Friday, July 30, 2010

This Post is the Result of an Impassioned Argument

Today's Scribophile post: 

This week, I caught myself in an impassioned argument with an ardent movie buff about the movies of M. Night Shyamalan (I like movies but wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a buff. More like a late-night couch potato.)

My friend, I’ll call him T-Bone, insists that the only decent movie Shyamalan made was The Sixth Sense, and even that was overrated. He says Unbreakable and Signs were tolerable, but the rest were, and I quote, “utter crap.”

I was indignant. I thought Unbreakable was brilliant and Signs was subtly spooky. (Plus, I liked that part in Signs where Joaquin Phoenix had tinfoil on his head. That amused me.) I loved The Village. I had to admit that the movie’s “twist” wasn’t great (I figured it out within the first fifteen minutes of the film, and this from a person who is consistently and pleasantly surprised at the end of Scooby Doo episodes), but, again: Joaquin Phoenix! And Ron Howard’s daughter! What a charming and original love story! Despite its predictability, I thought The Village was a worthwhile film.

I concurred, however, that The Happening was, and I quote myself now, “utter crap.”

The awfulness that was The Happening, and now, the awfulness that apparently is The Last Airbender, has sent former Shyamalan fans over the edge. At previews for his upcoming film, Devil, there have been reports of jeering! And laughing! As someone who is fairly certain she sat next to M. Night Shyamalan in a NYC café, making us nearly best friends forever, I am horrified by this behavior!

T-Bone wants Shyamalan to stop writing movies. Forever. He thinks Shyamalan can perhaps direct movies, but feels audiences needn’t be subjected to any more illogical plot twists or imaginary beings called narfs.

“I’m disappointed,” T-Bone admits, “because there might have been something really great there.”

I wonder. Was The Sixth Sense the best he had in him? Do we all have a best within us, and when it comes out, nothing will ever remotely compare to it? Or does the success of a particular piece of work, whether or be a novel, a movie, a piece of art, make a person strive too hard when they work on their next project, so that their compositions feel forced or inauthentic?

Ernest Hemingway was an exception to this rule. After the war, as his life began to spiral out of control, Hemingway’s writing suffered. He became his own worst critic, dismissing entire manuscripts as rubbish.

Hemingway was in bad shape. His love life (lives) were rocky. He drank too much. His novel, Across the River and into the Trees, was poorly received. His critics jeered. His reputation soured. Gertrude Stein called him names. Times were bad.

Then, in 1952, Hemingway published The Old Man and the Sea. Perhaps you read it in high school. In 1953, the book won a Pulitzer. A year later- the Nobel Peace Prize. And boom goes the dynamite. Papa was back on top. (Critically, at least. Soon after his greatest success, he was involved in two near-fatal plane crashes, each with left him with severe injuries that caused him extreme physical pain. His drinking worsened, he became clinically depressed, and he shot himself in 1961.)

I admire Hemingway for not discarding writing altogether. He worked, through chronic pain, through the jeering, perhaps just because he couldn’t not write. And something magnificent came out of it.

So, I for one, believe Shyamalan should keep making films- even writing films. (And no- I don't think Shyamlan is a Hemingway.) Perhaps I’m a bit deluded. But some movies, some novels, some short stories, are more than just “good”. They leave an indelible imprint on culture and individual memories. Ingrid Bergman’s single tear in Casablanca. The yellow brick road that meanders through Oz. Those remarkable first lines: Call me Ishmael; He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish; The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Those closing lines that tug at your soul: Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.

This isn’t really a post about M. Night Shyamalan. It’s about pursuing a dream of greatness- even when you feel you’re failing. Even when someone else tells you you’re failing. Even when Gertrude Stein calls you names.

And I hope, sincerely, that M. Night Shyamalan makes another great movie. And I’m pretty sure he will. The dead people I see told me so.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Non-linear thoughts from a grumpy woman

My blog is an incredibly popular destination for those who have accidentally eaten mold. Type in “accidentally ate mold” and my blog pops up. I love that people type in “accidentally.” They want to make certain that the internet knows they wouldn’t do such a thing on purpose. Perhaps the search results are different for those who ate mold accidentally as opposed to those who just went and ate mold for the fun of it.

I’ve been grumpy lately. I think it’s because I’ve been changing sh#*&y diapers for the last 7 ½ years.

The town decided to repair our small road. They came and put stones over it and haven’t been back. For three weeks. No other street in the development has been touched. What happened? It’s all very mysterious.

My children apparently had Fifths disease. Their cheeks look pink and chapped and they are sporting unsightly rashes on their arms. The thing with Fifths disease is that you don’t know your kids had it until their cheeks get all red. By then, they aren’t contagious. Fifths disease is bad for pregnant women. I am not pregnant, so we’re all right here.

Last night I didn’t want to be a mom. I wanted to be all alone on the top of a mountain staring at a panoramic view of trees and streams and lakes with the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice playing in the background. I yelled at Caleb because he keeps wetting the bed. What kind of a mother yells at her kid for wetting the bed? It’s not his fault. I apologized, but the damage was done. Someday, Caleb will be hanging out with friends, maybe at his college’s student union, telling them how his mother yelled at him for things he couldn’t control.

“And she couldn’t cook worth anything,” he’ll also say. His friends will shake their heads. Perhaps his future wife will be among that group. Because of these preconceived notions of me, we will have a tremulous relationship and she’ll be afraid to let her kids spend the night at my house as I might yell at them for wetting the bed, damaging them psychologically for life. And I might feed them hot-dogs for dinner: hot-dogs full of nitrates.

I already hate her.

I’m petitioning my husband to get me an above-ground pool next summer. He seems against it- something about Rochester only being warm two months of the whole year. I’ve always wanted a pool. I’d rather have a pool than a puppy. I might actually end up bartering a puppy for a pool.

My next-door neighbor is retired. All day long he sits on a raft in his pool, sipping a brown beverage and blathering liberal politics on the phone. He used to be in a band with someone famous. Bruce Springsteen? He’s definitely an aging hippie. His wife walks in circles around the perimeter of her house inspecting her flower gardens while chain-smoking. They have a small white dog who is terrified of my kids. I don’t know why.

My neighbors across the street are also retired. They, too, have a pool in their backyard. They are incredibly nice, though they have yet to invite us over to go swimming. This was even after observing me, on one extremely humid and hot afternoon, directing my garden hose down the back of my shirt. I’ve forgotten their names. I know one of their names is Gene or Jean. The trouble is I don’t remember which of them is Gene or Jean.

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to take a peak at their mail to confirm their names. This is probably illegal. Both of my retired neighbors, however, come and get their mail the moment it is dropped off. While I wait two, maybe three days before unearthing the bills, they bounce to the curb like they’re going to find an ice-cream cone in their mailbox. I don’t get it.

The twins have given up their afternoon nap. Which may also explain the grumpiness. And my staring out the window, watching the neighbors. And longing for a pool. And cursing my future daughter-in-law.

I think I’ll go get the mail.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Teenage Angst Poetry

I'm so buying this book.
I’ve decided to bring a little culture to my blog. On this Friday, I would like to share a poem with you. The idea came to be when I was sorting through my piano music and I stumbled upon my weathered notebook of teenage angst poetry, a compilation of brilliant verses composed by yours truly in the early nineties.

I was a hard-core romantic who had crushes on only a handful of mostly jerk teenage boys. Incredibly shy, I had one very well thought-out method of attracting their attention: I ignored them completely, looked the other way when they came into a room, and did my best never to talk to them. You will be surprised to hear that this strategy almost NEVER had the desired effect.

So, my lonely heart wrote poetry. Mostly love poetry. Which now makes me want to barf a little bit in my mouth. The rest of it is just plain angst-ridden, because, let’s face it, being a self-absorbed teenage girl with frizzy hair and no sense of style is tough.

The poetry is everything you’d ever want from a lovesick, tormented teenage girl: melodramatic, packed with in-your-face symbolism, and it rhymes.

I was an exceedingly talented rhymer. I’m not even going to be humble about that.

So here is a short example of one of my earlier pieces, entitled “His Eyes.”


His Eyes

Liquid eyes I would float in forever,
Eyes that drown my soul instead.
I get lost in those deep liquid eyes,
One day I will drown and be dead.

In case some of you aren’t deep enough to get this, I will break it down for you.

So, there was like, this guy who, like, was so perfect that my love inspired me to listen to my Journey CD, like, 15 times in a row one night. He had, you know, the MOST AMAZING eyeballs. They were all watery and maybe, like, sort of hazel with tinges of gold. But my love is totally unrequited and he doesn’t even know, that, like, he’s killing my soul.

Unfortunately, when I was growing up, we didn’t have cell phones or the internet or even the Twilight novels, so we spent a lot of time writing lovesick poems.

Maybe next time I’ll share the poem where I purposefully misspell the word cry (crie) because I thought I was being avant-garde.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find my Journey CD.

Monday, July 19, 2010

25 Pounds

I am sick! I’m not used to being sick. I have what they refer to as “the common cold.” I never get colds, a fact that I attribute to my drinking of copious amounts of green tea.

I love green tea! I love the diet Lipton green tea with citrus! Thanks to diet Lipton green tea with Citrus, I have a very low chance of getting cancer (antioxidants!), but (thanks to artificial sweeteners and other chemicals) a rather high chance of liver failure. So, I recently switched to regular old tea: I brew a bunch of organic green tea (Republic of Tea has some yummy flavors) and drink it over ice. It’s a little bitter without sweetener, but one gets used to it.

On a somewhat related note, I also use the bathroom about 20 times a day. (Tea’s a unsympathetic diuretic.)

The sickness came upon me suddenly and swiftly late Friday evening and began with achy muscles. So unused to being sick (this is a point of pride with me), I became very certain I:

1) was exhibiting the first signs of a degenerative muscle disease.
2) was coming down with a nasty case of fibromyalgia.
3) had inadvertently joined a fight club, and had so strictly adhered to the first rule of Fight Club (you do not talk about fight club) that I hadn’t even told myself.

The snot factory that has taken up shop in my nose made me rethink these diagnoses.

I feel slightly defeated. Especially because I am on day 6 of my diet. I’m on a diet! A real one! Because I KNOW THE SECRET to losing weight. The secret is- wait for it- to consume fewer calories than you expend. Shocking, I know. You have to burn 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of fat. During any given day, I expend about 2300 calories. My “diet” consists of eating around 1400 calories a day. If I do this, I should burn 900 calories a day. Which means I burn off one pound of fat in 3.88888 days. BUT if I exercise and burn off MORE calories, I can lose weight FASTER. And get a nice tight butt, too, which I feel is important for my self-esteem.

I’ve already lost 4 pounds. My goal is to lose about 25 more. They say that to motivate yourself to stick to a diet, you should post your weight in a public place, like Facebook or your blog or the scoreboard at the local baseball stadium.

I’m not doing that.

I am using, which makes counting calories like a fun game. At the end of the day, it gives you a complete nutritional analysis. Vitamin A? Too low! Carbs? Good! Fiber? Always too low. Someday, I’m going to have straight “goods.” Probably not today, though.

Anyway- despite feeling like I’d been trampled by an angry mob at a bagpipe concert (this actually happened to me once), I went off to the Y for the first time in too long. I spent a half hour on the elliptical machine until, fearing for my safety and the safety of those around me, I chose to get off. It was then I realized I’d turned into a jellyfish.

I’d promised the boys we’d go swimming. We changed into our suits in the locker room, though I wore shorts over my suit because I did not intend to actually get in the pool, myself. The stupid lifeguard MADE me get in because Ben was “underage” or some such malarchy. This was a shock to me, since I have not yet dropped the necessary poundage to feel comfortable going full bathing suit in a public setting, and also because I had not properly, um, “groomed” for the occasion. I’ll just leave it at that.

You have never seen a person remove their pants and get into a pool as fast as I did. I made Superman look like moving molasses. And the pool was, not surprisingly, a very nice place for a person who had recently been transformed into a jellyfish to be.

Now we’ve had lunch, I’ve calculated my calorie intake for the day, and I’m feeling pretty pretty good. Except that I’m a sick jellyfish. We’re going to Mario’s tonight with friends (the restaurant, not a random dude named Mario), so careful preparation is in order. I shouldn’t eat the bread. But I love the bread. I’ll probably eat it. But I shouldn’t. And then there’s the butter and the pasta.

Kate Moss said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

Kate Moss, my friends, is a liar.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

East Side West Side

Caleb is on a traveling baseball team, which is SO fantastic, because now we get to attend baseball games 4 to 5 TIMES A WEEK! This is a PRIVILEGE and not a hassle at all. No sarcasm here. Nope. No sir.

We missed the first two games; they were played against faraway towns called Webster and Pittsford. At our most recent game, I asked another baseball mom (I’m so not getting a bumper sticker that says baseball mom. Or soccer mom. I’d rather die. Though if you have one, I think that’s fantastic and super supportive.) what we had missed.

“How’d we do?” I asked her.

“Oh,” she said, “it was bad. When they were at bat, it was like boom, boom, boom- three outs. And then they were in the field forever. My husband now calls them the Bad News Bears.”


“Both games? They were both that bad?”

“Ohhhh yes. And get this- Pittsford’s team? They come out with fancy uniforms, each with their name and number on the back, and they were all wearing matching sunglasses.”

It’s at this point I glance out at our own shabby uniforms and notice that the backs of the t-shirts do not have names OR numbers on the back.

Baseball mom comrade tells me that our rivals were giants, and that she would really have liked to catch a glimpse of their birth certificates. This struck me as funny- competitive moms storming the mound and demanding to see birth certificates.

These kids are 7.

John and Caleb came home last night discouraged. The Chili traveling team has lost 4 games in a row, and Caleb, in tears, fears they will never win. John was upset with the coach on the opposing team.

“He was telling his kids to keep running the bases, purposefully running up the score when our team was already way behind.” Apparently, this is frowned upon- even in the pros. It is not a “classy” thing to do. And when your players are just learning the sport, it is especially bad behavior because you are neglecting to teach fledgling baseball players a valuable lesson: good sportsmanship.

So I’m just going to put this out there- these were all teams from the east side of the city.

Rochester, divided by the Genesee River, is geographically comprised of a blue collar side and a white collar side. The east side is the white collar side. The affluent reside on the east side. (John is one of about ten people from The Firm who do not live on the east side. Not that we are affluent. But lawyers who have husbands and wives who also work and who have little school debt and one to two kids are typically doing okay.) West-siders think East-siders are snooty and uppity and snobby, and East-siders think West-siders are yokels or gangsters. (Not everybody thinks this way, obviously. But everyone knows someone else who thinks it.)

I have now idea how this economic divide occurred:  I only know that I grew up on the west side and feel wildly defensive when anyone disparages it.

So, there I was, feeling very resentful of the East-side coach for running up the score and mad at the other East-side coach for having his players walk out on the field with Tom Cruise from Risky Business sunglasses. Because the last thing the world needs is a bunch of 7 and 8-year old aspiring Barry Bonds’s- players who must Be The Best, Look The Best, Be The Biggest, and have a smug attitude about it.

And then, and I am dead serious, I got antsy. I started thinking about Caleb and how he deserves the best. And I actually said the following to John:

"Do you think we should have gotten a house in Pittsford? You know- so Caleb would have a better shot at baseball scholarships?”

The kid is seven. And he’s pretty small, so they might not have played him anyways.

Still, though. Should we move?

Picture of Genesee River from Sheridan Vincent Photography

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Wedding and Time with Family

We have just returned from a short kid vacation, which is completely different from an adult vacation, where adults come home feeing rested. I admit that a kid vacation has moments of fun, but is mostly full of parents shouting things like, “Quit lollygagging!” and “Why didn’t you go to the bathroom when I asked you to go?” and “Look! Look at the horses! Look! TURN YOU HEAD AWAY FROM THE STUPID MOVIE AND LOOK AT THE HORSES OR WE ARE TURNING THIS CAR AROUND AND GOING BACK HOME! Aren’t they lovely?”

We checked into our hotel on Friday evening. Apparently, kids are not born knowing what a hotel is, and you have to actually sit down and explain the entire concept of a hotel, from the checking in to the checking out parts. As we meandered in to our Comfort Suites Inn in Lancaster County, Caleb and Ben grew wide-eyed as they perused out the lobby area, which was complete with floral sofas, chairs, and a large flat-screen television showing an episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants. We checked in, rode in the elevator up to the third floor, and the kids gathered round as we popped the keycard into room 302. They immediately rushed into the room and predictably began bouncing from one queen-sized bed to the next as John and I became suspicious of the Comfort Inn’s definition of the term “suite.” According to the, a suite is “A series of connected rooms used as a living unit” and not “One large room with two beds and a couch.” Nevertheless, we ultimately opted not to seek larger lodgings and hunkered down in our poorly-defined but pleasantly cool “suite.”

We were foremost in town for my sister-in-law’s wedding, which was to take place the next day at the unholy hour of 10am. We unpacked, found that episode of Sponge Bob on the television, and got ready for the rehearsal dinner. As our time of departure approached, we told the boys to put their shoes on. Caleb stared at me, with a blank expression.

“Where are your shoes?” I asked.

“I took them off by the door.” I looked over by the door. They were not there. I sighed, impatiently.

“I took them off by the downstairs door,” he explained.

“Me too!” said Ben.

Explanation #1: The lobby is not our own personal “downstairs,” but a public gathering area where shoes are not only permissible, but encouraged.

 Day 1:  The Rehearsal Dinner

One of these brothers is not like the others...

The last picture of the "Jennings" siblings- although Carl was coerced into taking Mary's last name, Mary is now an Edwards.

Ella found a box to sit in so she was happy.

Day 2: The Wedding

So this was taken by Lisa because I wasn't there.  Because Ella wanted to talk through the entire ceremony.  She saw her uncle Scott, the love of her life, and threw a hissy fit when he didn't come and sit with her. I spent the majority of the ceremony outside the chapel seriously considering selling my daughter on ebay. 

I'm very proud of my FIL for not bawling like a baby throughout the entire ceremony and reception.  Everyone was concerned about this.  He was quite mature about the whole thing. 

My daughter is a party girl.  She danced to every song.  I was terrified she was going to be trampled.  She did the electric slide, the cha cha, and here she is with Carl, leading the train.  I had to drag her off the floor kicking and screaming when it was time to go. 

Daniel, on the other hand, drank too much wine.  I kid. 

Caleb and his cousin Celeste.

Day 3: A Quiet Day with Family

John and his brother, Mike.   We spent the day at their house.  I hope I didn't offend Mike's wife, my gorgeous SIL Johanna.  I a) was completely ambivalent about the World Cup finale and b) referred to the ladies from Sex and the City as "walking STDs."  I should not have done that.  Especially since I have a mug that says "I went to Maryland and got Crabs."  Johanna made a wonderful barbecue lunch and I got to cuddle with my nephew Julian.

Caleb quote:  In Pennsylvania, they pronounce their J's like H's.  I think Albert Pujols is also from Pennsylvania.

Daniel and Julian.

Ben and Daniel loved their hotel bed.

Day 4:  Off to Baltimore


Caleb and his aunt Lisa by the Inner Harbor

I have the world's greatest sister-in-laws. 

I was granted a reprieve from holding Daniel all day.  Grandpa took over.

So the Baltimore Aquarium had an "Invasion of the Jellyfish" exhibit going on.  Ben and I are totally pumped.

Ben's favorite part of the entire trip.
And now for some wicked cool pics of different types of jellyfish:

And  shark.  I am afraid of very few things (with the exception of Niagara Falls, climbing down ladders, those creepy twins from The Shining, and snakes.) But I swear, if that shark had turned toward me and opened its mouth, I would have peed my pants.  Or passed out.  Or both.

Day 5:  We take a train ride through Amish Country

At this point, I'm resigned to his clingy behavior.  And a little train sick, too.

A bucolic farm. Authentically Amish. 

They had a blast.

We had a fantastic time, but I'm ready for a real vacation. Not one where I threaten my kids into sleeping and then sit by the pale lamplight and read a book for two hours until I get tired.

The kids were beat.  Ben had to be continually reassured that no one was going to take our hotel room while we were out. 

Explanation #2:  We reside in the hotel room until we check out.  No one else goes in and out.  Except the maid.  But she is completely not interested in your blankie and your doggie.  And she won't steal your swimsuit, either. 

This was a genuine concern of his, and he was always eager to get back to the hotel to make sure everything was as he left it. 

Final Caleb quote: (We were in a gift store and walked beneath a framed picture of the American flag with the following caption:  America, Land of the Free.)

"Mom.  A long time ago, when America wasn't so free, blacks and whites couldn't sit together on the bus.  And they couldn't drink out of the same drinking fountains.  But then Martin Luther King came along.  And it's a good thing he did. Otherwise, Mary might have never been able to marry Carl."

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13

Monday, July 12, 2010

Lessons from Saramago

My post last Friday on  Remembering one of my very favorite writers who passed away last month.

Jose Saramago died last month. He was believed to be one of the greatest novelists in the world.

We did not get along. He did not know that we did not get along (we never met; he was famous- I am not), so this not getting along business was entirely one-sided. But, I have a feeling he would not have liked me either (if we had met and he had bothered to give me the time of day.) Saramago has been described as “cold,” “arrogant,” and “unsympathetic.” And he was an atheistic communist. Not a granola-loving hippie Marxist, mind you, but a Stalinist.

Saramago was a Portuguese novelist, born to landless peasants in a small village not too far from Lisbon. His father would eventually move his family to the city and become a police officer, a job that required little educational background, and Saramago began his own educational career in grammar school. At the age of twelve, his parents no longer had the resources to keep him in grammar school, so he was pulled from it and put into a technical school, where he was trained in mechanics. Yet, he was drawn to reading and writing and would leave mechanics for a job in the publishing industry.

Growing up, he was exposed to the cruel practices of the fascist Portuguese government. He joined the communist party and is almost as famous for his hard-line communist views as he is for his novels.

Saramego began composing the novels that would bring him fame in his fifties. He would not receive acclaim for his work until he was 60. In 1998, he became the first Portuguese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Despite our differences, I fell hopelessly in love with Jose Saramago’s writing. (Saramago had a truly spectacular translator who was also a good friend.) I always wonder whether a person’s writing is indicative of his soul: if so, Saramago had a genuinely beautiful, insightful, and sad soul, laden with suspicion and grief and a just a small glimmer of hope beneath layers upon layers of pessimism.

His cynical nature is captured in this quote from a 2007 interview in the New York Times:

Can fiction make the world a better place? “An ethical novel can perhaps influence a reader temporarily,” he went on, “but no more. I write as well as I can, but when my readers say, ‘Your book has changed my life,’ I don’t believe it. Maybe like a New Year’s resolution — for a week you try to be good, then you forget.”

A reader can surmise this belief from his most famous novel, Blindness, which I stumbled upon years ago on a display table at Barnes and Noble. It was unlike anything I’d read before. It’s the story of an epidemic: an unnamed city is struck by “white” blindness- the infected are gathered and quarantined within an asylum. A doctor’s wife remains uninfected, but fakes her blindness to remain with her husband. Fear and hunger end up dividing the patients, and they experience a complete breakdown of civilized behavior. Soon it appears the doctor’s wife is the only one left who can see. She ends up leading a small and eclectic group of strangers on a search for food and for some semblance of civilization. The novel is a blunt but trenchant analogy and it tells a timeless tale. (Please skip the film version.)

Saramago’s prose was unconventional. He had little use for punctuation and loved a good long run-on sentence. (He was the e.e. cummings of novelists! On a related note, Saramago was also a poet.) He had a habit of smashing paragraphs together; a Jose Saramago page could appear most foreboding. One finishes a paragraph and literally gasps for air.

Personally, I am generally critical of avant-garde writing styles: I could never make it through one chapter of a Cormac McCarthy novel. But Saramago’s stories take hold and don’t let go. Reading his novels is like learning to breathe underwater: a surreal revelation.

Saramago had definite opinions about the writing process. Here’s an excerpt from an interview conducted by the Paris Review:

I don’t believe in the notion that some characters have lives of their own and the author follows after them. The author has to be careful not to force the character to do something that would go against the logic of that character’s personality, but the character does not have independence. The character is trapped in the author’s hand, in my hand, but he is trapped in a way he does not know he is trapped. The characters are on strings, but the strings are loose; the characters enjoy the illusion of freedom, of independence, but they cannot go where I do not want them to go. When that happens, the author must pull on the string and say to them, I am in charge here.

Harold Bloom considered Saramago to be the second greatest living novelist (only after Philip Roth.) Now, some other aging writer moves to second place and we remember and commemorate the brilliance of an interesting, eccentric and wholly talented writer.

As I consider his life, I believe that (as writers) we can take an education from Jose Saramago. Five thoughts from the life of this writer:

1. You are never too old to begin writing.
2. You are never so old you must stop writing. Saramago was working on a book during his last days.
3. Brilliance trumps convention.
4. Allegory is not dead.
5. Good writing crosses boundaries: political boundaries, religious boundaries, ethnic boundaries.

So, take a lesson from the deceased: Start writing. Don’t stop. Be unconventional. Be meaningful. Be brilliant.

Rest in peace, Jose Saramago. 1922-2010.

Interested in reading his books? Start here:

Baltasar and Blimuda
The Cave


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summertime... and the living is easy (ish)

So I haven't seen a fireworks display in seven years, which is too bad, because I enjoy a good fireworks display.  My children have hyper-sensitive hearing.  They hide when the garbage truck comes around, so you can imagine that fireworks do not go over well.  This is strange to me, because on a daily basis they all make noise that puts a fireworks display to shame and are yet seemingly unbothered.  (It bothers me, however.  I'm just saying.)

Every year we go to our friends' house for the 4th.  They live across the street from the park where their small town sets off what I hear is a really terrific fireworks display. Each year we have dinner, hang out, wait until dusk, and inevitably leave right before the fireworks start because one of the children panics and goes into hysterics.  So, we drive home, which isn't so terrible because we catch glimpses of various displays as we travel through each little town down route 31.

Summer is going by too fast.  So far: countless baseball games, 2 bee stings, 1 near death by drowning in a kiddie pool, 1 month of extremely frizzy hair, 1 graduation, 1 very good end-of-year report card, approximately 100 mosquito bites, 4 stubbed toes,  20sh barbecues, 0 road trips.  We will rectify the 0 road trips this Friday. 

A review in pictures:

The Graduate
One word:  Plastics.

 After Caleb's piano recital.

He's my sweet baboo.

Ben opened his gifts shirtless this year.  Well why not.  He's five now.

  There is nothing Ella loves more in the world than her aunt Joyce.  Except perhaps decorating herself with markers.

That's the last time I show her any Batman films. 

Hop on Pop.

We went to a parade.  Ben was unhappy with the loud noises.  Which is also why I haven't seen any fireworks in five years.  That's my friend Kim.  She's a sport.

We ventured off to Browns Berry Patch :
Ben is more interested in guarding the berries than picking them.  His little friend Ryan is Ella's fiance.  Yes, really.  And I will fight anyone who gets in the way of my plan.

Note the "Silly Bandz."  I hate those things.

My sweet baboo.  Did I mention he made the Chili All Star baseball team?

Ella, who still occasionally eats her oatmeal with two fists, is surprisingly adept at raspberry picking.

Our now annual 4th of July family pic at the Casa de Fisk. 
(Thank you Katie for these pictures.  I'm having an extremely bad camera year.)