Sunday, September 30, 2018

Week in Seven Words #427

Each shelf is furry with dust and stuffed with books and papers.

Enormous garbage bags bristling with papers. Some of the papers had seemed important once or were at least worth some attention, and now they're being chucked.

A peaceful meal with joyful songs. I cherish it.

I talk to someone who disagrees with me strongly on various political issues, but the conversation is courteous. No seething anger or oneupmanship. We learn from each other, and even though she hasn't convinced me to adopt her way of thinking, at least I have a better understanding of why she thinks the way she does.

Past midnight, there are sporadic bursts of activity on the streets. Various objects seem more alive, like the traffic lights changing color when no cars are around. There are pockets of people, some drunk or laughing as if they're drunk. There are solitary figures too, a few lost in thought, others striding with a purpose, dangerous or not.

At their dad's prompting, they stand up in front of the room to sing, their voices sweet, their demeanor self-conscious.

Three men, unrelated to each other and strangers until this evening, sit in a row at the table. All three are bald, white, young, thin, and wearing glasses.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Four Short Stories Where Underdogs Triumph

Title: The Cambist and Lord Iron
Author: Daniel Abraham
Where I Read It: Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008

Olaf works as a cambist in an exchange office. He unfortunately attracts the attention of a dissipated, cruel nobleman, Lord Iron, who puts him in an untenable situation that will very likely cost him his life. Olaf succeeds in extricating himself, in this story of wits and courage triumphing over power and cruelty. (Olaf is a fan of adventure novels, but his own story is an even better adventure, and he's a better example of the traits he admires in fictional heroes.)

Title: Lolita
Author: Dorothy Parker
Where I Read It: Mothers & Daughters

A vivacious, petite, and charming woman, Mrs. Ewing, has a daughter named Lolita who appears to be everything her mother isn't. She's shy and quiet; you can fail to notice she's in a room. She's plain and doesn't clean up well. She can't do much around the house. Most people in town kind of pity Mrs. Ewing for having a daughter like that, even if they have nothing against Lolita. But when Lolita gets courted by a handsome, charming man, it becomes apparent that Mrs. Ewing needs her daughter. She needs to compete with her daughter and come out on top, looking more attractive and desirable. Life has less relish when Lolita isn't around to serve as her mother's foil.

This short story came out shortly before Nabokov's novel was released. Parker's Lolita gets a considerably happier ending.

Title: The Revolt of "Mother"
Author: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Where I Read It: Great American Short Stories: From Hawthorne to Hemingway

Sarah Penn's husband promised her 40 years ago that she would one day have a real house, not the home that's been crumbling around the family for decades. It's a promise he has never fulfilled, instead providing nicer, newer quarters for the farm animals. At the start of the story he's determined to build another barn. When Sarah lays out her case plainly, he's unmoved. In a poignant moment she retreats to her room, emerges again after a while with red eyes, and resumes her work.

After appearing resigned, she winds up meeting his taciturn obstinacy and callousness with quiet resolve. If her husband is a wall, she finds a clever way around him that works out for everyone. There's a difference between being dutiful and being a doormat, and she knows her own mind and what's right. (Even when a clergyman comes over at once point to advise her against her unorthodox course of action, she remains resolved.) Freeman I suspect was giving Sarah the kind of satisfying outcome that she would have liked more women in the real world to enjoy, should they have been stuck with such a husband.

Title: Triumph of Justice
Author: Irwin Shaw
Where I Read It: Legal Fictions

Mike Pilato wants to receive some money owed to him. He never got the promise of this money in writing, but he doesn't think it should be too hard to go to court without a lawyer and defend his case. Typical court proceedings don't tend to favor people like Mike, who isn't polished and who pronounces Thursday as Stirday. But Mike manages to upend the order of the court for long enough to get a necessary confession. He uses methods that would lead to unjust outcomes in other situations, but here they make sense to him, because someone is brazenly lying. ('Justice' and 'respect for legal proceedings' aren't always the same...) The dialogue is key to the story's humor and keeps the text punchy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Week in Seven Words #426

Beyond the whirring tools and the dentist's graceful hands, an episode of Blue Planet plays on a small screen. I have no idea what's going on, aside from seeing great quantities of fish, but the general blueness is relaxing.

Sometimes a brilliant moment is made of sunlight falling on the white planks of a house and on the spruce that has sprung up beside it.

The toddler stumble-walks with his finger out pointing.

Art can be an antidote to oversimplification, smooth and quick explanations, cowardice, and brutality.

She tries to entice me to watch the movie by showing me a YouTube clip, but all I see is syrup and little substance and actors who talk as if the dialogue is sticking to their teeth.

The dog gets so excited that her owner has come home that she launches herself at my stomach from several feet away.

A writing assignment of many words that makes me realize just how important it is to have the right roof over one's head.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Week in Seven Words #425

A 20-minute walk or a 20-minute subway ride takes me to neighborhoods far apart in architectural style and atmosphere. In one neighborhood, some of the homes look like they could feature in a fairy tale. They have charming irregularities, an uncommon interplay of shapes, bricks arranged into patterns that may be communicating something.

I never know where a laugh will come from. This time it's a pun delivered by someone calling from across the Atlantic.

He's preaching about oppression and civil rights to a crowded train. He isn't asking for money; all he wants is an audience for his rage.

When they're loud, the chickens sometimes sound like sea gulls. Otherwise, their vocalizations are quiet and peeved. (If I were anthropomorphizing them, I'd say it's because the sickish scent of compost fills the hen house, and the discarded vegetables and fruit don't meet their standards, not like last week's compost, which was richer in variety and quality.) My favorites are the buttery-colored Buff Orpington variety. (Mostly because I like the name 'Buff Orpington' - sounds like a character from a P.G. Wodehouse story.)

One eye-catching detail are the red flowers and plants cradled in windowsills. They include poinsettias, carnations, and roses.

A field of lavender licked by a cold wind.

Morning rush hour. "Stand clear of the closing doors," says the subway conductor. Then he shouts it. At the next stop and the one after that, his voice is pleading. The stop after that, he sings the words in an anxious lullaby melody, as if he's a parent whose baby is wide awake at 2 am.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Two Screen Adaptations About Orphan Girls Who Change the Lives of People Around Them for the Better

Title: Anne of Green Gables (1985)
Director: Kevin Sullivan
Language: English
Rating: G

This two-episode TV mini-series adaptation of the Lucy Maud Montgomery book is enjoyable for multiple reasons, including the stunning Canadian landscapes.

Shades of autumn, spring and summer greenery, the sparkling ocean - it's a feast of the four seasons, full of natural beauty.

The casting is good too. Both the roles of Anne Shirley and Diana Barry are played well (by Megan Follows and Schuyler Grant respectively). As for the adult characters, I love how Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth play Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, the aging sister and brother who initially wanted to take on an orphan boy to help them with their farm, but instead had Anne arrive at the local train station. I like how Marilla's hardness is tempered by a sense of justice and a wellspring of kindness, buried deep, that Anne eventually brings out. And how Matthew is pretty soft on Anne right from the start.

One thing I found both amusing and disturbing is how Anne often expresses emotions in a lofty, stage-like fashion, almost as if she is detached from them or afraid to discuss them more bluntly. It makes sense for a character who has dealt with loneliness and neglect by play-acting and disappearing mentally from a harsh environment to more beautiful imaginary worlds.

Overall, it's an excellent mini-series: lovely, engaging, spirited, and fun to become absorbed in for a while.

Title: The Secret Garden (1993)
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Language: English
Rating: G

One of the most beautiful parts of the movie is a time-lapse sequence showing the arrival of spring, with flowers opening, plants pushing slowly out of the soil, and the land becoming green. The images have a rich, visceral quality that I love.

This adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett book is full of such beauty. It's also a movie infused with hopefulness, where the dark neglected places in the land and in people still have potential for life, with enough nurturing.

I didn't find the adult characters compelling, and the movie is too rushed towards the end, but it's still delightful. The younger actors are excellent. Kate Maberly carries the movie as Mary Lennox. The child of wealthy but neglectful colonials in India, she becomes an orphan living in her reclusive uncle's estate in the Yorkshire moors and finds in herself a great capacity for self-sufficiency and love.

Dickon, the boy of the moors who can communicate with animals, is played well by Andrew Knott, and I enjoyed the peevish, wounded theatrics (and genuine pain) conveyed by Heydon Prowse as Colin. Also, Laura Crossley plays Martha, a housemaid and Dickon's sister, with a wonderful honesty and sweetness.

So much in this movie hinges on the sense of place. The large house with the echoing cries, drafty corridors, and abandoned rooms inspires fear and curiosity. And the garden has a character of its own, full of fairy-like enchantment and possibility.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Week in Seven Words #424

The rhythm of our conversations is two people kicking a ball around aimlessly.

Her shawl has rippling shades of blue, light and dark, as if a small ocean has settled around her shoulders.

He stares in bemusement at his useless homework that his inebriated teacher won't bother to read.

Along one avenue, each block seems to be copy and pasted, one to another. A succession of groceries, nail salons, pizzerias, and chain restaurants on repeat. (But there are some variations. A community bank, now and then. And sometimes the grocery store specializes in a certain cuisine.) Along another avenue, this one primarily residential, homes with their own small lawns give way to chains of homes with a flight of front steps and no lawn, followed by a block of project houses, then back to the homes with the front steps.

The park is all bare trees pawing at the sky, and leaves that have settled in rustling folds on the grass.

The dog pants ferociously during the game of fetch. She darts, gasping and growling, down the hallway as if the tennis ball is an escaped criminal she alone can bring to justice.

Three cats emerge from a salt marsh. First a pair, then a lone one with a black mustache and thick white fur. None of them have collars.

Week in Seven Words #423

What they hate the most about homelessness is its visibility.

This evening, I don't have the presence of mind to focus during a public reading, but I don't want to stay at home and leave an obligation unfulfilled. So the words flow past me, as if I were a dull rock in a stream.

Two young children playing. The older one says, "Be the baby." To which the younger one replies, "Not a baby. I growed up."

He acts as if he doesn't take things seriously. But from behind his jokey, sardonic front, a grave concern will sometimes emerge about the world and his place in it.

They haven't come to learn but to assert their own certainty.

I'm advised to temporarily avoid chocolate, tomatoes, and tomato-based products, basically half my diet. (Just kidding. A fifth of my diet, tops.)

Meeting a deadline, sending something off, the relaxation that follows, muscles unknitting.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Flirting With Heatstroke: Two Hikes on 90-Degree Days

Drinking a lot of water and using sun protection (hat, sunscreen, long light sleeves) made these hikes bearable. So did the fact that we stuck as much as possible to shade and enjoyed a leisurely lunch break among trees. Still, I'd never hiked in such weather, and I found the most difficult part was the air. It's more difficult to breathe and sometimes felt like inhaling cotton.

That said, I'm glad I went on these two hikes: one outside of NYC, and the other entirely in it. Both of them with Shorewalkers.

Ossining and New Croton Dam Loop

This hike, which was roughly 13 miles, started and ended at the Metro North station for Ossining, NY and included a visit to the New Croton Dam. Much of the hike was on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.


Where we spotted deer at one point.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

Week in Seven Words #422

A woman at the gym whistles and sings (something like, "Ooh, baby, don't leave me") as she does bicep curls. Her biceps are extremely well-defined. Maybe singing to them helps.

A teenaged girl poses for a professional photographer. A woman who's her mother, lovely too though blurrier around the edges with age, watches sharply, as if she's using her eyes to chisel her daughter.

The toddlers stagger around blowing bubbles that they then try to catch with tiny hula hoops.

The latest game she's come up with is to have us pretend we're a variety of people auditioning for Hamilton. Seeing as I know few of the lyrics or melodies by heart, I'm the comic relief.

Heading down the block, I spot a man wearing a t-shirt that says "The Future Is Female," and a woman with a sweatshirt that says "Messy Hair Don't Care." Her hair is neatly pulled back.

Someone has brought a half-finished bottle of chocolate syrup to the food drive. Standing among the respectable canned foods and boxes of pasta and oatmeal, it looks sticky and disreputable.

They think she's incapable of understanding people, when the real issue is that she isn't motivated to, mostly because the people around her don't invite understanding. They prod at her mind and lament that she doesn't think and feel as they do.