I'll start with this: I don't hate to cook. I just hate to cook for my current captive demographic, which includes a child who begs for sushi in his wretched school lunch every day and a child who maintains a firm company policy of automatically rejecting anything that is not a fruit. Which kids in America scorn spaghetti and
The 2007 Masterpiece Theatre production of Jane Eyre is my favorite screen version to date. The casting is near-perfect and even minor characters (notably Adèle and Mrs. Fairfax) have warmth and depth they are not usually allowed. The chemistry between Jane and Mr. Rochester is undeniable and plays out against a visually lush landscape in an astonishingly sensual manner. (Fluttering red scarves in windows! Flocks of birds exploding from trees! Jane and Edward getting horizontal--in a completely clothed and Victorian way, of course!) The ending is satisfyingly triumphant in all its "Reader, I married him" glory. If you gravitate to underdog stories and have a need to spend 240 minutes with your television and a pan of brownies, this is for you.
I sat down to dinner recently and noticed something amiss. My otherwise-perfect and untouched plate of food sported an ear of corn with a shaggy crop circle in the middle of the cob about the size of a preschooler's mouth. I looked to Child the Younger, sitting to my right, and asked him if he knew what had happened. He smiled jubilantly, his baby teeth clotted with yellow kernels.
I have learned from parenting that there is birthed, along with the child, a never-ending list of things-- both done and undone-- for which to be sorry on both sides. This parenting thing is a project without blueprints, continually under construction, using tools that are as frequently inadequate, shoddy, missing or downright dangerous as they are right for the job. If a day on the parenting jobsite is particularly heinous, I may think of the list I have posted at my desk just to remind myself to laugh:
The Six Phases of a Project:
1. Wild Enthusiasm
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Punishment of the Innocent
6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants
One project I managed to complete on my recent vacation was reading Brady Udall's magnificent novel The Lonely Polygamist. This is a Big Book, in both a physical and an existential sense; it is the American family writ large. Golden Richards is a big man (known to some as "Sasquatch") with three houses, four wives and twenty-eight children. He has problems. Big problems. While his lifestyle creates and magnifies difficulties, his internal struggles could belong to anyone. He attempts to keep his contracting business and his family finances afloat with a morally questionable project: his wives think the brothel he's building in Nevada is a senior center. His wives don't understand him and his children don't really know him. The story builds upon the alternating points of view of Golden, Trish (his fourth and newest wife), and Rusty (the eleven-year-old son of his third wife.) Trish is at a crossroads in her marriage while Rusty hatches a revenge plot for the bungling of his "special" birthday. At the center for each of these characters is a smoldering sun of grief blinding them in various ways to the complicated landscape. Golden grieves a lost daughter, Trish grieves a lost son, and Rusty is a ticking time bomb of grief waiting to happen. In all of this Udall manages to find the inherent humor in each situation, much of it laugh-out-loud funny. Within the mundane Udall raises Big questions, but the one that percolates through and ultimately lifts the book far above anything else I have read recently is this:
How big is love?
This is a question echoed by the deservedly popular HBO television series Big Love which I also highly recommend. Bill Henrickson is a modern-day polygamist living in suburban Salt Lake City with his three sister-wives, their numerous children and houses, and all of the complications and frustrations of his chosen lifestyle. His ties with a fundamentalist compound bring trouble, as do his business arrangements. Can one man find a way to keep it all together when forces both internal and external threaten constantly to tear it apart? Faith and love are big, but are they big enough?
In her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance Elna Baker discusses the issues that come with Big Faith. By turns utterly hilarious and painfully embarrassing, this described "Mormon Tina Fey" tells tales of what it's like to be an abstinent and religious single young woman in a city that's pretty much...not. Along the way she loses eighty pounds and takes a series of fascinating jobs ( I was entranced by her description of life as an "adoption specialist" for ridiculously expensive baby dolls at FAO Schwarz.) The heartbreak that ensues is predictable, but Baker finds the humor in each situation and manages introspection along with stories such as showing up to a Halloween dance dressed in a failed costume that makes her look, quite accidentally, like a giant part of the female anatomy.
The holds lists may be lengthy for some of these, but believe me: the love is Big. And worth the wait
Sometimes I get a bit impatient and want the children to grow up a little faster so I can share films with them that don't involve sarcastic cats or operatic turtles or crime-fighting dogs.
I confess I did recently make the possible mistake of letting Child the Younger watch many episodes of I Love Lucy on library DVD with me when we were both lying ill and lethargic on the sofa. He has since stopped requesting viewings of Maisy in favor of "that funny heart show" and, really, it makes sense. If you are almost three and think your choices are between a primitively-drawn mouse and her friends who mutter mysteriously to one another in what sounds suspiciously like Serbo-Croatian OR Lucy hilariously trying to pretend twenty-five pounds of cheese is a baby (after sensibly flying to Europe WITHOUT child in tow) in order to fly said cheese home on an airplane without paying luggage fees, which would you choose?
But that is not really the sharing I meant to talk about sharing. What I would like to share is that great and bottomless treasure trove we have in the Criterion Collection. If you have limited viewing time (which, if you're like me, is already at war with your laundry-dishes-bill-paying-clean-out-this-random-cupboard-while-the-kids-sleep-time) and want to make the most of it, you really need to worship at the altar of Criterion with me. Unless, of course, you have your own reliable Mrs. Trumbull who will babysit your Little Ricky so you can fly off to Europe and see films in arty theaters. I'm guessing you don't, so here are three to get you started:
Eyes Without A Face may be the most lyrically filmed work of horror you will see in black and white. A surgeon father in Paris is cutting the faces off kidnapped women in an attempt to cure his own beloved daughter's disfigurement. It's suspenseful--mesmerizingly creepy--and possibly even more horrifying now that full facial grafts are a medical reality.
Ohayo is the very funny tale of two young Japanese brothers who take vows of silence to protest their parents' refusal to purchase a television set. Set in a late 1950's Tokyo suburb, this is an exploration of changing cultural traditions with a side of fart jokes.
The Passion of Joan of Arc was originally a silent French film released in 1928. It has been set to an amazing orchestral work, Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, with a performance of the choral ensemble Anonymous 4. Believed lost to a fire, the film was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981--in a Norwegian mental institution. This is art, and a higher power wants you to see it.
And if any of you do know where Mrs. Trumbull is hiding, I'd really like her number.