Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Favorite Movie Kisses I, Ship of Fools: Simone Signoret & Oskar Werner

I saw somewhere online a list of someone's favorite movie kisses and I wanted to make one too.
There must be hundreds I've enjoyed watching; however, only one immediately springs to mind:
Oskar Werner and Simone Signoret kissing in Ship of Fools (1965, USA, dir. Stanley Kramer).

I couldn't find a still of them together, besides this Japanese movie poster, but I screencapped their first kiss (above) off youTube.

My favorite kiss, though, is too dark to catch--I screencapped them looking at each other, right before.

The whole scene is below, at 1:20-2:10.

If you want to watch all the interactions between these two, they're here: Simone Signoret & Oskar Werner, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Their characters are only two among a large cast onboard a German ship sailing from South America to Europe on the eve of World War II.
Oskar Werner plays Dr. Wilhelm Schumann, a proper, middle-aged ship doctor, who suffers heart sickness. He's almost boringly good yet inexplicably charming.

Simone Signoret is La Contessa, an overblown rose who at midlife looks like she lives on spoonfuls of whipped cream and injections of morphine (definitely my sign, Pisces).
She is being sent into exile for aiding Latin American rebels because she's seen how rotten it is that, as she says, everything she owned came out of their lives.

Quite a lot of their conversation happens when one or the other of them is about to go to sleep.

Despite the doctor's initial disapproval, he gives her an injection to help her sleep--but only after she tells him,
"My house has been burned ... they've taken everything I had ... now I'm being taken to prison on an island I know nothing about and you're giving me a Sunday School sermon ... "

Later she returns the favor by putting him in his pajamas and reading him to sleep in bed.

These two weary people are like beat-up old suitcases, their longings--his for meaning, hers for innocence--left almost forgotten in a side pocket. They come together in desperation and hunger and, even, gently, love. Their story still feels true in a movie full of stories that otherwise haven't aged very well.

The kiss I remember is from their last night together, before she must disembark for imprisonment on Teneriffe.
At the end of this clip, you see them saying good-bye the next morning. She puts out her cigarette like a dock worker and he weeps, and then she walks away from the ship, escorted by guards.
Drop-dead noble in her high heels and little fur-trimmed jacket, she doesn't look back once.

In the end, these two can't actually rescue themselves or each other from their doom. But that's not what saving a life means, is it?

No More 365

I. "Do what will save your life"

I was talking to Bink today and she said she likes my daily photos (like the one to the left), but she misses my writing.
I do too.
I know people who could do both--daily self-portraits and writing. They're the people who can do thirty things every day, come home and grill a steak, and then go out to play late-night laser tag (cheaper after 10 p.m.).
I am not one of these people. I can do maybe five things, and I use one of them up right away every morning making coffee.

As ever, I am not able to fulfill Midwestern Commandment No. 1: Thou shalt work hard and not use safety pins on your clothes instead of sewing buttons back on except in emergencies. I feel bad about this because I grew up with this commandment in the drinking water along with flouride.
But there it is.

Neither am I good at doing a little of this and a little of that, like a nice, moderate Midwesterner should be. No, whatever I'm into, I pretty much focus full fangirl energy on it.
So, given that I cannot juggle a blog, a Flickr account, e-mail, Facebook, livejournal, youTube, Netflix, iTunes, iPhoto, and water my plants, I have to think what I can do here.

Well, when in doubt, "Do what will save your life," I always say [editor's note: as of today].
And the pictures I've been taking for the 365 project are fine; but my photography would never save my life or anyone else's. But writing... well, not often, no, not often at all but once in a while I write a sentence that I'd hang my existence on.

[Your blogger here takes a break to recover from the emotional backlash of breaking Midwestern Commandment No. 5: Thou shalt not stand too tall or the crop duster shall clip your head off.]

So, for once I am able to follow a Midwestern Commandment. It's not in the Top Ten, but it is on the list:
Don't plant your tomatoes in the shade.
That is, don't waste your time on efforts that won't pay off.
(Socrates said something along those lines, that what you love is the best indicator of what you are likely to be good at; though in the Midwest saying you love doing something makes it highly suspect. But anyway, they both agree that you want to invest your energy wisely.)

Taking photos that are as good as those of a talented high-schooler who could grow up and shoot images for church bulletin covers (my candle above) doesn't feel worthwhile. More to the point, I don't love it. Rambling around in words, even when I produce utter drivel, I do love, and if my life ever needs saving it'd come from that direction.
So, I'm going to drop the 365 project.

365 - 23: Ice and Honey


I suppose if I insist on sticking my hand in the lake in March and sitting under pine trees with honey in service of getting sensation into my photographs, I shouldn't be surprised that I have to walk home freezing cold and covered in sticky pine needles. But I was.
Nature, it's so uncomfortable.

I'd like to join the photos side-by-side in one panel, but I'm refusing to learn photoshop, you know. My brain is full.

Monday, March 30, 2009

365 - 22: The Strangers Behind Us


I was taking my daily self-portrait as I was chatting after Mass on Sunday, and I barely registered that people had started to arrive for the next Mass.
I wonder who these people are who wander into frame and how often have I been the stranger in someone else's photo?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

365 - 21: -lips


I try not to complain too much about the process of taking these photos because so what? but I've just gotta say, tulips taste nasty.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

365 - 20: Found Mirrors, I


There's not meant to be any psychological significance in this shattered self-reflection, I'm just on the lookout for reflective surfaces to meet my self-portrait quota. I label this "I" because I bet I'll find more mirrors, having come across this one (ripped off a car) lying on the ground. It's a phenomenon, unnamed so far as I know: once you notice something, you start to see that same thing everywhere.

Friday, March 27, 2009

365 - 19: Sauna



Support Your Answer.

"Question number one: Explain Western history. Be specific; support your answer."
--History class pop quiz set by Chuck Noblet [Stephen Colbert], Strangers with Candy: "Invisible Love"

I read David Sedaris until midnight last night and fell asleep thinking of wicked funny stories I could write up about my relatives. But I woke up once again wondering, would any of these meet the Buddhist teaching "Do not use your words to cause harm"? Mmm, maybe not. But some of them would definitely count as "Meaningful talk."

So, this morning, I set myself a pop quiz.

1. What would be my intention in writing about my family and other animals, liberation and enlightenment or revenge?
I plead the fifth.

2. How 'bout if they never, ever read your stuff?
Uh-huh. Until you get famous and they're sitting in an airport lounge one day and overhear someone screaming with laughter, "Listen to this!" and reading out loud to a friend the part where you've most clearly and intimately exposed them.

3. If you write about people who're dead, does it matter?
Hungry ghosts.

4. Can I bear to muck about in this material from the past, some of which is radioactive?
Judging by how quavery I feel after writing even the most emotionally remote post I can, maybe not.

5. Can I bear to do the work?
I'm old enough to know that light, feathery writing appears usually only after you've chipped away a few tons of granite. I'm lazy.

6. Where's the line between honesty and privacy; between being funny and being pathetic?
I don't know, but I know what it looks like when you overshoot it. Example: a homily in which the priest told us--no doubt after making a brave decision to break a taboo--that there was a time when he engaged in a lot of "solitary sexual activity." God bless him, I think he was trying to talk about God's everpresent mercy, but for a long time afterward, any one of my pew-pals only had to whisper "S.S.A." to make the others writhe in exquisite embarrassment, like junior high kids.

7. How much do I want to expose myself, much less the others?
Yes, no, maybe, it depends.

8. Why?
Answers will be graded on penmanship.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

365 - 18: "Geranium Leaf"


Photography is such a trickster: is my head bowed in sadness, or am I merely typing?
I'm typing. But, in fact, the coyote knows I am also sad today. Whenever I write something that takes me to the edge of horror, like yesterday's post, I feel as if I have a hangover afterward. Physically achey and mentally stunned and emotionally low.
I'm grateful that today I have an innocuous book to index.

And, as a reminder of why I love humanity, this youTube link Bink sent me:

Extreme Sheepherding, in which a bunch of sheepherders in Wales wrap lights around their sheep and direct their dogs to move them into LED art displays. The dogs are the coolest.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

From Death to Life

[Right: "Windsock Visitation," by Michael O'Neil McGrath, OSFS.
Mary, pregnant with Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, greet each other. Text reads "This is the place of our delight and rest," Saint Jane de Chantal.]

That indexing project on the death penalty was hard.
I have a peculiar slant on the subject of violent death, because my mother was shot to death, and I relate to some of the stuff murder victims' families say. Except of course, when the person who pulled the trigger and the person who died is the same person, the feelings twist back on themselves.

Still, this indexing job was good too: it got me remembering Mary Johnson, one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met.
A couple years ago, for a while I attended monthly spiritual discussions at the house-monastery of the Visitation Sisters, a group of women religious of the order founded by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal.
For one of their evenings, they invited Mary Johnson to come speak. Ms. Johnson is a local woman whose only child, her son, was murdered in 1993, by a sixteen year old with a gun, in a random act of violence at a party.

As a Christian, Mary felt she should follow Jesus' teaching to forgive, but, not surprisingly, instead she was filled with hate and the wish that her son's murderer should suffer.
Still, she kept searching for consolation, and, after nine years, she began Two Mothers: From Death to Life Healing Group. The two mothers she had in mind were the mother of Jesus and the mother of Judas Iscariot.
Suffering is suffering, she said, doesn't much matter what caused it.

After a few more years, she met with her son's murderer in prison, with dread. But they had both prepared (with the help of a restorative justice program, I believe), and their meeting went well. When she was leaving, he asked if he could hug her, and she agreed.
Afterward she felt a wave of forgiveness coming up through the soles of her feet--she said she didn't generate it, it came through her--and the bitterness and hate left her.

Hearing her say that, I knew, "I want that."
Of course, my feelings toward my mother shooting herself aren't the same as they'd be toward some stranger who murdered her, but it came clear to me that I wanted, needed, the grace to forgive her.

Forgiveness is a hard concept because it can sound so preachy--like some superior type person is telling you you should make yourself give something up. But the way Mary talked about it is the way I've experienced it---as release of a terrible burden. It's horrible to feel as if death is clogging your life up, like some vile ball of gunk stuck in the drain. Forgiveness is when clear water can finally run freely through again.

You can't make yourself do it anymore than you can make yourself love someone. But seeing Mary, I know it's possible. Even if it takes years and years.

Some family members of murdered people in the death penalty book reported that they felt released when they witnessed the execution of the person who'd murdered their loved one. So I guess that can work. Who am I to say?

But I want to keep trying, trying, trying the path of mercy. As I said, I know suicide is not the same as murder, but I want to be like Mary Johnson. It wasn't just what she said, she kind of glowed. Do you know what I mean? It's hard to describe, but we know grace when we see it, I believe.

All through her talk to us, about twenty-some people in a big living room, Mary and I kept making eye contact. I went up to her afterward and she said she thought she knew me. Now, I'm pretty sure I'd remember if I'd ever met her--she is a distinctive African American woman. I don't think we'd ever met, I said, but maybe we shared some suffering that we recognized in each other. She nodded.
I didn't even tell her my story. I didn't need to. I just said thank you.

So, this is a long road and quite a lot of the time I feel like I'm sitting on the curb, but I pretty much trust I'm heading in the right direction. Inshallah.
(You can read more about Mary Johnson's story in this article in The Catholic Spirit. When I heard her talk, Mary had also said she'd like to broaden the Death to Life group to include victims of all violent deaths, including suicide. And of course it's open to everybody--men too--not just mothers.)

365 - 17: On the Phone


It's tough to catch yourself by surprise when you're shooting self-portraits, so I decided to snap a zillion photos of myself talking on the phone with Bink, and to post one that surprised me. I don't know what I'm reacting to here, but this is a genuine expression, not staged like the Kirky smirk of yesterday.

You can fool some of the people...

OK. Got up early (for me) and here are some random morning thoughts, before I finish the death penalty index.

What's Funny?

It's taken a couple weeks, but this 365 self-portrait photo project is starting to be fun--sort of like slo-mo improv. (Thank you to everyone who encouraged me not to drop it.) I started out thinking about fine art photography and photojournalistic documentary work, but gradually I thought, this could be playful, like a Star Trek project. Much preferable.
It also nudges me to be brave, but not too awfully.

It's been a while since I pushed myself to try something unfamiliar like this. It reminds me of going on a trip--almost always I resist at first; but once I'm on the road I think, Why don't I do this more often?

Speaking of humor, of course I still love Stephen but I've already grown tired of The Colbert Report. It's good enough, but satire has to be pretty much the same as the thing it's mocking, and since I don't enjoy personality-based news, or even TV news at all, much less dimwits who are sure they are right, watching Colbert be a self-important dimwit news pundit got old really fast.
Satire and irony are fine tools for precision work, to use them over and over for everyday cutting makes them dull.
I just like it when people send me their favorite clips--then I don't have to watch the whole show. Same with Jon Stewart (thank you momo!).

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Colbert said that he loves doing his character, but finds it can be limiting when he's interviewing interesting people: "Sometimes I just want to talk about the Human Genome Project," he said.
Me too--I just want to listen to his interviewees talk and not trip over themselves trying parry his wit. Where's the fun in watching an amateur fence with a pro?

Forgotten Silver

More to my taste was the one-hour mockumentary I watched last night: Forgotten Silver (1995), by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings--that's him in the color inset photo) and Costa Botes. It's about Jackson discovering an unknown New Zealand filmmaker from the early days of filmmaking.
It's not satire, it's a loving tribute to moviemaking, even though the whole thing is made up, including, of course, all the "found" footage.

What's so impressive is the way they made all this old film--from scenes of the trenches at Gallipoli to a recreation of Jerusalem supposedly in the NZ forests--but really using the steps of a government building in Wellington, which they covered with jungle plants. The "Making of" feature was almost as good as the movie itself.

They showed Forgotten Silver on NZ public TV without saying it was a joke, and people got very excited about it. It's so well done and the jokes are so subtle, it's very believable. When the joke was revealed, however, people were enraged, and Jackson received a lot of hate mail. Funny how people like to watch other people fall for a joke but hate to fall themselves.

Death Penalty

Now back to the death penalty index.
I was surprised to find in a 3-12-09 Economist article a new argument against it--new to me, that is: the whole process is very expensive, costing more than keeping someone in prison for life.
The article states:
"As state governments confront huge budget deficits, eight more states have proposed an unusual measure to cut costs: eliminate the death penalty."

You probably know, this past March 19, New Mexico banned capital punishment. I don't think they said cost was a factor, but it seems a very American line of thinking: "We'd love to kill you, but it costs too much."
That's one reason it's hard to tell if Forgotten Silver is a joke or not--it's hard to come up with inanities of human behavior that cannot be believed.

"Is it not absurd that the laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?"
--Cesare Beccaria, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, Italy: 1767

For me, the central question of the death penalty is, Who do we, as a civilization, want to be?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

365 - 16: "The Kirk Smirk"


Trying to mirror that lopsided Kirk smile--harder than it looks.

When I'm busier with work and have--or make--less braintime to write (blog), my spirits sink a bit. Taking and posting photos doesn't seem to take care of that writing self, as I'd hoped. So, I don't know... maybe I should get up earlier and make sure I just write something. But today I have to work on an index about the death penalty.
*small sigh of spirit deflation*

The image of Kirk is "The Shatner Equation" by Russell Walks, from The Shatner Show.

Monday, March 23, 2009

365 - 15: "The Self-Portrait in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"


I took this photo of Momo holding her camera, looking at the picture of me photographing her hand taking the picture that she is looking at of me (left), herself (center), and Krista (right). I took this picture, and I'm in it, so it's a self-portrait, right?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

T'Keid's Irresistible Vid

In time for the captain's birthday today, T'Keid has posted her new Kirk/Spock vid, set to an irresistible song: "Something's Gotta Give," sung by the Velvet Fog, Mel Torme. Perfect, pure schmaltz * (chicken fat, the Jewish ham).

Momo embedded some fun Kirk vids too, including "International Talk Like William Shatner Day."
*I just looked schmaltz up, curious, and according to Wikipedia, besides meaning excessively sentimental, maudlin, florid: "In the Montreal Jewish community, it is a slang term for money." Which is only interesting because that's the community from whence came our boy Bill! And he made a lot of money with his schmaltz. There you go--it was fated. Or something.

365 -14: Laetare, or Rose, Sunday


Rejoice! Or, The Consolation of Cake

Today is Laetare Sunday, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. (Though laetare means "rejoice" in Latin, and ham is rose-colored, it's purely coincidental that 200-some years from now, March 22 will be Captain Kirk's birthday.)

In Britain this is Mothering Sunday, which comes with its own marzipan-covered spice cake. I'd never heard of it, but this "Simnel Cake" recipe looks fantastic. But then, you could wrap tofu in marzipan and I'd think it was terrific. I'm going to make it for Easter this year. The cake, that is.

Laetare is the first word of this Sunday's introit, the bit of psalm that opens the Mass; though in this case it's a bit of Isaiah 66, riffing, I guess, on Psalm 122 ("let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord"). Also called "rose" Sunday, because the vestments are rose-colored, instead of deep Lenten purple. Halfway through Lent, it speaks of consolation--one of my favorite words, wrapped as it is, like marzipan, around sorrow:

"Laetare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eum:
gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis:
ut exsultetis, et satiemini consolationis.... "

"Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and gather round, all you who love her;
rejoice in gladness, who have been in sadness;
exult, and be replenished with consolation...."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

365 - 13: Researching Humor.


Lying on my back on my porch, Saturday afternoon, reading David Sedaris and eating Ben & Jerry's "Stephen Colbert's AmeriCone Dream" ice-cream.

Telling the Same Story

"... at times, one might almost believe that from the first dawn of consciousness throughout the ages, mankind has constantly been telling itself the same story, though with infinite variations, to the rhythm of its breath and pulse."
--Ivo Andric, Nobel Prize acceptance speech

I just learned from Darwi about the author Ivo Andric, the Bosnian recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1961 (the year I was born).

I am endlessly interested in writers discussing writing--why do we do it? What's the point? And what is it, anyway? 
(We bloggers discuss this as much as any writer, I think.) Andric's speech has some good stuff on this topic.

What he says sounds a lot like what Doris Lessing said in her Nobel speech * . They say eloquently and unabashedly what I fumble toward expressing --hesitantly, sometimes, because it's so much more romantic than the cool academic criticism I was taught:

That we write because we are human, and that to weave words is human, like dancing. And while some of the stories will encourage fear and ignorance, others will help us endure the devastation arising from them--I don't say overcome or even, alas, avoid them, though one can hope. And try. 

The strands of stories are woven together, and we're not wise enough to censor them, so it's best not to. We need the rope.

I can imagine, like Doris Lessing, a scraggly group huddled around a fire on the continent of North America, after some possible future horror (god forbid). 
Someone will be telling stories about, say, how we used to immerse ourselves any time we wanted in tubs full of hot water. And how we worried about eating too much. And bought pet toys. Some will sigh, some will laugh, the children will disbelieve, and we'll all carry on, scratching in the dirt with sticks.

While I suppose it will be stories as much as anything that get us into the mess--stories we tell ourselves, for instance, that we can turn anything we touch to gold--it will be stories that comfort us afterward--eliciting laughter or sadness or wonder, or other true things--when we sit among piles of golden rubble, chewing on our shoes.

More importantly, because we are a short-sighted species, stories matter because they address the everyday horrors of our individual lives. 
Who gets through life without breaking what we love, or being broken? And everyday hopes happen too, one hopes. When we read old stories, we see the breakage and the longing look the same as ours, though with infinite variations, and the stories do too.

While this can be disheartening--do we have to keep doing this stuff over and over?--it's cheering too. 
If something good survived this, this fall of empire, this broken heart, this plague, maybe I, maybe we, can too. Or maybe our stories can.
Or, if the stories don't survive (blogs without electricity don't exist), so what?
People will tell new ones, and--funny thing--they'll sound the same.
* Doris Lessing Nobel Lecture:
"The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise. But the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us - for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative."

Friday, March 20, 2009

365 - 12: First Evening in Spring


Me. Car Window. Rain. Streetlight. Tree. Camera lens. You.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dawn, Spread Out, & Stephen, Shawled

"Let us go then, you and I,
Where Dawn is spread out against the sky
Like a pastry etherealized upon a table...."

I went looking for images of my favorite comedians and came across this yummy one of Dawn French. Seems that under the vicar's garb hides an eclair...

"And Stephen, sprawling stretched upon the floor,
Throw off the shawl and show us more.
(But how his arms and legs are thin!)"

[Tip of the pen to T. S. Eliot.]

365 - 11: Behoovy!


Liturgical leap inspired by Stephen Colbert and John the Baptist.

[This is a self-portrait: I took it with the selftimer mode of my camera. It's harder to do those moves than it looks---and still stay in frame.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Gimme, Jimmy!"

Photoshop #3, by Bink

Bink's dog Joop says, "Gimme that milkbone!"

365 - 10: "Undressing"



Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"There's No One as Irish as Barack O'Bama"

I didn't remember that it's St. Patrick's Day today until I walked into the coffee shop this morning and half the people were wearing green. And so was I, but not for the saint. I'd put on a green sweater because we're in a heatwave (in the 50s!), and it's one of my only light sweaters. (I haven't felt romantically toward Ireland since we met in person. Of course Saint Patrick was one of my relatives--his parents were Romans in Britain--but I don't presume on the connection.)

I asked the barista, a black woman, if she'd worn green on purpose.
"You bet," she said, "I'm Irish."

But when I asked if she was related to Barack Obama, she looked a little confused.
I told her his great-great grandfather, I think it was, came from Ireland. I thought everyone knew this from the music video on youTube "There's No One as Irish as Barack O'Bama", by the Corrigan Brothers. If you didn't catch this during election season, it's worth watching today.
Update on the 365 Project

I write daily, when I do, because I want to, but taking a self-portrait every day soon became a drag. I was going to give it up, but then I thought, since I set the rules, I can change them. So, I'll take a photo when I feel like it until I get to #365 or my 49th birthday in March 2010, whichever comes first. I also realized the point of photos is the picture, so I'm just going to post them, maybe with a caption, and shut up.
Below are a couple catch-up ones.

365 - 9: Dogwalker


Lying on the floor with Magnolia, the little dog I am walking for Karla every morning, while Karla's broken hip heals.

365 - 8: At Lucia's Bakery



Monday, March 16, 2009

Growing Up Unfunny

[These men > are not sharing a joke.]

I don't know about being funny.
My family didn't much value humor when I was growing up. 

My father, the son of Sicilian immigrants, is very literal minded, which doesn't make for laughs. Then, Sicily is not an island that floats lightly in the blood. Sicilian humor is bizarre, along the line of dead baby jokes. 
My father had rejected his parents' culture, anyway, to become a college professor and to marry my mother. (He does have a darling childlike side, but I didn't see much of that growing up.)

My mother, the Southern belle, was caught up in suffering and tended to tell me stories that reflected her mood. I grew up hearing about the Holocaust. When I was nine, she told me you should never smile when you say the words "Hitler" or "Nazi." (I broke her law when I went to see Life Is Beautiful, and laughed. I did not discuss this with my mother.)

To be fair, my mother could tell incredibly funny stories, in the Southern tradition, when she felt like it, but never about herself and never as relief from suffering.

For my intellectual parents, humor was suspect. It was insufficiently serious, except for humor that relied on prior knowledge. I remember my father loving a joke about the koala-tea of mercy being unstrained, for instance, a pun on "the quality of mercy." 
But that sort of humor rests on the pleasure of feeling superior more than the pleasure of laughter.

The one with the comic gift in the family was my little brother. When our mother died, he told me he had always resented being the funny one, it made him feel like a performing seal. He wanted to be seen as smart, not funny, and in our family, those two didn't go together. 

I think he may be funny with his wonderful wife and other people, but toward me, he expresses the Sicilian gift for resentment perfectly. His seasonal cards, which are the only time I hear from him, are whetted blades. The last one was a personal photograph he'd added a copyright statement to. I'm sorry, I can't show it to you or he'd sue me. (He's a lawyer.)

So, I never learned the art of humor. I only even started to see it as an art, something you could practice, like the piano, last summer, when I got interested in the art of acting because over and over, the Star Trek actors at the Las Vegas con said that what we saw on screen was, in fact, acting. 

They kept answering fans' questions about "How did you feel when your character did this or that?" with the response, "I was just pretending."

My parents didn't do that. It's not that they never laughed, but it wasn't something one cultivated. We barely even went to see funny movies, we went to see Death in Venice.

Last fall, I took an improv class, wanting to learn how to loosen up some of those "you must always be serious" shackles. But I didn't like the teacher, and I spent a lot of time resenting her. 

Its hard to loosen up enough to be spontaneous when you're watching out for slights. (This is a very Sicilian problem. They--we?--may not be very funny, but Sicilians are geniuses at being offended.)

I didn't get very far, but when you start from nothing, even an inch is progress. I keep working on it, in my way, which means I think a lot about it.

Recently, you know, I've become fascinated with Stephen Colbert. I think because he's obviously intelligent and knowledgeable, which I value, and yet at the same time, he's willing to be entirely undignified. This combo gives him an elasticity, a tippy-cup bounceback, my parents (and their children) didn't have. He's both powerful and ridiculous.

My parents were (are, my father's alive, but he doesn't read my blog) rather rigid, brittle people.
If you're trying to maintain your dignity at all costs, which is the job of the Sicilian male, you are not going to drop your emotional trousers in the public square for anything. This was a part of his inheritance my father didn't reject.

And if you feel that you're suffering alone, like my mother did, watching what looks like a mockery of suffering is like stabbing yourself with a fork.

Stephen Colbert has worked a lot with 
< Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy, etc.), and her humor is something else again. 
Talk about no holds barred. I wish she'd been my improv teacher, even though she sorta scares me. 

I bought her book I Like You; Hospitality under the Influence, and some of it makes me uncomfortable. Unlike Colbert, who never loses the sense that he, the actor, is a nice guy--and I like that--Sedaris gives few such reassurances.
I like that, too, in a hard to admit way.

Because of course that's another rule from childhood: 
you should always be nice and never make fun of anyone (this was reinforced with super glue and nails in my politically correct twenties). 

Some of this comes with being female--be nice or people won't like you. Some of it comes from taking care of a beloved mother who was always suffering, so the idea that people are robust enough to take a joke was just a theory to me.

Also, mock a Sicilian at your own risk.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Which Stephen Colbert Makes Me Go to Mass

Stephen Colbert's liturgical song and dance ("The King of Glory," clip below) made me homesick for church this week. Specifically for weekday Mass, which, meaning no disrespect, can be something of an improv comedy club.

Three out of three Catholics I asked know this hymn and will immediately launch into it, if you get them started. Bink said her Catholic charismatics group danced an Israeli folk version of it in the 1970s. (It seems to be a hymn with a lot of variations.)

This Colbert clip is from the ending credits of Strangers with Candy (season 2, episode 9, "The Blank Stare, Part 2," guest-starring Alan Tudyk, who plays Wash, the pilot of the shaceship Serenity, on Firefly. "Serenity" is currently the frontrunner in NASA's public vote to name a new ISS module, which "Stephen Colbert," the faux-news character, is lobbying viewers to get named after him. [If you want to vote, the NASA link is at the end of the article I link to here.] How's that for a Venn diagram?)

Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris (David's sister, you know), Paul Dinello, and Mitch Rouse created Strangers with Candy for Comedy Central; aired 1999-2000.
You can watch SWC on hulu.com. There are only 30 episodes, about 22-minutes each, so about 11 hours worth. You could watch them all in two days. I did.
In the show, Amy Sedaris plays a "stupid junkie whore" who is returning to high school after 32 years as a runaway teenager. Colbert plays Chuck Noblet, the uptight history teacher who is spookily like my uptight ninth-grade history teacher. He's married with children and carrying on an affair with the art teacher, Geoffrey Jellinek, played by Paul Dinello.

The show is rude and crude satire, and a little hard to take because, like the original British version of The Office (I haven't seen the U.S. version), its ugliness is a bit too accurate. I found myself remembering parts of high school that I would rather not. If you get bogged down, just skip to the end--the last episode is very gratifying, if you hated high school. (If you didn't hate high school, I can't believe we know each other.)

After watching SWC, I looked for the trio's earlier show, Exit 57 (1995-1996), which isn't officially available, but many of its comedy skits are on youTube. Including "Down in the Basement" (500 + views). This 5 minute skit about squirrel sculpting is much more popular in its 45 second version (8,000+ views), which cuts out the skit, leaving only the parts with Colbert and Dinello kissing. Note squirrel in foreground. [picture source here]
I watched all of SWC wondering, are these guys ever going to kiss? and I was surprised when they didn't-- it's not like the show holds back on anything else. Maybe they decided unrequited teasing is more fun?
Anyway, it's kind of as if Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner played cowboys who kissed each other on Bonanza before they went on to play Spock and Kirk, whom we never see more than making eyes at each other. (And before anyone thought, how is this going to look played endlessly on youTube, remixed and set to "The Look of Love"?)

Now I have to sign off because I am going to Sunday Mass for the first time in ages. Sunday mornings are usually not as much wacko fun as daily Mass because the intensity--and hence the comedic potential--is watered down by the presence of large numbers of people who don't much want to be there; but they're still pretty good.
(I should write more about this--I don't want to mislead: I used to be a regular daily-noon-Masser myself and deeply love my fellow loonies. They're my people. But my ride is waiting.)

Thank you, Mr. Colbert, for showing me how homesick I was for this church, of the nuts, by the nuts, and for the nuts. (Or squirrels.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Woman behind the Gorn

Not a self-portrait, (I seem to have exhausted all my ideas for those in 6 days), but Bink's second Photoshop: "Fresca and the Gorn."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Joop's New Friends

Bink's first complete photo montage using Photoshop Elements.
You know it's all about her little dog, Joop (where it = "anything at all").

I am refusing to learn Photoshop so that I may maintain some shred of a life off-computer.

365 - 7: "Desktop"


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

365 - 6: Birthday Dalek


Made for my birthday by Sascha

Star Trek Madness

I got an amazingly excellent crop of nerdy (or would that be geeky?) birthday presents this year.
The photo in the post above is me with a dalek, handmade for me by Sascha (Rudy in Paris's husband). Its body is a track-lighting shell, its head is partly a sink strainer, its bosses are marbles, its arm is a wrench and a spark plug, and you can see it has a pressure gauge on the front. What you can't see is it even has a rear mirror!

Bink sent me her photos from my birthday, and I used one of them for my new profile photo. In it, I am wearing the honking great Mr. Spock pin that David B. gave me. He did not go out and buy this pin for me, he already owned it, which makes it even better.
David was one of three scientists at my party. (I can't claim any of them; they all came with other people.) It made me ridiculously happy that at one point the three stood in the center of the room, talking about power grids.

The shiny blue object I am holding is a space-age water bottle Denise W. gave me, because, she said, it looks like a robot. Now I can Cycle to the Movies at the YW on Saturdays in style.

Here's another of my favorite birthday presents. Hannah in England sent me this Star Trek Annual, 1976, which she found for 3 pounds at an Oxfam shop. (Kind of steep or a total steal, depending on how you look at it.) Its cover reads "As Seen on BBC TV," and inside "by arrangement with the publisher" in Racine, Wisconsin (! not far from where I grew up).

The inscription on the fly-leaf reads:
Have a smashing Christmas
Love from Uncle Chris Aunty Terry & Samantha

What caught me, besides the general excellence of the gift and the coincidence that 1976 would have been the height of my teen-age love affair with Mr. Spock, was something in this opening panel of the first "strip story":

See it? Another Venn diagram.
"This isn't war, it's madness." That's almost exactly what the French army marshal said about the Charge of the Light Brigade, which I quoted in a post a couple months ago:
"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. C'est de la folie."
("It is magnificent, but it isn't war. It's madness.")

365 - 5: Dare to Eat a Peach


On the Bus to the 'Burbs

365 (about): Fifty-Five Photos, Eating a Peach

It was Jenny 12 Frogs's intriguing 365 self-portraits that most recently alerted me to this photography project. There's a section of Flickr where people post their daily self-portraits. I'll just plug along over here on Blogger, though. Having only recently rescued myself from Facebook, I don't need another entanglement.

Photographic self-portraiture first caught my interest when I got a job at the art college library in 1989. Circulating art library books was an education in itself.
Over the next twelve years, students so frequently checked outThe Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), the photographic diary of Nan Goldin, for instance, I flipped through it probably every couple weeks as I checked it back in.

(Cover photo: "Nan and Brian in Bed," 1981.)

But it was this "Self-Portrait on the Train, Boston - New Haven" (1997), from Goldin's I'll Be Your Mirror that I was thinking of yesterday when I headed out to catch the suburban express bus to Burnsville, where Lee lives.
Lee had joked about daring to eat a peach on this bus, so I decided to photograph myself on the road, like Goldin, eating some kind of fruit, not really expecting to find peaches in March.
On my way to the bus stop, I popped into the Mexican market, and peaches from Chile had arrived. So... this photo assignment looks simple enough, and no one even has to disrobe.

I admit I'd always thought Goldin's claim to fame was mostly her subject matter: her Lo-lo-lo-lo Lola life [Ray Davies's little smile at 0:28 is a treat] in NYC with her beautifully damaged friends and lovers. How hard could it be to photograph such ravishing and ravished changelings, if they'd let you?
Which just goes to show how much I knew about photography.

Fifty-five photos of me eating a peach later, I have new respect for Ms. Goldin. I am not satisfied with a single one of them. This (posted above) is the best of the lot. Or, anyway, it looks the most related to Nan Goldin's.

But maybe I prefer the peach on my lap? It is more me.

I am also figuring out why I am not really a photographer: what I most want to do with this project is write about it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Fellow Proustians

Monty Python's All-England Summarize Proust Contest

(The choral society was always my favorite--Bink and I still sometimes sing, "Proust in his first book, talked about, talked about...")

I am thrilled by other people's responses to the Proust Questionnaire, [link to empty questionnaire (at end)] including, so far, Darwi's and Jen's.

Today Rudy in Paris, not currently blogging, e-mailed me hers and, when I begged, said I could post it.
Here's Rudy:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Knowing everyone I love is happy and healthy at that moment.

What is your greatest fear?
That my children will suffer unnecessarily.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
A tendency for melodrama.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I have always said that my least favorite type of person is a stupid person who is treating me like I’m stupid. I’m aware this makes me sound kind of like a jerk.

Which living person do you most admire?

What is your greatest extravagance? 
Lately? The time, energy and money I spend on running and its attendant paraphernalia.

What is your current state of mind?
Frazzled, but aware that I am in a time I will look back on as being wonderful and that I will someday miss very much.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? 
A tie: the ability to go without sleep and workaholism. I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who brags about possessing either of these. I wonder, though, if I am confusing traits for virtues? Well, these two things are treated as virtues in our society, and that just drives me crazy. Get some sleep, people! And being connected to work 24x7 doesn’t mean people like you, or that you are indispensable. And you are conceited if you think either of these two things is true.

On what occasion do you lie?
To get out of social obligations, frankly.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, since you ask, my teeth.

Which living person do you most despise? 
I can’t seem to drum up that emotion in regards to any one person, although when I think of people that willfully partake in atrocities—whether against, say, one child or a whole people, I feel deep sickness and grief.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Male or female, I most admire a person that is engaged with the world. A person that notices things. A person that really sees or at least genuinely tries to see, the people around them.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
See previous answer.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I’m tempted to say, “I love you”, but deep down I don’t think that’s a phrase that can be overused. 

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Well, it’s a little early to say, isn’t it? But most likely the answer will be my husband. Unless he does something to really piss me off.

When and where were you happiest?
Oh, that’s the million dollar question, now, isn’t it? When I was in high school the senior class put on a production of “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder. It is safe to say I was traumatized by the experience. When Emily comes back from death and watches her family at breakfast, and she realizes the profound importance of the mundane moments, how it is these moments, not the flashy events, that make up our lives…. *
Well, I never got over it. I cried buckets, like my heart was breaking, while sitting in that metal folding chair in the audience. I really heard the dialogue.
That said, the last two years of college, and my twentieth birthday, are significant memories. I feel that I was aware of these things as they happened, which is what makes them particularly good. Now, I try to savor the mundane times with my kids, when we’re all just fooling around together after dinner. In general, in answer to the question, I strive to say: here and now.

Which talent would you most like to have?
This is boring, but I really do wish I had either musical ability or a better ability at learning languages.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Change one thing now, right? Not go back in time? I wish I could be more laid-back about having a messy house.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Successfully transitioning into stable adulthood. It was rather rocky going at some points.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
I would hope a tree somewhere in the middle of a forest, where I would be left the hell alone and have some time to think. It would be a nice bonus to have loved ones be trees in the same general area.

Where would you most like to live?
Not a specific geographic location, but I wish my sister, brother-in-law, and parents were within a 2 hour radius of me. And I wish the Atlantic was in there, as well.

What is your most treasured possession?
I bought a ring in Chile when I was 20 and it was extremely significant to me. I wore it every day for about 10 years. I would become anxious when I ever thought of the possibility of losing it. I even had anxiety dreams where this happened. Then, right around when Magdalena was born---I lost it. Effortlessly. Completely. I was sad, but too busy with a newborn to dwell on it. I’m glad I was able to let it go. Now, I try not to become too attached to a possession. Those things can get lost, and then where are you? But my photographs are very valuable to me, I must confess.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I have always said I would rather suffer than witness someone I love suffering.

What is your favorite occupation?
Being in the present moment.

What is your most marked characteristic? 
You tell me!

What do you most value in your friends?
Simply put, loyalty.

Who are your favorite writers? 
I am officially boycotting all questions of this nature, including: favorite movies, favorite books, favorite songs… I always get really stressed that I’ve forgotten someone or something (and I always do.) So I’m keeping my lips zipped on this one.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?

What are your favorite names?
Well, of course—Magdalena and Clara.

What is it that you most dislike?
Oh, my goodness, where to start?

What is your greatest regret?
There’s no way I’m going to answer that. If pressed, I would someday tell my daughters that those little lies and small actions that seem inconsequential at the time have a way of adding up, and then they become a burden you have to carry around forever. So don’t do it, don’t say it. Just don’t.

How would you like to die?

What is your motto? 
”The thing worth doing/ done right/ has a shape that satisfies/clear and evident.”—Marge Piercy

* “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”

Synopsis of the scene: Even so, Emily says, she still feels like one of the living, and against the advice of the other dead souls, she decides to go back and relive one happy day from her life. With the assistance of the Stage Manager, Emily goes back to 1899, to the day of her twelfth birthday. It is dawn, and we witness another typical Grover's Corners morning. As Constable Warren, Howie Newsome, and Joe Crowell, Jr. chat in the street outside Emily's house, Mrs. Webb comes downstairs to fix breakfast. Mr. Webb has been away in another town for the last few days, but now he returns home with a surprise gift for his daughter. When Mrs. Webb gives the young Emily her presents, however, the scene becomes unbearable for Emily's deceased soul. Overcome by her observation that human beings go through life without savoring their time on Earth, Emily tells the Stage Manager that she is ready to go back to 1913 and return to the cemetery. --Spark Notes

[end Rudy in Paris's questionnaire]

365 -4: In the Shower



365 (about)

Whenever I'm researching a country for a geography book, I find it hard to think deeply about other things, and I thought this self-portrait project would be a fun, easy way to continue blogging but keep my brain light.


Now I'm pondering photography. I can't believe how little I've ever thought about it. Of all the fine arts, it is the one to which I have given the least conscious attention--I mean, besides looking at it raptly.

Now I am eager to look again at Nan Goldin, Jo Spence, and the many other photographers who put themselves in the picture. (Funny, the ones I can think of are all women. There must be men too...? Can you think of any?)

[Lists, from a 1959 Diane Arbus notebook]

Because this is freakier and harder than I'd expected, this taking photos of myself. I've rarely used my camera for anything besides snapshots, and this project calls for a level of intentionality I've never risen to before.

Plus, I've already learned how much or how little I can bear to expose myself in words, but this new level and new kind of exposure is somewhat nerve wracking. Even in silly ways, like, look: I skipped scrubbing the bases of the bathroom taps, and now you all know!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

365 - 3: A View from the Bed


The photographer gets to set the confines of the 365 project, but as I conceive of this self-portrait project for myself, the subject's body (i.e., mine) should be somewhere in the photo, it shouldn't merely be a picture about the subject.

I'm not going to be strict about that, however, and this morning I wanted to record this angle on my life. See, my apartment is so small, to fit guests in, I dragged my mattress (I don't use a bed frame) into the bathroom and rearranged the furniture.
When everyone left, I was so "tired" [Darwi, if you're reading this: the guests--and I--drank all the booze... (but no one looked behind the stove)], I just hauled my bed back in and lay it under the table. I woke up to a different angle on the world, and it was good.

After I took the photo, I realized I am in it: that b&w photo, top left, is me, aged two.