Wednesday, January 31, 2007

little old lady

At the drugstore today, waiting in line, a little old woman comes in the automated sliding doors. She is at least eighty, with her snowy hair rolled into thick curls that are properly arranged in front and haphazardly askew in back in the way of old ladies whose hair is set for them a couple of times a week. She is holding a shopping bag from the drugstore and clutching her car keys in her thin hands and her eyes are a little vague behind her thick glasses and she looks around, a bit lost, before coming up to the checkout counter.

She was just in here. She left her pocketbook in a shopping cart. She wants to know if the young man remembers. She was just here. She counted out change in front of him. The cart should be right here. She is certain it was right here. She only just walked out. Someone had moved the carts around. Does he know who moved them around?

She is completely lucid but somewhat disoriented in that way an older person can get - seemingly swallowed by the surrounding bustle. And the young man behind the counter just answers the questions she is able to think to ask. He did not see her purse. He does remember her. He is certain she pushed her cart off to the side. He doesn't know who moved the carts. He is trying to ignore her, hoping she will leave. He continues to check out the customers in line. The girl in front of me shifts impatiently, glares at the old woman, nudges her things forward on the counter.

And the old woman is standing there, looking around. She walks back to the carts. She explains again about leaving the bag. She doesn't know what else to do.

And then I am at the front of the line.

I tell the young man, "I will wait here while you get your manager and find out if her bag is in the lost and found."

He looks surprised. Hesitates. I stare. He picks up the phone.

Finally his manager, equally young, equally unconcerned, wanders out and talks to the old woman.... No. Talks OVER the old woman in the general direction of the old woman but also sort of to the young man at the counter saying he doesn't know but he'll check. Then he leaves. The young man rings up my purchase. I glare.

Finished, I ask the old woman, "Do you have your car keys? If something has happened to your bag, will you be able to get home?" She holds up the clutched little bundle that I had assumed were her keys. She has them. I help her look through the carts again. There are maybe a dozen of them. The bag is clearly not there and she has looked several times but we do it again. She tells me how she left it in the cart and someone must have moved the cart. The possibility that someone might have removed her bag from the cart is clearly unthinkable. I try to talk to her about what to do next. The manager has been gone for five minutes. I start to wonder if he is coming back. Another woman, middle aged with a warm face, walks over, clucks a noise of concern, puts her hand on the old woman's shoulder. We wait.

He finally returns. With an old worn black handbag dangling from one fist. He brings it to her. Tries to explain that she should make certain everything is in it. She doesn't seem to understand why, but she agrees to.

As I am leaving the young man behing the counter smiles at me brightly as if we have accomplished something together. As if he helped. I want to smack him.

What happens when we are old and no one listens? What happens when we are so old we have forgotten what questions to ask and how to get help? What would that young man think if he had to stand and watch some mindless store employee ignore HIS grandmother when she was distressed and helpless? And why does that sweet, befuddled old woman not have any relative who realizes that she is no longer able to safely run errands on her own? That it is only a matter of time before something bad happens to her?

Most everyone ignores the elderly. It is so easy to forget that in a short period of time, that will be us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Excerpt from a synopsis of Hounddog written by Trevor Groth:

"Like a lily growing in the swamp, Lewellen, a precocious southern girl, radiates splendor amidst the murk that surrounds her. She is being raised by her abusive father and disciplinarian grandmother, and finds comfort, joy, and strength in music-she is obsessed with Elvis Presley and breaks into his songs whenever the mood strikes. In addition to music, playing in the woods with her friend, Buddy, brings a few other moments of childhood happiness. Their playing drifts toward innocent sexual games, however, and it becomes evident that Lewellen has a painful history that she keeps buried inside. When another tragedy strikes, will her spirit finally break, or will her inspiring resiliency carry her on? ... Writer/director Deborah Kempmeier displays a delicate touch in handling the horrific events, which makes their impact even greater. Lacing the film with compelling imagery, she crafts a powerful story about an indomitable spirit and the power of the blues."

There is a tremendous furor over “Hounddog”, Dakota Fanning’s new film. It’s not the first film to depict a child being raped (Bastard Out of Carolina, Sleepers), but I have heard more about this film than any of the ones that preceded it. Perhaps this is due to just how high profile Fanning is, how widely her career is followed. She is a household name and no one is comfortable with the subject matter depicted in this film.

That’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be comfortable with it. That doesn’t mean that these things don’t need to be said, shouldn’t be portrayed in popular media in a way that raises awareness. There is a long tradition of directors tackling issues like racism, poverty, domestic abuse, rape, gang violence and every other horrific thing that faces us in the real world. Film can entertain, but it can also increase public conciousness about difficult subjects. The writer and director, Deborah Kampmeier, is bravely tackling a subject no one wants to talk about.

Like most of the world, I have not yet had the opportunity to see this film. But I can tell you this: I learned about sex when I was six years old from a friend who was the same age. Her mother, like mine, was a single parent, and sometimes left her with the man who lived next door when she was at work. He molested her and attempted to rape her, stopped only by the fact that her tiny body could not accomodate him. Another woman I am close to was raped by a friend's older brother when she was 12. One of my friends in high school was molested by her own brother when she was very young. I knew a girl who, at 14, thought she was in "an adult relationship" with her 34 year old legal guardian because he was having sex with her. When I was in high school, I knew many girls who had had personal experience with rape and sexual assault before they reached sexual maturity. I actually considered myself fortunate and unusual in that my first personal experience with sex was not until I was older and was concentual and positive. So many women and men live with the scars of a childhood sexual assault. Just because their stories are painful and ugly does not change the fact that they are valid and important and deserve to be told.

Dakota Fanning is an intelligent, well adjusted child who is surrounded by people who protect her. She has given interviews about the film, about the measures taken to ensure her comfort and about the fact that she did NOT act out this scene - it is a brief set of shots of her hands and face and other things that suggest the content intended for the scene. Instead of complaining about imagined abuses of a well protected young actor, the groups that are in such an uproar could better spend their time volunteering for rape hotlines or domestic abuse shelters. They could be reaching out to people who actually need their help and concern.

Hounddog at IMDB

Sign a petition in support of the film AND get lots of information about Hounddog

Reuters Article

Mind you, some of the reviews haven't been so hot. I have NO idea if I will think the movie is GOOD. I merely bristle at the fact that I might not get the opportunity to find out for myself if it never reaches wide release and that special interest groups get in an uproar over all sorts of films they haven't seen just because they have personal objections to a film's content. I remember when there was an absurd fuss about Kevin Smith's DOGMA. People really need to find better things to do with their time.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pictures Lie

When I was a teenage girl I believed my face should have no visible pores, that my waist should be 18" around, that my nose should be tiny and delicate and that my cheekbones should be so high as to create deep shadows. Everyone in the magazines looked like that. I love this little film. I'm sure it's been making the rounds for a while, but even without educational tools like this, I think girls today are better informed. They are aware that models and celebrities have not only personal trainers, make-up artists, hair stylists and professional photographers creating their image - but also brilliant artists who can tweak every pore, slim every flaw away and remove any imperfection with the click of a mouse.

My work involves, among other things, touching up photographs. I don't work with beauty advertisements or magazine layouts. When I am touching up photographs it is usually on marketing materials for businesses and is as likely to involve removing an ill placed car from the front of a building as it is to require removing an unfortunate blemish from someone's face. But you cannot help but see how frighteningly open the possibilities are. I often spot imperfect photo retouching jobs - heads of celebrities pasted onto model bodies, thighs slimmed down by simply erasing inches from their sides, eyes enlarged and noses shrunk down... and while it is often obvious - the photos that show no visible sign of alteration aren't unaltered. Typically that just means that the work has been done very well. Considering what I do for a living, I am uncomfortably aware that it happens all the time.

I am all for the pursuit of beauty. With my obessively manicured fingernails, enormous collection of pigmented powders and glosses and wide array of 4" heels - I am clearly in thrall to my own ideal aesthetic. But I am also grounded and aware that only a computer will ever make me look like a supermodel. Which is how it should be. There is great beauty in our differences and in our flaws. Photo retouching results in a uniform and limited concept of beauty - alien and unattainable images of women with impossibly large eyes, plastic-smooth skin and giraffe-like necks.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sylvia Plath

Lady Lazarus

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it -

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot

A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify? -

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me

And I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The Peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand and foot -
The big strip tease.
Gentleman, ladies

These are my hands
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,

Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I've a call.

It's easy enough to do it in a cell.
It's easy enough to do it and stay put.
It's the theatrical

Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
Amused shout:

'A miracle!'
That knocks me out.
There is a charge

For the eyeing my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart -
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby

That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash -
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there -

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
- Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus recounts the painful and bitter process of rebirth, making specific reference to a childhood accident and her suicide attempts. She also references the Holocaust, presumably in an effort to more vividly draw the grotesque struggle, the horror of each revival and her own sense of being hollow and victimized. I love how she somehow managed in this piece to sound both triumphant and supremely bitter. The sense that she grows in strength as the poem goes on, the scorn that drips from each line and the resignation to her fate are all very powerful.

Sometimes rebirth is a joyful thing; everything is new and you are full of hope. But a personal rebirth can also be born of necessity and come from a place of anger and pain. No less powerful or valuable, but completely different in nature. It is the latter that Plath addresses and that I feel is so often overlooked.

She speaks of rising from the ash - like the mythical phoenix. I have never thought of the phoenix as being a particularly positive symbol, but it certainly has a whiff of optimism to it. It rises from ashes. Which means it had to begin in the ashes - in the fire. I know I’ve mentioned this poem before, but Lady Lazarus has always been a particular favorite. An ode to bitter survival written by a woman who did not, ultimately, survive her own darkness. I recited it for drama competitions (chosen for me by my coach due to my red hair, I suppose) when I was younger. Lately I find myself going over bits of it in my head, like some off-kilter mantra; disconcertingly dark but invigorating in it’s assertion of power.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Fat Hamster Cheats Vacuum Death! and other riveting tales of rodent escapades

I found the best link EVER on BoingBoing today and felt the need to share. Teresa at Making Light posted a list of BBC News stories about hamsters. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. There are links to stories beginning in 1998 and I think it is noteworthy that the noble hamster has appeared in more and more articles with each passing year.

While I am not a particular hamster afficionado, I’ve always liked them. Those tiny toes, their glossy black eyes, how they bumble around like teeny balls of chunky fluff. I had a hamster when I was very little but I tucked him into Barbie’s bed for safekeeping when my mother called me to the dinner table one night and, in spite of much searching, he was never seen again.

The articles noted in the blog include: “Sir Cliff Richard versus the singing hamsters”, “Apparently deceased hamster revives; gnaws hole in coffin, tunnels out of grave, and finds its way home”, “Bus company apologizes for charging hamster 10p for ride; issues lifetime bus pass”, and the best headline of them all “Fat Hamster Cheats Vacuum Death”. Click here to get the whole list at Making Light and link to these stories.

The Restoration of Faith

”The friendship between a man and a woman which does not lead to marriage or desire for marriage may be a life long experience of the greatest value to themselves and to all their circle of acquaintance and of activity; but for this type of friendship both a rare man and a rare woman are needed.”
- Anna Garlin Spencer

I realize that Ms. Spencer was saying this at the beginning of the 20th century, a time in which relationships between men and women were often limited to specific roles. She was right, however, that there is something special and important about the completely platonic lifelong friendship between a man and woman. There is something reassuring and almost familial about it. In a world where more women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime than will not, a world in which our gender roles are ever new and evolving, The Man Who Doesn’t Want To Sleep With You is a precious commodity and an invaluable friend to have along for the journey.

Sometimes you need to spend time with a friend who helps you remember that, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Men are not actually the enemy.

I mean, some of them are... But not men on the whole.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


”How many of you have ever started dating because you were too lazy to commit suicide?”
- Judy Tenuta

Sorry the dame has been absentee. It’s been an interesting week.

When one runs out of things to occupy one's time and travel is not an immediate option, talking to men can seem like a viable alternative. Talking to men inevitably leads to other more precarious activities: i.e., dating.

I have not done the dating thing in quite a long time as I was in a serious relationship and, unlike my partner, felt this precluded dating as a reasonable pastime. The result of which being that I had A) forgotten what it was that I did not like about the process and B) forgotten how to do it properly.

Any woman who has successfully spent any number of years on the dating circuit can tell you that one develops a certain repertoir of defense strategies, safety precautions and escape hatches. These things become a simple and natural part of everyday interaction. You don’t even have to think about it. I was once very good at the whole routine and had gotten to the point where dating was great fun and easily navigated - for the ocean of shark infested water that it really is.

I am out of practice. In walks very cute guy who can dance and thinks I am lovely. This seems promising, no? The inexperienced dater can be thrown off by the charm of someone clever enough to think one is absolutely wonderful. Combine this with remarkably nice eyes and a dash of dark-handsome-mysterious and we have a winner, right?

Not so much.

The out-of-practice dater forgets just how many oddities can hide within the seemingly lovely man. The “Just Sex” guy (who has his place in the grand scheme of things, mind you), the “Controller”, the “Big Fat Liar”, “Secret Drug Addict” guy, “Dangerous Fetish” guy, the “Clingon” and “Creepy Stalker” guy (not to be confused with the more worrisome “Dangerous Stalker” guy)... just to name a few. They are all out there, hiding inside the bodies of seemingly healthy men. Men who have jobs and drive cars and put their pants on one leg at a time and just seem... normal.

Houston, we have a Clingon.

In fact, we may have a Creepy Stalker but it’s too early to tell. One dance, one date and a few phone calls later, and suddenly one notices that the very attractive fellow is attempting to superglue himself to one’s side. This is a Bad Sign (and tends to make him far less attractive). There are red flags for this sort of thing that the experienced dater picks up on immediately. He cannot go more than ten minutes without telling you that you are pretty, beautiful and/or wonderful (which, to the inexperienced, just makes him seem incredibly intelligent). He tells you he likes you SO much... right away. He volunteers an unsolicited and extensive personal history the first time you talk to him on the phone. He keeps saying he “can’t wait” to see you. He expresses concern about “smothering” you after his second phone call (this means he has done this before).

All these things can be subtle signs that behind those smoldering eyes lies a man who has no intention of going away, fantasizes about having you all to himself and may sound a little too natural saying things like, “It puts the lotion in the basket.”

On the plus side, he’s attractive, polite and thus far has been sweet natured. This means I am attracting a higher class of stalker than the ones I had following me around when I was younger. So that’s nice. It’s important to feel one is making progress.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Julia Child

”Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”
- Julia Child

You know what I love about Julia Child? That famous chef, who became a household name and whose kitchen is still preserved at the Smithsonian, did not begin to study cooking until the age of 36. She married Paul Child, a high-ranking OSS cartographer and a man who was known for his sophisticated palate, when she was 34. They moved to Paris two years later when he was assigned a position as exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency and that is when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School.

She went on to start her own cooking school, write some of the most enduring classics on the subject, and helm several highly successful cooking shows on television. All from a woman who knew little about fine cuisine prior to her early thirties. Before that she was a copyrighter with a degree in History and had joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor (the United States Navy turned her down for being too tall, she was 6'2"). How incredible and inspiring it is that an entirely new and tremendously successful career can start at 36.

I also recommend reading the popular Julie and Julia book written by Julie Powell, a blogger who challenged herself to cook everything in the first edition of Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in the course of one year. She blogged the whole year at the Julie/Julia project and landed a book deal after the blog took off.

”Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”
- Julia Child