My first job was as a library page for the public library in our town. It was within walking distance of my school, so after classes I would walk over for work. Sometimes, if I wasn’t scheduled to start right away, I would go to the fast food place across the street for something to eat. A lot of kids went there after school, and one day a table of boys behind me thought it’d be funny to smash ketchup packets, the result being that the back of my shirt ended up covered in ketchup. The boys just laughed.

It was lucky, I suppose, that the shirt was a chambray/denim affair I was wearing over a white tank top. I was able to take it off and go over to work, then rinse the shirt in the break room sink.

At that time, we had a man named Mike working at the library with us; it was part of his community service for some misdemeanor, the facts of which I never learned. I’ve never known a man named Mike who wasn’t simply a huge fellow (not at all true of people I know who go by “Michael,” by the way), and Mike stood well over six feet. It would have taken at least another half of me to be as wide as his chest and shoulders, and it was all muscle; Mike was a black belt and religious about his fitness. And I was the only person he could be bothered to talk to, ostensibly because the two dried-up hags who ran the library were unpleasant to him (as they were to me and everyone who worked under them), and the other page—a girl named Vicky who wore black bras under yellow sweaters—was actually too forward for his tastes. Vicky was a gossip to boot, and she was constantly coming up with stories about what Mike had supposedly done to get community service, none of which were likely to be true. I mean, I don’t think you get community service for having killed someone, even involuntarily.

The day I came in with my soiled shirt, Mike was in the break room. He immediately wanted to know what had happened, and I told him, and he got up and left. Not to go into the library, but out the door that led to the parking (that was the door employees were told to use, like servants, always the back entrance). I thought his shift must be over, and the fact Mike never said anything to me didn’t surprise me at all because he was strange that way. But later I found out he’d gone over to the restaurant and, though no one bothered to give me the details (not even Vicky, who herself quit the job soon after), did something to the boys who’d ruined my clothes. He’d done this, even knowing it would compound the trouble he was in, and even though he had less than a month left on his community service.

It occurs to me, looking back at a lifetime of similar incidents, that despite my independent streak I seem to inspire protectiveness in others. I’ve come to the conclusion this is because I’m intelligent in a way that causes me to spend a lot of time in my own head, and so in turn I have proven somewhat incapable of taking care of myself.

When I lived alone, I had friends who visited regularly to make sure I’d remembered to buy food. (I often hadn’t.) A particularly kind couple from my workplace would take me home with them once or twice a week to feed me. A big Italian guy once fought off some insistent sailors for me in a bar in Florence. A kind man in the British Museum walked me not only to the exit but back to my hotel when I got lost on my first trip to London. The same happened when I got lost in Paris during a rainstorm.

I don’t mean to be helpless. And I’m very good at taking care of other people. I just can’t seem to do for myself.

I do wonder what happened to Mike. He never came back to the library. I don’t know if he received additional probation or jail time or what. But I do know the boys at my school never bothered me after that. So thank you, Mike, for making my life a little easier at the expense of making yours more difficult.

Something That Came to Me Upon Waking

He was hot and she was willing,
or she was hot and he was willing;
it didn’t matter much between them.
He knew her touch would both sting and heal,
was surprised to find it soft and smooth and cool
upon his cheek
though it delivered fever and desire,
all the side effects of lust.
He leaned his forehead against her shoulder,
lay it against his longing
for a stranger on a street corner.

Chad

For some reason I’ve had old friends on my mind lately, and just the last couple days one in particular. I knew him in high school and he committed suicide some years ago. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of him.

I don’t know that Chad and I would have been friends if not for the fact we had so many other friends in common. Both of us were smart and shy, though while I was intermittently unhappy (in the way of teenagers), Chad was consistently so. This is the burden of truly brilliant minds: they cannot be satisfied, not with themselves, nor with anything or anyone outside of themselves. They are driven, and they see and know too much, taking everything in until it turns on them and consumes them, swallows them like a black hole.

Chad used to come over to my house and just sit. He was always polite but mostly quiet. Sometimes we watched television, sometimes we sat out on the patio with my dad, sometimes we just sat on the sofa and did and said nothing. That probably seems strange, and in retrospect I might even agree, but it suited us. We were strange people. (I still am, I suppose.)

He came to escape his parents, I think. I never met them, never met Chad’s little brother, but I knew that Chad wanted to be an artist and his parents were insisting he become an engineer of some kind. Being brilliant, Chad could have done anything he chose and done it well, but he had a real gift and talent for art. In my industry there are so many artists, so many people who are good and even great at what they do, but I’ve still never known anyone who could draw or paint like Chad could. He once made for me a sort of booklet from artfully cut and decorated construction paper that featured famous quotes about love on every page, the first page being that line from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It wasn’t that Chad had any romantic interest in me, of that I’m fairly certain (in fact, my guess is he might have been gay). It was more that he knew me as a girl who desperately needed to feel wanted and loved. It occurs to me now it must have taken a bit of courage for such a shy young man to go to such effort for me.

I don’t know the exact circumstances of his death; it’s not the kind of thing you go around asking about. After I left for university, I lost touch with Chad and just assumed he’d gone off somewhere too—in fact, I’m almost positive he did go to college, at least for a while, though I don’t know whether he finished. A few years ago some of those mutual high school friends were the ones to inform me that Chad had committed suicide, and I wasn’t surprised in the least, sadly enough; in fact, it felt like something I had always known. Maybe when one’s spirit dies, tossing the body after it becomes a technicality. That sounds terrible. I know it does. But that’s exactly what happened to Chad. Something had blocked him; he was left with no other outlet. He had nothing but the pull of that black hole, the mass and quantity of his life and knowledge and experience, and he made the decision to let it absorb his light.

So why am I thinking about him? I don’t know. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned in all this and my subconscious is trying to prod me to attention. Or maybe it’s just that someone mentioned Twelfth Night a couple days ago. Whatever the reason, though, I can’t seem to shake it. I must probe the edges of my own black hole and see what I can discover, all the while working not to be sucked in.

The Sentimentalist

No, it’s not a new television show, though maybe I should develop it?

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, and traditionally I bake a cake with a sixpence in it. For years and years I used the same sixpence, and I went on a hunt for it last night before remembering that it was also the same sixpence I’d worn in my shoe on my wedding day and that it is now encased in a glass shadowbox commemorating the event.

We used a nickel because I didn’t have another sixpence handy.

But during the hunt, I found myself going through many boxes of things. Because, you see, I keep things. Not junk, mind, I’m no hoarder. But items of sentimental value. I can’t bear to part with them. All my old report cards and school papers, copies of just about everything I’ve ever written (no matter how awful), [almost] every letter and card from a friend (so long as it had a note and not just a signature), postcards, diaries and datebooks, magazines with interesting articles that I might want to reference . . . And, of course, a lot of old photographs. It’s a cinch that, should a historian ever want to research me, he or she will have plenty of material.

And only some of it is here, where I live. My parents complain constantly about the huge amount of stuff I’ve left for them to store.

I know I need to go through it all. I know I need to pare it down to the bare bones of my memories. I need to make room for my future after all. And it’s amazing how much I looked at last night and thought, I don’t remember this at all, or, I’d forgotten about that! If I haven’t missed it, shouldn’t I toss it?

But no. Because finding it again is such a treasure in itself.

In the Stars

After being asked about it (go visit the FAQs page), I went back and did my astrological chart just for fun. Using Goldschneider’s Personology, here is what I discovered:

Sun: Sagittarius III – Week of the Titan
grand ideas, optimistic outlook
Ascendant: Aquarius I – Week of Genius
quick learner, perceptive
Moon: Gemini II – Week of New Language
unable to hide one’s feelings well; expressions and body language give everything away á la heart on your sleeve
Mercury: Capricorn I – Week of the Ruler
a sharpness with words, either verbal or written; this explains why my speech teacher always told me I should be a lawyer
Venus: Scorpio II – Week of Depth
Venus is the loooove planet, and mine is in sexy Scorpio, which makes me passionate but also a tad obsessive; I delve deep into relationships, and into the people who interest me
Mars: Gemini III – Week of the Seeker
someone who likes to travel and explore
Jupiter: Aries II – Week of the Star
a need for self-expression and to play a central role in things (though not necessarily in an obvious way); good luck and serendipity are my boon companions
Saturn: Cancer-Leo Cusp – The Cusp of Oscillation
this cusp normally manifests as moodiness, but Saturn brings a balance and modulation that allows highs and lows to become learning experiences
Uranus: Scorpio I – Week of Intensity
frequent need for change and an inability to concentrate when under stress
Neptune: Sagittarius II – Week of the Originator
copious amounts of imagination and fantasy but a need for structure in order for visions to become realities
Pluto: Libra I – Week of the Perfectionist
strong critical and logical abilities (I think laterally while most people think vertically)

I’d say most of this sounds about right, but then these things are so vague almost anything might apply to anyone. I take exception to the bit about not being able to concentrate under stress—though it’s true I have difficulty focusing when there’s too much distraction, I’ve always done great under tight deadlines.

The above listing suggest someone both intense and grand, as well as someone sharp-witted and sharp-tongued. I’ve been described as all these things at various moments in my life, but it’s strange to see them compiled this way. And does any of this explain why I get so depressed when the moon is in Cancer? (Full moon in Cancer this month, btw. Jesus.) Also, does it explain why all my best friends are either born during the Cancer-Leo Cusp or else on 14 February or 30 September? What is it about those days that draws people born on them to me, and me to them? I wouldn’t wonder if it weren’t this weird recurring pattern in my life. But at least it means only having to buy cards three times a year.

Best. Birthday. Ever.

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.

Serif-im

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.

Sherlock S2: “A Scandal in Belgravia”

Screened at the BFI on Wednesday, 7 December.

Pre-Screening

So I must begin with some little drama involving my seats. I had two, you see, seeing as the tickets had come as a pair, acquired (as I understand it) via a charity auction and given to me as a birthday/holiday gift. Anyway, there is only the one of me, and I didn’t have any friends in London at the moment, so for fun I gave the other seat to Sherl:

But then this guy with shaggy hair and glasses came over and decided he wanted Sherl’s seat. I have to say, this irritated me because I held the ticket for that seat–it had been a gift, as had the entire trip been, and not an inexpensive one. So I’m not sure what made this man think he could just have it. You don’t go taking expensive gifts away from people.

Weirdly enough, the people around us thought we were on a blind date.

So I’ll admit to having given the guy a bit of a difficult time about it. I asked him how he had managed to get a ticket for that seat, since I had a ticket for that seat . . . He then said his seat was farther up, but he needed to sit in back in order to duck out early. Why go at all if you’re planning leave early, I wonder? But with a sense of fairness, I traded my seat for his and felt mollified.

[As an aside, if I’d known it was possible, I would have returned the unused ticket so someone else could have it. I didn’t know that could be done.]

Some people (remaining nameless, though you’d recognize the names) seemed to find my appearance in the new seat confusing, as they turned around several times to stare. I guess they were wondering what had happened to Hair-and-Glasses guy. Sorry, gents.

The other little bit of pre-show entertainment came from the chatter around me. People were laughing that Benedict Cumberbatch had entered the BFI with a hat pulled low over his face as if trying to hide. “He thinks he’s going to get raped!” one woman crowed. I suppose it does take a certain amount celebrity conceit to believe you’re such a massive target. Way to win ’em over, Benny. (Though I know for a fact, were he ever to read this, he would try to pass himself off as amused while being privately mortified.)

The Show

We were asked as attendees not to reveal, well, much of anything, so I’ll only be able to give my impressions in broad strokes here.

Let me start by acknowledging that it is difficult, when one has created such a television phenomenon, to consistently deliver the same high caliber of work. Even in the first series, the second episode “The Blind Banker” was met with some fuss about it not being as good as the pilot. (“The Blind Banker” improves with repeated viewing, as some of the best moments are understated and easy to overlook, even if the plot isn’t stellar.)

And maybe “A Scandal in Belgravia” will also seem better the second or third time around. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it as much as I expected to.

“Scandal” is full of fan-pleasing moments, but some come at such a rapid-fire pace they begin to border on the absurd or corny. Really, it might have been better to withhold some of these gems for a later date. As it stands, “Scandal” strives to come across as having a cohesive story, but in fact seems to be trying to do too much, or alternatively, it’s almost as if they weren’t sure how to fill/use all their time. In consequence, the episode feels a tad disjointed, with one or two too many change-ups.

The introduction of Irene Adler has been much anticipated, and the episode itself could just as easily be titled “Sherlock’s Crush.” While there is a lot going on between Sherlock and Irene, there were moments when I wasn’t convinced the actors understood their characters’ motivations and feelings (in that specific moment), which left me as a viewer equally confused. And maybe the point is that Sherlock and Irene don’t understand their own feelings, but something about that doesn’t ring entirely true. So my asking, “Why are they behaving this way?” allows facile, surface, plot-driven answers, but a deeper understanding appears to be missing.

As John, Martin Freeman is given a couple of lovely scenes, but comes off as so much wallpaper—or a voyeur—for stretches of the episode, except when required to ask Sherlock whether he’s all right.

And I will address my notes for Benedict to him directly:

You have a lot of people telling you how wonderful you are, and you won’t love this—even small criticisms are almost physically painful for you—but I’m sure eventually you’ll come to appreciate the value of honesty. Point 1: Please remember Sherlock Holmes is a master actor. I don’t know what kind of direction you were given, so it might not be entirely your fault, but your mugged priest bit was whiny and not terribly convincing. Maybe it was being played for laughs? (And no, mentioning the mugged priest is not giving anything away; the original Doyle story has as much.) Point 2: I’ve seen people play the violin. I’ve seen people imitate playing the violin. You were doing neither. At least try to match your movements—up and down with the correct notes, vibrato with your left hand—to the music. It’s a minor peeve, yes, but so very distracting. You are wonderful and talented, Benedict, which is why I’ve come to expect the absolute best from you and have no qualms in calling you out when you’re slacking. (BTW, that fabulous intuition of yours failed spectacularly on Wednesday night. Never let nerves cloud your perception.)

The Q & A

Panel members included Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lara Pulver. Andrew Scott (Moriarty) and Una Stubbs (Mrs. Hudson) attended the viewing but did not participate in the Q & A. Moderator Caitlin Moran was somewhat unfair in allowing only four audience questions. This either shows a selfishness on her part for monopolizing the conversation, or a nervousness on the part of the panelists who may very well have asked that audience questions be limited.

Moran opened by asking each panel member which scene(s) of the episode were their favorites, but as I cannot elaborate without giving anything away . . .

The awww, how sweet moment came when Benedict related that Una, having been a friend of his mum, was like a second mother to him. He also noted the difficulty not of learning lines so much as having to speak them very fast, as well as spoke about not liking to watch himself on screen.

There was some friendly ribbing of the absent Martin Freeman, who—in the context of Lara Pulver spending swaths of the episode in stages of undress (including complete undress)—they called “Martin Freehands.”

A young boy named Oliver stumped Benedict by asking what to do if one wants to become a consulting detective. “Memory games” was a portion of the stammered response, “and study criminal cases, finding out where mistakes were made.” (I’m summarizing; Benedict’s answer was less succinct but endearingly flummoxed.)

Another question was about the character of Mycroft, and Moffat and Gatiss reiterated what they’d said at the June screening of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which is that Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Mycroft in that film largely informs their take, not least of which is having a thin Mycroft instead of one that is grossly overweight. (At the June screening they had pointed out Lee’s Mycroft had a sinister streak but also a certain amount of care and concern for his little brother; the latter is on good display at key moments in “Scandal”.)

Ideally the whole Q & A (which was filmed) will wind up as a DVD extra.

Summary

Please remember this is by nature a subjective point of view. I’m sure I haven’t won any friends or fans with my less-than-gushing review, and there will be many ready to freshly disagree when the episode airs early next year in the UK and in May in the US. But–much as I do love Sherlock, and certainly feel it deserves praises—I’ve never seen any use in simply and blindly loving everything, even in the best of television programs. As Steven Moffat said during the Q & A when someone asked him what draws him to create spiky, conflicted relationships in his shows: “They’re more interesting than easy, happy ones.” Nothing is perfect, but imperfection is what makes things interesting. “Scandal” is flawed. But still entertaining.

Special Thanks . . .

To Virgin-Atlantic, for their hospitality: as ever, you take the best care of me
And to London, my home away: much love, see you again in spring, and be good while I’m gone

For Steven Moffat on Reaching His 50th Year

Tick tock goes the clock . . .

My high school English Literature instructor turned 50 during my senior year (I don’t know what they call all this over where you are, “forms” of some kind, which I understand to be like grade levels here, only entirely different). Anyway, Mr C had been my instructor and mentor for a couple years at that point, and I loved him dearly (in fact we’re still in touch) but at that time I thought 50 was incredibly old. Even my parents weren’t 50! Who the hell lived to 50? Who would want to? By then you might as well just stop altogether and give up.

Mr C tried very patiently to explain that 50 was, in fact, really only the middle of one’s life (particularly if one lived carefully like the Jesuit he was). But I told him in all my 17-year-old glory that I hoped never to live so long because to be so old would be TRAGIC.

In turn, Mr C made me go memorize some Canterbury Tales. Showed me, I suppose. But I’ve long since forgotten all of it, so there. (Can’t fit both Shakespeare and Chaucer. Got some Wordsworth wandering around in there, too . . . THIS is what it’s like to be old, I suspect—weird snippets of things one once knew drifting in and out like waves of fog. Or maybe that’s just writers.)

They say you’re only as old as you feel, but at 50 you’re probably at least starting to get achy whenever the weather turns. They make an ointment for that, I think. I don’t know [yet] because I am not old [yet] and will not be for some time [yet, if ever].

Yes, I’m rubbing it in a little.

But you’ll have to rub in the ointment on your own.

Happy birthday.

Today: The Noughties Blogfest

This is the blogfest in which you list your favorite movies, music, books and so forth for each year from 2000 to 2009. Ah, a bygone era! (Visit Dave for more info.)

2000

This seems like so long ago. It was the year matchbox twenty’s Mad Season came out, and I remember the first time I listened to it thinking, What the hell is this? Because it didn’t sound anything like their first album. But I continued to listen to it; it fact, it was on almost constant rotation as I wrote my thesis. I also got to see them play in Amherst that year.

Also the movie State and Main. To this day it’s one of my favorites.

2001

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Right? Came out just before my birthday, and what a treat. I grew up listening to my dad tell the stories of the Hobbit and Middle Earth (I had only read The Hobbit, never the others), so this was special to me, to see it come to life in such a wonderful way.

Also: Alias. Loved that show. I want Victor Garber for an honorary uncle.

2002

Okay, I’ll go for something less obvious here. The Mothman Prophecies. That movie was seriously creepy. Oh, and the book Batavia’s Graveyard. More mainstream: The Two Towers, which is my favorite of the trilogy, and matchbox twenty’s More Than You Think You Are.

2003

Runaway Jury. I really enjoyed that movie (and not only because I was in New Orleans for some of the filming of it–more that I love John Cusack). And of course, in television, this is the year Arrested Development debuted.

Notable concert: matchbox twenty with opening acts Sugar Ray and Maroon 5.

2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb by U2. The Other Boylen Girl by Philippa Gregory. Also saw Rob Thomas play a special charity concert at the China Club in NYC, along with Jewel and Darryl Hall. Saw Jimmy Buffett play at Fenway Park. And got some of my first written works published.

2005

Rob Thomas’s . . . Something to Be. I saw him live again at Avalon in Boston and also saw U2 live in concert for the first time. Jude Morgan’s Indiscretion. Robert Downey Jr’s rising star with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. And the return of Doctor Who to the television schedule, as well as the premiere of Bones.

2006

At this point I had an infant and did not have much time to watch or read or do much of anything, but I did go see V for Vendetta. And I read Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story.

2007

Hot Fuzz is a classic, is it not? And I loved Alison Weir’s book Innocent Traitor as well as Jude Morgan’s An Accomplished Woman.

2008

Cloverfield. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Weir’s The Lady Elizabeth and Stephen King’s Duma Key.

2009

A year for books: Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, One Day by David Nicholls, and Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby.

Also, Sherlock Holmes. And Rob Thomas’s Cradlesong (saw him in concert again). And OneRepublic’s Waking Up.