Friday, March 17, 2017

Week in Seven Words #336

bistro
Cold dishes, AC pouring down on us in syrupy chillness.

disquiet
When I arrive, the first things I hear are "Hey! There's a large horsefly around, and it bites. See, this is where it bit me. I was bleeding. No one knows where it went. So, how are you? Why are you just standing there? Sit, relax."

possible
On the heels of a first draft, plenty of doubt. But a healthy sort of doubt, one that invites new considerations instead of feelings of futility.

pursuit
In the pool, he pretends to be a seal, and his dad is the killer whale hunting him. The other kids play a more straightforward game of tag, ducking among pool floats and getting caught and tossed around.

queued
A response to my recent breakup: "You aren't dating someone else yet?"

sanguine
He's lost a finger to DIY fireworks, but says that one of these days he'll get the hang of them.

unconsidered
He shares stories from camp, mostly involving counselors and camp administrators exercising poor judgment. One of these golden moments involved a man roaring in on a motorcycle to terrify the kids as a joke. (The cops didn't find it funny.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Week in Seven Words #335

blot
I don't always know how an author's life will affect the way I react to or analyze their work. Just sometimes, the knowledge interposes itself between the work and me. The literary merits may still exist, but with the shadow of the knowledge on them.

extent
People have a village mind and vote on global issues.

glide
What she does on the diving board isn't diving; it's flying. She throws herself into the air with a faint smile. She's just as much at ease in the air as in the water.

masked
She sets up a doll schoolroom, where her doll, equipped with tiny books and pens, pretends to be stupid.

prominency
She's over six feet tall, and has trained herself to be less intimidating by smiling and laughing a lot. She's also been advised to give up high heels but has refused so far.

savings
They're sweating and shivering as they wait in line at the bank. The loss from their account is only a glitch, they hope, easily reversed.

tremulous
The ghost stories we share become explorations of what we're really afraid of - the fears that we hesitate to speak on the off-chance they'll become true.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What does a representation of home mean?

For Deal Me In 2017, I read "Home," a part of Maya Angelou's Letter to My Daughter.

She considers how people carry a representation of their childhood homes in them - the landscapes, the struggles, what the imagination constructs, the impressions that are strongest.

At one point she writes:
I am convinced that most people do not grow up... I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.
What would it mean to grow up as opposed to grow old? Is my 'inner child' my real self, or only part of my real self (I'd say part of, an important part, but not the only one).

Do most people only grow up superficially? I've seen adults of otherwise sound mind throw tantrums like young children, because of something that struck them the wrong way. Maybe they're acting on an old wound or giving voice to a part of them that never grew up. They may have gotten stuck somewhere in their middle school years emotionally or psychologically. People often don't realize how much they're influenced by their childhood experiences, the patterns of thoughts and behavior they established then.
... I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.
What if someone doesn't have that sense of a place in them? How does one find it? (Or construct it?) Is there a danger of getting trapped in it?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Week in Seven Words #334

chirruping
A waterfall of bird chatter in the hour before dawn.

creeds
Tracing threads in the development of a religion. A move towards greater compassion here, an intensifying disgust of women there. Scholars scrambling to tie together the disparate threads.

fuzz
He's straining to grow a beard, so he can look like a worthy substitute for a respected older teacher. As he lectures, he scratches his cheeks.

letdown
After struggling over whether or not to call him, I reach for the phone, only to have it ring as soon as I touch it. Our conversation doesn't go well.

malfunctioning
If only my laptop could talk back. It would freeze halfway through its request for me to stop cursing at it.

misdeed
I show up five minutes late to find the stage set for a courtroom scene. I'm the accused.

perfidious
We watch Chamber of Secrets together, and the part that upsets him most isn't the basilisk, but the teacher betraying the students and threatening to wipe out their minds with a spell.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Three Billy Wilder Films on Self-Respect

Much goes on in these movies directed by Billy Wilder, but an important theme in each is self-respect.

Title: The Apartment (1960)
Language: English
Rating: Not rated


The main characters in The Apartment are commodities, useful to the executives in the company they work for. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a corporate drone who lets the higher-ups use his apartment for extra-marital hookups. Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) is an elevator girl who has made terrible relationship choices. One executive in particular, Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), has them living in the palm of his hand. They look to him to make their lives better, even though he's a major source of their problems.

By the end of The Apartment, both Baxter and Kubelik gain some self-respect. The movie plays out as a comedy sometimes, a drama too (with MacLaine's performance really holding the movie together and giving it its emotional weight). It's also a romance, though I didn't care much about Baxter and Kubelik getting together. They break free of Sheldrake, and the movie ends with a card game, which struck me as a reminder that they've now entered a chancier sort of life. They've lost some security in their future. Before, life played out predictably. Their increased self-respect is worth it, but it's risky. At least now they're stronger and can bear those risks.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Week in Seven Words #333

dumping
After getting picked on, he picks on another kid. Watching his pain play out in someone else is satisfying.

invite
There are people who say, "You can tell me anything!" and then react with rejection, contempt, or rage the moment it sounds like something they don't want to hear. Not long after, they'll repeat, with a pristine memory, that you can tell them anything.

ocherous
The river has an orange and silver shimmer. In the foreground, cars race past with headlights like fireflies.

parameters
The adulthood his parents show him seems easy to master. There's a small set of correct beliefs. There's a larger set of beliefs to pay lip service to and mock in private. There are certain people it's ok to laugh at and wound. Always act as if you know what you're doing.

puppies
Four of them have tumbled on a diamond-patterned blanket. Their faces give them a free pass on all mischief.

refreshed
She's happy I call her on her birthday. I'm happy I didn't talk myself out of it with the usual excuses: it wouldn't matter, she doesn't know me well, I'd just be bothering her...

snooze
He's presenting a complex lecture, and all it takes is ten seconds(?) of zoning out for me to lose the thread. Like a cat batting at yarn, my brain goes after it, before curling up to nap for the remaining fifteen minutes.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Living with Music (and noise, lots of noise)

Ralph Ellison starts his essay, "Living with Music," remembering an apartment he used to live in during the late 1940s with thin walls and unfiltered noise from outside. He describes neighbors who would blast music, drunk people who would sing (or scream for quiet) outside, and one neighbor in particular living in the apartment above who was dedicated to studying singing… all day long, as Ellison tried to focus on his writing.
In those days it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live.
There are a few things I love about this essay. One is Ellison exploring the distinctions people make between music and noise. Another is the way music is the means of both trying to understand people and attempting to block them out or knock them down. For instance, his upstairs neighbor - she reminds him of when he would practice trumpet growing up (to a mix of detractors wishing he’d stay quiet and supporters wondering if he’d be the next Louis Armstrong). He comes to admire her and her dedication to song. Her practicing also drives him nuts sometimes, and he blasts music (the same pieces she’s practicing, but performed by world-class musicians) as a way of trying to silence her. She doesn’t rise to the bait or quit practicing, and they eventually settle into a way of coexisting based on understanding and greater courtesy. Meantime, he rediscovers an appreciation of music that he mostly gave up when he set aside his trumpet.

Music is also a way for him to bring together different aspects of his culture and self. He loves classical pieces, jazz, Negro spirituals, and writes about the error of seeing only stark divisions between different types of music:
There was a mistaken notion on the part of some of the teachers that classical music had nothing to do with the rhythms, relaxed or hectic, of daily living, and that one should crook the little finger when listening to such refined strains.
I also want to leave this excerpt, when he reflects on serious jazz players:
Life could be harsh, loud and wrong if it wished, but they lived it fully, and when they expressed their attitude towards the world it was with a fluid style that reduced the chaos of living to form.
Each “must learn the best of the past, and add to it his personal vision.” Playing jazz is only one way of doing this. And any such endeavor usually starts with, and many times doesn’t get past, “an effect like that of a jackass hiccupping off a big meal of briars” (Ellison describing his own trumpet music). But one could argue the attempt is still worthwhile. (Though maybe not for people forced to overhear you as you figure things out. Like, in the case of writing, the teachers who have to read your work when you're trying to learn how to wax poetic...)

(This was one of my selections for Deal Me In 2017.)