The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — March 2010

One Heart

Graffiti often shines a glaring, ugly light into the darkness of the urban heart, though, sometimes when inspired, it is a form of modern poetry, not unlike the haiku, though with none of its formality. Take this example I found scribbled along a railing not far from Fort Snelling State Park:

One heart, one life, one love. Space is a sexy monster.

One assumes “Space” is a person’s name, and that he or she has captured someone’s heart, though I like to imagine otherwise. I prefer to think of the author as a modern explorer, looking inward as Rumi might, into why life is a mystery and how fortunate we are to live on this mind-boggling planet called earth. (Sorry if I’m sounding like Thornton Wilder today. I can’t help it. I’m in that kind of mood.) He or she was so full of joy that she needed to tell the rest of us in the only way she could.

March 31, 2010   Comments Off on One Heart


Frost has barely passed
And already irises
Push through pallid earth.

March 30, 2010   Comments Off on 263

A Child’s Imagination

An impromptu puppet show with small stamps, a paper tightrope, and hastily scrawled drawings is the epitome of a child’s imagination in action. Most adults lose this facility for seeing into the real nature of reality as something we invent on the spot, though some of us do not. How dull and boring life becomes when it is totally consumed with getting and spending. Wordsworth said it best:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. -Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

One of my German professors in college—a free spirit, philanderer, and ex Luffwaffe pilot, who, of course, was gotten rid of by the administration—refused to yield to this material undertow of life. He drove around in a restored maroon antique car with cream interior, had hair down to his shoulders, and blue eyes that sparkled with joy and mischief. Over warm beer at his house one afternoon, I remember him telling me—as he told old dozens of students like myself who worked too hard and thought only of grades—that he used to squeeze the joy out of life like a lemon until there was no taste left, but not any more, never again. I’ve never forgotten his advice, nor the image I have of his wife, the most long suffering woman I had ever seen. Nothing could disguise her unhappiness. He is dead now, so he won’t mind my saying that one must enjoy one’s freedom responsibly. Maybe that was the real lesson of the 60s and early 70s.

March 29, 2010   Comments Off on A Child’s Imagination


Wrapped in winter silks
The tumescent urban shrubs
Strain to be released.

March 28, 2010   Comments Off on 262

Angels of Light

My generation was sad and beautiful, inspired and demented—lost souls who thought they had found the promised land until Ronald Reagan put an end to it. That’s a hint, the only one I’ll give you. I’ll say ten Hail Marys for each and every person who guesses correctly the source of the following quotes:

  • “This is what we were born to do. We were born to change everything.”
  • “So strange to be living up in the clouds. I live with the angels of light.”
  • “It was complete sexual anarchy, which is always a wonderful thing.”
  • “All the plaid shirts in the world were there, and all the sequins went that way.”
  • “Because my friends, my beloved ones, were dabbling in the dark arts.”
  • “There was one room for lesser stars, and that was the room I was put into.”
  • “I was notorious for my laugh which was really eccentric, so they put 2 and 2 together and made me Phyllis Diller.”
  • “We got married on Mount Tam for Rolling Stone and our parents and for the blender.”
  • “It was as if they were pulling dead rabbits out of hats.”
  • “There, one at a time, off the plane came thirty, forty, fifty of the most outrageous characters New York has seen since the Copa Girls left.”
  • “They could not get out of that theater fast enough, and it hurt, it really did.”
  • “I had a tiger by the tail and I couldn’t hold on and I couldn’t let go. And that summed it up for me. But I wouldn’t trade those experiences for a billion dollars. That was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

March 26, 2010   Comments Off on Angels of Light


With tails up the deer
Scamper beside the highway
Near Coldwater Spring.

March 26, 2010   Comments Off on 261

A Murder of Quality

I don’t particularly like English mysteries. Mostly because they’re so formulaic. Not unlike playing a game of Clue. First, you show the crime, but in an enigmatic way so that no one really knows how or by whom it was committed. Then, you present the inspector and your list of suspects, carefully delineating each of their motives for wanting the deceased out of the way. Finally, you spin the subsequent events, using flashbacks when necessary to fill in missing details, until the inspector gets his man or woman. None of it really matters because the crime is generally committed in a place and in such a way that it’s totally improbable. You have to enjoy the guessing game to like the genre.

In 1962, before writing his famous spy novels, John le Carré wrote A Murder of Quality, which was turned into a made-for-television movie in 1991 by Thames Television. Le Carré followed the formula with precision, only embellishing on it by adding those themes that interested him throughout his career—homosexuality, the English public school system, the Empire’s decay, men beaten down by their philandering wives, and a hero who uses his mole-like appearance to his benefit. The novel is eminently forgettable, but the television film rises above the ordinary because it stars Denholm Eliot as George Smiley.

Maybe this novel was Le Carré’s way of fleshing out the Smiley character before he really needed him in his later spy thrillers. Smiley is a fascinating character. He’s self-effacing to the point where most people take him for a quite ordinary, harmless person. He’s intensely loyal and honest, but his devious, superior mind is always working, much as god’s might, beyond the scope of ordinary mortal’s. He is patient, can withstand a blow from anyone and not be diverted from his path, and always wins in the end. In a way, he’s not very English. Totally unlike the blathering fools who populated the upper classes at the time, and distinctly different from the rest of us who never see beyond the facade of life until some genius gives us a glimpse of another reality. In my mind, Le Carré’s real gift was not his ingeniously plotted spy novels, nor his wonderfully baroque writing style (at its best), but the odd and interesting characters he created, with Smiley being foremost among them.

March 25, 2010   Comments Off on A Murder of Quality


The moment before
And, then, the moment after:
Nothing in between.

March 23, 2010   Comments Off on 260


Mind that is no mind
Seeing without perceiving
A kestrel in flight

March 22, 2010   Comments Off on 259

Is Rafa Possessed?

Listening to Rafa Benítez explain how Alex Ferguson has gotten into the heads of referees, causing them to call nonexistent fouls against his team, is amusing. Rafa is clearly losing it. If not the referees, Ferguson has clearly gotten into his head. It’s too bad because he seems like a football nerd who means well. Stubborn, though. I wonder when Benítez will figure out that there is something wrong with his coaching strategy. Liverpool are not a Spanish side playing in La Liga, but an English team playing in the Premiership. Even I’ve grasped this essential fact—as have the Liverpool fans and all other interested parties except Rafa himself. I wonder what Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce would make of the scattered bit and pieces that now constitute the The Red’s player pool. I doubt we’ll ever find out since Rafa seems destined to hang on to the bitter end. Glad I’m not a Liverpool fan. It’s going to be a long and dreary ride.

March 22, 2010   Comments Off on Is Rafa Possessed?