Sunday, February 14, 2016

ROOM 2/14/16

Kidnapped at fourteen and locked up in a room for seven years with a five year old child conceived through violence, director Lenny Abrahamson’s film inspired by Emma Donoghue’s novel of the same name - a composite of true events - is titled ROOM; a delicate and harrowing story of two people caught in a private space, where they live a life of extreme tenderness and tension.  The actors are excellent, Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack create a home/neighborhood/community/country  inside a small, cluttered “room” with occasional shafts of light beaming down from a skylight that displays the stars and moving clouds - the outside “world” a dream beyond their reach.

 A television sputtering on the blink allows that other “world” entry, but for young Jack, what he sees flickering on the screen is both real and “make believe” ; distinctions have been erased and are unknowable. The relationship between mother and child is stunning - the  connection between them is acutely poignant, as if the umbilical cord had never been severed. Days are spent exercising, running back and forth- sharp turns are necessary after a few steps, making us aware of the claustrophobic feel of the space; and Ma’s attempt to teach her son to read and maintain a somewhat “normal” existence is impressive and heart-rending. Jack’s poetic and descriptive use of words to describe his circumscribed environment invokes the originality and charm of expressing and interpreting  what we see and feel through language tailored to one’s unique cosmos. We also witness the chilling visits of “Old Nick” her captor whose step on the stairs on his way to the “room” is a sign for little Jack to hide and feign sleep behind a shuttered closet door - the presence of “evil” glimpsed through cracks in the battered and weatherworn slats.

When Jack turns five his mother decides he is old enough to participate in an escape plan involving resilience and courage which eventually succeeds. Mother and child are hospitalized and the second half of ROOM begins. How to acclimate one’s self to being separate individuals, after the powerful link between them is sundered - a tie which was both nourishing and restrictive? Accommodation to “freedom” begins, and the aching awareness of the familiar becoming unfamiliar, as well as the unfamiliar becoming familiar, are daunting and formidable.

ROOM is an exquisitely fragile story of the pliancy of the human resolve to survive and adapt to suffocating circumstances and adjust to the shock of change after flight and rescue. A child’s ability to embrace the magic of his new environs - as one Dr. mentioned in examining Jack, “he is still plastic”; and an adult’s more complex road to acclimatization which includes grieving the loss of a singular bond where the “other” completes you to the exclusion of everyone else.

Monday, February 8, 2016


My article on "first love" was published in Women's Voices For Change.

“A relationship of intense beauty and emotional anarchy was formed, waged by teenagers in the vortex of ‘romantic love,’ where infatuation, anger, and jealousy crack through the shell of invincibility and time is forever-after.”

— Grace Graupe-Pillard

I was fourteen years old – a young, slender girl with a short pixie haircut who congregated after school with a group of friends in Washington Heights, New York City, at "the steps"– steep gray concrete steps linking two neighborhoods: the lush green, tree blooming, up-on-the-hill Pinehurst Avenue and the dry, commercial-store-lined 181st street down below. That's where my sister and I lived in an apartment with our immigrant parents and grandmother. a view of the George Washington Bridge and the slowly moving Hudson river in our backyard. Nestled at each stair landing were enclaves of benches for those who needed a breather as they made the long and arduous trek to the top. But for a  high-spirited young lady with all of life’s possibilities looming before her, bounding up and down the stone stairway was a breeze. I was the fastest runner in my Public School, even beating out the boys, though for the past two years I could feel my interest in the opposite sex changing. 

Richie, a very tall, handsome, sandy-haired young man with the clearest brown eyes, two years older than I was, would occasionally hang out with us, and I felt this incredible urge to win his attention – a desire to bump into him to get him to notice me. I had an innate sense of the power of my own budding sexuality and a teenager’s trust in surrendering to what was dark and mysterious–not worrying about consequences–coupled with a belief in the incorruptibly of innocence. I had heard rumors that Richie was a bad boy, smoking, playing hooky,  and getting into all kinds of trouble in High School, but I knew that whatever he had experienced before meeting me would change. And I was right.

One night at a party, Richie having drunk too much, became sick and, retching over the toilet bowl, he admitted to feeling a mutual attraction. I, who don’t drink at all, clearly understood the import of his response. A bond was sealed that was to last for two years. A relationship of intense beauty and emotional anarchy was formed, waged by teenagers in the vortex of “romantic love,” where infatuation, anger, and jealousy crack through the shell of invincibility, and time is forever-after. We were inseparable–a couple of kids who believed that we could build a cocoon around our lives that could last for an eternity. 

I would accompany Richie on his after-school job delivering clothes for a dry cleaner's, walking up and down local city blocks, waiting on street corners in the heat and cold while he delivered the neatly pressed clothes on hangers wrapped in plastic. While we walked we talked about everyday, mundane activities. We attended different High Schools: I went to one that specialized in art and music, and he went to one locally–a star of the swimming team. Primarily we were interested in the pleasure of being close to each other. The hypnotic, captivating excitement of upcoming sensual contact hovered over all our activities–particularly on those afternoons when no one was home and I would go to his apartment, where we probed the topography of unknown and unexplored bodily terrains.

First love is the most magical, deliciously exquisite, and seductive period of one’s life when the world actually becomes luminous without the need of the sun or the moon. Richie was never a “bad” boy and I was not the “bad seed” that my mother once called me. Together we felt secure and protected, buoyed by our ability to connect and blot out everything and everyone else.

Because of the fervor of our intimacy which was considered to be unhealthy, our worried families eventually decided that it was important that we be separated, and Richie was sent to school in Tucson, Arizona, a world away from NewYork City. Ultimately, passions drain, other distractions, and people come into our lives, and communication fades. Years later, once I got a computer, we were back in touch. He now had a wife and children and I a husband. We saw each other again when I was visiting a very close friend in California who was ill with AIDS, and we sat on a rock, meeting on the opposite Coast from where we began our friendship and talked and talked, the sensitivity of his presence still giving me solace.

 Richie died unexpectedly, a few years later from a heart attack, but the memory and poetry of our dramatic youthful liaison are permanently inscribed in my heart, which has never capitulated to anyone else with the same abandon.

Friday, February 5, 2016


Gregory Crewdson's moving and amazing exhibition titled CATHEDRAL OF THE PINES- photographs of landscapes that have the texture, light and resonance of masterful painting with figures that often feel like they were painted by Georges De La Tour or sculpted by Duane Hanson dislocated from their environment, but still vital to the narrative. I leave Crewsdon's exhibitions with an aching sadness.

We enter a darkened room and a see a 3-Channel screen with naked elderly men and women; some seated, some standing, and others moving slowly like turtles on the left screen - their presence invisible to most viewers; the center screen has clothed middle-age people practicing Yoga and other psychological/spiritual practices; and on the right screen where most of the audience is focusing their attention, are a group of nordic-looking, beautiful young people exuding the energy of eros. All of the participants seem to be strangers who are connecting randomly.

The Dutch artist Guido van der Werve's videos are shocking in their blatant depiction of the sexual act from pre-coital touching to the exhaustion of spent copulation. What begins with a programmed gentle touch becomes a slapping mechanical fornication - which goes on and on and is exhausting to witness. Literally stripped of any eroticism - the mechanics of sex becomes laborious and tiresome.
Meanwhile on the left screen the older folk lay about eating and slowly moving from place to place without vitality. At the very end of the film, everyone ends up in similar positions - splayed out on the floor, bodies fallen in utter capitulation to whatever life force has been exerted. According to the Press Release the videos projected on the three walls represent the id/ego/superego lasting about 40 minutes and beginning every hour - played out in 12 acts (the months of the year.) The names of the astrological signs beginning each new chapter with a visual depiction of the constellations. The only sounds, we hear besides the slurping of sex is a lonely player piano in the center of the gallery - a proxy for the artist himself who has "written a score in 12 parts in the 12 major keys" - the tones clear and lucid.
I was both fascinated and bored - despite its rigid structural formality, the images reflected the simplistic categorization of passion/libido with the passing of time. Desire is not wiped out with age - it is enriched by tenderness and experience.