Yep, it’s after ten on a Wednesday night and I’m gonna DAZZLE y’all. With some random things connected by pure awesomeness. After all, my claim of brilliant segues last time was… oh wait. They were fair-to-middling.
1. It’s black raspberry season. BEST THING EVER. As kids, we used to scale the cliffs near our house and slither right into the brambles to get these, and they were worth every scratch. Now I know about Marcy’s Berry Farm where you can get them without quite so much peril – but still lots of wholesome dopamine hits when you find fat, juicy berries in luscious clumps. There’s a black raspberry cobbler in the oven right now. Aw yeah.
2. Speaking of local stuff that’s in season, SWEET CORN! Okay, I guess there are two best things ever. Even my picky son was exclaiming about the deliciousness of the corn we munched on tonight.
3. Speaking of my quirky firstborn, I love him heaps and piles forever, but he’s a strange guy. As some of you know (or have witnessed), he has loved arms for a long while. Yes, the limbs, not the weapons. Especially mine. He likes to give lavish kisses to the inside of the slightly-bent elbow. Recently he has discovered he can cut out the middleman (or woman) and kiss his OWN arm. It’s kind of sweet that he expresses such affection toward himself, but the kissing gets on my nerves because it’s, like, really loud and smoochy and frequent. In the car, at the dinner table. In bed while he’s going to sleep. But what kind of mother would I be if I told him to cut out that self-kissing, it’s annoying? After all, I kiss my kids’ kissy cheeks every chance I get. What a terrible example I’m setting.
4. Speaking of self-love, I finally watched Dr. Brené Brown’s viral Ted Talk about her research on shame/vulnerability. Gah, she’s so amazing. (Plus I love to listen to her because she’s from Texas. She sounds like my family.) Now I can hardly wait to read her book, Daring Greatly.
5. Speaking of books on the must-read list, I also must read the new book Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, Ja.K.a. Rowling! What! So exciting!! I hope it’s not scary because then I would still have to read it but I would be scared. And I feel a little bad for Jo, because it was apparently very freeing for her to write under an unknown pseudonym for a while, but as Sean pointed out, she has all those billions of dollars to make her feel better. And as Jon Stewart would say, “Oh, billions of dollars. Is there any problem you can’t solve?”
6. Speaking of things I know of thanks to my internet connection, I will be unplugging as of this Friday, July 19th, through Saturday, July 27th, to attend Family Camp. Looking forward to seeing wonderful people, watching my kids play with lots of other kids, eating food cooked by someone else, splashing in Lake Huron, listening to breezes in birch leaves. I will not be blogging, nor attempting to blog, although I am going to try to have a few short-and-sweet posts ready for auto-publishing through the week, just for fun. (And I will not apologize if I happen to write some things that later become blog posts.)
7. Speaking of unplugging, I’ve been reading some cool blog posts about the subject of screen-free time for kids, and I’m mulling over the limits that need to be placed on screen time in our house. Not just for E, but for me too. I get irritated with myself always checking things. Blog post is brewing on this. (Irony is also brewing.)
6. Speaking of brewing, that rhymes with stewing, and it is hot as blazing chili out this week. Even my morning glories that seed themselves rampantly every summer are looking droopy. (I don’t water them. They’ll manage. Next thing you know there will probably be flooding. Oh, hello Climate Change, do they still think you’re a made-up fad? You go prove ’em wrong, slugger!)
7. Speaking of things sprouting and the heat being on, Queen Elizabeth and I are basically the same person, because here we are, both wondering Where’s that royal baby? Please arrive before I go offline! But then, I’m also practically Kate Middleton because I know about late babies. I know what it’s like to be so overdue that people give up and stop asking. So hang in there, Kate, your baby’s gonna be awesome.
8. Speaking of my undeniable resemblance to royalty, I had a brush with my own fame the other day. I was at the splash pad chatting with my blog-friend mama lola and some of her other friends – and one of them heard mention of the “teacher post” and was like, “You’re Dilovely! That post was awesome! It was everywhere!” You guys, it was SO. EXCITING. I’m sure it’s really bad form to talk about this to my actual readers on my actual blog, but whatever. I’m still all thrilled and blushing about it. (And joking, since I’m still pretty sure Kate is a little more famous than me.)
I grew up in the kind of household I wish all gay kids could grow up in: one where I always knew, without ever having to ask, that my parents would accept me. Well, not quite – if I’d been a Conservative/Republican, that might not have gone over well. But I never doubted that my sexual orientation was a non-issue. In fact, I don’t even remember learning what gay meant, which probably means there was a conversation so matter-of-fact, and so early on, that I never thought much about it.
I turned out to be straight. That was fine too.
The first person I knew who was for sure gay was a lifeguard at Camp when I was thirteen. What I knew about him was that he was incredibly friendly to everyone, and sang out-of-tune camp songs with contagious enthusiasm. And he liked guys, I guess.
The year I lived in France, one of my best friends was Matt from Idaho. We got to be close over the Toussaint holiday, spending a week tracing a southward line through some towns famous for châteaux and vineyards. He was a great travelling companion.
I remember a conversation, over a restaurant dinner at the beginning of our trip, where he told me about himself – how he’d had difficulties with his parents and had battled depression. He had gotten into some pretty hard drugs for a while.
It wasn’t until almost the end of our trip that he actually told me he was gay – but I’d basically figured it out by then. Looking back, I can see that he had tested me – probably many times – to make sure I’d be okay with it first. (For instance, I remember him commenting on a rainbow bus and waiting for a reaction.) I don’t blame him; how was he to know I was different from those who’d mistreated him in the past?
In teachers’ college, I once participated in a seminar put on by some of my queer classmates, addressing how to deal with homophobic bullying in the classroom. One was a guy who had grown up with a single hippie mom who had always accepted him for exactly who he was. But the one whose story stuck with us the most was a guy from Central America (El Salvador, I think) whose family had moved to Toronto when he was a kid. He told us about the pain he’d gone through when he began to realize he was gay, understanding that those horrible gay-bashing words kids used now meant him. Knowing that his parents would be outraged and heartbroken if they knew – he wasn’t even sure they’d still want him as a son.
He lied about it for as long as he could. He kept secret his attendance at a queer youth support group, until one day his parents found his pamphlets. He told us that it was awful – they didn’t take it well – but that eventually, with lots of time and discussion, they came around. Sadly, I know there are parents who don’t.
I have two Aunties who live together in a big house overlooking the river. It is full of personality, with one scarlet bathroom, many decorative frogs, and “stairs that go up and up and up”, as E puts it. They both went through a lot before finding each other, including heterosexual marriages that produced wonderful progeny but also brought many struggles. They have both been professional storytellers, and their relationship reminds me of their tandem storytelling: they are a beautifully complementary, synchronized team. They work together, sing together, fit together. Seeing them interact, it is clear that they make each other truly happy. They’re adorable. It’s the kind of partnership I think all married couples should aspire to.
I also love rainbows. I am one of those people who compulsively puts the markers back in the box in rainbow order. I always drew rainbows on my colouring pages, and I still like to colour rainbows on things with my son’s crayons – the more subtle the gradations, the better.
My son also loves rainbows, and has excellent colour acuity. We have a really good time together, arranging his cars in rainbow order.
I was already an adult when I found out that the rainbow is a symbol of the LGBT community. I admit that I felt a bit territorial: Wait a sec! Why do gay people get to have the rainbow? *I* love rainbows the most. What if I want a rainbow to represent me even though I’m straight? And now, I have a rainbow baby. I’m even more invested.
I had a bit of the same feeling when I realized that the gay pride celebrations are just called “Pride”. The words “gay” and “queer” are already theirs. So, like, LGBT people now have the market cornered on being proud, or what?
But whatever. It’s not an issue that ever kept me up at night.
Then recently, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had occasion to buy some soup at a deli counter with a poster on the door advertising a concert by our local LGBT (and allies) choir. I smiled when I saw the poster, because I’ve been to many a Rainbow Chorus concert, and while I’ve seen other choirs with more technical skill, you will never find a more feel-good show than theirs. (Except possibly Singing OUT!‘s.) Singing, dancing, costumes, props, and more heart than you could shake a flag at. I’ve laughed and cried and cheered at their concerts.
Anyway, I felt glad to be patronizing this LGBT-friendly place. And then, I had a strong hunch that two of the people (or maybe more) serving that day were queer. It didn’t surprise me when they were super-nice, and sincerely helpful when I needed directions. I always try to use my best courtesy, but that day I found myself making a special effort to be nice enough to somehow convey to them my acceptance: Hey, I’m on your team, even if I don’t bat for it!
After I’d left, I wondered to myself: why did I want to impress those servers? Why did I assume, just because this place was LGBT(-friendly), that the people working there were generally awesome? Was I really thinking that gay people are better than straight people?
I’ve thought a lot about it since then, and my answer is… actually, yeah, kinda.
Here’s what I’ve figured. If you are openly LGBT, you have undoubtedly already come up against the backlash. No matter how supportive your family or city or neighbourhood might be, there is enough ignorance and homophobia and meanness out there to find you.
It’s not that being persecuted makes you a better person. But let’s remember that many minorities don’t have closets. If you’ve made the choice to come out – which, the more I think about it, must be damn scary – you probably have to do it over and over. Every time you change jobs or cities, every time you enter a new circle, you have to re-tell your truth. So, if you’re openly LGBT, you are choosing to live life with courage. You’ve decided that being true to yourself and the LGBT(TIQQ2SA) community is more important than whatever fallout may occur.
I’m not saying that every gay person is a paragon of integrity. We’re all human. But most of us straight folk never have to make a choice between going unharassed… and being ourselves. Living that life would teach a person a thing or two about compassion and acceptance.
The same is true of LGBT celebrities, who have to come out not just to their friends and families, but to millions of people who don’t know them personally but feel entitled to judge them. And is it just me, or are the openly gay artists the ones who most often manage to be insanely talented, hilarious, imaginative, AND seem like lovely people? I mean, I guess it’s possible they’re all SOBs in person, but I know the world is a better place for the awesomeness of people like Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Rosie O’Donnell, Elton John, Jane Lynch, William Finn, Indigo Girls, David Sedaris, Evalyn Parry, Victor Garber, Melissa Etheridge, David Hyde Pierce, and k.d. lang (among others). And seriously, who but LGBT+allies would come up with Prop 8 – The Musical?
Happily, it seems that if you come out, you’re joining an amazing crowd. If the celebrities and the LGBT choirs are any indication, gay people as a group are just nicer and more fun.
But perhaps we should consider statistics. Mathematically, don’t there have to be the same proportion of jerky gay people as straight people?
I assume so, but my guess is – and I think George Takei would back me up on this – many of the people with same-sex tendencies AND trouble showing compassion are the ones still in the closet. (That would sway the percentages.) And it must be pretty dark and uncomfortable in that closet. I’d probably be bitchy too.
We know that LGBT youth are often subject to cruel torment. We know that homophobes use reprehensible tactics to try to hold off the wave of marriage equality and make gay people feel bad about themselves. It’s not an admirable facet of humanity.
But how does the LGBT community publicly react and fight back to this malevolence? Not with rage or self-pity, even though God knows they must feel some, and they’d be entitled to it. Nope – this is a community that reacts with gaiety. With humour and creativity. With effervescent joy and love. With fashion and passion and Rainbows. And with friggin’ awe-inspiring Pride.
They say, BE YOU. Who you are MATTERS. We should all live like that.
Obviously, this is a community that’s earned the word gay, and the word pride, and the best rainbows we’ve got.
Congratulations – to all of us – on the defeat of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act this past week. Even though there’s still much work to be done, those walls are coming down. Maybe someday there won’t be any closets left, and mentioning your same-sex partner will be like mentioning your Portuguese roots or whatever. Just one more cool part of what makes you who you are.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy those rainbows wherever I see them, and be inspired to live more truly.
Someday, I’m going to be SO organized that I will be perfect. In fact, my entire family will be perfect, because of my contagious perfection. (And my husband’s constant, inspirational quest for self-improvement.)
This Perfect Me will get good exercise every day, outdoors when weather permits. She will remember without fail to take her vitamins. Every Saturday she will go to the market for fresh local food, which she will have lots of energy to cook into delicious, nutritious meals (because of the exercise, fresh air, and vitamins). Her family will therefore also be bursting with energy and happiness.
She has perfected the art of scheduling, such that her schedule doesn’t feel like a restrictive duty list, but rather a natural rhythm that makes impeccable sense.
Her rhythm includes enough housework each day so that clutter and dishes never get mountainous or impassable*; she also has developed a knack for making tidy-up time FUN so that the kids joyfully join in. In fact, the whole family cleans up together, singing happy working songs for motivation. At Perfect Me’s house, there are never piles of laundry large enough to suffocate a preschooler. The diapers are always out on time for pickup. The fridge never smells funky or contains ancient unrecognizable leftovers. The recycling cart never overflows, and the cats never poop on the floor two feet from the kitty box, because this family is totally on top of these things.
Even better, Perfect Me is so organized that she is more environmentally responsible: she always hangs out the laundry (weather permitting), and cycles to the grocery store.
Organization enables Perfect Me to find time each week for refreshing bouts of creativity (dancing, music, writing) and quality playtime with her children. She and her now-perfect husband remember to do fun things like take their kids skating and have picnics, and also have time for each other. (They even go on dates. Regularly.)
Perfect Me has no trouble keeping her patience and treating the world with kindness because she’s terrifically healthy and balanced. Also, she’s so organized that she’s always able to make sure that her kids’ meals and bedtimes are consistent, so everyone gets lots of sleep and her kids whine way less than regular kids (which is what they are at the moment). Even when her children have cranky times, her mind is so clear that she is able to glean instantaneously what is needed (snuggles, tough love, body break, what-have-you) and deliver it with equanimity. She doesn’t find herself saying bitchy things and then immediately fretting about the example she’s set and the damage she might have done.
Perfect Me always has wet-wipes and great snacks on hand. And she always knows where her phone and keys are.
All this synergy gives Perfect Me the confidence and clarity to be more socially graceful. Her Christmas cards arrive before Christmas. Although her house isn’t magazine-neat, it’s tidy enough that people can drop by and she’s not embarrassed to invite them in. She always remembers to introduce people to each other and offer beverages. She makes a remarkably great cup of coffee. She converses and never worries that she might’ve just said something doofus-y.
When Perfect Me goes back to work after maternity leave, she will have such good practice at creating seamless schedules that she will be able to get the kids to the babysitter on time with nary a meltdown (not even on her part). She will magically find time to fit all the above-mentioned awesomeness into her days with lighthearted serenity, and even take on volunteer opportunities to give back to her community.
In case it sounds like Perfect Me will be smug and obnoxious, don’t worry. She’ll still be able to kick back and eat chips and watch movies sometimes. She will still be able to laugh at the mistakes she’ll make (charming things like forgetting to put the teabag in – not upsetting things like forgetting to send a thank-you card or swearing at her baby). Her meals will taste great but won’t necessarily be Pinterest-worthy. Her garden will probably never be breathtaking, although she will be able to keep invasive maples from cracking the foundation of her house. She will never be en vogue with the latest fashion trends, but she will have good hair. (You know, because of all the sleep and vitamins.)
If the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, I guess it makes sense to start by getting the laundry out of the dryer. It might even get folded today or tomorrow.
I feel more Perfect already.
*Let’s be realistic: Perfect Me probably has a dishwasher. And a garage.
So I finally got to see the new Les Mis movie in mid-February, when it had been in theatres for a month and a half.
This is rather a travesty. I’m a musical geek. I could sing you most of the soundtracks for about a dozen different musicals.* I was also a French major; I studied much French lit, loved the Romantics, and I’ve even been to the Victor Hugo museum.
As you can imagine, this movie gave me a lot of feelings.
First, some back story. (Victor Hugo would want me to include this.)
Dilovely’s first exposure to Les Mis in any form was on a visit to family friends in Toronto. She was about 11. This family had the piano music for the Schönberg-Boublil-Kretzmer musical, and the dad was playing it while another friend, a girl around my age, swished her long skirt around and sang “Master of the House” and “On My Own”. She knew all the words. Mini-Di wished she were like this girl: confident, knowledgeable, able to sing in front of people. And the music… it was compelling. There was obviously great drama behind it.
It was the spring of 1990 when a copy of the Original Broadway Cast Recording, with Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, came into Mini-Di’s household, via her aunt. It was a home recording, on cassette tape, of course.
She and her sister Emily became totally obsessed. ‘Twas in the days before lyrics.com (or anything .com), so Em transcribed the lyrics by hand in a little spiral-bound notebook, and Mini-Di read them and listened for the parts she couldn’t get. They knew every word – and every inflection, every quirk of accent, every nuance of instrumentation. They were of an age where they understood the concepts of poverty, prostitution, homeless people, revolution, and death – but only superficially. Suddenly this story, with its gorgeously sad music, was making tragedy real.
Soon, Dilovely would see the musical live at the Royal Alexandra Theatre – twice – and receive a Les Mis T-shirt for her birthday.
Fast-forward ten years. [That’s a Hugo tactic too.] In 2000, Dilovely was in France, having finished her French degree during which she was, inevitably, moved by Victor Hugo’s poetry. That year, the musical version of Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris was a wild success in Paris, starring Canadian Pierre Garand (a.k.a. Garou) as Quasimodo.
Dilovely found a copy of Les Misérables in the original French at Dunkerque’s Virgin Records store: two hefty paperback volumes totalling 1,948 pages (not counting appendices). She decided to make it her Everest.
She spent over three months reading this chef-d’oeuvre (in between teaching and gallivanting), with her French-English dictionary close at hand. She adored it. She cried frequently over the story. When it was over, she mourned its finishing and missed the characters terribly. They had become family.
As you can imagine, she was rather stoked to find out that there would be a new movie of Les Mis, the first to incorporate the music from the musical, and the first movie-musical to use live (rather than pre-recorded and lip-synched) singing by the actors. She anticipated great things.
Then, poor Dilovely wasn’t sure she would even make it to see the movie in theatres.
It ended up being almost a covert op: get baby to sleep just in the nick of time, leave the house in a hurry to arrive less than two minutes before the opening scene, keep phone in bra for whole movie in case of emergency text from Auntie Em, return home as swiftly as possible once the movie is over, before baby remembers that she doesn’t know how to drink from the bottle. (She was chewing on the nipple happily enough when we came in, so it was better than nothing.)
So, here are my thoughts as a francophile/Les-Mis-devotee.
Firstly, A Note About The Book:
To be honest, after I’d read Les Misérables, I returned to the musical’s soundtrack and found it lacking. The book is incredibly rich, teeming with history both real and imagined.** Every character, major or minor, is endowed with a superbly crafted, heart-wrenching personal history. And Victor Hugo knew what he was doing; though I haven’t been able to find it for you, I remember reading a quotation from him in which he admitted that he strove to evoke powerful emotions in his readers – something on the order of “If y’all don’t cry reading this book, I’ll eat my hat,” but in erudite, Romantic French.
It was gratifying to see the movie and realize it recaptures some of the depth that was lost in the stage play.
This movie thoroughly impressed me: the performances, the singing abilities, the method acting, the sensitivity of the adaptation, the sound mixing (bonjour, Oscar!), the makeup (Oscar again), the costumes, the set design, the overall vision.
This movie contains some of the most raw acting I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean raw as in under-done – I mean naked, harrowing, bare-your-soul-to-the-camera acting.
The main actors are apparently all Les Mis geeks, for whom playing these roles is a dream come true.
Their dedication to their roles is remarkable. For example:
Hugh Jackman drank no water for 36 hours prior to filming his convict scenes, to achieve the “gaunt” look;
Eddie Redmayne sang 21 takes of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” to be satisfied with his work, even though the director was happy with take #12;
and Anne Hathaway had them actually cut off her real hair, on camera.
Sean, without previous exposure to the music, was not as thrilled with the movie. There were many scenes where he felt it would have been better if they’d spoken the dialogue instead of singing. I think that’s an unsolvable issue with movie musicals: when you put them onscreen, it’s just kinda strange that they’re singing. The same is true of Rent: when it’s a movie, you expect them to speak their dialogue, not sing it.
To combat this, I recommend listening repeatedly to the soundtrack until it’s part of the fabric of your being. Then it doesn’t seem incongruous at all.
While watching, I had occasional glimpses of how the movie might seem to an outsider, how it could be perceived as maudlin. I mean, the pathos is so thick you can chew on it. But that’s part of why we love it. I believe Hugo would have approved.
Comparison to the Stage Musical (spoiler warning, if you don’t already know the story… but who doesn’t?):
I noticed every time the music differed from the soundtrack in my head – alternate lyrics, more delicate instrumentation, and lots of abridged songs. (“Dog Eats Dog” was all but eliminated.)
The grit and sordidness of the time and place really come through on film. From the dizzying nosebleed section of the Royal Alex, you can’t fully appreciate how filthy everyone is. (Teeth especially.) On a movie set, one can achieve truly repulsive squalor. “Look Down”, “Lovely Ladies” and “Master of the House” are outstanding examples of this.
Similarly, the intimacy of film allows for plot subtleties that aren’t possible in stage format. Suddenly certain realities are clear:
Fantine’s dawning acceptance, as her hallucinations dissipate, of the fact that she is dying and must give up care of her daughter;
the poignant youth and naïveté of the students;
Valjean’s jealousy and panic when he realizes Cosette will not always be his;
the gendarme’s regret after shooting Gavroche;
the pathetic haphazardness of the barricade, and indeed the “revolution” as a whole.
I loved the new song, “Suddenly”, sung by Valjean when he takes little Cosette into his care. This was one of the book’s plot points missing entirely from the musical: rescuing Cosette completely changes Valjean’s outlook and priorities. His love for her is immediate, intense, beautiful, and drives basically all of his subsequent actions. He is fiercely protective and fearful at the same time, as parents are. I was very glad they reincorporated this element.
The opening scene blew me away. “Goosebumps” doesn’t remotely cover it.
Hugh Jackman made me cry, especially in the Soliloquy at the beginning. I loved almost every aspect of his performance.
My only quibble was that I wished “Bring Him Home” were more wistful/delicate. But it’s, like, one of the hardest solos in the world, and he sang admirably.
Anne Hathaway made me cry multiple times, even though her character lasts for less than half the movie. I’m glad she won the Oscar.
I’d been warned that Amanda Seyfried as Cosette sings like a Chipmunk. I understood the reference immediately – it’s true that her vibrato is very trembly and the part is written super-high – but her pitch is right on and I thought she did a good job overall.
I was also warned that Russell Crowe as Javert was the weak link. I can’t disagree; his singing – especially his consonants – were tentative where they should have been full of conviction (no pun intended). His performance was lacklustre. But again, his pitch was good, and his duet with Jackman was solid – especially the low note on “Monsieur le maire, you wear a different chain” – so I forgive him.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter as the Thénardiers were appropriately gaudy and repellent, although I didn’t love Sacha’s constantly mutating accent. But I guess accents are his thing.
Eddie Redmayne is totally endearing as Marius. Earnest and freckly and boyish. He completely won me over with his delivery of the line, “I’m doing everything all wrong.”
Colm Wilkinson! Was in it! As the Bishop of Digne. I didn’t even recognize him – or his voice – while I was watching… so I guess I’ll have to see it again.
I appreciated the parts that recreated certain stage moments, like Valjean’s burdened silhouette in the sewer, and the angle at which Enjolras dies. My inner geek-self was tickled. (If you’re thinking, Um, Dilovely, what other self do you have? then yeah. Touché.)
I also appreciated the bits that gave us information from the book that was not in the stage version; for example:
we get to see the elephant statue that, in the book, is home to Gavroche and a bunch of other urchins.
we also catch sight of young Cosette’s doll that looks like a bundle of rags tied together; readers know she has wrapped up a little lead knife to be her doll. (I KNOW – how heartbreaking is that??)
I was confused for a moment by the enormous barricade that appears in the finale, with the whole cast singing atop it. I guess it’s probably reminding us that less than 20 years after the end of the story, in 1848, the French people would rise up for real and force King Louis-Philippe to abdicate – using a MUCH bigger barricade.
Notes on Revisiting the Story After Many Years:
As my understanding of the world increases, this story seems more and more relevant – and sad. There are people all over the world who still face tragic circumstances like those in Les Misérables, even though as a species, we should know better.
Fantine’s story touches me more now that I’m a mom. The idea of being obliged to give my child to someone else to look after and just hoping for the best, yearning for her all the time… Furthermore, knowing I’m going to leave the mortal plane and never hold her again… Just awful.
Hugo’s own story also hits home a lot more. His firstborn son died in infancy, and his second child Léopoldine drowned at age 19, shortly after being married. He knew all about pain, and also about passion, and politics. And he observed poverty all around him – the conditions he describes in the Les Misérables were not imagined. No wonder it’s an amazing book.
I need to read it again someday, even though it would probably take me… an embarrassingly long time.
And if you enjoyed the musical or the movie or even just the plot, I highly recommend reading it yourself.
This is one of my favourite Romantic paintings, commemorating the July Revolution of 1830 in Paris. The little boy right beside Lady Liberty is said to have inspired Hugo’s Gavroche. I fell in love with this after seeing it discussed on video by Sister Wendy, and later had the privilege of seeing it at the Louvre. Sister Wendy is amazing and so is the painting.
*West Side Story, Showboat, Cats, Evita, Les Mis, Joseph, Miss Saigon, Assassins, Falsettos, A New Brain, Once On This Island, Rent, Parade… Sisters, what am I forgetting?
**For example, there is a section entitled “Waterloo”, a gruesome 70-page depiction of battle and its remains, related to the story only as historical context – and a vehicle to introduce Thénardier in the last few pages. I wrote a paper on it, about Hugo’s manipulation of time, during my M.A. That’s how much I love Hugo.
I have certain products I put on my face daily. One is an antioxidant serum I use around my eyes to prevent wrinkles.
I also have many grey hairs, which I first noticed when I was pregnant with E (age 30). Each pregnancy has accelerated the process. I’ve never dyed my grey, but that’s probably because it’s still mostly hidden under the top layer of brown hair. I haven’t ruled out the possibility of colouring someday. (Especially since I have a three-year-old who once said to me, “Mama, I hope I’m not getting old… like you.”)
Back in our twenties, when my Hubbibi was wooing me with written correspondence, I remember one of his letters – which always contained social/political commentary (yes, that was part of what wooed me) – talking about how crazy it was that companies could charge so much for something like anti-wrinkle cream and people would still feel the need to buy it. At the time, part of me agreed with him… and yet, I already knew that such vanity existed in me, although I had no eye wrinkles at the time.
Now, here I am. I do spend money on skin products, including ones to “keep me young”.
I know it’s kinda dumb. It’s not like I’m losing my eyesight or developing arthritis, both of which would actually hinder my ability to enjoy life. It’s not like I’m a famous personality who gets lots of public attention and scrutiny. I’m not hoping for some kind of big break based on my youthful face. But I can’t deny that when I see my wrinkles getting more pronounced, I sigh sadly. When I see an obvious grey hair, I pull it out.
Why do I do this? My “signs of aging” are the results of life being lived – the laughter and tears and sunshine and pregnancies and interrupted nights with my babies – and I wouldn’t trade these things for youth… not even the tears. I am glad to be healthy and alive, knowing lots of people have had their lives cut shorter than this. To age is a privilege.
It’s not that I think my life has already passed its peak and it’s all downhill from here. On the contrary, I look forward to the next thirty-four years – and beyond, if I’m lucky – as more opportunities to do and be and witness great things.
So why can’t I just own this aging thing? Be proud of my grey hairs? Love my wrinkles?
Frustratingly, this seems to be mostly a women’s problem. Men apparently don’t give a dirty diaper-full about going grey or getting wrinkles. Why do women get these neuroses?
Conveniently, I blame society. (Because society can be blamed for everything.) Especially advertising media.
It dawned on me when I saw the commercial for “Touch of Gray” (Just For Men).
For men, grey hair is an asset. It’s distinguished, handsome, mature. It says “experience”, for crap’s sake.
You’ll notice the woman doing the interview has NO “touch of gray” WHATSOEVER. No visible wrinkles either. Sheesh. Please excuse me while I gag on the double-standard.
Women get crow’s feet. Men get “crinkly eyes”.
Women are bombarded by anti-aging advertising, featuring models either airbrushed or well under forty (or both). These ads are designed to create anxiety about looking your actual age – aging skin can’t possibly be “great skin”. Have you EVER seen such an ad featuring a man?
Male actors – some of the biggest celebrities – can walk around with crinkles and grey on display, and still be considered hot… think George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, John Slattery, Alec Baldwin, Richard Gere. Female actors don’t get to show their grey unless the part actually calls for it; Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep almost never let their true colours show. (And don’t get me started on plastic surgery.) How is that fair?
I asked my husband if he ever worries or even thinks about grey hair and wrinkles. He practically scoffed. “Are you kidding? I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to be an old man!” Of course, Sean is not a good person to ask about this; he has a perpetually young-looking face, and also an odd penchant for deliberately choosing accessories that are, shall we say, “elderly” (sweater-vests, flat caps, even the occasional walking stick or pocket watch).
But how and why does he get to want to be an old man? I think we’re dealing not just with ads, but with a deeply ingrained societal idea.
Say the words “old man” to yourself. (Or Google it, if that’s easier.) What images come to mind? Maybe it’s just me, but I think of someone old and wise, gentlemanly, even venerable… like Winston Churchill, or Gandhi, or Obi-Wan Kenobi. After all, the iconic “Old Man and the Sea” was about an old Cuban fisherman with extraordinary strength, determination, and resourcefulness.
The words “old lady” just aren’t the same; inexplicably, I picture someone hunched, shuffling, blue-haired, going a little bit dotty. Even “old woman” doesn’t sound good – “old women” do things like invite hapless children into their gingerbread homes and roast them. They might live in a shoe, or swallow a fly for no good reason.
Why do I think this? It’s ridiculous! All the old women I know are amazing, intelligent, lovely people, not at all how I describe. Why does societal perception trump my actual life experience?
It would be easier to reveal the evidence of our journeys toward old-womanhood if women, as a group, were allowed to age properly, naturally, graciously. How will we get permission to be free of a myth in which we participate?
I guess I should start by wearing my wrinkles and grey hairs proudly, like the badges of my personal history that they are… and then show young girls it’s okay – by being super-awesome.
I know that much of my blog has been devoted to my firstborn and his exploits, but it’s been harder to concentrate on his awesomeness recently.
His baby sister is settling into life, now that she’s past the six-week mark (almost twelve pounds now!), but she still takes up lots of time, and she is the reason we are so often shushing him, warning him, asking him to be careful, gentle, etc. etc. (Well, not quite – there are other reasons he needs to be careful, but he knows those already. The new reasons compound the old ones.)
I feel bad, because it seems like we’re constantly on his case – and I’m sure it seems that way to him, too. That would, I assume, be why he has taken to pounding on couch cushions (which we encourage as an expression of frustration), hitting Mummy or Daddy (which we discourage), and screaming “NOOOOOOO!!!” at the top of his lungs (which just gets him more shushing and usually removal from the room).
He’s not like that every moment, of course – we have lots of good times, but even then, there are so many things to do that he doesn’t get nearly as much undivided attention as I wish I could give him. In fact, “undivided” has pretty much fallen off the boat of possibilities, at least where Mummy is concerned.
Except when we’ve gone out. Yesterday and today I took him with me on short errands while A was napping and Daddy was home, and it was really fun. (Takes twice as long, of course, but whatever.) He was so good, and so cute – and when I’m out in the big world, without his relatively tiny sister along, I remember how little he still is, in the grand scheme of things.
Yesterday we went to get gifts for our midwives (discharge visit was today, *sniff*) at an eclectic international gift-type shop, and E was very well-behaved. He looked at all the stuff at his eye-level – a fascinating array of scarves, belly rings, and sculptures – and he carried his pony around and saw what it looked like atop the head of each Hindu god (Ganesh was definitely there, but I couldn’t remember whether the other guy was Shiva or Vishnu – it’s been a long time since my Hindu art and culture course). He noted which ones were happy and which were sad – and which had curly hair.
Today, we went to the drug store. Even though I had to tell him approximately seventeen times, “No, we’re not buying that,” it was still fun. Partly because he kept mistaking things for other things, and partly because he kept wanting to get presents for his sister.
This last one made me kinda proud. I explained to E that these were not carrots, but he rebutted with the information that they were round and orange, just like the carrots he eats. Can’t deny he’s right.
The best part was as I was checking out – we had to wait a few extra minutes for my photos to be printed, and I realized E was hanging around by the automatic exit door. I asked if he was okay, and he said, “Yeah. I’m the operator, opening the door.” I watched him, and sure enough, he would step in front of the door to make it slide open each time someone approached. Such an enterprising chap.