Month: January 2014

On body odor and forrest surpassed

karl pilkington

I wasn’t sure what to make of Karl Pilkington when I first encountered him on the Ricky Gervais Show. As sidekick to the giggly, unapologetically mean Gervais, Pilkington (or his persona) seemed too much of a whiny ruminator—even for me. But, having watched him evolve through his travel documentary An Idiot Abroad, which aired last year on Science, and now through his The Moaning of Life, which aired this month on the same channel, I’ve warmed to his deadpan crankiness.

In his new series, Pilkington globe-trots once again, this time to see how different cultures approach what he calls “life’s major events.” In the first episode, he attempts to understand why people have children; in the second, he sets out to determine how people achieve happiness; in the third, he tries to discover more about how—and why—people marry.

In this most recent episode on marriage, Pilkington travels to Los Angeles, among other places, where he attends a “Pheromone Party” and meets up with young singles intent on finding partners who pass the sniff test. The idea for the gathering is goofy-seeming: sleep in the same t-shirt for three nights; place it in a plastic bag and freeze it; bring it to the get-together, where it will be numbered as well as coded for the wearer’s sex (pink or blue); and let prospective mates stick their noses in the baggies, inhaling deeply as they do. When they hit on an odor they like, participants stand in front of a projector and hold up the marked baggie in the hope its owner will claim it.

Then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t so wacky after all since, to survive, humans, like other animals, live by their wits and follow their noses. I thought, too, about how my own sense of smell drives my life—and always has done. How many times have I run from a public place, for example, because I was overwhelmed by smoke or perfume or smells of rancid food? And, how many men have I welcomed into my life, or turned out, because of a sweat or a cologne that made me swoon, or gag.

And, just a few words about the movie Captain Phillips, which has received several Academy Award nominations this year, including one for best picture and one for best supporting actor. I didn’t have very high expectations, thinking wrongly that it would be a Hollywood blockbuster bent on exploiting the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. But, in fact, it was an extraordinary film. Barkhad Adbi’s nuanced performance as the pirates’ leader managed to inspire in me both terror and compassion. And, though he wasn’t nominated for the best actor award (but should have been), Tom Hanks, as the captain, gives a performance that transcends anything he has done to date. You won’t want to miss it.

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Two years!

Two years ago today, I wrote my first Ruminationville piece, “Underthinking is Overrated.” Typically not one to stick out difficult commitments for the long term—except, of course, the commitment of motherhood—I am amazed that I have managed to keep something going here. I can only attribute it to the quiet support of those who have been following me over these many months. Each time I sit down to write, I think of you…and of never wanting to disappoint. Here’s to another year, or two, or four!

Me

her-joaquin-phoenix

Spike Jonze’s new film Her is an exquisitely tender paen to fragility and a whisper of a cautionary tale about what can happen to our humanity even when we think we are looking. Set at some point in the not-too-distant-but-just-distant-enough future, the movie is billed as a love story between a man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system (given voice through Scarlett Johansson); yet, to describe it in this way is to reduce it to a cartoon we can snicker at and then dismiss.

In fact, the audience was pin-drop quiet, and certainly I have not been able to stop thinking about the story, though less interesting to me is the idea that we are more and more lost to our Machines. I know this to be true the minute I step out on a busy street in Washington, DC, and find nearly every last pedestrian with his or her head bowed to a handheld phone. Or check my rearview mirror at a red light only to see that the person behind me is reading or sending a text message. Or watch with horror as I fill my own lonely evenings with empty Internet surfings launched on my multiple electronic devices.

More compelling are the high-waisted pants worn by Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, which left in me such a mournful impression that I have only to call up the visual image to feel the grief it evokes. Its power, I think, lies in the space between the top of the pants and Theodore’s shoulders—just enough to give the sense that shoulders and waist would nearly meet if life were to bend him one bit further.

The day after I saw Her I found myself thinking about a joke I had not remembered for years, the one that goes like this: A mild-mannered Midwesterner arrived in New York City for a vacation. Somewhat bewildered by it all, he approached a taxi driver with great caution and was heard to ask, “Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me how to get to Times Square, or should I just go f*@! myself?”

Originally from New York, I split my sides when I first heard it; yet, I think I would have found the joke funny no matter my origins. For me it was either laugh—or break.

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