Sophia Loren’s face

Luther, a BBC crime drama, is the kind of show I have to watch between my fingers. I found it by accident and, after seeing the first episode, thought that I wouldn’t watch anymore episodes because the one I saw was terrifying. Then I watched another one and after that another one and have seen all of them now.

This is what I have been telling myself to make it through: not real severed fingers and ears, not a real tongue in a white handkerchief, not a real airtight plastic bag over the Detective Seargent’s head, not a real spike driven through the hand of the Detective Chief Inspector, not a real woman stuffed in a rectangular metal box, not real children about to be gassed in a sealed van.

This, too, is what I have been telling myself to make it through: It’s so formulaic. There’s the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop who has broken more laws than there are laws; the beautiful, long-suffering ex-wife who knows she should stay away from the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop but can’t help herself; the sad-eyed, kind-hearted boyfriend of the beautiful, long-suffering ex-wife who asks her to choose which one it’s going to be; the indulgent, middle-aged boss who keeps taking the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop back even though she knows she’s in for it; the scowling, tightly wound Detective Superintendent who’s just waiting for the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop to trip up so big time that he’ll be able to nail his butt once and for all; and the fawning, do-gooder partner of the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop who makes up for in loyalty what he lacks in experience.

Then there’s Alice, the loveable genius-psychopath who murders her parents; falls in love with the brilliant, unhinged rogue cop; kills for him just to help him out; and episode after episode manages to stay out of  jail.

It shouldn’t work, but it does.

If my mind were an amplifier, this is what it would be shouting at the TV: Don’t go down that hall! Don’t go up those stairs! Don’t go down those stairs! Don’t go back inside! Answer the damned phone! Don’t answer the damned phone! Don’t wander down that dark alley in that skirt!

It works for reasons I don’t understand. Once someone told me that if you look at Sophia Loren’s face feature by feature she isn’t beautiful, but put them all together and she’s a knockout. Maybe it’s like that.

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Huh and wha?

I have written before about the spam that daily crams my WordPress spam box, and I continue to be very puzzled by it. At first, these messages seduced me because they  flatter, and one can’t ever have too much flattery. As a new and creatively fragile blogger, I am especially vulnerable to smooth talk (well, really, I’m always vulnerable to it), although the talk isn’t especially smooth given the abundance of grammatical, spelling, and diction errors. 

At first, I couldn’t understand why someone would send spam that contained no obvious come-on, like a link or an ad of some kind. Then, I saw that the e-mail addresses of the senders contained ads for services or products, though it is hard to see the connection between these ads and their companion messages. Although I am relieved to know that there is some method to this madness, I still don’t get how I am being sold to. Is it just that I am supposed to remember, say, the name of some athletic shoes subliminally embedded in an address so that I will go looking for them online? Fat chance.

Although these messages are very annoying, for the most part they appear harmless. Today, however, I received one that was sinister in a messing-with-your-head kind of way. Somehow, it managed to evade Akismet and showed up instead as a seemingly legitimate comment in which I was told the purported reader had tried to go to my home page and was immediately redirected to a comment page.

I was so fuffled by this that I set out to ask WordPress about it, only to find that the company is backed up with messages and has stopped accepting new ones for the time being. I next did a Google search of my blog and its various posts, and nothing seemed awry. I later noticed an ad buried in the e-mail address of this creepy message and have since received more of the same in my spam box.

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The end of innocence

I would likely die of heart failure if today I found chameleons in my bed, but there was a time when I couldn’t get enough of them. Granted they are lizardy, but when I was a child I was desperate to get to the bottom of their sorcery.

From time to time I would visit the “Pets and Fish” section of the local 5 & 10 and there would watch these Merlins work their magic. How was it that they could switch from brown to green on a whim or that they could be so wily underneath all that stillness?

It is true that I was curious about the physiology at play, but it is probably more true that I wanted to learn something about the nature of artifice. One thing I know for sure, though: Chameleons taught me that people are never as they seem.

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Who wrote this?

Sometimes when I go back to read what I have written, especially after years have passed, I have the odd sense that someone else did the writing. Whose voice is that, I have wondered. Where did that opinion come from, I have wanted to know.  How did that particular image come to be born?

I tell myself I could not have been the author of my work because I am not capable of it. The person who shops for groceries, puts gas in her car, changes the bed linen, throws on pants, or teaches a class is not the one who can think up strings of words, and certainly not elegant ones. She is not even someone who enjoys writing, or not much.

The creative impulse seems to arise from something both within and above me. It can arrive without my sweet talk, but more often it strobes only when I am still and can allow myself to swim down into a dark secret. Once I surface, the donkeywork of my daily life rushes in and I leave myself.

When I was a small child I was not separate from my wanting. I could touch God and burn up.

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Ughly

Despite the fact that Twilight Zone scared me witless, I watched it faithfully when I was a child. Perhaps I was trying to inoculate myself against the terrors of life. It didn’t work.

One episode, entitled “Eye of the Beholder,” was especially frightening. The story revolves around a young woman who has just undergone plastic surgery  to correct an ugliness that keeps her withdrawn from the world. We wait anxiously for the bandages to be removed, and, when they are taken off, we see that the woman is quite beautiful. It turns out that it’s the doctors, all aliens, who prove to be monstrous looking. Deeming the surgery a failure,  they tell her she must go to another place (guess where) so she can be with her own kind.

After I read yesterday about the passing of Yoda, the “World’s Ugliest Dog,” I got so frothy that this story had made headline news. Isn’t it enough, I asked myself, that we have to live in a culture that torments women who don’t conform to prevailing standards of beauty? Do we have to torture our girl dogs, too?

When I sat down to give the world a piece of my mind, though, I took a close look at a photo of Yoda and recoiled in horror. She really WAS ugly, I thought. Alien ugly. I felt ashamed of my response because I love animals more than anything, except my daughter; yet, while it seems true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I am wondering now if there might be certain things in nature that make all of us draw back with the same primal fear. 

Take the lamprey whose mouth is ringed with teeth, whose tongue also has teeth on it, and who swims up inside the gills of fish to drain their blood.

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Taking stock

I knew going in that this would not be easy. For one thing, writing itself is never easy, as anyone who is serious about writing knows. For another, writing unrequitedly can be a misery.

It has been nearly two months since I began this blog, and I told myself at the start that I would be writing for my own pleasure, which it isn’t always, and that I should not expect too much from others. Pretty quickly, I learned that I could not steer friends and acquaintances my way since they nearly all fell silent after visiting, and some didn’t even visit.

Last week I received two way-to-go comments in my spam folder, and I was swooning. How could these be spam, I wondered. They seemed so obviously addressed to the particular me, and I actually responded to one of them. This morning, I came here to write and discovered 20 comments in my spam folder, each a variation on the ones I just described. I can’t figure out the angle since there were no apparent solicitations, but I have to say that I feel a little hoodwinked and more than a little ashamed of my innocence.

Also, there were not many but at least more visitors last week than there had been previously, and I found myself feeling somehow obliged to be better than my best self. Now that I had some followers, it went on in me, I would need to become brilliant if I wanted to attract loyalty.

The past few days, visiting fell to zero and along with it my confidence. By last night I had written several different posts, none of them especially good, and these ended up in the trash. So this is what I have come to: When I think I am writing for others, however imagined or however I imagine them, I lose myself and my capacity to write authentically. It is this authenticity I believe, or want to believe, that will draw others to my work.

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Me, in a glass house

Today I was driving behind a car with a “Choose Civility” sticker on its bumper and was heartened to see that more and more there is a public embrace of the idea that decency and its sister, humility, are virtues towards which all of us might wish to turn. While we in this country certainly don’t corner the market on arrogance and meanness, we do seem to be at the front of the pack when it comes to using a public forum to word-slay people with whom we disagree.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in the media, where people like Rush Limbaugh have for years been able to say any unspeakable thing at any time about anyone–and without consequence.

It is no small matter, then, that the tide seems to be turning against the likes of Limbaugh, who over the past few days has lost the support of nine advertisers with his syndicated radio program as well as the backing of key Republican leaders because of hateful remarks he made about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke. In another incident, an ad telling the President of the United States to “go to hell” because of his healthcare reforms has gone up in a DC Metro station, and this display of hate mongering is also causing quite a stir.

I confess that I take great pride in being on the side of virtue whenever I am on the side of virtue. I am also more than a little gleeful that Limbaugh is finally getting his comeuppance. But, I have to come clean here. In my last post, a piece about the Good Wife, I wrote something about Julianna Margulies that was mean spirited and that could have caused harm. At the time, I told myself it was an important detail, but, honestly, it offered nothing except a testament to my capacity for cruelty. Fortunately, my conscience woke me up in the middle of the night and compelled me to delete the offending sentence. There is a sad truth here, though: When left to my own devices, I can become a Rush Limbaugh, if only by degrees.

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Is it just me?

The Good Wife is a good show. It’s smart, skillfully scripted, and well acted. Julianna Margulies, in the title role, brings to her Alicia Florrick a barely bridled reserve that makes you want to shake and hug her character all at the same time.

Josh Charles, as Will Gardner, and Archie Panjabi, as Kalinda Sharma, almost always deliver strong performances, as does Christine Baranski, who, as Diane Lockhart, a senior partner with the law firm around which the series turns, at times steals the show. Classy and crisp, though not without a subtle softness, Baranski’s Diane is ever the voice of reason and resolve when forces seemingly beyond her control threaten to bring down the house she has worked so tirelessly to build.

During a recent episode, for example, in which Will is given a six-month suspension for having embezzled client funds some fifteen years earlier, Diane shows her true grit by moving immediately to re-assign her partner’s current cases and to change the practice name from Lockhart & Gardener to Lockhart & Associates.  

“So, we’re done?” Will asks after Diane hands off the last of his files to Alicia.

“For now,” she says, adding, “You’ll still have a place when you come back.”

Later, we see Will packing up his office and then heading towards the elevator. There, he meets Alicia, who earlier had expressed dismay when she learned her law partner, and former lover, was going to take the six-month suspension without fighting it.

“You’re giving up the law for six months? she asks, incredulous. “I can’t imagine it.”

Afterward, I found myself wondering why Will had received such a somber send-off. After all, the guy was going away for six months, not for six years. 

Then, I got to thinking. Perhaps the way I experience time, and my movement through time, is different from the way others experience it. I have always found, for instance, that it takes me ages to grieve a loss. Where others might find themselves frisky after, say, three months, I might be hangdog for three years. Once, my brother told me that there is a rule of thumb for how long it should take to get over the breakup of a relationship: one year for each year you had been with that person. So, my relationship with my ex-husband lasted two years, we have not been together for about seven years, and I still haven’t gotten over him. See what I mean?

Here’s something interesting to think about, though: If six months feels like six years to some, then twelve months would feel to them like twelve years. That means they would have lived the equivalent of nine hundred and sixty years if they were to die at eighty. 

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