Saturday, July 17, 2004

Quotation of the Day

The way of love is not a subtle argument. The door there is
devastation. Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they
learn it? They fall, and falling, they're given wings.

~ Rumi

Friday, July 16, 2004

A Thousand Days

Three years ago today, I left Binghamton with a suitcase, a laptop, and Gabriel, who protested bitterly for the entire 3,000 mile trip.

Now I'm a Californian. I live and vote here. (And the voting is weird; I've used paper-punch ballots and touch-screen computer ballots.) I've been through layoffs and buyouts and the thrill of working 36-hour days to debug the new software release. I can give people directions and tell them about cool places to buy used books or fresh herbs.

I know the precise California definitions of highways, expressways, and freeways. I've learned to expect drivers to brake when they see a pedestrian -- I'll probably get killed next week when I go back East, where the proper relationship of a pedestrian and a car is that of matador and bull.

I've found work, friends, love, a great writers' group. I have a community here; I'm likely to run into friends at the grocery store or on the street in certain neighborhoods. I have a church where they know who I am and who I love, and I am welcomed. I'm even reading one of the Lessons this Sunday.

Alan Bostick accidentally defined home for me one day -- a place where you can be your true self in safety and security. The Bay Area is my home. I can hold my lover's hand on the street here and not be afraid. I can talk about my life and my writing with no fear of judgement.

Yes, Gabriel likes it too. She loved living up among the redwoods; she had her own private highway into my room window, and she would come home with her fur aromatic of the forest itself. Down here in the Valley, she has the pleasure of a well-constructed cat highway atop the eight-foot wooden fence around our yard. She has lots of sunny days and clear nights for hunting, and plenty of small critters to go after.

After a lifetime of dreaming about Pennsylvania, I now have dreams set here, too. And realities.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Quotation of the Day

to be nobody but yourself in a world that is doing its best to make you everyone else is to fight the hardest battle anyone can fight.--e.e.cummings

Saturday, July 10, 2004

REVIEW: The Triplets of Belleville

I approached this film with an open mind. Well, all right, with near-total ignorance, which is not always the same thing. What I knew was this:
  • It was a quirky cartoon.
  • Several friends had mentioned in passing that I would enjoy it.
  • One song had been nominated for an Oscar.
And that song -- as restaged in live action for the Oscar show -- was enough to make me want to see it. Great song, obviously an offbeat movie, definitely worth renting.

So last night, when some friends came over for dinner and a movie, I suggested The Triplets of Belleville. Nobody had seen it. Everybody was up for it, or possibly too polite to demur.

It was delightful. Funny, strange, haunting, sad, and deeply emotional. The story could have been intolerably saccharine: indomitable little grandmother doing her best to raise an orphaned little boy, brave doggie, great ambitions. It's saved from sentiment by its highly individual vision and by the very great skill of its construction.

The stunning, varied visual style is a hand-drawn riposte to the glossy ripeness of Pixar and Disney. Each character is delineated by a unique look; they could all be in different cartoons. The settings are likewise richly visualized. I won't forget Grandmama's sad, wise eyes magnified by her glasses; the grossly fat Statue of Liberty clutching a hamburger; the haunting beauty of Belleville's skyline and the wretchedness of its back alleys. I'm sure it would repay watching again and again; we did notice the mathematical formula inscribed under the stage at the beginning, but I bet there are hundreds of similar hidden jokes.

The soundtrack is likewise memorable -- jazzy and vivid. It carries a fair bit of the film's storyline, as it has to -- with no dialogue and surreal visuals that sometimes melt from dream to reality.

The Triplets of Belleville was not predictable, either in details or in overall structure. Yet the shape of the film as a whole was deeply satisfying. The story is flawlessly told (and all with virtually no dialogue), every joke and plot point is expertly constructed, and there are enough jarring images to maintain the suspense. I never doubted the Nemo would be found, for all that I enjoyed the movie. I did worry about Grandmamma, Champion, and the dog. Not to mention the singing triplets and their amazing frogsicles.

Rent this. Buy it. Watch it. A lovely, moving, affectionate film.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Word at the Center of the Soul

"Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that's they whole art and joy of words." A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
--C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Roadkill, Redemption, and Fine Furniture

When I moved out here, I sold off most of my furniture. Almost all of it had started as roadkill: furniture abandoned in the trash, sold at yard sales, neglected for decades before I spotted it. (Yes, to be fair: I was almost always the one who spotted the furniture. Billy and I refinished it together, with him doing the heavy carpentry.) My antiques had been painfully found, refinished, cherished into beauty. Redeemed. That has always been much more satisfying for me than going to a furniture store and buying something brand-new.

When we were living outside Philadelphia, a neighbor of ours bought an old farmhouse table in terrible condition. She decided it was unfixable and threw the pieces of it away. I spotted it from my office window (oh, I see that room, the forest-green curtains I made, the old rolltop, the library table) and went outside to drag it to safety. I got the last piece just before the trash truck came.

Billy and I worked on it for a day. I hand-sanded the lathe-turned legs for hours, while he dealt with the top, which was warped. Then a few coats of polyurethane, and we had a stunning table. Solid cherry.

That's what we did with the other furniture, too. The Hoosier cabinet, the mahogany glass-fronted bookcase (bought before I met Billy), the tiger-oak buffet, the Victorian dresser I spotted in a Long Island trash heap. All refinished, all turned into objects of worth and beauty, all sold when I moved. The rocker and the rolltop desk that had belonged to my great-grandfather. The Victorian oak library catalogs. All gone now.

I love them because I lived with them, because they carry emotional weight -- not for impressing others, nor for assessed value. I love them because I redeemed them. Redeemed furniture is a promise that I, who am a ruin in so many ways, can also become beautiful, admirable, loved. That there is something of intrinsic worth even in the broken and discarded and scorned.

(Do I anthropomorphize my possessions? Of course. I pour out on my people and on environment -- landscape, home, possessions -- the love and care and appreciation I needed and didn't get, and that I still need and cannot always give myself.)

These things were broken and abandoned when I found them, and the men who came to buy them treated them with studied contempt -- trying to keep the prices down. So it took almost three years for me to recognize that they haven't been thrown away. Someone went into the Binghamton antique store and found the rolltop. Someone is eating their meals off the cherry table and admiring the deep glow of the finish. I haven't abandoned them. I've passed them along to someone who wanted and needed them.

That makes all the difference.