Month: March 2012

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


If a tree falls in the forest

My father died when I was 20. It was the saddest time of my life, and it remains a sadness that will live next to me until my own death. Who knows where the sorrow will go after that.

Lately, I have found myself thinking about how surprised he would be by technology. The self-correcting typewriter was the iPad of his day, and vinyl records had not yet been replaced with compact discs. Certainly the Internet would have amazed him.

There is also a pining for what I, myself, will miss. Had he lived just one more decade, my father, who had a fatal heart attack, could have been saved by the advances made in heart surgery. Similarly, when I think about my own mortality, I wonder if I will die just this side of a discovery that could have saved my life. Then, there are these questions: After I’m gone, will it be shown that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, that space existed before the Singularity, that there is a God particle, that there is a God?

I am not only haunted by what I might miss in the future. I am just as preoccupied by what I do not know. Although I have gained some knowledge over the years, it is nothing when compared with all I could have learned.

And I am not just talking about the kind of learning that comes secondhand from reading or from listening to others. I am also talking about the kind of learning that can only come from living. I might still have many years ahead of me to learn more Spanish, for example, but I will never be able to live in Mexico, or Ecuador, or Colombia, or Venezuela, or Peru, or Argentina, or Spain, where I might come to understand something about the soul of the language or the soul of a people.

I am finding, too, that the more I learn the more I want to learn. Last night, for instance, I watched a TV program about the wildlife in South America. Consider the electric eels found in the ponds and streams of the Amazon. I know that they store power to shock and take down their prey. But, how is it that these eels don’t electrocute themselves? Or, the anteater whose long, sticky tongue can lick up thousands of insects in a feeding. How did a camera come to be placed inside a termite hill so that I might see the animal in action? Or, the leopard whose nighttime stalking habits I could see as plain as day. Who came up with night vision cameras?

From each question come new questions, and on it goes. Perhaps, though, I can take some comfort in considering the idea that there is nothing there to be learned if I am not there to learn it.


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.