Thursday, July 21, 2011


Prosopagnosia is the inability to remember or distinguish faces. Oliver Sacks recently wrote an article in the New Yorker about how he suffers from this: he failed to recognize a doctor he'd been seeing for many years and he mixed his own two brothers up! Well, nothing like that has ever happened to me, but I do have a terrible memory for faces. At church, work (where I come in contact with 100+ students) and other social places faces just slide by me. I've perfected the art of standing there, smiling, talking to someone who clearly knows me while I wonder who is this person? where did I meet them?

Even worse, I sometimes make up names for people ("she looks like a Gloria") and then I remember the fake name instead of the real one. I'm not sure if this is a side effect of prosopagnosia or just the writer in me taking over.

Think about writing from the point of view of a character with this problem. It's interesting what a barrier it is to basic everyday life.

What I find even more interesting is the people I do remember. You'd think a disability like this would be equal across the board, but it's not. Certain people always stand out, which makes me think that facial recognition is a fairly complex process in the brain. You might call this love at first sight, even though often it's not love, exactly, more like a certain heightened interest. It's the total opposite of prosopagnosia and also a fascinating thing to write about...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Old Movies

I read an obituary today in the NY Times for one of my NYU film school professors, Robert Sklar.

The course I took from him was called, I think, Hollywood and Its Alternatives. The idea was we saw Hollywood films side by side with some classics of foreign cinema. I remember Anna Magnani running after the truck after the Nazis have taken away her lover in Rome, Open City. And Robert Bresson's A Man Escaped -- an almost entirely dark movie, filmed in a prison, and yet it made you hold your breath with suspense. On the Hollywood side I remember The Asphalt Jungle and The Big Heat, where Gloria Grahame has hot coffee thrown in her face by Lee Marvin. (I remember The Public Enemy, too -- Professor Sklar really had a thing for gangster films.) Above all I remember how stirred the class was by these films as we discussed them. They might be 50 years old but they were brand new to us. Each film was like a continent, rediscovered after being long-lost, and all our own. And there were those films that were hardly ever shown -- cult movies and potential cult movies -- over which we asserted bragging rights, like birdwatchers listing rare species.

Today you can get Rome, Open City on Netflix or watch the coffee scene from The Big Heat on Youtube. I think that's great, honestly. I count the hours I spent sitting in the Kentucky Theatre watching Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock as part of my education. But it was a hard-won education, full of gaps, and anything that makes great movies more easily available is a win for our civilization. But kids today will never know the thrill of making an effort to see a classic movie -- earning it, in a way -- and they will also never see the movies as I saw them -- on an enormous silver screen in black and white that could be satiny smooth or gritty as reality itself.

In tribute, here is Anna's famous run, yes, from Youtube. (I can't seem to get it to embed, so I'm just going to link it.) It's in Italian, but you won't need subtitles.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


We had a beautiful rain on Sunday. The day was smudgy and hazy, with the white sky we sometimes get when there are nearby wildfires. (There weren't any - none closer than New Mexico.) At 5 o'clock, when I drove out to pick up a pizza for dinner, the cars had their headlights on. After dinner the lamp made a pool of yellow light and we sat reading by it. For half an hour or more we heard long rolls of thunder. The air remained humid, the breeze began to stir, we took the garbage back in. I went outside once or twice and could smell the rain up in the clouds. Finally I looked up from A School for Scandal to see the first big drops falling on the porch. Then it rained and rained and rained. We paid for it the next day, the 4th, when it was humid and sticky, but it was fun while it lasted.

If you ever want to know exactly how dry it is in Las Vegas, I can tell you. When it rains here, they put it on the news. And the news goes crazy. Flooding! Don't go in the washes! Don't drive through running water! Stay indoors because lightning can get you 10 miles away! Look, a palm tree got blown over! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

I didn't listen to the news. My son and I went out on the porch (some people have sun porches -- we have a rain porch) and watched the drops dance in the street.

I am still on my Free Stuff on Kindle binge. I have overdosed on Victorian fiction, which means I am taking every act and thought very seriously and worthy of a thousand other acts and thoughts. By the way, A School for Scandal would make an excellent YA novel. So would William Makepeace Thackery's fairy-tale The Rose and the Ring. I can't believe no one's ripped it off yet.