Saturday, November 20, 2010

Iris Murdoch

I had not heard of author, Iris Murdoch, before watching the movie about her life. It came in them mail a few days ago.  I had been prompted to put it on my Netflix list because of the description, "Iris Murdoch was l'enfant terrible of the literary world in early 1950's Britain, a live wire who tumbed her nose at conformity via a voracious and scandalous sexual appetite. "  Well, the movie wasn't all that scandalous, I must say, but it was amazing.  Author of 26 novels, philosopher, playwright and free-thinker, Iris lived a fascinating life. The movie, "Iris" was based on a book written about her by her husband, John Bayley, entitled, Elegy for Iris.  What a love story.  What heartbreak.  Iris Murdoch died in 1999, after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for five years.  The woman who's entire life revolved around words, lost all of them in the end. 

"You love words, don't you?" , asked John. "Well, if one doesn't have words, how does one think?", she replied.

The movie stars Judi Dench and Kate Winslet as the older/younger versions of Iris.  The movie is rated "R", because of some nudity and profanity, but I would recommend it to any of my adult friends.  Grab a box of tissues, however, especially if you have been touched by Alzheimer's in your own life.  (My darling Grandpa suffered from it in his latter years.  To this day, my memories are tainted by the horror of seeing someone who used to be so vibrant, reduced to confused silence.)

Iris believed very strongly in what was good; what love was.  I tend to be drawn to movies in which the main characters' houses are overflowing with books.  This one might take the cake in that respect.  John Bailey, her husband, wrote numerous books as well. 

Iris was a free spirit, who believed in being herself.  In the movie at a dinner party she says:

"Yes, of course there's something fishy about describing one's feelings.  You try hard to be accurate, but as soon as you start to define such and such a feeling, language lets you down.  It's really a machine for making falsehoods.  When we really speak the truth, words are insufficient.  Almost everything except things like, 'pass the gravy' is a lie of some sort and that being the case, I shall shut up . . . Oh, and pass the gravy.'"

And in an interview:

"People, of course, are very secretive.  And, for many reasons, want to appear what we call ordinary.  Everybody has thoughs they want to conceal.  Perhaps even quite simple aspects of their lives.  People have obsessions and fears and passions which they don't admit to.  I think any character is interesting and has extremes.  It's the novelists' privilege to see how odd everyone is."

The movie is beautifully done.  It flows back and forth in time.  There are many subtle cues and undertones.  Iris sitting at her desk, surrounded by crumpled papers as she struggles to write her last novel, John watching her concernedly from the bedroom intermingles with a younger John, who sees her with a lover, as he peeks through the doorway at their lovemaking.  Iris stating that she will write and write as long as she can still find words, and John turning on the light as he states that he shall keep her at it. 

I watched it two times in as many days and was extremely touched by the love shared between Iris and John.  Iris was like a star and John orbited around her.  Even after being married for ages, he doted on her and admired her.  "I feel as if I am sailing into darkness", says Iris as she noticed that the words were becoming harder to come by.  Her brain scan shows the holes where the disease has eaten away the cells.  The image reminded me of a death head moth.  Words meant everything to her and she eventually lost them.  "It frightens me, and then sometimes it doesn't frighten me, and that's just as bad, because that's it winning, isn't it?"  says Iris about Alzheimer's. 

"Education does not make you happy, and nor does freedom.  We don't become happy just because we are free, if we are, or because we have been educated, if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy.  It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking . . . convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever--that of the mind--and gives us the assurance, the confidence, to walk the path of our mind--our educated mind--offers.'

"Her novels embraced freedom and what it meant to be good", stated an interviewer.  I would like to check them out for myself.  I perused the online catalogues of the three local library systems I own cards to, but they didn't have anything on audio, my preference these days.  That's ok.  I'm still into grabbing a book and falling into it.  She's written quite a few.  I'll give them a go and see what I think.  In the meantime, I highly recommend watching, "Iris".  Just don't forget the tissues.

John Bayley and Iris Murdoch

Friday, November 12, 2010


I have a serious case of the creeps right now. I would blame Stephen King, but I know better. It's my fault. I KNEW that story was horrifying, and yet, I decided to reread it. Well guess what. In the vein of The Shining, I have to put the book down and get my normal equilibrium back. This story, called "1408" is damn scary.

As a child, I was plagued by fright until I was almost 30 years old. Scared of the dark, scared of being alone in the house, scared of malevolent spirits living in trees (especially Oak) or in certain houses. When I was younger, pre-teen or so, one of my tasks was to close and lock the garage door every night. The garage was seperate from the house. I would have to cross the back yard, pass the slightly creepy "playhouse" that used to be a homemade camper shell of some type. (It was dark wood and although we played in it, it never felt quite right.)  Past the little playhouse was the garage. The door slid to the left to close. It locked with a padlock. I would have to reach in, turn off the light, slam the door, lock it and get back into the house before something evil got me. My heart is beating hard just thinking about it. On the bad days, I would forget about closing it until after dusk. I would rush over, hit that light if it was on,  try not to look into the dark space within, get that door shut and locked as quick as I could.  I would then race back into the safety of the house. I don't think my feet hit most of the four steps on the way up into the house. They were flying.

When I stayed at my Grandma's house, I was creeped out about what was lurking under the bed, ready to grab my foot and pull me under. (During the day, that bed and space underneath was relatively safe. I hid under there regularly when playing with friends or hide-and-go-seek with my brother. But at night it was a different story altogether. The house had nightlights, but sometimes they make matters worse. The shadows can be unholy and grotesque. I would pause on the threshold, then make a wild leap onto the bed. My grandmother called me out on it a few times. She did not approve of my wild crashing onto the bed, but I doubt I shared with her the reason I did it. Something was possibly under that bed; something hungry.

Sleeping at my mom's house, I would line my stuffed animals and dolls all around me like a sacred ring. Head to toe they would surround me and keep me safe. I still remember lying there, breathing shallowly, waiting to finally go to sleep. 

In my late-20's, I realized that some of that paralyzing fear had diminished. I could stay alone in the house and be ok. It helped that I had Tobi to keep me company, of course. Tobi was our dog, the runt of the litter, about 1/4 pitbull. Small but with a wide evil streak. She was very protective of me and I felt better when she was around and E was off somewhere else.

I am a huge Stephen King fan. I've read pretty much everything. I don't know why I can handle his books but not watch scary movies or read other creepy authors. A couple of times, however, I have had to put a book down and come back to my safe self. I had to stop reading The Shining two times. It just colored my whole day wrong. The movie gets scarier for me every time I see it. I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago where a man spoke about how when he was about 7, he watched the movie with his uncle. It scarred him. They played some clips from the movie.  "Play with us, Danny", spoken by the ghostly murdered girls. gave me the chills then and just did again. Lunacy freaks me out. Haunted spaces that can make one lose one's mind are high on my list of horrible things in this world. The story, "1408", is one of those.

At my recent yardsale, I picked up King's Everything's Eventual from my girlfriend for a buck. It is a collection of short stories published in 2002. I listened to it on audio a few years ago, but had forgotten some of it. Besides, I didn't have THIS book in my collection. The whole time I was reading it, I was fine. The stories are twisted and weird and disturbing, but I was ok. In the back of my mind, however, a quiet but cautious voice didn't let me forget what was coming. "1408". Earlier tonite, I finished "That Feeling, You can Only Say What It Is In French", and turned the page. There it was. My heart sped up, I put the bookmark in the book and walked away. A few hours later, my chores were done. Time to crawl into bed and face the fear.

I got about halfway through. My spidey senses were prickling and I had to get out of the bedroom. I turned on all the lights. Checked on J and his friend, E who was sleeping over. I thought about finished the story in their company, but the light was already off. Ok. Next plan. Open the fridge. (Hmmmm. Comfort eating?) I heated up some leftover soup and decided to share my fear with my blog readers. I sat down at the computer desk. To my left was the open closet door. Heck no. I pushed it closed. It opened again. (This shouldn't have been creepy, the house is old and there is no latch to keep the door closed. Still. Decidedly creepy.) I continued typing, horribly aware of the door cracked open and, worse, the small hole where a doorknob used to live. Something was watching me. I pushed the laundry basket against the door. That solved the problem of keeping it closed, but I was still aware of the hole.

Yes, I will finish the story. E is home now. Maybe I'll read it tonite, but since the fear has been reduced to a low hum in my spine, I'll probably wait for the safety of the light of day tomorrow when we are driving to Legoland to celebrate our son's 10th birthday.

I realize that I haven't even really explained what the story is about. Just a haunted hotel room, who's numbers add up to 13. People die in that room. Suicide. "Natural" causes. Digital devices don't work in there either. The room is alive and it is really, really evil. They made a movie a few years ago. When I first saw the preview I decided that under no circumstances would I watch it, despite the fact that it stars John Cusack who is a cupcake. I'm sure they changed the plot to suit themselves and it probably doesn't come close to being as scary as the story, but still. I have stayed far away from it.

King's  are something else, however. I can handle them, even if it is in small doses. I'll get back to it tomorrow. Perhaps you'd like to check it out. If you do, let me know if it scared you as much as it scares me. For now, goodnight. Sweet dreams. I hope I have them myself. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flag Football Mom

Ok.  It's official.  I have finally become a sports mom.  J joined Flag Football a few months ago through the Boys and Girls Club in our town.  (They sponsor his afterschool program and practice was built right in.  Nice, huh?)

I am NOT a sports person.  I am married to a sports person.  I am physically (if not mentally) among those who have gathered to watch games on TV.  I have never played a sport.  My mind just doesn't wrap around the games.  My mother in law likes to remind me about how I brought a book to my brother-in-law's High School Football games back when E and I were dating. 

But things are different when it is your child out there on the field.  Running and catching and pulling flags.  All of a sudden, I was watching.  Screaming.  Yelling.  Cheering.  Getting into the game.  What???!!!  Yup, I said it.  I got into the game. 

For all you sports fans out there, give me a break.  Don't judge me.  Ok, judge me if you want, but know that my life was changed forever when J started playing. 

I learned the names of the kids on his team.  I loved watching their easy-going coach have fun with his kids, aged 9-10.  Some of those kids were really good.  Others were average.  They all got equal play time.  They won quite a few of their games.

Yesterday, their coach couldn't make the game, due to a class schedule conflict.  The team was all amped up to "coach themselves".  I was so nervous for them!  Of course it turned out that another staff member oversaw the team, but for the most part, the team called their own plays.  It was awesome, and they won.

Today was their last game.  They lost, 10-13, but had great attitudes.  Pizza party next Friday after school.  I tried to get Jake to join the basketball team.  No go.  Baseball?  Nah, he says.  Will you play football again next year?  Yes.  I smiled.  And guess what?  I look forward to it.  Yup.  I can't wait for football to roll around again. 

I included a short video of one of their games.  It is probably incredibly boring for anyone not related to J (and maybe even to some of them), but it is pretty cute.  Our team wore the yellow shorts. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Barefoot Contessa. . . No, Not the Chef . . .

Apparently last time I added movies to my Netflix queue, I was in an old school mood.  Last week, M (my movie buddy) and I watched "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Brando ("Stella!!!!").  Yesterday, "The Barefoot Contessa" showed up in my mailbox. 

Released in 1954, the movie stars Humphrey Bogart (yah, baby) and Ava Gardner (purrrrrrrr) in a story about a beautiful flamenco dancer named Maria who is "discovered"  by a jerk of an American millionaire, and becomes a movie star. 

Bogie is the movie producer who becomes  friend and confidante from the beginning.  Rosanno Brazzi plays the Count, with whom Maria falls in love.  There is just something about the timing and beauty of these old movies that make my romantic heart go pitter-pat.  The kiss between Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart in "Rear Window", the electricity between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember", and the scene in "The Barefoot Contessa" where the Count saves Maria's honor and she gets in the car of this handsome stranger, puts her head back on the convertible's passenger seat and lets him drive her away, just got to me.

The movie opens at Maria's funeral.  Throughout the story, two narrators tell it like they see it, from entirely different points of view.  I won't ruin the plot for you, watch it yourself.  The dresses worn in the flick make it worth watching alone.

It was nice to watch an "adult" movie where I didn't cringe and have to pause it when my 10-year-old son walked in the room.  In fact, he crawled up on my bed to patiently wait out the movie so that I could help him build his newest Lego creation.  The movie lasted longer than he did, however, and before long, he was twitching and mumbling.  Such a lovely time for a tired mommy!  We'll work on the Lego's in the a.m.  Veteran's Day.  No school for either of us. 

After the movie was over, I watched the preview that was available from the menu screen.  The feminist in me started an internal discussion when I saw that the movie byline was "The Most Beautiful Animal in the World", referring to Maria, who is disdainfully insulted by a shallow lover.  Seriously?  Not only was she a sex symbol, but not even human?  I know, I know,  "Down, Girl!"  but hey, seeing how the world sometimes saw women, even if it was over 50 years ago still chaps my hide.

M and I finished the movie and discussed it a little.  Ah.  That's what free time is all about.  Watching beautiful people on the screen and falling into their stories for a couple of hours.  Heaven.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When Food is Love

Geneen Roth is an author who explores the intimate relationship between eating and feeling good, feeling loved, feeling stable.  She has written quite a few books, such as The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed ItWhen You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair  and Women, Food and God.  For those of you with no patience for people who believe in exploring childhood experiences and how they affect our adult lives, go ahead and stop reading now.

For the rest of us who are interested in linking our behaviors and thought patterns with the past, Roth does an amazing job.  She is nakedly honest in her books and touches many nerves in my psyche as I read about her struggles. 

Here are some of my own food patterns:  I like to eat alone, with a book or the tv on.  I like my food in a bowl to be eaten with a spoon.  I like my food to touch, in fact, I create crazy mixes of flavors that make my husband and son shudder.  (My favorite way to eat spaghetti is with my dressed salad mixed in.  I learned this trick as a child.  I was not allowed to leave my Grandmother's table unless all my food was gone.  Over time I came up with a lot of devious ways to escape from the "yucky" parts of the meal like hiding the food in my underwear and flushing it down the toilet, learning to use my tongue to close off my sense of taste while chewing the food with a mouthful of milk and swallowing it down, and by camouflaging flavors by putting something I liked with something I didn't.  Thus my love for pasta sauce on salad was born.  Don't worry, I like salad now.)  I don't like to be interrupted when I eat.  I hate when the phone rings and I most likely will not answer it, or will be grouchy and short-lipped with the caller if I feel I must speak at that time.  I like my food to be piping hot, but can also handle the leftovers straight from the fridge.  My mom sometimes gave me leftover dinner for lunch.  My schoolmates sometimes raised an eyebrow at my tacos or meatloaf sandwiches, but now I can eat leftover dinner for breakfast anytime.  Prefer it to eggs, actually!

I gained quite a bit of weight last summer.  I had quit some habits that weren't healthy for me and as soon as I heard the term "cross-addiction" I knew food would be my next "feel good" retreat.  I eat when I'm happy, sad, mad, bored, wanting comfort, wanting sleep, or just because it's there.  Learning to eat when only hungry is quite a challenge.  Learning to eat smaller portions of protein and starch (especially rice, which I LOVE) and more veggies is a mind-game for me.  I make my plate (or bowl), heaped with veggies, but in the back of my mind I am contemplating the protein I will have for seconds. 

I didn't finish When Food is Love, but it is overdue at the library and I am going to return it today.  Here is what I gleaned so far: 

"Diets don't work because food and weight are the symptoms, not the problems.  The focus on weight provides a convenient and culturally reinforced distraction from the reasons why so many people use food when they are not hungry.  These reasons are more complex than-and will never be solved with--will-power, counting calories, and exercise.  They have to do with neglect, lack of trust, lack of love, sexual abuse, physical abuse, unexpressed rage, grief, being the object of discrimination, protection from getting hurt again.  People abuse themselves with food because they don't know they deserve better.  People abuse themselves because they've been abused.  They become self-loathing, unhappy adults not because they've experienced trauma but because they've repressed it."  (p. 4)

I feel I need to post a disclaimer here.  My childhood was, for the most part, very safe and loving.  Like pretty much everyone else I know, however, there are things I need to acknowledge, accept, forgive and let go.  When my "buttons are pushed" and I overreact unreasonably to not getting my own way or feeling abandoned or ignored, these are signs that stuff from the past is still shaping who I am and how I see the world.  Back to the book.

"When Food is Love speaks to the heart of why people turn to food.  It explores the messages we received as children, how we translate them into messages of self-hate, and how we pass this pain on to other people, including our children.  And it explores the importance of taking responsibility for change in the present rather than feeling victimized by the pain of the past.  Because our patterns of eating were formed by early patterns of loving, it is necessary to understand and work with both food and love to feel satisfied with our relationship to either." (p. 4)

My favorite line in the last paragraph is "the importance of taking responsibility for change in the present rather than feeling victimized by the pain of the past".  This is easier said than done, however, especially when I am in the throes of passionate emotion.  My ego rides that roller coaster and all sorts of voices speak in my head, promoting "unfairness" and "you don't really know me" and "you're gonna f*** it up anyway, so who are you kidding?"  Phew.  It makes me amped just to think about it.  How does one reprogram one's brain to stop reacting in such an emotional manner to people and situations in our lives that we can't control anyway???

"Compulsion is despair on the emotional level.  The substances, people, or activities that we become compulsive about are those that we believe are capable of taking our despair away.   . . .  Someone once came to a workshop after she had lost seventy-five pounds on a diet.  She stood up in front of 150 people and, with her voice shaking, said, "I feel like I've been robbed.  My best dream has been taken away.  I really thought that losing weight was going to change my life.  But it only changed the outside of me.  The inside is still the same.  My mother is still dead and my father still beat me when I was growing up.  I'm still angry and lonely and now I don't have getting thin to look forward to."     (p. 15)
"Compulsion is the feeling that there is no one home.  We become compulsive to put someone home.  All we ever wanted was love.  We didn't want to become compulsive about anything.  We did it to survive.  We did it to keep from going crazy.  Good for us.  Food was our love; eating was our way of being loved.  Food was available when our parents weren't.  Food didn't get up and walk away when our fathers did.  Food didn't hurt us.  Food didn't say no.  Food didn't hit.  Food didn't get drunk.  Food was always there.  Food tasted good.  Food was warm when we were cold and cold when we were hot.  Food became the closest thing we knew of love.  But it is only a substitute for love.  Food is not, nor was it ever, love." 
"Many of us have been using food to replace love for so many years that we no longer know the difference between turning to food for love and turning to love for food.  We wouldn't recognize love if it knocked us over.  Not because we are ignorant but because if we've never been loved well, we don't know what love feels like, what love is like.  And it follows that if we have not been loved well, we cannot love ourselves well.  Compulsive behavior, at its most fundamental, is a lack of self-love; it is an expression of a belief that we are not good enough." (pps. 18-19)

I could go on and on, quoting this amazing book that I have not even finished yet, but my belly is grumbling (ha!) and my coffee is cold and this book needs to get back to the library pronto.  Someone else has put it on hold and I got an embarrassing letter in the mail yesterday from the library.  Let me just parrot a few more tidbits and then I'll let you go:

"Love and compassion cannot coexist.  Love is the willingness and ability to be affected by another human being and to allow that effect to make a difference in what you do, say, become.  Compulsion is the act of wrapping ourselves around an activity, a substance, or a person to survive, to tolerate and numb our experience of the moment.  Love is a state of connectedness, one that includes vulnerability, surrender, self-valuing, steadiness, and a willingness to face, rather than run from, the worst of ourselves.  Compulsion is a state of isolation, one that includes self-absorption, invulnerability, low self-esteem, unpredictability, and fear that if we faced our pain, it would destroy us.  Love expands, compulsion diminishes.  Compulsion leaves no room for love-which is, in fact, why many people started eating: because when there was room for love, the people around us were not loving.  The very purpose of compulsion is to protect ourselves from the pain associated with love."
"It is my belief that we become compulsive because of wounds from our past and the decisions we made at that time about our self-worth--decisions about our capacity to love and whether, in fact, we deserve to be loved.  Our mother goes away and we decide that we are unlovable.  Our father is emotionally distant and we decide that we need too much.  Someone we are close to dies and we decide that there is no reason to love anyone because it hurts too much at the end.  We made decisions based on how we made sense of the wounds and what we did to protect ourselves from being more wounded in that environment.  At the age of six or eleven or fifteen, we decide that loves hurts and that we are unworthy or unlovable or too demanding, and we live the rest of our lives protecting ourselves from being hurt again.  And there is no better protection than wrapping ourselves around a compulsion."  (pps. 23-24)

I myself am compulsive about a few things.  Just a few come to mind immediately, but perhaps there are more lurking beneath the surface.  I compulsively shop.  I compulsively create projects for myself.  I compulsively speak without thinking.  There are more, but I don't feel like baring any more of my tender neurosis to the public.  Let's just say that I'm gonna work on this self-esteem thing some more.  How about you?

Want to read more?  Check out Geneen's blog at:  You can order her books through her site.  You can also find some at a more discounted price (used and new versions are available) at  I know I promote Abe Books enough to be an official spokesperson, but hey, when you can get a book for less than 4 bucks, including s/h, how can you lose?

Thanks for listening.  Take care of yourself.  Today I will notice my triggers and get a little more introspective about them.  Thanks for listening.