Lavender and Pennies

Whenever you detect the mysterious smell of lavender in a house, it means a friendly spirit is passing through one of the nearby rooms. The fragrance has to come out of nowhere, I’m told, and it has to be strong. Otherwise, your mind is just playing tricks on you.

And if you see pennies lying around on tables and windowsills, that means the spirits have “been visiting” while you were out. Again, nothing to be alarmed over; just some of the everyday goings on in a world deeply infused with things from well beyond it.

All of this knowledge comes to me by way of a lady who’s worked for my family ever since I was a boy—call her May Iris—and has lived in the very same place since she was a girl. She knows all kinds of things like that, full of a wisdom that’s being lost at a rate too clichéd to remark upon.

For instance, she can distinguish, to the day, between blackberry winter, locust winter, and dogwood winter (in the South, important parts of spring; there’s a mesmerizing story by Robert Penn Warren called “Blackberry Winter”). [Read more...]

Hymn to the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is coming up, and if there’s any time of the year to be less serious, it’s now. On religious holidays, joy is the regnant mood, but there’s always a matched reverence about the affairs; the same is true of the major secular holidays—each with a “let’s take a moment to remember the reason that we’re here today” interlude. Perhaps only Labor Day comes close for pure secular fun-centeredness.

Then again, the Fourth has the underlying commemoration of our independence, a high-minded foundation that Labor Day doesn’t share. But to me, Labor Day is a kind of last hurrah, since summer is officially ending. Personally, that makes it bittersweet, as pit-of-the stomach school dread always hits me hard, regardless of my age, and is coupled with a primordial hatred of the cold weather to come.

So I’ll give the prize to July fourth for noisy, unsophisticated, flat-out enjoyment, and these things in particular: [Read more...]

Appreciating Andrew Wyeth

I’ve had a few nasty discoveries of late. All too often, I’ve found out that things I’ve always valued are considered to have very little value in the estimation of the going market. They’re just not worth as much as I’d believed.

“And why the hell not?” I’ll ask, irked, when given the dismissive news by financiers, appraisers, auctioneers, and agents—anybody whose expertise I’ve called upon for a valuation.

It doesn’t sit well, disillusionment—especially when you think the rest of the world has got it all wrong, and when you’d been counting on their tastes to be in line with your own.

So I wasn’t in the mood for more of the same the other day, after I went to The National Gallery of Art’s new exhibit on Andrew Wyeth. I like Wyeth very much, and after seeing the works—wonderful, evocative renderings of various portals in the farmhouses that he memorialized around his Maine landscape—I did a little research to learn more about some of the images.

Lo and behold, turns out Andrew is a favorite whipping boy of the modern art scene.

[Read more...]

At a Loss for Words

I’m told there are words in Romanian (“dor”) and in Portuguese (“saudade”)—those two outposts in the geography of romance languages—that cannot be easily translated. The concept is a combination of longing, yearning, loving, and missing, wrapped up within melancholy and/or nostalgia, but not exactly any of those things and more precisely all of those things and then some. To see the consternation on the faces of native speakers when they fail at trying to put the idea into words is testament enough that there are some realities for which there are no easy conversions.

Of course this does not mean, as only the silliest of linguistics students likes to parrot, that the hearts and minds of those peoples are deeper, larger, and more poetic than ours. It just means that a concept we are fully capable of experiencing ourselves has never been uniquely nominated in our tongue. Why that’s the case, I don’t know; English has its own set of peculiarities and untranslatable ideas.

But the point I’m interested in is the juxtaposition of love and sadness. Here’s my theory:

  1. Love is transitive.
  2. As such, love requires an object to spend itself upon.
  3. If the object of love is removed, the current is blocked, dammed.
  4. That blockage results in pain.
  5. That pain we call sadness.

[Read more...]

Ruin and Possibility in David Gordon Green’s Joe

How many of our triumphs in a long and confusing life are accountable not to the things that we do, but to the things that we ultimately cannot do? How much larger is a soul for the many unmarked feats, the unnoticed evidence of furious battles fought against the self, just to hold back, to tamp down, to remain and endure when all would warrant otherwise?

Medals, trophies are given for action, not inaction. But it seems a terrible injustice to call the agonies suffered in attempts to retain basic decency “inaction.” The malgre lui who ultimately cannot do what everything inside him says that he should is a quiet, but nonetheless valiant, warrior. They also serve who only withstand and remain.

Such inner turmoil is at the center of David Gordon Green’s latest film, Joe. Among the many fine directors today, Green has consistently impressed with his signature vision, featuring intense sojourners in fraught landscapes. His premiere effort, George Washington—about the burdened lives of children who cover up a crime—was widely appreciated, as were his subsequent movies, All the Real Girls, a love story set in a small Southern town, and Undertow, about a young boy chased by a murderous uncle. Green wrote all of these efforts, but his current offering is based on a novel by the late Mississippi writer, Larry Brown.

In the film, Nicholas Cage has one of his best outings as a man with a past suggested to have been so violent that he’s always one burnt cigarette away from exploding into a rampage. He has to manage himself carefully, isolate himself thoughtfully, from interacting too deeply with others.

[Read more...]


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