The Problem with “Motherhood”

I have no great expectations when it comes to Hollywood depictions of motherhood — especially films that deal with urban motherhood, which seems like a different breed altogether — so I didn’t find the Uma Thurman vehicle, “Motherhood,” all that awful.

Not that there’s not a lot wrong with this movie (and for funny reads on that you can go here, here, here, and here). However, I can’t find what irks me most mentioned anywhere, which makes me wonder if it’s a blind spot in my own understanding.

Specifically, how Lucas, Uma/Eliza’s youngest, the “toddler,” is handled. For one thing, he’s three. Not a toddler, but preschool age. Might seem a small thing, but there’s a world of difference developmentally.

Why is he being carried or pushed in a stroller everywhere? The boy hardly spends any time on his feet! He seems to get very little exercise, even at the park, where he went down a slide and was pushed in a swing before falling asleep in his umbrella stroller. The stroller is practically a character unto itself.

Is this an urban thing, shlepping your child everywhere in a stroller, never letting him walk on the street? Is it to keep him from darting out into traffic, to help you carry sundries from here to there?

And yet he has to be the drowsiest three year old I’ve ever seen, napping a minimum of two times throughout the day. (Could be more, but I’d have to rewatch the movie to check. Only so much I’m willing to do for accuracy’s sake.) Every child is different, but only babies nap that often, I’m sorry to say. To my everlasting dismay, Vincent actually gave up naps completely two months before turning three.

It seems to me that Lucas should be at least a year or more younger for the way he’s treated to be believable. And I don’t mean he’s babied or molly-coddled — it’s all done matter-of-factly and without drama. Eliza does not smother her kids. But Lucas is a passive lump and largely a non-presence in Eliza’s day except as another burden to bear. Which I don’t think is the message they meant to be sending.

So why didn’t they just make the character a baby? I’m wagering it’s because Lucas has one cute line — which I can’t remember (see above parenthetical) — and a baby would be too young to speak it. In every other way, the choice to write Lucas as a three year old makes no sense to me.

This is ever-so-tenuously related to writing because Eliza is a mommy blogger and a once up-and-coming “lyrical fiction” writer. The first is the only part of that equation I find plausible.

So is it just me? Am I being too picky? Does parenting in NYC require having your child surgically attached to his stroller?

The Tortoise & the Hare Redux: Lowell & Bishop

Having finished the letters of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, I feel greatly affectionate towards them both. I can imagine how the plotline would get sexed up, but I’m stating here for the record that I think a future biopic should without question cast Robert Downey, Jr. as RL, and for EB, perhaps Meryl Streep: I think she’s more petite than her outsized talent makes her seem, and, well, Meryl Streep = Awesome.  Someone should definitely get to work on this.

I’ve begun on the poems now. What a striking contrast it is to hold RL’s Collected Poems in one hand, and EB’s Complete Poems in the other! As a result, yes, I do think RL’s output is more uneven, but I’m still finding much I love, particularly his book of sonnets, For Lizzie & Harriet (1973). Maybe I can appreciate them more now because of my own growing family, but his poems from the stance of fatherhood really move me.

Yes, reading the letters first was putting the cart before the horse, but it’s reading the letters that gave me a new appreciation for RL & EB as poets, strange as that may sound, and compelled me to go back to the poems.

Because there’s a lot of poem-talk between them, with drafts going back & forth.  Real discussion ensued RL’s troubling inclusion of Elizabeth Hardwick’s letters in some poems, and my thoughts about this action, which always seemed patently mean, has evolved.

Not that it would be, or is, any of my business, generally, but this was/is an issue of ethics in poetry (as EB said in a letter, “…art just isn’t worth that much.”). Reading Words in Air, I could see how RL grappled with his choices, as a poet/husband/father, how his decisions vis-à-vis Elizabeth H.’s letters becoming grist for his poetic mill were not made lightly or in spite. And that changes a lot for me, as a reader. He did what he thought the poems required, but not coldly or without heartfelt debate.

I know it should be all about the poems, and when I read a poem, I do try to leave biography out of it. However, intentions matter. If a poet holds certain prejudicial beliefs, I might be able appreciate his/her work, but I’d never admire it in a meaningful way. I’d never be able to carry such a poet’s poems in my heart.

The Storm that Wasn’t.

Out here in the western part of the state we didn’t get so much as a stray snowflake from the so-called blizzard.  We already have a foot of snow on the ground, so I’m not exactly complaining, but it was a surprise to wake up to nothing when I was expecting at least a foot more.

Definitely for the best, however. Last storm we bartered a loaf of fresh-baked bread for our neighbor snow-blowing our driveway.  But I didn’t have enough flour or time to bake this weekend. That came today. And check out that loaf on the right — an experiment, cinnamon raisin. I don’t know about the nutritional value, but seriously, nothing beats the taste of home-made bread.

So I didn’t bake bread, I didn’t shovel snow, and I certainly didn’t do any of the reading and writing I’d been hankering for.  And yet somehow the weekend is gone.  The one poetry task I finished was a grant application. Maybe that’s where my head was: between choosing the poems, filling out the forms, writing up the artist résumé, printing it all up in duplicate, and then waiting in line at the post office — the Christmas season not being the ideal time to have to mail non-xmas items — it took a while. That, at least, is done.

We did watch a DVD Saturday night, “Julie & Julia”, and it was wonderful, I don’t think I stopped smiling throughout the entire movie. Julia Child’s small memoir, My Life in France, is now at the top of my reading list.

But I made the mistake of then Googling Julie Powell, the author of the memoir Julie & Julia (which I haven’t read) which inspired the film, because heavens, Amy Adams is just so darn likable! Not that I mistook a movie for the true story, but I was curious. The movie kind of charts two artists discovering their medium, and I was interested in seeing what Julie Powell was up to lately. Julia, well, nothing new there.

And it turns out that Julie Powell has a new memoir out, Cleaving, which explores a less savory side of food, butchery, as well as detailing the troubles of her marriage. None of which I ever wanted to know.  Which is why I don’t read memoirs.

So now I’m endeavoring to forget everything I read online — not that I read much, one article informed plenty. One of the biggest delights of the movie is its depiction of two truly loving marriages, it was incredibly cockle-warming, and that’s what I’d rather hold on to. It’s winter, and cold enough, blizzard or no.

Moses Supposes a Rose is a Rose is a Rose.

I’ve had a lot more visitors here than usual.  While I hoped they came by to check out my chapbook (which is now available for pre-order…) (HA!), based on their Google searches, they arrive in search of Gene Kelly.

At first I was distracted, wondering what it is I’m missing out on, that suddenly so many are looking for Gene Kelly.  What’s happening?

But then I felt badly that folks ended up here just because I mentioned earlier this year how much I adore him.  Thus I feel duty-bound to provide more for their troubles.  Below is one of the best song & dance sequences ever, from “Singin’ in the Rain”: “Moses Supposes”, with Donald O’Connor, one of the only dancers that could keep up with Gene without breaking a sweat.

And, if you listen to the words, well, it’s all pure poetry.

The bells are ringing…

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I love Gene Kelly. I have absolutely everything he’s ever done on VHS, even the really obscure stuff, some where he doesn’t dance, is only the host/narrator, like the video of a production of “Swan Lake”. Did you know he was in an animated musical version of “Jack and the Beanstalk”? Not great, but if it’s got Gene Kelly in it, it can’t be all bad. I miss movie musicals. “Happy Feet” made me very happy.

This has nothing to do with anything — the poem below reminded me of this song (“For Me & My Gal”), so it’s been in my head ever since.

Musicals make me happy. And, in a graceless segue that is perfectly indicative of my 3 years of tap dance lessons in my 20’s, writing makes me happy — and I’ve actually been able to write this week — I’m 18 lines in to a new poem!

I’ve never been especially prolific, so when I do write, usually I’ve been mulling lines and images in my head for some time, so my rough drafts are not all that rough and don’t require heavy revision. So far that seems to be the case with the new one. Which is ideal. I have plenty of time to think, even if sleep-deprivation makes my thinking muddy, but not so much time to write.

So, even though it’s cold & snizzly out, it’s a good day.

Having an infant in the house means we’re running on Baby Standard Time. Sure, patterns, perhaps semblances of a schedule, emerge, but it’s all provisional, subject to change at any moment. That’s why only now am I posting a Valentine’s poem. That’s my excuse, anyway. From Stefanie Marlis’ collection, rife (Sarabande, 1998):


What if we saw our hearts as if for the first time–
one sitting like a Buddha,
another, shuffling like a man without a home.
Compassion means the heart’s desire, bright or bitter, counts twice–
like a king in checkers. Like a lover’s words
when he touches certain scars;
all these years later the wound’s doubly fierce, doubly
healed, and the morning is a rosy glove
pulled onto your whole body.
You hear the bells from the seminary,
and for as long as they ring, your heart is without a wish.

–Stefanie Marlis

The Iron Giant.

The current favorite movie in our household is “The Iron Giant” (1999), based on the story by Ted Hughes. (You can click on this link to read a plot summary.) Great movie, with every viewing we see something new (which is good b/c we’ve seen it a LOT) — and the voice actors do a wonderful job.

There’s a scene near the beginning in which Hogarth, the school boy around which the movie revolves, hopped up on espresso (“coffeezilla”), paces and rants about the bullies at school who pound him because he thinks he’s smarter than them, and he says, “But I don’t think I’m smarter than them, I just do the stinking homework!”

I know exactly how he feels. Though grown-ups tend NOT to pound other grown-ups, we can be snarky with/about those who experience good fortune. When we feel that dark side coming on, it would be helpful then to remember: maybe he got that raise because he worked for it; maybe she got that grant because she earned it.  Maybe they did the stinking homework.  Somebody getting what she wants in this world is cause to celebrate. And maybe tomorrow it’ll be you.

There’s a poem by Jennifer Michael Hecht that ties in perfectly with this. Tomorrow. Boy’s crying, time’s up.

“The Mist”.

We did not drive to the coast yesterday — both Vincent & Lance had colds, so we went out for breakfast at Foxtowne Diner and walked to the playground in the morning, and had a quiet and restful afternoon. My idea of a good day.

Which I needed, because I woke up in a foul mood: on Saturday night, Lance & I watched “The Mist” on DVD, based on the novella by Stephen King. I don’t watch scary movies, because they’re scary movies, they give me nightmares, but Lance didn’t want to watch it alone. So I watched it with him (“Honey, could you turn that light out?” “NO.”). And as scary movies go, it was pretty damn good. Most horror flicks these days are just exercises in masochism & blood, but this was very character-driven. Which is why the ending is so awful. Not merely shocking, but wrong wrong wrong.

If you haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know the end, don’t read further, because the movie’s conclusion is different from the one for the novella, which leaves the characters driving through the mist, not sure where or if the mist ends. In the movie, after you’ve watched all the struggles & deaths of some great characters (how could they kill you, Ollie, o the injustice!) 5 characters make it to the Land Rover and drive off: the main character, his young son, a blonde school teacher, an older teacher played Frances Steenburgen, and an older man. They drive through scene after scene of wreckage until the gas runs out. This is where things go awry.

Now Lance tells me the following scene is an homage to a scene from the docudrama, “The Night that Panicked America,” which is about the airing of Orson Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” He says that part of that film focuses on a family’s reaction as they listen to the program on the radio: a father, mother, young son, and the grandparents, in a panic, flee their apartment by car. Driving down a tunnel, a firetruck approaches from the opposite direction. The father’s panicking, mistaking the firetruck for aliens, and he holds a gun in his hand — contemplates killing his family rather then letting them fall into the hands of aliens. Before he can do anything, the firetruck overtakes them, and tells them to go home, for crying out loud, this is a tunnel, what’re they doing, get out of the way. Chastened, they return home feeling foolish, but safe.

Back to “The Mist”: the father, child, woman, & older couple sit in the Land Rover surrounded by mist, out of gas, and hear ominous sounds approaching. By now we’ve seen all the awful creatures in the mist, so yes, we, the audience, are aware that they are in grave danger, stranded like that. But it’s been 2 hours, they’ve fought like hell to get that far, so when the father looks at the gun in his hand and counts how many bullets are left (“Four.” “But there are five of us.”), I don’t really believe he’ll do something so daft, especially to his sweet little boy. But the next scene pulls back to an external shot of the Land Rover — the interior flashes, four shots. Then back to the father, who howls into the steering wheel, then gets out of the car to call to the monsters to come and get him.

Instead, the cavalry arrives: the army, row upon row of tanks and soldiers with torches, and they push back the mist. The father sinks to his knees in horror. Roll credits.

Monsters didn’t keep me from sleeping that night, but outrage. And Lance, who made me watch the film in the first place, says, “But it’s only a movie.” Which is so breathtakingly beside the point.

I think this will all tie into poetry, or at least writing:

Maybe the filmmakers were going for an ironic ending, but it’s a cheap shot, and completely unfair. Let’s face it, a horror flick is not where you go for verisimilitude, and the least you should get for your time and high blood pressure is a hopeful ending. Redemption. Genre films should not be trying to buck convention, they’re all about convention. If I want bleakness and despair, I’ll watch an independent film.

That said, I’d accept the depressing nature of “The Mist”‘s conclusion if it seemed earned, but it’s all wrong for the characters as they’ve been portrayed throughout the film, the people we the audience have come to know and root for. They’d keep fighting!

Here it is: the conclusion of any piece of art is only believable, true, if it’s been earned. I tend to rush early drafts of my poems to the end, I’m good at endings. But then I have to go back and work to make those endings right and satisfying. Otherwise I’m left with some good lines, but a bad poem. The people behind “The Mist” worked to create a really compelling film, and ruined it with a “shocking” ending. This is one of those times I’d actually appreciate an alternate ending in the extras bit on DVD!

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.


On another topic entirely: Lance questions me every day whether I’ve posted the news yet here, and when I intend to, so I guess I’ll go ahead, seeing as he’s told everyone and their grandmothers since we found out:

Yes, I’m pregnant, due on Christmas day (poor baby), which makes me 7 weeks along. I will make every attempt to not regale you with pregnancy tales. Unless you ask. I will only say now that, as with Vincent, so far everything’s great, no morning sickness, just fatigue and ravenous, I-could-eat-my-desk, hunger. After our initial surprise, we’re very happy — I’m one of 6, and always wanted Vincent to have a sibling closer in age (his half-brothers are 20+ yrs older).  We weren’t exactly planning for one soon, but we’re excited nonetheless. Vincent is always sweet with babies, so hopefully he’ll be happy too when the new baby comes home, and not rage against being knocked from his only-child-prince’s perch. Good times.

Le Bossu Quartre.

I’m sorry, it’s a full-blown obsession now.

It’s a shame I can’t actually read or speak French, because there are boatloads of Paul Féval novels available in his native tongue. But there are no English editions available that I can find, just this:

Brougham, John, 1810-1880.
The duke’s daughter, or, The hunchback of Paris : a drama, in three acts, and a prologue / dramatized from M. Paul Feval’s Le petite parisien by MM. Anicet Bourgoise and Feval as Le bossu ; adapted for the English stage.
New York : Samuel French & Son, [ca. 1883]

It’s miraculously available at the Amherst College library, but for use in the library only — it’s with the Archives and Special Collections. Foiled again!

Le Bossu Trois.

“If you do not come to Lagardère, Lagardère will go to you!” Those are the words in the form of oath taken by Lagardère to Count de Gonzague, who plots a conspiracy against his friend, the brilliant Duke de Nevers, to capture the wealth of his rich cousin. It will take sixteen years for the Knight Lagardère to avenge his friend, save his honour, and find love.

I cleaned it up a little, but that is the Google translation from the French about the film. It was the rollicking adventure that I remembered, with funny & smart dialogue. I was swept up all over again.

Until the end. I didn’t remember that at all.  Those French! I don’t care if he’s not her father after all, that does not mean they can be together. Some things just aren’t done. It’s creepy.

So that meant I had to Google Le Bossu and see its history — from the extras it was clear that it’s a remake. And not only is it based on a cloak-and-dagger novel series by Paul Féval published in 1858, but the first film version was in 1910! There have been 7 film versions in total, and 2 TV movies. So everyone in France must know this story — does Foster Dad always get the girl in the end?? Marianne? Andrew?

Now I have to see if there’s an English edition of the novel…

Le Bossu Deux.

For two nights now it’s been sitting in its envelope on top of our DVD player.  But for one reason or another we still haven’t had the time to watch it.


I guess after ten years I can stand the suspense another day.  Tomorrow night for sure.  I’ll make Vincent watch it if that’s what it takes.  Besides, if memory serves, there are no guns, just sword fights.