Small things make a big difference

July 13, 2008

It’s been a few months since I saw this film, but I find it to be “haunting” in the sense that it still occasionally pops up on my mental landscape. It is called Midnight Clear and stars one of the Baldwin brothers. It’s kind of one of those “sleeper” films, I think, not sure if it was ever released to theatres – maybe more kind of film festival fare.

It basically follows several characters through a short period of time – maybe even just one or two days, and is one of those kind of movies where through plot turns and twists, all of the characters end up becoming interrelated in some manner. What I found most meaningful, and yes, “haunting” about the film was its overall concept or philosophy of “sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference.” All of the things that take place in the plot seem quite believable, and even are properly confusing at times for the viewer – but make sense in the character’s world. The characters are pretty much ordinary everyday people, and all have their own flaws, weaknesses and hangups.

Definitely the thing that stuck with me most about this film, is the way small acts and decisions can have a large impact – and that sometimes we remain completely unaware of that impact, even as it happens, and even as time goes on. The kindness to help a stranger, answering a knock on the door, turning left instead of right, these are all the small things that can (in the movie, and I think sometimes in life) have big effects.

The film, especially on their website, may have Christian implications or undertones, but I did not find the film to be overtly evangelistic, preachy, or even to have much of an obnoxiously Christian message. I view the lack of all of these to be positives, and as a result, I was not put-off from either picking the film up in the first place, or losing interest or being offended during the viewing of it. About the only real “Christian” element is simply that the story takes place at Christmas time.

I really liked this film, because it is thoughtful, well-written, the characters are fully developed, they are “ordinary” people, and the plot, although twisty, makes sense in the end. I especially liked the “meaning” and philosophy of the film, that small things make a big difference. It is a film not just with a heart, but with a mind. I like that!

© writingreading 2008

Reading Julia Alvarez

July 10, 2008

I thought I’d write today about Julia Alvarez. I’m sure she is a very well-known modern poet, but since the only living poet that I can name is Maya Angelou, I had not heard of her.

I picked up Alvarez’s book of poems entitled The Woman I Kept to Myself – simply because I found the title intriguing. I haven’t had much of a chance to sit and read straight through; I’ve just dipped in and out, here and there, and I found her to be a very gifted and inspiring poet. Besides the gift and craft of any poet, the crafting of words and rhythms, I find the topics she chooses to write about and her way of expressing them extremely interesting, in part, because she brings poetry to the everyday-ness of life.

For example, she writes about visiting a therapist (“The Therapist”), and how the therapist’s technique is to let his patients search out and find their own answers to their problems. She writes of men rising out of manhole covers (“Manholes”), and gives it an unexpected twist at the end. She talks about how she (or the narrator) dreams that her husband has given away all of her headbands that she no longer wears, but how it makes her feel like a part of herself has been given away, to women she does not know. And of course is relieved when she awakes to find her husband soundly sleeping beside her (“Hairbands”).

And then I think my favorite poem is entitled “Tone” – about how she can tell who her husband is talking to on the phone in the next room, just by the way he talks. This poem, in particular, I find touching, not only for the love and craft of the poem itself, but for the closeness of the couple that it portrays.

Again, I’m sure my own words fall short in attempting to do her work justice, but I found her poetry well-crafted, insightful, and inspiring.

© writingreading 2008

Thomas Paine’s “American Crisis”

July 2, 2008

In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, I picked up Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis. Even if you’re not familiar with the title, you probably will recognize at least one of its quotes. This is where the famous quote, “These are the times that try men’s souls” comes from.

And if you’re not familiar with any of this, Thomas Paine is more commonly known, today, I think, as the author of Common Sense. He was an American printer at the time of the American Revolution, and his incendiary Common Sense called for the establishment of an independent country, separate from the British, in January 1776 – a full six months before the Declaration of Independence made it official.

I feel certain I must have read The American Crisis, long ago, in an 8am college history course, though I remember nothing but sleepiness from that. But rereading it now, many years later and much more conscious, I am struck by not only Paine’s eloquence and passion – but how much of our fundamental American ideals are contained and elaborated in this series of essays.

He talks about colonialism, royalists efforts to suppress the will of the common people, economic instability, the folly and costs of war (and sometimes its necessity), honor and deception among leaders, the willing sacrifices made by American citizens, and so very much more. I found it not only a surprisingly easy read – but also fascinatingly relevant in many many ways to today’s world. It truly took me back to the most fundamental aspects of our American democracy – our virtues and our faults – and maybe most importantly at this time of year, our ideals.

The essays are short enough they can be read on a short bus or train ride while commuting, or an hour without TV, or maybe while you are waiting for it to get dark enough to shoot off fireworks on the Fourth. Get back to basics, read about American ideals and freedoms, and take a look at this American classic.

© writingreading 2008