for Me:

“I Will Remember You,” by Sarah McLachlan. Perfect key for my voice, and I feel a connection to this song.

Best Movie:

usual-suspectsThe Usual Suspects. The casting in this movie is pure perfection. The plot line is completely implausible, but it is a movie that I will come back to again and again. I have no idea how many times I have watched this movie.

 Best line spoken by character Verbal Kint (played beautifully by Kevin Spacey): “Keaton always said, ‘I don’t believe in God, but I’m afraid of him.’ Well I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze.”

Runner up (and it was hard to choose) would have to be Lord of the Rings (I’m counting this as one long, nine-hour movie). I have read the trilogy once a year almost every year since I was an undergraduate. Peter Jackson managed to do what I thought no person would ever be able to do: He brought to life a set of books about which many people are fanatical, and in a way that is beyond description. I am still willing to relocate to New Zealand to be a gopher for Peter Jackson any time he calls.

Actually, now that I think of it, it has to be a tie.

Best Female Actor:

This is close, but I think that I have to go with Cate Blanchett, simply because I have never seen her in anything in which her performance was not superb; the movie may have been mediocre, but Blanchett is never mediocre. She has that chameleon-like ability that Meryl Streep has, but I like Blanchett’s body of work better.

Best Male Actor:

Okay, I am really not basing this on looks, but out of all of the actors working today, I particularly like Clive Owen for a lot of the same reasons that I like Kate Blanchett. Owen does not choose to do the same role over and over with just a different movie title. I loved him as Sir Walter Raleigh in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, but I also loved him as Theo in Children of Men, in which he is much more vulnerable and a victim of circumstances.

Best Tea:

Twining’s Darjeeling, hot, strong with sugar and cream. Wonderful alone or with ginger snaps.

Best Outfit Fall/Winter:

Levi’s jeans, black leather boots, turtle neck sweater, long earrings, clunky leather watch, full-length black leather coat, Calvin Klein’s Eternity, squooshy black leather Via Spiga bag.

Best Outfit Spring/Summer:

Bathing suit and sarong, or long sun dress, 4711 cologne, and Birkenstocks.

Best Book Series for Fun:

Harry Potter, all seven books. Best book of series, book 3, Prizoner of Azkaban.

Best Vacation:

Seven-day cruise to Western Caribbean, 2006. Just Corey and me: cave-tubing, swimming with stingrays, sailing on a catamaran. Great meals. No work. Wonderful.

Best Car:

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Black Calais. Loved that car. It had a great stereo; it was great on gas, drove smoothly, comfortable interior.  Killed it in an altercation at a stoplight when right front bumper turned into accordion after tapping metal bumper of full-sized Suburban. Damage to their car: dent in bumper. Damage to my car: totaled.  

Best Day That Cannot Be Repeated:

The day that Corey and I went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg with my Mom and Dad. I hadn’t been to a theme park with both of my parents since I was a child. We had a wonderful time, and had our picture taken on the log flume. My Dad would die from pancreatic cancer less than half a year later.

More later. Peace.

A Little Romance, If You Please

Romance Can Be Subjective, Collective, and Wholly Impulsive

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Most romantic scenes in movies (just my opinion, of course)

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Tristan + Isolde

The English Patient: When Katherine and Almaszy are caught in the sandstorm in the desert, and he begins to tell her of the different kinds of sandstorms. It is an incredibly intimate moment, one that you know will lead to others to come.

Legends of the Fall: When Tristan (Brad Pitt) and Susanna (Julia Ormond) are making love for the first time.

Tristan+Isolde:  The scenes between the two young lovers in the hut on the beach in Ireland before they know each other’s true identity.

The Red Violin: Although this scene may not seem romantic in the traditional sense, the maker of the violin takes the blood of his newly dead wife and child and mixes it with varnish to finish his perfect violin, thereby forever sealing them into a thing of outstanding beauty.

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A Walk in the Clouds

Philadelphia: The scene in which Tom Hanks’s character, Andrew Becket, and his lover, Miguel, played by Antonio Banderas, are dancing together, in fact, any scene in which the two men are together is touching for its realistic depiction of a relationship in which one person is dying and the other person doesn’t know how to deal with it.

A Walk in the Clouds: The scene in which everyone is battling the vineyard fire, and Paul, played by Keanu Reeves, and Victoria, played by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón are wearing the wings. The scene is made surreal because of the smoke and the backdrop of the fire, but it is lovely.

Age of Innocence: Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) cannot consumate his affair with the Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), so he unbottons her glove and kisses her wrist, one of the most passionate kisses in film history.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: The scene in which Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is moving away from Robin across the lake into the mist.

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City of Angels

City of Angels: Toss up between the pear scene between Maggie and Seth, and the scene in which Maggie is riding her bike with her arms flung out and her eyes closed in pure bliss. I know that what happens next is horrible, but for that one monent you know that she is filled with complete happiness.

A Room With A View:  The kiss in the field between Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter) and George Emerson (Julian Sands) is set beautifully.

Brokeback Mountain: The tenderness between the two men is laid bare after Jack dies and Ennis goes to visit his parents. In Jack’s room, Ennis find their two old shirts from Brokeback mountain hanging together. Ennis breathes in deeply and then silently begins to weep the loss of his one true love.

Atonement:  The scene in which Cecelia strips down to go into the fountain to find the pieces of the vase. Her complete lack of discomfort in doing so in front of Robbie shows that there is already something very deep between them, something that will only take a slight movement on the part of either one to make the relationship move to its logical next level. Briony’s interference ruins so many lives that night, something for which she will never be able to truly atone.

Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (1996):  When the two young lovers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) spend their wedding night together and awaken full of joy. Shakespeare’s lines have never sounded so alive as when they were uttered in this film version.

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The Notebook

Braveheart: The whole film post Murron MacClannough’s murder is William Wallace’s  search for vengeance and atonement for his beloved’s death.

The Notebook: The scene in the rowboat when it begins to rain and Allie and Noah realize that they have been apart for no reason. This only scene in the movie that is more painful and heart-wrenching to wach is the final scene in which the nurse finds the elderly Noah and Allie in bed together for their last, final embrace.

If you haven’t already seen all fifteen movies on this list, and you like a good, cathartic cry every once in a while, then I recommend any of them for an afternoon at the movies. I’m not a romantic comedy kind of person. I either like intense romance or spy/action thrillers. I did not include on my list some of my older favorites, such as The Way We Were, Casablanca, Dr. ZhivagoWuthering Heights, The Great Gatsby, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Out of Africa, Sense and Sensibility, Witness, and The Princess Bride.

I did not include The Princess Bride on my main list because it’s also a comedy, and that sort of negates the romance, but it’s a movie that my daughter and I have watched together a million times, and from which we can recite lines (“wuv, twoo wuv”).

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Wuthering Heights

I’ll admit that I have to be in the mood for one of my crying movies. The English Patient is still my all-time favorite movie for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the movie  is almost as beautiful as the book by Michael Ondaatje, which is rare indeed. A Room With a View by Merchant Ivory always makes me want to go to Italy because the background scenery is incredible. The scene in Legends of the Fall when Tristan crests the ridge with the wild horses and the music soars still gives me goosebumps.

Ralph Fiennes in Wuthering Heights is so dark and brooding, the antithesis of his character Almaszy in The English Patient, in which he is intese, but golden. And for once, Nicholas Cage’s hounddog eyes are perfect for the sad angel in City of Angels. His eyes look like an angel in despair, which is what he is.

Perhaps the one movie that always tears me up beyond belief is Philadelphia. Watching Tom Hanks virtually waste away on screen is so realistic, but the musical score is amazing. When I’m working on the computer and I need heartfelt music (one of my bosses called it music to slit your wrists to, but I think that’s carrying it a bit too far), I play the soundtrack; it’s very cathartic. If you’ve never heard the soundtrack, it contains Bruce Springsteen’s academy-award song, Neil Young, Peter Gabrial, Sade, Indigo Girls, and Maria Callas performing “La Mamma Morta.”

Call me a hopeless romantic, but “in love, there are no boundaries.” I still believe in one true love. I still believe in great love stories. I still cry when love is doomed to fail. I still yearn for the underdog to win. I still want love to conquer anything and everything and to vanquish the cold-hearted and those who would try to come between a love that is destined to be.

So yes, I am a hopeless romantic, and I am a hopeful romantic. And because I know that it’s possible and that it’s out there, I don’t want my children to settle for anything less than their true heart’s desire. I’ve seen too many bad marriages that have started out for seemingly the right reasons, but there was always something not quite right. The smiles were a little too forced. The arguments a little too often and a little too petty. One person definitely dominated the other. Things begin to show through the cracks very soon after the wedding, and the cracks only grew larger.

So I don’t want them to settle. I want them to search until they feel that little flip in their stomachs, the one that doesn’t go away after a few weeks or months and has nothing to do with sex. I want them to feel real romance.

And so ends this compilation of my favorite romantic movies. More later. Peace.