Monday, August 11, 2014

You Complete Me

I came up with what I thought was a clever idea the other day.

Since my husband and I are about to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I decided to write about some of my favorite romantic moments from movies. I began scribbling away, and within a few minutes I had a list of almost 20 scenes. Among them were Aidan Quinn watching Rosanna Arquette’s dopey magic act in Desperately Seeking Susan, Julian Sands striding towards Helena Bonham Carter across a field of barley in A Room with a View, and Rebecca Pidgeon and Jeremy Northam sparring their way through The Winslow Boy.

I thought this list would make me happy, but as it grew, so did my unease. With just three exceptions, all of the films I thought of feature characters who are white and heterosexual, a fact that brought home to me the sad truth that huge numbers of people (whether that means you, your neighbor, your doctor, your co-worker or your partner) aren’t represented on our movie screens.

Which brings me to another question: Why is it that publishers of the printed word seem to have more faith in the idea that diversity can sell than the mainstream film industry does? The people who produce books understand that someone like me (white, female, married to a man) might pay money to read about the adventures of Armistead Maupin’s Michael Tolliver or the rise of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At a recent writing conference, my son, a filmmaker/film critic, was told that any script featuring gay characters would be “a hard sell.” Why is that? How do we know for sure when we’ve had such limited access to such films? Couldn’t mainstream movies bring a greater variety of characters to life and move us all in some way? Americans were enthralled by Chiwetel Ejiofar's performance in 12 Years a Slave but what about seeing more characters like Don Cheadle’s depiction of a dentist/dad in Reign Over Me?

What about the connection we naturally feel for our fellow human beings? Isn’t it possible that it could flourish in a darkened movie theater?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The White Rose

When I stand at my kitchen sink washing dishes I look out the window and see the grapevine growing on our fence. Beyond the fence is the backyard of the house where we used to live and in the yard is a white rose that blooms through all of spring and into fall.

I gave the rose to my husband for our 10th wedding anniversary and also because his mother had died just five days before. That was 20 years ago, but I can still hear her voice, the rhythmic, soft tones of a woman who’d come here from the Scottish highlands, where she lived on a farm and milked cows and cooked dinner over a peat fire. 

She tried working and living in the town of Aberdeen for a while, but then her older sister died and she had to come back to help her dad and three brothers on the farm. She was in her early 30’s before she could make her escape to Toronto, where she met her husband, a printer who’d just emigrated from Glasgow. My daughter looks a little like her, and my son has the red hair of his Scottish forebears.

Last year our next door neighbors built a pergola in their backyard. On one side of the pergola is a trellis and on the trellis the white rose, which once grew low to the ground, has gone wild, growing taller, reaching wider than I thought possible.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Round Round Get Around

Confession: I’m a bit embarrassed by our newest car. Not because it pollutes the air with rude noises or billowing black smoke. No, our car, a Passat, makes me blush because it’s just a little too nice. Not that it’s particularly luxurious. At the age of 12, it has a cracked windshield and is decorated with a collection of dings acquired by its previous owners.

Still, the Passat is kind of fancy (plush seats, a Frenchy sounding name and an air conditioner that actually works) in a way that’s a little foreign to me. Not to mention that in the year since we bought it, the car has yet to break down at some inopportune time (e.g., on the way to work or to an appointment), which seems like a rare luxury indeed – like eating a gourmet brownie when a bowl of potato soup would suffice.

Consider some of the vehicles my husband I have owned in the past, like the ’63 midnight blue Chevy Impala that went kaput about a month after we bought it from a bearded folk singer. Although our time together was brief, the long, sleek Impala with the chrome trim was my first car, and I still get a little tingly when I think of steering it down a curving, tree-lined road.
We bought our next car, a ’68 Buick Skylark, after our son was born. I suppose it was a beauty when it was new, with pristine upholstery and pale olive paint that shimmered in the sunlight. But when we acquired it, the Skylark was already over 20 years old, and its paint had dulled to a flat khaki. Inside, its seats were damp and cracked and half of the automatic windows no longer went up and down (well, they did go down).

Working as a freelance writer, I’d tuck my son into his car seat and together we’d drive all over town, picking up new work and dropping off completed projects between trips to grocery stores, playgroups and parks. As my son got a little older, we played tapes in the Skylark too, and we’d sing together. We sang “Let’s Take It Nice and Easy” with Frank Sinatra and we sang “A Fine Romance” with Fred Astaire and we sang “It’s Love, It’s Love” with Lena Horne. Besides getting us where we wanted to go, the giant, rust-flecked car made me want to laugh over the incongruity of a small-boned mother with a penchant for poetry driving such a big lunky thing. Of course the Skylark had a poetry of its own as its V-8 engine carried my son and I up and over hills as easily as a sled gliding through the snow.

When our daughter was born, we brought her home from the hospital in the Skylark, with me sitting beside her in the back seat and murmuring words of comfort to help ease the shock of being taken via C-Section from my womb only to be tucked inside a musty old Buick. By the time our girl was four, though, the Skylark was acting up. When it started dying in the middle of intersections, we felt compelled to replace it with a shiny Ford Escort, which was reliable enough, although we soon learned this new vehicle was a poor little tin can of a car that strained to make its way up roads with a slight incline.

Perhaps the Escort was an ill-conceived purchase, but it was light and easy to drive, and now, 15 years later, it has acquired a weathered look that’s as comfortable as an old chambray shirt, and I still enjoy driving it now and then just to prove that my tastes haven’t become too posh.
Now, just a block away from our house, a light rail line is being constructed. In the process, our once-gritty, industrial neighborhood has been graced with smooth white sidewalks, tasteful landscaping and a series of canoe sculptures that seem to be floating up a stream of tall waving grasses. When the new train is up and running, I just may be ready to turn in my keys for both the smooth-running Passat and my old friend the Escort. After all, I’d love to let someone else do the driving while I sit and people-watch or read or write.

Then again, I’ve always had a little yen to own a Ford Falcon. Maybe a ’63 convertible, red, two doors. If you know of one that’s for sale, let me know.