Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Movie: I am a human being

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight is the movie, “The Elephant Man” (1980):

“I am not an animal. I am a human being.” These are the words of John Merrick (John Hurt). He is so deformed he becomes known as the Elephant Man. He is a side show freak when Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkns), a surgeon at London Hospital, discovers him. David Lynch’s film is the story of Merrick and Treves’ friendship.

“I am not an animal. I am a human being.” Mistreated most of his life, Merrick blossoms under the care of Treves. Treves discovers that despite his deformity Merrick holds no enmity toward any one. It turns out that he is quite intelligent and kind. Unbelievably kind and gentle.

“I am not an animal. I am a human being.” With his life, John Merrick teaches that it is not appearance that matters. It is the person inside. When the curtain of cruelty and unkindness is ripped away, John Merrick’s light shines brightly.

“I am not an animal. I am a human being.” As Merrick comes out of his shell, Treves is changed as well. Merrick gives Treves his soul back.

“My life is full. I know that I am loved.” These too are John Merrick’s words. “The Elephant Man” is a masterpiece and a tribute to the humanity that was John Merrick.

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Book Review: A wonderful bit of writing 

I want to thank Beth of I didn’t have my glasses on for calling my attention to Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume.

Opening lines of a novel or a short story are always an invitation. Some opening lines are so oft-putting, you just know that a visit with the folks in this house is not going to be worth the effort. Or the time.

A good opening is a Welcome mat that invites you into the story. It says, “C’mon in and sit a spell. You’re sure to have a mighty fine time.” Sara Baume opens her novel, Spill Simmer Falter Wither with these words:

He is running, running, running.

And it’s like no kind of running he’s ever run before. He’s the surge that burst the dam and he’s pouring down the hillslope, channelling through the grass to the width of his widest part. He’s tripping into hoofrucks. He’s slapping groundsel stems down down. Dandelions and chickweed, nettles and dock.

Those are the words of Ray, a 57 year old man in this first person account. He lives alone in a coastal Irish village in the house he inherited from his father. He has only the memories of his father to keep him company. He’s “too old for starting over, too young for giving up” (p. 12). He rescues a one-eyed dog he names One Eye. They are both outcasts, the man and the dog.

When Ray goes to the grocer to buy some food, he reflects:

The grocer’s girl, April, talks loudly on the telephone as she scans my goods, forgetting to proffer a paper bag. I’ve always imagined April was born in April and has three sisters called May, June and July, perhaps an only brother called December because if the summer is a woman, so the winter much be a man. (p.23)

As Ray and One Eye bond, the man takes on a dog’s eye view of his world.

Now the food bowl is the epicenter of your existence, to which the house is attached, and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams. (p.36)

On a walk with One Eye, Ray comments:

I wish I’d been born with your capacity for wonder. (p.41)

Then this:

Now you are my third leg, an unlimping leg, and I am the eye you lost. (p.43)

And there is a joy Ray experiences when he lets One Eye run free in a field outside the village.

You wag your tail. This is the first time I’ve seen you wag your tail. “GOOD BOY!” I yell. (p.48)

One day, while Ray and One Eye go walking, the dog attacks a collie. Ray finally gets One Eye to let go. The collie runs away with its female owner it chasing him. Ray takes One Eye home and hides in the house, afraid of what may happen next. After a while, Ray and One Eye continue their walks. They go out at dawn and find places where they can walk and not have a repeat of the incident with the collie.

Then it happens again. One Eye goes after a shih tzu. Ray retreats back into his house. He is afraid of losing One Eye. The local warden comes for the dog. “A complaint’s been made.” How Ray responds to that complaint drives the rest of the novel.

The friendship that grows between the animal and the human is chronicled in detail in Sara Baume’s beautiful novel. For the first time in each’s life, they have a friend. As I read, I was completely pulled in, not only by the language, but also by the character study of Ray, revealing his rich inner life.

Not only does he open up his perceptions of the world to One Eye. There is also a running dialogue about his dead father. So strong is his memories that it can be said Ray’s father is the third of three major characters.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a book that you will remember long after you put it down. One thing is for sure. Sara Baume has created one of the most moving novels I have ever read. And, in case you’re wondering, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a mondegreen for Spring Summer Fall Winter.

Sara’s second novel, A Line Made By Walking, is out. From the reviews on Amazon, looks like she has a winner with it as well. It will be interesting to follow this writer five, ten, twenty years down the road to see where she leads her readers.

The passing of Arthur

It is evening and Arthur walks his rounds in his camp, speaking to each man with a friendly jest here, a smile there, comforting one, urging another he can bear up well. Then Arthur, king of the Britons, returns to his fire and warms his hands. His squire gives him a spit of meat. Arthur bites into the meat. It is tasty, roasted as he likes it. As he sits there, he realizes that he is a king without a country.

Soon, maybe tomorrow, he will join his friends and his family in the west where men sit by the hearth and tell their tales of great deeds. Tonight he thinks of what might have been. He thinks of how he failed all those who believed in him. He thinks of his two closest friends, Guinevere and Lancelot du Lake, and how they failed him. They didn’t fail him. Can those you love and those who love you ever fail? He failed them. Thinking upon these things, he drops off to sleep.

It is a night of fitful dreams, tossing and turning. He rises before dawn. He calls his squire, Richard, out of his sleep.

“Yes, sire?” the squire asks.

“It is time to ready for battle this one last time.”

The squire suits up his master and king. As he looks into Arthur’s eyes, he sees loss. When the king is completely suited in his armor and ready for the battle ahead, he turns to his squire.

“Boy,” the king says.

“Majesty?” the squire says.

“Kneel,” the king says.

The boy kneels. The king raises his sword and taps the squire on each of his shoulders.

“I dub thee knight,” King Arthur says, warmth in his voice. “Rise, Sir Richard Bonnesworth.”

The newly knighted rises.

“Today you will ride forth,” his king tells him, “from these battlements and tell the land of the great things you have seen. Never let the dream of Camelot, the dream of Justice and Compassion for all who are Weak, die. That is your charge. Now go.”

Then it is over. Arthur defeats Mordred. Arthur receives a mortal wound.

It was a marvelous dream, Camelot. And now we enter into the dark times. The long shadows at the end of the day are upon us. Who will hold back the night? Camelot and Joyous Gard are in flames. Arthur stands, watching the work of Mordred and his henchmen. Lancelot is dead and Guinevere has gone away to a convent. It is the time of the waning of the west. Arthur’s dream of being a just king has died.

The king is heavy with grief. How did it come to this? Where was Merlin when he needed the wizard most?

**********

We all know how Arthur passed into the West, how he was accompanied by three Queens, how Guinevere returned Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. As Arthur sailed to the healing lands of the West, the evening set into the horizon. Soon there was the long darkness. But dawn would return.

As it has so many times before. With the defeat of Hitler and the Nazis, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the release of Nelson Mandela, with the shaking of the hands of Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. The sun shall rise in the East and the day shall come again.

As Merlin once told Arthur, you can never determine the outcome of things. But, if you live with a pure heart, the dawn shall always bring in a new sun and the light shall return for a new day.  So do not despair.

Arthur sent forth his messenger to bring hope to all those who are dispossessed and might despair. That they know that hope is alive, that the King has not forgotten them. Arthur will return from the West and the days of Camelot shall be upon us again.

As it was written, so it shall be.

Auditioning

Here’s something to think about. And it’s a big something too. From the moment you’re born, you’re auditioning. Sure, your mommy’s going to love you. But think about this. By the time you come out of her, you’ve been auditioning for nine months. After a lot of interviews, wallah,you’ve got the job. You’re her kid. I didn’t say her darling. That’s a whole other thing. That role may go to your older brother or sister. They may be the cute one. You may have the role of pain-in-the-butt. Remember the Smothers Brothers. Dick got all the goodies, Tom got the chicken.

What about Dad? you ask. You know we’re in deep doo-doo if he says, “I’ve got five others just like him.” And he always says that. So you’re going to have to do some cooing and goo-goo-ga-ga-ing for him big time. Smile when he comes into the room. Always smile. Smiling works every time.  Adults like smiling. Smiling will get you into Harvard. And don’t tell me your poop don’t stink. It always stinks.

You know you’re in for bad things if mom or pop turns to big sis and says, “Go change your brother’s diaper. “ The audition with big sis ain’t going to go well. You pooped. You do not want to do that at an audition. It just ain’t cool. Later in life, she will get even. When you’ve crashed your dad’s car and you want help, she won’t be there. Because she had to clean up your poop. Get on big sis’s good side and it will serve you in good stead.

Next thing you know you’re walking and getting into everything. You know things are going well if mommy says, “Ain’t that the cutest thing.” It’s a statement, not a question. But be careful. If dad comes in and says, “Hey, he just broke my favorite coffee mug. You know the one I won at the annual bean-eating contest. The one I got for beating the crap out of Marvin,” you know where that’s going to go. And he won’t be saying “crap” either. He’ll be saying that other word that stands in for poop. So don’t break any of Dad’s stuff. He’ll appreciate it and remember what a good kid you were.

Oh, you don’t think he’ll remember. You know how you’ll know. When he hands you the keys to that really cool car for your sixteenth birthday and says, “You’ve earned it.” There’s this big smile on his face. It ain’t because your grades are good. You’re a C student at best. No, it’s because you did auditioning well. Your poop didn’t stink that bad. You didn’t break any of his precious things.

Don’t get me started about table manners. You are going to have eat that baby crap for a while. So don’t make faces. They don’t like faces, unless they’re cute faces.

Then there’s that first class in school. You’re auditioning there as well. You can either audition for the teacher or for your fellow students. Go for your fellow students. Your teacher is only going to be around for one year. Your fellow students are going to be around for, like FOREVER. So you had better impress them big time or your life is going to be a living h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Look across the room and find the kid you like the least. Immediately walk over and hit him in the face. He’s going to say, “What’d you want to do that for?” Best say nothing. You’ve impressed the other prisoners. I mean, kids.

This kid you just socked will turn out to be your best friend for life. For life, man. You can’t ask for a better friend than that. He’ll watch your back when you steal that car. He’ll be there for you when you need a sponsor in AA. You  will be his Eddie Haskel and he’ll be your Wally Cleaver. Can’t do better than that, can you? On top of all the trouble he’ll keep you out of, his mom will be June Cleaver. And, man, June Cleaver could cook. Not like your mom.

So that’s your life. You will be auditioning for role after role. For that first date. For that college you really really want to get into. For that person you will eventually marry. For that boss whose position you want. For that bank that will give you a mortgage and a credit card. For those two-point-seven kids that will make you a real American family. For those neighbors who always keep their house in tip-top shape and their lawn well manicured. (You keep wondering how he can afford the maintenance and the really cool stuff. Embezzling would be my guess.) For that divorce lawyer you will need. And you will want a good one. Your spouse is about to take everything. For that coffin you will have to fit into.

And last, but not least. There’s God. That audition is going to be real scary.

Short Story Wednesday: Lost

Short Story Prompt: “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

Amber’s period came early, during the summer when she was twelve going on thirteen. That same summer her breasts filled out. The end of school that May she was a tall, gawky kid, and shy as all get out. By the dog days of summer, her body developed curves. She and her mom went shopping for a new wardrobe for her new body. They ended up purchasing several dresses that did not accentuate her body. They figured that would take care of what they saw as a problem. But it didn’t.

Amber had never been a popular girl. The first day of school the boys swamped her with their attention. Especially the older ones. This scared her. The worse part was the other girls, girls she had hung out with the previous year. They wanted nothing to do with her. She felt that they were secretly accusing her of a crime, and she didn’t know what it was.

At lunch in the school cafeteria, she took her tray over to a group of four girls she knew. They immediately got up and left her alone, ostracized. One of the older boys, a kid in the ninth grade, all the girls thought was God’s gift to girls. He came over and sat down next to her.

“How ’bout you and me,” he said, “we go out sometime. Maybe Saturday afternoon.” Then he shoved some food into his mouth, thinking she’d already accepted his invitation and glad to get it. After all, every girl in school wanted to date him.

“I’ll have to check with my mom,” she said after several minutes of hesitation, not knowing what the socially acceptable thing was.

“You don’t have to do that,” he said. “Just tell your mom you’re going to the mall with some friends. Maybe we’ll go to a movie.”

“Well, okay,” she said, not knowing how to get out of the date.

“Oh,” he said, standing up, “and any other guy asks you out. You tell them no. You’re my girl now. ‘k?”

Not knowing anything else to say, she shook her head and agreed.

She got home that first day and she ran to her room and she cried. She cried and cried. She didn’t even like the guy who’d asked her to the movie. But all the other girls did.

Saturday afternoon, and the two met at the mall in front of the movie theater. “You got any money?” he asked.

She nervously shook her head yes.

“Good,” he said, taking her hand and pulling her over to the ticket counter. “‘Cause I figure it’s a date, you’d be paying.”

“But I thought–,” she stuttered.

“We going to the movie or what?,” the boy said.

“Yes,” she said, discouragement in her voice. She reached into her purse and pulled out the money and gave it to him. He got the tickets. They gave them to the ticket taker. “Want some popcorn?” he asked. “‘Course you do. What’s a date without popcorn and a coke. Right?”

Amber bought the treats, then they walked into the darkness of the movie theater. The trailers had already begun. The boy pulled her to the last row of seats and they sat down. “You’re going to love this movie,” he leaned over and whispered in her ear.

The movie began, two men in metal suits shooting at each other with lasers. The boy reached into the bag of popcorn and took out a handful. She settled into her seat to watch a movie she did not think she was going to like. During the first third of the movie, he went through his popcorn and hers. Every so often he’d whisper a loud “Yes” when one of the metal suits shot a robot.

When the credits appeared at the end of the movie, Boy turned to her and said, “Wasn’t that awesome?” Then he asked, “Want to do something?”

She thought about saying, “I thought we had.” Instead she said, “Sure.” It was still early and she had told her mom that she wouldn’t be getting home till later.

“‘k,” he said. “We’re gonna do something I think you’re going to like.”

It was late afternoon. He led her down one of the side streets. They came to an empty baseball diamond. He ran up one of the bleachers and called out to her, “C’mon up here.”

She climbed the bleacher steps. He sat down and pulled her to his side. For the first time that day, he looked at her. It was the first time she had really looked at his face. He had a handsome face. More than handsome, it was angelic.

“This is my favorite spot,” he said. “You have a favorite spot? ‘Course you do.” Then he went all quiet.

Finally he said, “I’m sorry ’bout today. Sometimes I just get carried away with a thing.”

She took a chance, afraid she would upset him. “You are a little pushy.”

“A little pushy? I must be slipping. I thought I was a lot pushy.”

His humor made her smile. “You were a lot pushy,” she agreed. “I was trying to be nice.”

“I know. It’s just that…well. I get nervous when I am alone with a girl.” Then she felt like he let a wall between the two of them come down . Then he said, “Can you keep a secret?”

She said, “Yes. I think so.”

“If I tell you, you can’t tell nobody. Not even your mom. Moms can be the worst at keeping secrets.You understand?”

“I promise I won’t tell anybody,” she said. “Not even my mom.”

“I’m gay,” he said. “And I need you to be my girlfriend so nobody will find out. Can you do that for me?”

She thought about it a little. Then she said, “Only if you treat me special. Not like today.”

“I will,” he said. “I promise.” He breathed a huge sigh of relief.

For the first time since she had returned to school, she felt like she had a friend. A real friend. And she would keep his secret forever. She promised him.

“Not till forever,” he said. “Just till I can figure things out.”

The two hugged each other. As he walked her home, neither of them said anything. He escorted Amber to her door, then said, “Good night, Amber. And thank you.”

She returned his goodnight. “Good night, David.”

Next Wednesday’s Prompt: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor.