Just before leaving town for the holidays I paid a visit to Ann Arbor’s subterranean Aardvark antique shop and came upon several boxes of Stereoscopic gold, at a price even the most frugal of treasure-hoarders can celebrate. I stood beholden to the stacks of rectangular cardstock bearing double images–of a gloomy pair of circus lions, or of two doe-eyed Victorian housewives swooning upon identical hand-colored velvet chaises, or of a bank in San Francisco, the twin photographs taken sometime before the 1906 earthquake that broke Market Street in two. A Stereoscope, for the unknowing, is a trick of the mind. The double imaged cards were once created with the intention of being held by elegant machinery. Lenses would cover the eyes, crossing them, to reveal a single image in three stunning dimensions.
Among the many barbs that Humbert Humbert lobs at Lolita’s poor, doomed mother, Charlotte Haze, is that she is “large.” Sure, his gaze upon this woman, who has unfortunately reached the same decrepit age that I am now, is never kind. To him, she is dull-witted, her French is horrendous, she is simple and slovenly. But above all, she is that most unfeminine of qualities: the opposite of small. Humbert is not alone in prizing a woman for being of diminutive stature, although Humbert is a terrible example, since we all know what his deal is, one need not venture far from Nabokov’s masterpiece to find male narrators who wax rhapsodic over women with tiny hands, delicate feet, and small bodies that fit into to crooks of their arms. If you, like me, are a woman of formidable mien (I topped out around six feet tall at the age of twelve), chances are that you long ago abandoned hope that the day would come when you would find a man glowing upon the page about his romantic interest, a heroine who can fit into your clothes.
Samuel L. Jackson is the highest grossing actor of all time. I know, I was surprised too. According to the Guinness Book of World Records he has appeared in more than 100 films, that have in total grossed over 7.42 billion. So, I started an investigation —no this was not a form of procrastination to distract myself from writing, I swear. Over the course of two weeks, I watched and re-watched as many films starring Sam L. as I could, in the hopes of understanding what makes his films such a success. Most compelling of his performances, the thread that united his roles, was his voice. Perhaps his success lies, not in what he says, but how he says it.
My daughter has her father’s white skin, her grandfather’s dark curls, but nobody is sure how she got her blue eyes. Her father’s eyes are hazel; mine are brown. On her father’s side, the origins of her blue eyes are easy to trace: Grandpa has bright blue Irish eyes. It’s now known that the genetics of eye colour are complex, and that any combination of parent-child eye colours is possible. Still, the question of whether there have previously been blue eyes in my family — simple enough on the surface — dredges up all sorts of complicated family dynamics, long-buried resentments.
All eighteen students in my College Writing course this fall showed up prepared and on-time for their 15-minute, one-on-one meetings with me during week three of the semester. I had a short list of questions for them — what’s your intended major? do you like to write? and what are your goals for this course? Now, many would say there’s no point in asking a Freshman about their major, as it’s likely to change at least once before the end of this….sentence. (…and several times throughout their college careers.) But it’s the way in which they answered — their delivery and the words they used, that helped me see past the student to get glimpses of the writer.
Their answers varied, but many of them had a common tone: “I’m going to work on Capitol Hill so I’m majoring in Political Science and Minoring in International Studies”… “I’m getting into Ross [UM’s very prestigious and competitive pre-business program] and then I’ll be an I-Banker” … “Pre-Med. I’ll probably be a doctor but I’d like to try out surgery to see which one I like better.”
I loved their confidence. Many of them spoke in firm declaratives about their futures and felt their paths were hammered in stone. Bold, brave, and ready to take college by the horns — my Freshmen were gunning for success. But with the very next question, these first-year lions turned into lambs.