Monday, February 21, 2011

Glazed with Rain Water

                                          The Red Wheelbarrow
                                          by William Carlos Williams

                                          so much depends

                                          a red wheel

                                          glazed with rain

                                          beside the white

Thinking of this poem today, and how much depends on it, for me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Songwriter for Hire

Dear Rodney Atkins,

I know what you're going to think.  You're going to think that I'm some strange groupie who watches all of your videos and has delusional fantasies about meeting you, etc., etc.  But in fact, I had never heard of you until yesterday.  You see, I have Sirius satellite radio in my minivan and I've been in an inexplicable country music phase for the past week.  Oh, don't let the fact that I hadn't heard of you offend you in any way.  I have several kids and a couple of puppies, lots of laundry most days and really, I can't keep up with what's current, especially in the country music world, which I visit quite sporadically.  But I heard your song Farmer's Daughter and it brought to mind a country song I had written some time ago.  It's good, I think, and would be perfect for you.  I looked on your website...
...and you seem to sing songs about normal people with normal situations and you have an old-fashioned sound that I like.  A true country sound, from what little I know about it.  I did see Charlie Pride in concert one time, and Kenny Chesney too (not together).  I have sent an email to your management company, to inquire about the best address to reach you and send you these lyrics.  Oh, and I've "liked" you on Facebook, an action that I'm sure will catch your attention and be quite rewarding to you in your career.  The music portion of this song, I'm afraid, will be up to you, because I'm a writer, not a musician and as I said, quite busy with household duties.  I think it should be called "Let's Get Married and Be Happy."

Baby it seems that lately, the only song you know
Is some sob story they’ve been playin’ on the radio
About a guy and girl headed for tragedy,
But baby, that girl ain’t you and that guy isn’t me.

Let’s get married and be happy,
I won’t cheat on you and you won’t discuss me
(with your girlfriends, you know how you do).
We’ll buy a house and take vacations,
Exercise daily and practice meditation,
Let’s get married and be happy.

Baby I know the first time, we didn’t do things right.
Your man had no job and my wife liked to fight.
By now, it should be easier for us to see,
Baby, that wife wasn’t you and that deadbeat ain’t me.

Let’s get married and be happy
I won’t cheat on you and you won’t discuss me
(with your mother and tell her things).
We’ll sit on the porch after we eat,
Watch TV together twice a week,
Let’s get married and be happy.

Baby I think that time can surely heal old wounds,
Things always run smoother the second time around
Take my hand and we’ll settle down,
Baby if you let me, I’ll stick around.

Let’s get married and be happy.
I won’t cheat on you and you won’t discuss me
(with my friends, at some bar).
We’ll buy a house and take vacations,
Become experts in communication,
Let’s get married and be happy.

Looking forward to hearing from you, Mr. Atkins (can I call you Rodney?).  You can reach me on Facebook, or here, and I'll do my best to answer promptly.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dialogue: the spoken, the unspoken

I've been thinking about dialogue and what makes it work for me.  It seems that it's a fine balance between what is said between characters and what is left unsaid.  Sometimes, it's a signpost to things unknown to the characters themselves, things lurking just below the surface.  In this way, it's much like writing the narrative portions.  The writer's job, it seems, is to make a bit of a puzzle of it, something for the reader to figure out. 

One of the best scenes of dialogue I can recall comes at the end of Ingmar Bergman's classic movie, Scenes from a Marriage.  As the title implies, the movie is an intimate look inside the relationship between Marianne and Johan.  They argue, make love, separate and reunite, then separate again.  As in many Bergman movies, the dialogue is frequent and microscopic; however, there's always an uncertainty with these characters.  Is Marianne frigid and unreachable in some way?  Is Johan able to truly bond with anyone?  Their relationship proceeds in fits and starts; even after divorce, they are unable to let each other go.  In the final scene, they have the following exchange.  In the video, it occurs toward the end of the five minutes.  Even in Swedish you can feel the uncertainty, the familiarity amidst the unfamiliarity.

Yes, my dear.
Are we living in utter confusion?
You and I?
No, all of us.
What do you mean?
I'm talking about fear, uncertainty and ignorance.
Do you think that secretly we're afraid we're slipping downhill and don't know what to do?
Yes, I think so.
Is it too late?
But we shouldn't say things like that.  Only think them.
Have we missed something important?
All of us?
No, you and I.
What would that be?
At times I can read your mind, and I feel such tenderness that I forget myself.  Without having to efface myself.  It's a new sensation.  Do you understand?
I understand.
Sometimes it grieves me that I've never loved anyone.  I don't think I've ever been loved either.  That distresses me.
Now you're being dramatic.
Am I?
I know what I feel.  I love you in my selfish way.  And I think you love me in your fussy, pestering way.  We love each other in an earthly and imperfect way.  But you're so demanding.
I am.
But here I am, in the middle of the night, without much fanfare, in a dark house somewhere in the world, sitting with my arms around you.  And your arms are around me.  I'm not the most compassionate of men.
No, you're not.
I don't seem to have the imagination for it.
No, you're rather unimaginative.
I don't know what my love looks like, and I can't describe it.  Most of the time I can't feel it.
And you really think I love you too?
Yes, I do.  But if we harp on it, our love will evaporate.
Let's sit like this all night.
Oh, no, let's not.
One leg's gone to sleep, my left arm's practically dislocated, I'm sleepy, and my back's cold.
Then let's snuggle down.
Yes, let's.
Good night, my darling.  It was good talking to you.
Sleep well.
Thanks.  Same to you

And just like that, just when we felt worn down by the intense view of this relationship, at the end of the movie, we come full circle, feeling at once comforted and frightened by the fragility and confusion of human interactions.  Marianne and Johan's marriage remains a complete enigma and yet, makes perfect sense.  Is this love they're feeling?  With all of their dialogue, are they truly communicating at all?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a fluke!

This is Dicrocoelium dendriticum, the way it begins life as an egg in the stool of a grazing animal.  An easier name is the lancet liver fluke.  A very specific type of parasite with a very complex life cycle.  First, this fluke is ingested by the common snail, whose body forms a cyst around it as an effort to fight it off.  The fluke is excreted and is very appealing in this form, in its bodysuit of snail goo, to ants, who devour the entire package.  In the body of the ant, something curious happens.  This parasite moves to a section of nerves near the ant's esophagus (who knew they had one?!) and by destroying cells here, manipulates the ant's behavior.  In the cooler, evening hours, most ants retire to their respective hills; an ant with the lancet liver fluke climbs to the top of a blade of grass and clamps on.  An easy meal for cattle and sheep, who like to graze during these hours.  The livestock is the final host for the fluke; here, it lives out its days.  A typical infection of say, a sheep, will include tens of thousands of these worms.

The radio show about the fluke implied an intent on the part of the parasite, a reserve of purpose, a driving lifeforce of sorts.  Maybe I'm a glass-half-empty person, but I can only see this as determinism.  This parasite had no choice but to evolve into this life cycle, it being what was available in the terrain, it being, ultimately, what worked.  An interesting thing to ponder, how much of our lives are shaped by what we're given, how much is determined by our actions of free will.  Are actions of free will limited by our context?  Is the fluke an unknowing pawn or a formidable survivor?  Strange that something in the world of science could lead to such philosophizing.  Maybe I should have paid more attention in that high school biology class... 
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka