Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weak 'Bones'

Last year around this time, when i decided to take my blog seriously and post frequently, i asked on facebook for suggestions about getting an audience. one of my then-recent castle kids suggested i do reviews or discussions of current pop culture events, new movies or bands.  i kept that in the back of my mind, though the only bands i pay attention to are from the 1940s, and it's pretty much the same with movies.  but i do love at least one major form of pop culture--tv.

so far, however, to the extent that i've discussed tv here at all, it's been pbs or the msnbc lefties.  but the truth is, i'm devoted to more than just rachel maddow.  in the summer i teach a course on tv in american life, and both summer and fall a course on women in media, which is a bit topheavy with tv.  i get hooked on tv fiction series, and in fact will likely be posting a lot as the summer season gets started: for some reason the basic cable channels have a lot of women-centered summer dramas. among others, last year's drop-dead diva will return, as will, for one last season,  the wonderful closer, with kyra sedgewick.

i'm a little more scattered over the rest of the year, with no fiction shows i'm dedicated to watching regularly. but there are some i spend a fair amount of time with, and among these is bones.  for anyone who doesn't know, 'bones' is the nickname of forensic anthropologist  Temperance Brenner, who regularly solves cases with the help of her FBI partner, Seeley Booth.  as both are gorgeous [are there any ordinary-looking law enforcement professionals in tv land?] and around 30, there was bound to be sexual chemistry, especially since they disliked each other at first, which seems to be a prerequisite for tv romance.  that's fine--and kind of fun.  their characters are different enough, but based in shared values, that the sexual tension can be interesting.  last year, we knew that booth had strong feelings for bones when he had a brain-tumor-induced fantasy that they were married.  cool.  and it has been clear through most of the show's six-year history that the far more repressed, relationship-shy bones had stronger feelings for booth than she allowed herself to see.

all of this has been nice, complementing but not taking over the crime-suspense focus of the show.  and they are helped by a terrific secondary cast whose characters all have their own issues.

when we learned from entertainment news shows that the actor who plays bones was pregnant, it became clear that something would change for that perpetually pre-physical couple.  there were a number of ways that could be played out without resorting to the once-obligatory depiction of the pregnant hero surrounded by potted plants.  why then did the producers take the cheesiest way out that they could come up with?  at the end of this season's final episode,  with no hint that it was coming, bones told booth that she was pregnant, and he was the father. we were left with his half-smiling, half-stunned expression.

the audience were also  half stunned, but i suspect not all of them were smiling. i wasn't.  after 6 years of foreplay, we were suddenly given the information that somewhere along the line, the deed was done, and they forgot to tell us.  not a kiss, not a meaningful glance.  compounding the idiocy was the fact that the crime they had just solved involved their posing as a married couple.  okay, a trite devise: they have to pretend to be a couple and be kissy-cuddly enough to fool the perps, and we see their discomfort and embarrassment through the act, but we know, as they presumably don't, that on a third level they really wish they were a couple.  both actors did a fine job.  but that's how they played it.  had the characters had sex, it would have been played, or should have been played, differently, no matter what the direction was. if  there'd been a one-night stand they had both backed away from, they'd be a lot more awkward with their role playing. had they begun a relationship, they'd show a degree of satisfaction in the game that was only partly a lie.

setting up the audience for a surprise is a perfectly kosher way to move into to a cliffhanging season finale.  but only if they give us the clues.  you can't end the mystery with the-butler-did-it if there was never a butler in the first place.  having her simply tell him she was pregnant would be fine, and we could be comfortably guessing who the father was and how the pregnancy would affect the bones/booth relationship as well as her work.  or they could have given us in the third- or fourth-last episode the scene they'd been setting us up for in the last 6 years.  the kiss, the moment of recognition, the waking-up-together-the-next-morning.

personally, i would prefer they never acted on their attraction.  it wasn't totally inevitable.  i've really appreciated the way another crime show has handled a similar dynamic for years.  it's clear that there is some attraction between the partners in law and order:svu.  it's also clear that they have both chosen to leave it at that: they are partners and friends and they care about each other. he's married, but even during his separation and near -divorce, they didn't go there.  the show has been able to sustain this because we see, through the writing, directing, and acting, that these people deeply respect each other and would do nothing to jeopardize their relationship, whose intensity is based not as much on sexual attraction or romance but on the importance of their work.  their nearly choreographic understanding of each other plays out in numerous  tracking-down-the-bad-guy depictions in which they are attuned to each other's every word and gesture.  they must be and are routinely prepared to save each other's lives.

i'm not sure bones could achieve that, and by now its audience is used to thinking of them as an incipient romantic couple.  nothing wrong with that.  but it can be done well, even elegantly.  this certainly wasn't.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Things Happen that Way

in mid-february, at the castle, i wrote and posted a poem called 'fragments on aging.'  though the poem indeed came out of my own concerns about growing old, the details weren't necessarily accurate.  one fragment read:

the bruise has faded but the pain's still there
and now no one says
'you poor thing, what happened?

the only bruise  i had at the time was on my toe, so neither its existence nor its fading was commented on by anyone.  but i liked the sound of the line.  then 2 weeks later in prague, i took a huge spill, vastly bruising my face, and everyone was very helpful and kind and caring through the rest of the term.  so much for being abandoned because i was old.

back home, two weeks ago, i wrote and posted an essay on shaking hands.  as i explained, it wasn't so much that i thought it was an important subject, but for at least ten years, i had lines in my head for a poem about hand shaking and could never pull it together, so i decided that making it an essay would get it out of the way and it  would leave me alone thereafter.

today i sat at the computer to do tax stuff---probably the greatest prompter to write poetry, or indeed anything else, and the poem presented itself to me.  i'd never thought of a haiku, though i've written many in my life.  but i guess that's what it wanted to be.  so here it is:

hands grasp each other
arms reach out,
 create empty space.  safe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Shaking hands

for years, infrequently emerging from the back of my mind but rarely remaining long enough to act on it, a poem about hand-shaking waits to be written.  i have a good idea of what i want to write, and even a version of a last line, but somehow the poem refuses to get itself written.  but now it occurs to me that, with a blog, i can satisfy the urge in prose.

so here it is.

i have always been saddened by the fact that we so seldom shake hand anymore.  one meeting--and then only when it's in a fairly formal context, like a job interview--seems to suffice, and after that you're on hugging terms.  i've developed into quite a hugger myself over the years, but i still try to reserve it for people of whom i'm really fond.  there's more handshaking in the netherlands, or maybe it's just that i meet people for the first time more often when i'm there.  but here's the thing:

a hug says 'i love you,' or at least 'i feel warmly toward you.'  a handshake says, either 'it's nice to meet you [or to see you again]' or, to someone you're already acquainted with, 'i like you.'  there's amiability in a handshake, but not sentiment.  i love its history--'here is my hand, in which as you see i hold no weapon. i'm willing to deal with you on the assumption that we're not planning to kill each other.'  it's a statement of amiability, which has the potential of friendship on a level that may or may not grow into affection. the gesture is magnificent: you touch each other, grasp each other's hands, but from two arms worth of distance.  that might escalate to huggingness--or maybe not.  as a girl-child, i liked the no-nonsense masculinity of a handshake; it seemed very adult somehow.

anyway that's it. the poem that refused to be.  now i can let it go intelligently--like the release of ending a handshake and getting on with business.

Monday, May 2, 2011

tulip mania

here's the peculiar thing about tulips: they remind me of the netherlands.  okay, so they remind lots of people of the netherlands.  nothing strange there.

except that the netherlands i know and love--and live in 3 months a year--isn't especially partial to tulips.  they like them all right; they like most flowers.  but where i live when i'm there is in the south, in the province of Limburg.  and it wasn't limburg where the great tulip craze of the 17th century took place.  that was up north, in the province of holland, a very different place than Limburg.  holland is fine, but i don't get there a lot. so when spring comes to  the southern part of nederland, it brings flowers galore, and you see tulips around, as you do here in boston.  you just don't see them especially.

but everyone thinks they do, because, after all, this is 'holland.' [  most southern dutch people seem to have given up arguing that they're not in holland].  students who arrive with me in january ask when the tulips bloom.  they expect the castle to be surrounded with tulips.  even when it isn't, they expect it.  people at home ask me how the tulips were.  they look puzzled when i say i haven't seen that many.

then when i get home, i see tulips all over the place.  they're gorgeous.  and they make me long to be back in holland.

only i rarely see holland.  and i see more tulips here than i do in the netherlands.  the first time i teared up at the sight of tulips in boston, i thought i was going crazy.  but i've finally figured it out.  tulips remind me of all the people who expect tulips all over the netherlands. and that reminds me of the netherlands and of my life there 3 months a year.  and that's why i love tulips and why i think of holland when i see them....

bin laden death--My 2 cents [for now]

On  the home page of New York Times online, the first headline, of course, is BIN LADEN IS DEAD, OBAMA SAYS.  next to it is an equally large perfume ad, in which a scantily clad woman clutches a giant perfume bottle, while a lion sits next to her.

a perfect embodiment of futility.

the beat goes on.  it's hard to mourn the death of a monster. but it's hard to key in to the manic dancing-in-the-street reactions.  bin laden died in the knowledge that he had accomplished all he could, and that his work would be carried on by his own people and, more significantly, by all the offshoots he inspired but didn't lead.  what can possibly change for the rest of us, now?  he is as useful to his cause dead as alive.  more, perhaps. a living hero might influence the course of events.  a martyr can only inspire, and what he inspires is beyond his own or anyone else's control.  at most, his death might change the order of who kills who and when.  the martyr will be avenged and his successors will prove themselves carriers of the flag by killing americans and europeans,  and those muslims within their own countries who don't share their warped brand of islam.  and in turn, our government will kill more afghanistanis and pakistanis, and our homie  rightwing nutjobs will kill more muslims [and any dark-skinned americans they think may look like muslims], and thunderously burn the occasional koran.

and that sexy lady with the lion?  they too will go about their business. they are as important and dangerous an icon as bin laden.  their forces too will destroy as many of us as possible in a much shrewder and  more palatable way.  they belong to the conservatives, to the forces of 'free trade' and pseudo-democracy. they will attack our environment, impoverish many of us, starve out the children of the poor.  and no soldiers will attack them in their mansions and kill them.

so what to say for the newly dead bin laden?  i can't wish that he rest in peace: if there's an afterlife, i hope it includes a long and grisly purgatory for him, to cleanse that very evil soul.  but dance in the street and wave flags?  not me, i'm afraid. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Shorter than a Haiku


flower. They do.

They flower.  They


Sylvia had

...a sink in her bedroom.  i don't recall dreaming of it, but i woke up this morning thinking about that sink. it was such a wonderful, amazing thing, a sink in your bedroom.   i don't remember ever seeing water come out of its faucets.  it seems, in my memory, a kind of shrine, its gods a row of never-to-be-used painted soaps.   one of them was a blue-suited donald duck, and, another, to my mind the greatest deity of the collection, was the sculpted head of marilyn monroe. her face was turned slightly upward; her lipstick bright red, her hair wavy and yellow, her skin a perfect, slightly rosy, beige.  i must have been aware [i was 7 or  8 at the time] that the real marilyn was a movie star.  but that little soap figure was something separate to me: beautiful, wondrous, the crowning glory of that glorious sink.  it all seemed so right,  it was the sort of thing only sylvia would have.   i never envied it, or wanted one in my own room down the street.  it belonged with sylvia, like orange soda at lunch, like the high stoop on that hilled house where we sat on summer days, like the screened porch where you could sit and watch the rain.  she lived in that house, i learned recently, only for a couple of years before they moved, but in my memory she had  lived there always.  i've never asked her, in all the decades since, if she took marilyn and the other soaps with her when they left.  but how could she have? where would you put them in a regular house, in a bedroom without a sink?