Archive for January, 2012

Who needs therapy? Not I, surely

Friday, 6:30 A.M. I’m standing in the cold, cheerless dawn, listening to the pattering of raindrops on the hood of my slicker and the squelch of mud beneath my dog’s paws as he attempts, unsuccessfully, to find a dry patch of grass on which to squat.

Suddenly I hear the distant slam of a door and a call of “Sancho, come,” followed by a frantic yip. Despite my rain-soaked clothing and my dripping dog, I giggle, because Sancho is the name of Gilbert Markham’s dog in Anne Bronte’s /The Tenant of Wildfell Hall/, possibly my favorite Victorian novel, not least because I devote an entire chapter to it in my dissertation. I strongly considered sloshing through the mud to my neighbor to inform him that his canine has the distinct privilege of sharing a name with that of a dog in a (moderately) famous work of Victorian Literature. IN my frenzy, I conveniently overlook the fact that the call to come” was delivered in heavily Spanish-accented English and that Sancho might just as likely be a nod to Don Quixote as to Anne Bronte, but it’s too late to capture my imagination, which has wandered off like a wayward child down a path of rainbow fantasies: I am Helen Huntington, and the owner of that noble canine is Gilbert, and we will exchange greetings that lead to a long, passionate love affair. Never mind that Helen is attired in workout pants and a rubber ducky yellow rain slicker and Gilbert sounds more like Ricky Ricardo than a Victorian hero.

I am pulled from my revery by the brush of wet fur against my hand. My dog has apparently decided that the heavy precipitation is hardly conducive to relieving his bladder. ON-balance, I think it best to avoid capture by white-coated men and slosh back inside through the puddles without enlightening my neighbor about this fun factoid of literary trivia.

Conclusion: I am not, contrary to popular belief, certifiably insane, though I did wonder last summer when a TB test result I took mistakenly appeared as positive if there might be health risks to reading too much Bronte.

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“How would you like your bionic vision?”: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Eye

One of the most entertaining things about being blind is the running commentary from sighted friends and family about the world around me to which I am frequently subjected. Some individuals, like my best friend, will provide me with a steady stream of descriptive comments as we sit outside Starbucks for our regular lattes and laughter-filled conversations. Nothing escapes his notice, from the tattoo-bedecked thuggish looking rogue to the teenage boy so taken with staring at my guidedog that he trips and falls into the bushes. But describing the world to a blind person as it passes by, often in flashes, is an art form that, like sculpting or playing a musical instrument, requires practice, dedication, and a considerable degree of imagination and raw talent. Describing a woman’s funny feathered hat as “a dead bird perched atop her head,” for instance, is suitably descriptive to send me into fits of giggles that have fellow mall-goers stopping to stare (I presume, since my friends have the delicacy not to draw my attention to anyone who sees it fit to stare unabashedly at a blind person who actually ventures out in public).

Then there’s the opposite extreme: “I wish you could see that!” (Not helpful in the slightest.). Think Jeff Dunham here: “The elephant disappeared…it just, fucking disappeared.” If you’re unfamiliar with this particular routine, I suggest you remedy that.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are the equally frustrating “Be glad you can’t see this” comments, which both awaken my curiosity and threaten to drive me insane.

As frustrated as I sometimes am about seeing the world through the gazes of others—however willing they are to lend me their eyes—I sometimes wonder, in my characteristically comical way, what it would be like to have my own eye-to-brain filter, aside from the obvious “I’d rather not know, thanks,” in response to someone’s offer to implant a mental image in my head that would require bleach to remove.

According to an article published earlier this week, we are now on the verge of a visionary invention: introducing the bionic eye: a retinal implant created by the company Second Sight that utilizes an external camera attached to a pair of sunglasses to transmit an image to a visual processor. The processor then forwards this image to a pair of antennae implanted around the eye. Alternatively, the German company Retina Implant Ag has taken a different approach, implanting the camera directly into the eye.

Here’s my question then: does this handy little camera come with a built-in delete feature for those visual TMI moments? Disturbed by a pair of teenagers displaying serious PDA on the bus? No problem-delete. Creeped out by that gory horror film you shouldn’t have seen? Image erased! Imagine if we had the technological tools to see only what we want to see; this is giving utopian vision a whole new meaning, but it sounds like a twisted, tripped out movie in the making: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless eye! Now in Theaters…if you really want to see it. The notion is a tempting one, but somehow I think I’m safer with my own personal eye-to-brain filter. It seems far less dangerous to say “Thanks, I don’t need the mental image” than to risk the possibility of having all of my visual memory erased. (Unless of course this bionic eye comes with an external hard drive to back up visual memory in case of malfunction).

If you had the choice to selectively delete visual memories, would you?

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Some Thoughts on Finally Seeing the Film

After months of following press coverage and whetting my appetite with trailers and snippets, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” adapted from the John LeCarre novel of the same title, has finally arrived in my local theater.

It is the early 1970’s, in the midst of the Cold War, and the head of British Intelligence, “Control” (John Hurt), has stepped down after a failed operation in Budapest, Hungary. Control suspects that one of four senior British agents has been acting as a Russian agent—”The Mole”—and that the operation in Hungary was an attempt to identify him. George Smiley (Gary Oldman), who retired after Control’s resignation, is asked to investigate a claim by agent Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) that a mole does in fact exist. Smiley’s investigations—aided by the young and ambitious Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) lead him down a twisted trail of deception to Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), an agent believed to have been killed in the failed Hungary operation who is at the center of the fiasco and holds the key to the identity of the mole.

Boasting a cast including Gary Oldman and Colin Firth as well as promising, young talent like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, this is a film that seems at times to call more attention to showcasing the skill of its actors than on plot detail. Gary Oldman and Colin Firth are as usual on top form; Oldman in particular is the perfect fit for George Smiley. With a quiet, understated authority, he has the bearing of a man both accustom to and weary of living in a world where mistrust and suspicion are the order of the day, and betrayal often comes at the hands of those you thought you knew. Firth’s characterization of Bill Haydon yet again displays his mastery of the ability to capitalize on very little screen time to create a character who, despite flitting along the outskirts of the story, maintains a mysteriously pervasive presence. Haydon is a character whose casual machismo and wily charm readily lend themselves to the aura of intrigue that surrounds his absence from much of the film.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Peter Guillam was especially rewarding to witness, as seemingly enamored of Oldman as Guillam is of Smiley, and yet holding his own alongside his seasoned co-stars. Given Cumberbatch’s oft-quoted claim in an interview in The Observer that the call sheet for Tinker Tailor is one he will frame and keep forever, he plays that acknowledged admiration to his advantage to cultivate the relationship between hero and hero-worshiper that exists between Smiley and Guillam. The film also boasts strong performances by Tom Hardy as Ricky Tarr, Mark Strong as Jim Prideaux, as well as Kathy Burke as Connie Sachs and Svetlana Khodchenkova as Irina.

For viewers who’ve read LeCarre’s novel, the film sustains the basics of the suspenseful plot with a few minor departures, and some of the more poignant scenes—particularly those that lingered on facial expressions and wordless but heavily coded gazes did homage to Lecarre’s fluid, descriptive writing. To those unfamiliar with the original story, the plot is summarized concisely, if confusingly at times—mostly due to the challenge of adapting such a complex story into a two-hour film—but the frequent flashbacks and oft-jarring scene shifts lend themselves well to the air of suspense. The real enjoyment, however, comes from watching a selection of talented actors conquering a cast of complex characters.

Film synopsis partially taken from IMDB, and thanks to Benedictcumberbatch.co.uk for posting the article in The Observer

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Colin Firth 1, Ricky Gervais 0: or, why you shouldn’t mess with a racist blind kitten-puncher

After the 2010 and 2011 Golden Globe Awards, I thought we’d all had our fair share of Ricky Gervais…apparently not. The BBC has posted a list of Gervais’s more…quotable comments from last night’s award ceremony.

Normally my smiling muscles barely remember how to twitch at Gervais, and I have been accused of being in need of a sense of humor transplant for that, but when he accused Colin Firth of being a small animal-torturing racist, I confess I failed miserably at my determination to keep from laughing–not at Gervais’s comment, but at the characteristically Colinesque rejoinder: Colin Firth and Ricky Gervais at the 2012 Golden Globes

Colin Firth 1, Ricky Gervais 0.

Ah well, what else did I expect? As Gervais himself said, what other job allows you to get drunk, say whatever the hell you want, and still get paid for it?

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Playing with Fire, Scorched by Flame: Ellen Hopkins’ Burned

I’ve had this novel in my “TBR” pile for several months, and in the humdrum of returning to work after the holiday, I decided to pick it up, thinking that some good young adult fiction would help me forget, at least temporarily, the stress of life. (Obviously I was new to Ellen Hopkins). I found, instead of the trials and tribulations of teen angst, a compelling story of love and hate, of faith and doubt, of feud and forgiveness.

Pattyn Von Stratten is a good Mormon girl: completing her chores, caring for her six younger siblings, dutifully attending sacrament meetings and seminary, tacitly tolerating her father’s alcoholism and abuse and her mother’s submissiveness to his domineering ways. But then a secret relationship with a “real boy”—a non-Mormon boy—incurs her father’s wrath and triggers a chain of drama that results in Pattyn’s “exile” to spend the summer with an estranged aunt in Nevada.

Banished from her home to be punished, Pattyn finds comfort in the arms of “Aunt J”. Battered and broken, she learns about the healing power of love. After years of attending sacrament meetings and adhering to church elders who rarely practice what they preach, Pattyn finds God in the thunder that rolls across the mountain range, in the rhythmic rocking of a horse’s canter, in the eyes of a boy who loves her. So long crouched in cold darkness, she blooms in the wild of the Nevada desert. But in these vast, wide open spaces where her heart is free to fly, is there a shelter in which she can escape her demons?

Burned is a story about the choice to love and the consequences of that choice—that with great gifts come great responsibility, and that even God, in his infinite wisdom, deals doses of tough love. Ellen Hopkins’ simple yet elegant pros at once touches and twists the heart of the reader, and Pattyn’s story is one that gives voice to any young girl forced to grow up in a narrow-sheltered world where questions are forbidden by adults who have no answers.

Note: not being entirely familiar with the Mormon faith, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the portrayal, but this is a story whose power is not bound by cast and creed; Pattyn’s family could just as easily be a Protestant family, A catholic family, a rich family or a poor one. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who struggles in a world where being lost seems far easier than finding oneself.

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So Much for Not Procrastinating in 2012: Better Late than Never

“So, I think my resolution for 2012 will be to stop procrastinating,” I declared.
“And what else?” prompted my friend.

“Well, I don’t know yet. I haven’t made my resolution list for this year.”

“Really? So how’s that not procrastinating working out for you?”

Here we are with another year at our backs. I have to give myself at least a bit of credit for having made such an ambitious resolution list for 2011, even if there’s a part of me that’s now thinking we ought to tear a leaf out of cellphone providers’ books and institute resolution rollover plans. There’s something to be said for the argument that we need to set realistic goals for ourselves in life, and that whatever we might say, a year is sometimes insufficient. Then the voice in my head that reminds me that procrastinating has been one of my watch-words on nearly every new-year’s resolution list for as long as I can remember, and I find myself scribbling yet another resolution reminder on my list: note to self- stop rationalizing resolution rollover.

I refuse to let myself think that starting a full week into 2012 will make my resolve any weaker, and as always, I plan to challenge myself in ways both fun and fulfilling, combining pleasure and personal enrichment with professional advancement and self-improvement.

1: Complete my dissertation. I’ve been carrying this thing round with me for exactly two years like a burdensome pregnancy, and I often find the love-hate relationship I have with it not unlike the way singer/songwriter Robbie Williams once described fame: it’s “like having a little baby. It’s really great and really lovely and it takes its first steps and you’re there and you cry, and then it dances a little bit, and you’re there and cry too…and then it shits itself and it pukes everywhere and it goes through the terrible twos when it pulls things off shelves and it burns itself and all that stuff, and you just want to go: ‘This is great. Can I give it you back for a little bit while I do this?'”
I’m not going to delude myself into thinking that completing my dissertation will in any way constitute job security—not in this cut-throat academic market—but I covet that sense of personal accomplishment, and all the more because I’ve moved beyond the desire to prove myself to anyone else (or so I say). What true fulfillment is there in walking across the stage in a vindictive victory dance, proclaiming to the world, “Who says a blind girl can’t get a PH.D.? In yo face!” If I’ve really dedicated the last four years of my life merely to proving a point, I might as well quit now, because where’s the true sense of accomplishment in that? (Never mind the fact that quitting is practically impossible, because, as they say on Avenue Q, what would I do with a B.A in English?). Note to Self: marginal resolution- stop listening to “It Sucks to be Me (What do you do with a B.A in English) on loop on my Mp3 player, as I suspect this might be a large contributing factor to my academic depression…that and having no visible means of livelihood.

2: Make a habit of writing down at least five things that made me smile each day, as long as the things that make me smile don’t involve witnessing someone I intensely dislike falling down a flight of stairs.

3: accept that in each moment of each day, I am precisely where God wants me to be, and learn to recognize the touch of his hand in every situation, even those that inconvenience me. I recently read a story about a man who discovered on his way to work one morning that he’d left his metro card at home and turned back on his way to the subway. He worked at the World Trade Center. That morning was September 11. Over a decade later, he’s probably supremely grateful that he forgot his metro card. The Lord is my navigator. I’m merely along for the ride.

4: read at least one biography of Queen Victoria (unfortunately this is a rollover from last year. I discovered while watching “The Young Victoria” and “The King’s Speech” last year that I really ought to have been better at identifying historical figures, particularly given my chosen career and field of specialization).
5: Read at least ten more titles on the BBC’s list of 100 books everyone should read that I still have yet to cover.

6: Watch at least five films in my pet project: “Catching up with Colin”—you know, the one I promised I’d finish last year. (This, admittedly, comes under the heading of pleasure, with border-line cross-overs into the professional…yes, I do in fact list “adaptation studies” as one of my research interests on my CV). Sadly, I only watched 2 more in 2011 that I hadn’t previously seen, but in my defense, the Firth filmography is impressively lengthy and constantly growing.

Admittedly this list isn’t nearly as extensive as last year’s, but I think that item 1 at least will keep me fairly busy. I do have plenty to look forward to this year, namely a trip to Boston with K in April to present our Sherlock Holmes paper and the forthcoming publication of that paper in /Sherlock Holmes in the 21st Century/.

So, 2012, give me all you’ve got—I’m ready!

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