Being a writer is like being a Hobbit. We’re sociable enough, only just, and especially if plied with ale (or, in some cases, weed). But we also know the value of being alone and keeping to ourselves. We are not wise in general, but we are thoughtful and given to rumination. And we all think we’re better than the others but are willing to condescend to being friendly with them anyway. After all, one never knows when one might need a helping hand.
I dislike watching myself on screen. When it’s something I’ve acted in, there’s a sort of disconnect involved. When I act, I am “other,” and being presented with incontrovertible evidence of my having been present at the time results in a sort of inner dissonance for me. I never remember having acted once I’ve done it. It’s like waking up. I may have dreamed, but I don’t remember actually sleeping. So watching myself act is like watching myself sleep. It’s creepy and makes me uncomfortable.
The flip side of this is that I’m highly self-critical, and watching myself only causes me to catalogue everything I did wrong. (I’m the same with my writing; it’s ages before I can read something I’ve written because, no matter how many people say it’s brilliant, I’ll immediately find something I wish I’d worded differently.)
And home movies are worse because I’m always hyperaware of being on camera as myself, and I hate it.
But I love photographs.
I love how, even when posed, a photograph reveals something about the people in it. One cannot disguise themselves completely in a snapshot. You can try, but there’s always a tell. Jackson Browne said it best in the first verses of “Fountain of Sorrow”:
Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer
I was taken by a photograph of you
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true
You were turning ’round to see who was behind you
And I took your childish laughter by surprise
And at the moment that my camera happened to find you
There was just a trace of sorrow in your eyes
I have albums filled with photographs. Even today, in the great digital age, I insist on having photo albums, even if they’re just the kind that you make on one of those websites. I get them printed up and mailed to me so I can put them on my shelf. I like that even one picture can tell a whole story. It’s the story of a moment, sure, but also in a way the story of everything leading up to that moment. And you can almost see what stretches ahead, too, like the path of a shooting star.
Maybe I’m a romantic at heart. Maybe I’m vain. But no, there aren’t actually that many good pictures of me (in my estimation). Most of my favorite photographs are of friends and family, my being in them or not more an aside.
I especially like old photos. I like looking at pictures of my parents when they were young. I like thinking about how different life was then, and they were then, and the string of events that have paved the way to here and now. I have a really old photo of my great-grandfather and his siblings, and I like looking into all their faces and thinking that, despite all the differences between us, there’s a lot that’s the same, too. Their lives became the soil I was cultivated in, for better or worse.
I’m no great actor—passable but not great—but I am a great storyteller, and photographs are stories, and stories (or screenplays) are really just a series of snapshots. It’s all so much history, it’s like excavating, being the Indiana Jones of events and emotions. I like people, I find them interesting, and photographs help me understand them. And sometimes, later and when removed from the time and place in which it was taken, a picture can help me understand myself a bit too.
Today I was out for a bit, and when I got back to my desk, I found myself thinking, It’s gonna take forever to catch up with my Twitter feed now.
And then I had to ask myself: what difference does it make?
It would be one thing if I received major information from Twitter. And while I do follow a lot of people in my industry and a few news sites, it’s mostly people I don’t know and have never met. Or friends who, if it were something really important, would send an actual e-mail or call me. (Except my closest friends wouldn’t really call me because they know I hate telephones and mostly refuse to use them. So they’d text instead.)
So what, then, was I so in a hurry to catch up on? I really don’t know.
The same seems to be true of Facebook, though the dynamics are different. On Twitter, one collects a rag-tag group of people, usually based on shared interests or occupation. You may or may not know the majority of the people on your feed. (You have to love that they call it a “feed,” as if you’re being spooned it, or even having it shoved down your throat. Or maybe it’s more of an intravenous thing.) Facebook, however, is for people you know. Or used to know. Or had a passing acquaintance with a decade ago. Or that friend of a friend you met at a party and, because you weren’t sure whether you’d ever run into them again, you accepted their friend request to keep them from feeling rejected and talking bad about you to mutual buddies.
Of course, I have a personal Facebook account and then my professional page. That’s something else again.
Anyway, regardless of whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or some other social media site, the bottom line seems to be that the founders of these sites have created a “fear of missing out” in society at large. And so people check in repeatedly, partly to avoid falling behind or getting buried under a few million updates, but in large part to feel like they’re participating in something. A broad conversation of some kind perhaps. Except there’s precious little back-and-forth. It’s like having a bunch of people standing in a room, each shouting something different. A “retweet” is the equivalent of someone actually having heard what you said and sparing a second to shout it, too, before going back to whatever they were yelling about before. Some people are louder—celebrities, you know—but it more or less amounts to the same regardless.
I was thinking about what I used to do before I had Twitter and Facebook to check every hour or so, and I’m guessing I was probably more productive. Or focused, rather. I think I produce the same quantity of work as ever (maybe even more), but it takes me longer because of my frequent social media breaks.
I’m not saying Twitter or Facebook or these other sites are bad. If I thought that, I wouldn’t use them. (Well, no, I probably would; they’ve shown in studies these things are addictive.) But it helps to take a step back and really think about what we give and get from them. From Twitter I get the sense that I’m not alone in my work and endeavors. But I also sometimes get the feeling others are doing so much better than I am that I can get depressed for a couple days at a time, thinking I’m a failure. That’s not helpful; I must guard against it. From Facebook I have the satisfaction of finding out what happened to that guy I went to high school with. It’s sort of a reunion without the awkward dancing and bad punch. And you can decide who attends. It’s also a way to keep in touch with family members who live far away and/or those you wouldn’t normally bother to write a letter to (distant cousins, great-aunts). In that case, it’s a reunion without them getting drunk and fighting before they pass out on the lawn. Not at all a bad thing, though it removes some of the human touch. No number of posts reading “((hug))” can stand in for actual contact.
I resolve, then, seeing as we are coming toward the end of the year and resolutions are on the horizon (and I have a whole other discussion about the arbitrariness of calendar years as “new starts” but that’s something else again), to be less worried about what I might miss when I’m away from my MacBook or iPhone. If it’s something I really need to know, the information will find its way to me one way or another. If I’m not first to know, well, a decade ago or so I wouldn’t have been, either, and so what? Ignorance really is sometimes bliss. And some things I can go my whole life without knowing . . . It’s not as if I’d be the wiser.
Now you must excuse me because @big_ben_clock is about to tell me the time . . .
AElit is the result of a semester of Parageography as an undergrad. For those without etymological leanings, “parageography” is the study of imaginary places. But as part of the course we were also required to create our own worlds. AElit is mine.
It might be easiest to start with the religion, since AElitian culture is based around it. Tithendion is the chief god, “He who sets things in their places.” Tithendion carved Argyros, the ninatat, and the world. However, none of these things were animate, and so He carved out a piece of Himself and named it Durandios, “The Enduring.” Durandios breathed life into all of creation. And while Tithendion is the greatest god and the most feared, Durandios is the most beloved.
Of course, with life comes the potential for death, and so when Durandios was created, his twin sister Telamenos was the byproduct. But because Tithendion did not wish for any of his creations to die, he imprisoned Telamenos in the center of a labyrinth that was guarded by a very large serpent. Alas, as is the way of these things, Andrasthenes, the first man of the world, had pity on her and released her.
The holy book of AElit is known as the Teuchos. I’ve included a sample of it below, first in transliterated AElitian, then in English.
d’Durandios, Teuchtia d’Teuchos
1. Tia, tramen Tithendion, bran senitpette bela
2. bak no stamen palva bak no sta’ayn palva
3. bak no divosmen noe tiya barmbos d’kan’nadadinal adno tana senitana ninana
4. bak noe divosmen d’atant, tae ayris ninatat d’barmbos d’kan’nadadinal
5. wrain ninatat kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
6. bak no divosmen taebarna d’barna’aena d’nint no framen bak divodgamen AElit
7. bak no divosmen palsenit: starnt bak schlart bak ristat bak tynos bak tynara bak palsenitva
8. wrain senit kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
9. bak Tithendion litaenoe kanadramen bak sl’menseni Durandios
10. bak Durandios va wro nostava
11. bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “divos palserit va, nie ninatat bak nie paltiya”
12. Durandios senidivosmen bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “adrava d’palbarna bak senit nidivosmen d’barna d’nint”
13. Durandios deptmen Argyros bak pardapettemen d’barna sl’menseni Amarantos wro onova kansenitriktmen
14. bak agda no pardapettemen verdana, senistamen verd’va bak agda no miknost’triktmen aymensenitgran
15. bak Durandios kanadramen palstarnt bak senitadramenva, bak palsenit va, bak tynos Andrasthenes bak tynara Kalothrixede
From Durandios, First Book of the Teuchos
1. In the beginning there was Tithendion, who sets all things in their places
2. And He always was and he always will be
3. And He created for himself a city of silver where he sits on his throne
4. And He created servants, great winged angels of silver
5. But the angels did not have life for He had not created it
6. And He made a great world from the dust of the universe that He caught and shaped into AElit
7. And He created all things: animals and plants and birds and man and woman and all things living
8. But these things did not have life because He had not created it
9. And Tithendion a piece of himself took and called it Durandios
10. and Durandios lives for he is Life
11. And Tithendion told him, “Make all things living, my angels and my city.”
12. Durandios did this and Tithendion told him, “Give life to all the land and the things I’ve made from the dust of the universe.”
13. Durandios left Argyros and set foot in the land that was called Amarantos because death had not touched it
14. And when he set foot on the grass, it became green with life and when he touched the trees they had fruit
15. And Durandios took the animals and gave them life, and all things life, and the man Andrasthenes and the woman Kalothrixede
And here is a common prayer to Durandios:
Aiae, Durandios! bran adrava bak netka palva noye edma bran kanadrava bak d’senit ninoyt farna, seni’adra, kardi. Adra Tithendion, bran senitpette bela, ninoyte kavet bak lalemt marna ninoyt ba’adra marn’noy. Adrava ninoyt bak ninoyte mahtit bak venakht mar ninoyt kanal bak ninoyt noyadra ninoyte lalemt bak laba’adrat.
Prayer to Durandios
O, Durandios! who brings life and battles endlessly your sister who takes life and the things we work for, grant us this, another day. Take before Tithendion, who sets all things in their places, our thanks and supplications that He might bless us through you. Give us life and also to our flocks and crops that we may not want and will in turn give you our prayers and offerings.
As a rule, you see, Durandios is considered far more sympathetic than Tithendion because Durandios walks among the people of the world and Tithendion never comes down from Argyros.
The ninatat, meanwhile, are angelic sorts of creatures. Arista is Durandios’ personal servant and the only ninatat with a female aspect. She is known to be severe but fair, a sort of figure of justice. The two other best-known ninatat are Seladion and Amaurodios. Seladion, who is associated with brilliance and the full moon, was cast out of Argyros for being vain and lacking respect for humanity. Durandios punished Seladion by sending him to live with the very creatures for whom he had such contempt. Amaurodios, meanwhile, is associated with twilight and, in later texts, the new moon. He has great compassion for the people of the world and was considered Durandios’ favorite. But Amaurodios loved Seladion, even though Seladion spurned him, and when Durandios cast Seladion out, Amaurodios begged to be sent with him. Though it broke Durandios’ heart, he granted Amaurodios’ wish.
There are a lot of tales and legends about Seladion and Amaurodios, their adventures in AElit and the world, too many to include here.
AElit itself is a small island, the eastern side of which is pastoral, though there is a forested northeastern peninsula which is traditionally the home of Moka’Durand, Durandios’ worldly home. Shrines line the edge of the forest and pilgrimages are frequent. The center of the island has a sort of grassy plain leading to a mountain range known as the Taemaenat D’robe. This range cuts the western third of the island more or less completely off from the rest, and that part of the island is known as D’robe (meaning, literally, “of rock”) because it is harsh terrain, very little of which is suitable for farming or livestock. The majority of D’robeans get by on fishing.
There is not much contact between AElit (which is what the eastern side of the island is called, as well as the island as a whole; this can be somewhat confusing) and D’robe. This is because D’robe was primarily settled by dissidents who began a civil war against the rule of the AElitian priests. They lost and were driven by the AElitian forces over the mountains where they resettled. Some of the differences in their lives and ways of thinking can be illustrated by the various proverbs common in each society:
belaver kantra mahtongat
“In green places there are no goats.”
This seems to be similar to the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” That is, AElitians prize their goats quite highly, so to say that a place is green (pleasant) is also to say it is not necessarily better because there are no goats.
palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
This might parallel the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
taeleinos marl batorl
“Distance makes it worth the walk.”
In other words, the journey is just as important a lesson as the actual getting there. Then again this might mean, “It’s worth having to go if it means getting away from you or this place.”
kanag belaleinos par kan’nadadinalaenat
“Do not hope to get there by starlight.”
This seems to mean that a person might be deluded about something, hoping for something not likely to happen. Used as a warning against impracticality.
“To reach far is to touch more.”
Used to encourage achievement or excuse ambition.
noy kanfra begga barna d’roba
“You can’t catch fish on rocky soil.”
This seems to be akin to, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
Evidence of the D’robean link to the AElitians.
kan taemaena ad, noy marl karleino
“If not this mountain, you’ll have to cross another.”
This may be a clear reference to the exile and exodus of the D’robean people from AElit proper, but it has come to mean that there will always be obstacles in life.
“No man is more than a man.”
In other words, “He’s not so great.” (Commonly used when referring to Durandios or the High Priests of AElit.)
What D’robe does seem to have that AElit does not is literature. Or, more specifically, they have plays, fragments of which have been found and translated (note the original author did not include any kind of stage direction):
from The Tragedy of Tantos, First Prince of Tiyafarg
Oh, that the rain should fall on this
face that until late was so gifted by the sun!
Fate and sister Fortune: what, have you
conspired against me?
No, away sirs, would you keep hold
that winning hand! I am not a one
to pick the pockets of Dame Fortune.
I make my own deck and play
only from that!
Oh, if there be a Heaven as so the AElitians claim,
or indeed any hope of a compassionate god,
let him show himself now! Surely a one
so wholesome as this my prince is fated
for better things?
Hold back your tears, I will myself
No, sir! There is no hope of aid
from Heaven, and I will not of you!
Aback! Else I’ll have your soul on my spear!
I will not touch blood with you, my lord.
Then I’ll touch yours and leave mine to its run!
Oh, my brother! Who will weep for you
if I do not?
Oh most horrible day that sees
slaughter between such friends!
I will exact a price for this
What, would you darken this day
of my brother’s death even more?
I will mask the very sun in blood!
Oh, I would that my eyes had been
plucked from their place e’er I saw this day!
All of Tiyafarg is in wonderment
of what happened at the fair today.
Then tell them Porphys that this
is no fair day but a black day indeed,
wherein their prince has died
at his own hand, unable to bear the grieved loss
of his most dear friend who did fall
to the prince’s own blade. And I myself
from The Tragedy of Myteon, Second Prince of Tiyafarg
My people are starving and you
would have me leave them?
My lord, their upset may
prompt them to revolt against you.
My leaving would be
a revolt against myself. Of the two,
it is harder to live with one heart that hates itself
than one hundred directed from elsewhere.
If I were a devout, I might pray.
If you were a devout, my lord, you
would not be here but on the other side
of the mountains where food is plenty.
Ah, but then I would not be a prince. And
better a prince to unrest than slave
to an uncompassionate god.
Is their god so uncompassionate? See
from The Tragedy of Stelerokon, Third Prince of Tiyafarg
Why if birds did bloom, we could
pluck them for our supper.
Do we not already?
It would be easier to pluck a cluck
from the ground than the air.
Is it not so?
I would say this foul play
doubtless heralds a dooming day.
And I should say you say right,
for look, here comes the prince.
Soho, Prince Stelerokon! Are you here
to fetch a foul?
Of a sort, sir, I am here to
catch a thief. I would not
put the two of you behind me.
It might be just as well you didn’t, sir,
for I fear we would not both fit.
Enough of you, joker! Be gone and put
your wits to better use. But you, come listen,
for I would have news of my brother’s doings.
Aye, my lord. And so I trade
one fowl for another!
I will pluck him til he has
no feathers to hide behind!
You do me a service, sir, that I will heartily repay.
Now go! And speak this to no one!
Aye, my lord!
Could it be that this day my brother Salarimus
plans to steal my birthright? But how?
Oh, I would
that you would take from me crown
Oh, but your rash wrath has killed me, brother,
for I never intended you harm!
Oh, my son! But Stelerokon, what thing
has happened here that washes the court
red with blood?
There are not enough tears in Tiyafarg
to cleanse my soul! For today
I have slain my brother without cause!
AElit, on the other hand, seems only to produce hymns, prayers, and other theological texts, though they do also have a rich mythology, based also on their extensive belief system.
Being a pastoral society, animals have key significance to the AElitians. The kornyx is a fine example. This is a large blackbird (sometimes found in flocks) said to bring on night, sleep, or oblivion in general. The kornyx is considered a sort of familiar to Telamenos and therefore looked upon with a measure of fear, or at the very least suspicion. In some stories the kornyx is itself Telamenos in disguise. It probably doesn’t help its reputation that the kornyx is a carrion scavenger.
Finally, there is Teladion. He is the son of Telamenos, and in some stories also the son of Durandios, having been tricked by his sister into producing him. Teladion haunts the higher realms, waiting to be born. He will have the power to destroy the world or save it, though no one can say what he might do.
Writing Prompt: “Crush/First Love”
I don’t know for certain that I’ve ever been in love.
I’ve had crushes, I’ve been in lust, I’ve had fondness and affection for people, and maybe all these things are love in various forms, or maybe none of them are and I’ve never really been in love. I don’t know.
I remember in fifth grade a boy named Patrick Hurley who, I swore to my best friend Emily at the time, I had a raging crush on. But that wasn’t true. I didn’t care a fig for Patrick Hurley, I only felt I was expected to like someone and he seemed harmless enough as a target. Meanwhile, two boys named Andrew and Craig did their best to get Emily’s and my attention, including attempting to talk us into “kissing lessons.” I was fond of Andrew, despite that awful tail of hair he had (that was the fad at the time); he would sit in bus line with me and draw pictures of houses he would build for me someday.
So there’s the world of contradictions opening: professing love for one person while having actual affection for someone else. I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. Andrew was Andrew and somehow not a viable prospect for that very reason. It’s the plot line of any number of romantic comedies. I don’t know if we’d have had a Hollywood ending, though, because my family moved the following summer.
And at my new school for sixth grade, oh! In sixth grade it was all about Joel. Joel, whose family had only come to the U.S. after being missionaries in Nigeria. Joel, whose parents had named all their children with the letter J, Joel being the oldest of four. He was tan, with sandy hair and vivid blue eyes, tall and athletic, and best of all he lived in bike-riding distance. My friend Sarah and I would make not-so-subtle trips through his neighborhood. We were vultures, circling.
The best day of my sixth-grade life came when Miss Fuller named Joel and me co-captains for Field Day. I don’t remember anything else about that day except at the end of it Joel put an arm around me and kissed my cheek. Bliss!
But Field Day marked the end of the school year, and I was switching schools. Meanwhile, Joel’s family was moving again. No more rides past his house.
Seventh and eighth grades were taken up with Kevin Kessler. We had Honors English classes and were Office Aides together. I don’t know why I liked him—today I can’t even picture him clearly—but I did.
Now here’s the problem with being a focused and dedicated individual. I was so often consumed by whatever current crush was on my mind, I was blind to the possibility anyone else might like me. In fact, I was pretty certain no one could ever like me, which is why I often didn’t bother with anything more than jeans and t-shirts, and it was ages before I considered makeup. Meanwhile, my white-hot attention often sent the objects of my desire running for cover. Even when I wasn’t being obvious, I was. I was too intense, even at a distance. It made me unapproachable. Smart and aloof, I had only a handful of friends, people who’d braved getting to know me. But no one knew me so well that I was willing to discuss who I “liked.” Everyone knew, because I couldn’t seem to hide it, but no one discussed it.
My junior year of high school was my nadir. I cringe to think of it. I had the fiercest crush on Mark Pierce. He was a senior, and we were in public speaking together and both National Honor Society members. Without going into details, I’ll just say I made a fool of myself. Utterly and completely. But I felt powerless to scale it back. It made no difference to Mark; he only wanted to be done with high school so he could go off to college and start a “real life.” He had no interest in me or any other ties to our town. He was preparing to shake it all off and run.
And if anyone liked me during this time, I was oblivious to it. My blinders were on. I would guess now, based on broad evidence, one or two people might have liked me a little. One boy who lived around the corner offered to drive me to school (I often walked when I couldn’t have the car). Out of an acute attack of shyness, I declined. I fear now he took it as a rejection, and that makes me sad. Later he would write in my senior yearbook, “And now you even talk to me sometimes.” I must have seemed like a terrible snob, but really I was just living in my shell.
After Mark, I took a break on crushes. Mark had used up all my emotional energy. A boy named Charles auditioned for the role of boyfriend, and I cast him temporarily, but his need to call every day—sometimes several times a day, just to tell me a music video I liked was on or to tell me he also liked apple cinnamon Cheerios—became oppressive. I might still have kept him on, but I inadvertently broke up with him via postcard. I had remembered he liked Billy Joel, and so on the card I wrote a lyric:
You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.
In retrospect, not a terribly affirming message. I returned from my visit to my grandparents in Alaska to discover Charles wasn’t speaking to me. A mutual friend explained why. Realizing I was actually relieved by this, I didn’t bother to plead my case of lack of forethought. I just walked away.
I did have a tiny interest my senior year in a quiet, mild-mannered boy named Jon Howard. After my intense feelings for Mark, and Charles’ intense feelings for me, Jon felt like an oasis of calm. This time I did confide in a friend. She promptly began dating Jon behind my back.
Toward the end of my senior year, a family friend (he was a pastor-in-training) began asking me out. His name was Greg, and he had red hair and, of all things, a beard. I wasn’t all that interested, but Greg seemed like a safe way to gain dating experience. He was unfailingly gracious, always polite, and my parents loved him. But he was boring. It wasn’t long before he asked to walk in the park with me and, parked on the steps of the gazebo, he broke up with me. Gently. It didn’t hurt a bit, actually, because I simply didn’t care.
At that point I was where Mark Pierce had been the year before: ready to leave for college and start fresh. I didn’t date much my freshman year—in fact, I went on exactly one date, with Matthew from my French class. We went to play racquetball, which I’d never done. I twisted my ankle. He never asked me out again, and French was awkward for the rest of the semester.
My last big crush started my sophomore year. I had landed a job at a little family-owned copy shop, a place that did photocopies, printing, binding, and offered some typing and graphics services. We sold office supplies and Tic Tacs and had a soda machine that only cost a quarter per can. That alone probably brought in most of our foot traffic.
Danny was one of my co-workers. Blond, blue-eyed, smart and funny. Kind. I liked him as a person long before I started to fall for him.
We didn’t hang out much outside of work, though we did go to the movies a couple times and out to coffee houses once or twice. Something about Danny felt very safe, and I was able to be more myself around him. For the first time in my life, I was wondering what it would be like to share space with someone; I pictured Danny and I reading books beside a cozy fire. And yet for all that, there was very little about the situation that was romantic. I only knew I liked this person and wanted to be around him and spend time with him.
But Danny was a couple years ahead of me in school, and upon graduation he joined the Peace Corp. He was going to Mali. I agonized over this; how could he leave? Finally, I did one of those foolish movie-type things: I sent him a letter telling him how I felt.
To his credit, Danny took it all in stride. He wrote to me from Mali, even sent little trinkets. He had the courtesy not to mention my letter.
It wasn’t until I had moved to Boston for grad school and Danny had settled in New York for law school that he told me he was gay. By that time I’d met the man I was going to marry, and so the announcement had little impact on me in the romantic sense. I did feel a bit stupid for not having known, but then I’ve never had good “gaydar.” Which may be why I got asked out by more women than men in college. Maybe I give off a vibe I’m not aware of. But that’s something else again.
Somewhere in there, I began working on a film set. An actor got into the habit of pulling my hair and calling me “Pigtail.” (And yes, he knew my name, even used it sometimes.) It was such a juvenile thing–all the things he said and did were grade school ways of getting attention. I knew I should be flattered, but I mostly found it confusing. And all the while a location scout named Marcel had become my best friend on the set. My fondest memory is of he and I hanging out during an early-morning shoot, singing “The Way You Look Tonight” rather badly because we were so tired. Marcel gave me candles at the wrap party, to this day the best-smelling candles I’ve ever owned. They smelled like fresh-cut grass. I wish I knew where to find more, or where to find him, because I think I took him for granted as a friend, and I also think maybe he “liked” me just a little. If I knew where he was now, I’d ask him.
Eventually I graduated, spent a year trying to decide what else to do, then moved to Boston grad school. At that point I’d decided to start fresh again. I would focus on my work as a writer, on my career, and love would come in its own sweet time. Which, as it turned out, was day one of my first class. Not love exactly, but the kind of real, long-term relationship I’d never had before.
I spotted Scott sitting across the room when I walked in the door, and I thought, “That’s the boy I’m going to marry.” There was no question in my mind about it, and no echo of love or passion in my brain, either. The statement was a simple fact, something I was as sure of as the sunrise.
Scott dressed in the flannel grunge style popular at that time. He wore a flatcap, backwards like Samuel L. Jackson. He slouched in his chair and oozed nonchalance, insubordination. “Impress me,” his attitude said, “bet you can’t.”
I tried talking to him a few times. It seemed so inevitable, our being together, I figured I might as well get us started. But Scott was reluctant. Or, as it turned out, shy. I had almost given up, was starting to think my usually keen intuition had short circuited somehow, when Scott finally began to open up. We got assigned a project together (Scott’s doing). We met for coffee. Went to a couple movies. Scott cooked for me. Took me to a nice restaurant, then away for a weekend in Maine.
By the end of our first semester we were engaged.
We wrote our theses and planned a wedding for immediately after graduation. I gave up plans for an internship in LA because Scott wouldn’t have been able to go. And I gave up plans to move closer to family and friends because Scott felt we had more opportunities in New England.
Well, my instincts had been right in picking who I would marry. They never promised I’d get everything I wanted.
Scott has taken care of me, though. I can’t fault him there. He loves me, and as little as I know of love, I guess I do love him, too. It isn’t the kind of passion I felt for those teenage crushes, but one is expected to grow out of that kind of thing, and relationships are supposed to evolve into something more staid and mature. Grown-up love.
Or maybe I traded in or up or something. Passion is like a shiny sports car, fast but also not equipped for everyday use. Affection, and the kind of love that comes with it, is a sort of reliable family vehicle with a good warranty. It has four-wheel drive and seat warmers and can get you over rough terrain.
Every now and then a sports car will catch my eye, and I think it might be fun to go for a test drive. Then I remind myself that the thrill is fleeting, that in bad weather a sports car would be useless. I stick with my SUV. Roomy and comfortable, and it fits all the kids.
I wouldn’t normally post this kind of thing here–I’d save it for my personal blog–but there is some entertainment value to my birthday this year. After all, the first part of my birthday celebrations came when I flew to London to attend the Sherlock preem at the BFI. And yesterday, I received a box of cupcakes from Crumbs. (Okay, there’s not much entertainment value in that, but it was worth a mention.) And tonight I get some Robert Downey Jr. and some Sherlock of another kind/color/flavor . . .
The ladies at my salon asked me the other day who my “movie star boyfriend” would be. Well, I’ve worked with, er, “stars,” so it didn’t seem fair to pick one. But then, after some thought, I chose Robert Downey Jr. anyway. I’ve never had the pleasure of working with him, so the choice is academic. I like a man with a quick mind, and anecdotally, Robert is just that. Some say that makes him difficult to work with in some ways, but it’s understandable; smart people can have a hard time slowing themselves down, or rather, they assume everyone is with them when they’re five leaps ahead. At least half of a genius’ conversation is dropped (sometimes more) because he or she leaves out what s/he thinks is unnecessary to articulate. It seems obvious to him, after all. It’s also why they make lousy teachers; they can’t be bothered to break down into steps something that comes to them with so little effort.
I know all this because my father is brilliant, and we’ve had entire conversations that go like this:
Dad: Did you . . .?
Me: Well, I . . .
Dad: But then . . .
Me: Yeah, because . . .
Dad: Yes, okay.
Drives my mother crazy.
But I digress. On top of tonight’s film, tomorrow night I’m going out to a comedy club with friends. I don’t normally do that kind of thing, so I’m a little nervous, but also curious. I do like to laugh. Sometimes. If the jokes are clever and not too rude. My friends have made me promise to bring Sherlock along, and I can only imagine what he’ll have to say about the whole thing.
I continue to mull over “A Scandal in Belgravia,” trying to pinpoint what it was that left me somewhat unsatisfied by it. One issue is, perhaps, the unevenness in tone. The episode is front-loaded with howlingly funny one-liners and exchanges, only to cut steeply into the dramatic. I’ve wondered whether that was the intent, to show some kind of major shift and change in the characters’ lives, but I’m not convinced that much thought was involved.
Then there is the Christmas gathering scene during which (without giving too much away) a major development occurs and the party more or less disbands. My problem with this scene is that Sherlock receives the news, and we go immediately on to the next thing; the viewer is not privy to the actual dissolution of the assembly. This seems like a small thing, but I liken it to, say, a scene in a movie in which a character realizes his relationship must end, then the next scene is him standing in an empty flat. The viewer knows what has happened—they have broken up—but have been cheated of a key moment, the one in which the breakup actually occurs. You may ask how this could matter for a simple party scene, but it does on a very subtle level. If Sherlock or John were to announce that the party is over, that’s one thing. If Sherlock were to simply exit the flat, leaving the party to slowly separate, that’s something else. It speaks to the internal mechanism that works the series of relationships involved. Action and reaction. Sherlock is hardly the type to be the “life of the party,” but maybe he is a kind of glue. Or are he and John required to work in tandem? Maybe when you subtract either one of them, it’s simply no longer a celebration (bad news notwithstanding). But the true dynamic cannot be ascertained because the scene that would cue it is missing.
Any actor will tell you the key to a character is figuring out what he or she wants, and that’s another big question mark in “Scandal.” Even if the character doesn’t know what he wants, the writer and actor need to have a firm grasp on it, but here it isn’t clear. Though the goal is simple enough at first, things quickly devolve. Sherlock does not seem to want Irene Adler, except perhaps as a playmate—his sexuality, or asexuality, remains unresolved—and if the whole were merely a game of oneupmanship between them, it might have played out quite well because then motives would be understandable and easily acted upon. That alone would have been entertaining to watch. But the relationship, such as it is, develops a mushiness, a lack of focus and definition, that becomes something of a slog. And again, this may have been intentional, the idea being that whatever is between Sherlock and Irene starts in one place and ends somewhere else, but the vague nature of the journey makes the whole of it a tad tiresome. There are no milestones. Sherlock is a decisive and action-oriented character, animated even when thinking—this is necessary to make him worth watching for any length of time—but in “Scandal” the brakes go on and action grinds to a crawl manifested in endless violin playing. This is designed to speak to Sherlock’s state of mind, one supposes, but in execution actually says very little. Sherlock Holmes in many incarnations has long been an emotional cipher, so readers/viewers are used to not knowing how he feels (or if he feels), but when he does—and he obviously is supposed to here—it helps to have a little more insight than excessive use of the violin is able to convey.
One suspects that if it were only a question of having someone “on his level” to play against, Sherlock would be equally infatuated with Moriarty; indeed, “The Great Game” came close to just that. The situation with Irene is different, however, though what prompts the difference isn’t made explicit. Without knowing why Sherlock does the things he does, reacts the way he does—is he being chivalrous? is he in love?—I as a viewer found the resulting miasma confusing. I don’t think the script itself necessarily requires blatant answers, but I did feel like the actor should have known in his own right what was going on internally with Sherlock so that he could articulate it, even if only to show: Sherlock doesn’t know how he feels; he’s trying to figure it out and/or bury it. Is the violin playing Sherlock’s attempt to express himself? Or is he trying to distract himself? I’d guess the former, but then more questions follow: To what end? Is he decompressing? Looking for sympathy? What does playing the violin achieve for him? What does he want?
I’m pulling all this from a week-old memory now, of course, and I may think and feel differently about any or all of it when the episode airs. I’ll give another accounting then, when I’m able to write about the specifics of the episode without spoiling it for anyone. There’s a chance there is more to the emotional undertow than I am remembering, that the plot, too, is more cohesive than I am able to recall. Fans of the show will like the episode regardless; they will be too happy to have new episodes after such a long hiatus to be very picky about any of it; indeed, one must brace for the wave of gushing and excited online chatter sure to come in “Scandal”‘s wake. The producers, writers, actors and network have nothing to fear on that score. Sherlock will continue to be a hit, and “Scandal” will be an iconic episode for having introduced a new take on Irene Adler and ostensibly a new depth of character for Sherlock himself, though I would say in retrospect that in “Scandal” Mycroft is the one who comes off with the most fleshed-out personality; indeed, there seems to be a very clear notion of who Mycroft is, what he is capable of, etc., which is part of what puts the wateriness of Sherlock’s usually equally defined person to shame.
So I’m finally home and reading something new that allows me to participate in Teaser Tuesday. For those of you who haven’t seen this on my site before, it’s where you open your current read to a random page and post two teaser (but non-spoiler) sentences.
I picked up The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler at the library yesterday. It’s about, well, a hypnotist who is enlisted by the police to help solve a series of violent murders. There’s been a lot of buzz around the book (“the next Dragon Tattoo,” movie rights, etc.), so I was curious. I’m not very far in, so it’s too early to say what I think. But here’s a teaser, taken from page 211:
Simone doesn’t realize the men are talking to her until she feels a powerful blow in the stomach that forces her to her knees.
The novel was originally written in Swedish, and I can’t decide how I feel about the present tense. I’m trying to get past it, but I don’t know if I can.
I was thinking about this last night because, for whatever reason, the old film Summer Magic sprang to mind. I love that movie, but I almost never remember to put in on any of my favorites lists.
So I started thinking about other movies I’ve loved, ones that might not always end up on obvious lists. The Innocents, for example. Rope. Okay, that one could be obvious.
So here, in no particular order, are my all-time favorite movies . . . At least the ones I could think of while sitting here.
- Summer Magic–I spent a summer when I was 9 or 10 watching this repeatedly on the Disney Channel. I sing “On the Front Porch” to my daughter at bedtime each night.
- Rope–so tightly written and directed; a Hitchcock classic.
- The Innocents–Deborah Kerr stars in this old take on “The Turn of the Screw” and the result is awesome.
- Now, Voyager–I get sucked in every time.
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil–while I can’t love the choice to create a love interest for John, thanks to the stellar cast this film stands as one of the rare moments when the adaptation is as good as the book.
- Young Sherlock Holmes–probably the most influential film of my childhood; I used to come home each day and pop it in the VCR while I did my homework.
- Clue–still a go-to for stormy nights.
- Dirty Rotten Scoundrels–such a funny, clever little movie.
- The Uninvited–by which I mean the old 1944 film, which is truly spooky.
- The Haunting–the 1963 one, of course. So chilling.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–okay, obvious again, but these two films were also backbones of my childhood. Raiders is the first film I can actually remember seeing in a cinema.
- All the fantasy films that came out around the time I was eight, including Labyrinth, The Neverending Story, and The Last Unicorn. These became sleepover staples.
- Anything starring Cary Grant.
There are others. I know there are. I keep wracking my brain over which movies I feel I absolutely have to own, you know, the ones I had on VHS and felt the need to convert to DVD and then (when available) Blu-Ray. That’s sort of the gold standard, isn’t it? Spending that kind of money repeatedly on something?
I could add more recent films that had an impact on me: Jurassic Park, The Matrix . . . These two hold the record for films I’ve seen in a cinema, 10 times and 7 times respectively. In high school it became a bit of a gag for my friends to take me, yet again, to Jurassic Park. That was back when movies stayed in the theater for more than two or three weeks.
And Gone with the Wind is what I curl up with when I’m sick. I tuck up on the sofa and sip tea and watch Scarlett manipulate everyone around her, everyone but Rhett because he’s her match. Too bad she doesn’t see the truth of that until he walks away.
In college my friends and I used to rent a bunch of movies at a time–we’d pick a genre and rent one or two films from each decade, then have a marathon as we worked our way through chronologically. I discovered a lot of great movies this way.
I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in film and television (thanks, Mr. Spielberg!), and the above are just a handful of the reasons why. I’m lucky to do what I do, even in the modest amount that I do it.
I sometimes think, when I am reading or speaking, there are tiny angels between the letters and the words, perched perhaps on the serifs of the typeface–Serif-im, yes–inhabiting the white space.
They are pauses, breaths, words forgotten mid-sentence, the places lost when a bookmark drops.
They are silences, awkward or otherwise, and nothing fills them. They are always empty.