Friday, June 15, 2012

The Bad Boys of (My) Summer

The DVR is a beautiful thing.

Recently we aquired its magic, after about a year of hearing friends sing its praises. The other night I DVRed (I still want to say "taped") the newest film version of Jane Eyre, the one starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

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I'd read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for the first time in middle school, and finished the book torn between a new obsession with the wild English moors, and an odd attraction to Rochester. I couldn't decide if I abhored him, arrogant, dark man that he was, or if I was wild about him, as Jane was. And at 13, this put me in a state for weeks. So much so that I hadn't returned to the story for years, until last night, when I watched the movie for the first time.

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Suffice to say, I went to bed dreaming of dark, dank, low-slung two-hundred year-old English hallways, and Michael Fassbender laying there in the dark, with a candle.

Which got me thinking (and this can be dangerous): What is it about those "bad" boys? Why do we love them--or, more accurately, obsess over them, in spite of their obvious faults?

I don't ascribe to the antiquated psychology that says that women think they can "tame" or "change" or "heal" a dangerous man. I've thought that was a load of crap since I read my first Harlequin at age 12. I think it's much more complicated (and at the same time more shallow) than that.

I think we like the "bad" boys because they're hot.
I think we like them because they're different, because they draw us out of the sometimes monotonous "ordinary."
I think we like the mystery.
I think when we're young and stupid (and stupid with hormones), we see their mystery as a challenge, and we draw for them a much deeper well than they truly possess.
I think we long for the illusion of the passion they seem to emanate, not realizing (at least until we're about 30) that it is an illusion, a fire certainly flaming at the moment but so easily extinguished.
Again, they're hot.

This post could erupt and grow into a psychological argument, but I won't go there because most folks don't read blogs for that sort of thing. Instead, I give you my personal list of "bad" boys. These are gentleman I've been obsessed with (in a very teenage, I'm-writing-awful-love-poems-about-you sort of way), and there's no real explanation for some of them.


1.) Rochester from Jane Eyre. (Now, namely Michael Fassbender playing Rochester.)

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He's brooding. He's mysterious. He plays a game of cat-and-mouse with Jane that crosses the line into cruel. There's no explaining it. Oh, and he can ride a horse. In breeches.

2.) Sam Elliot. Sam Elliot playing anyone, but especially a cowboy. 

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I have a thing for older men, obviously. Can't help it. Yes, even with a handlebar mustache. Even long-haired and sweaty, in Road House. And yes, I do have a Master's degree in English.

Mmm mm. Love me some Sam Elliott.

3.) Mercutio, from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

From the 1996 film
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I realize that there's a bit of a jump from Road House to Shakespeare, but bear with me. I've had a thing for Mercutio since 9th grade honors English class, when I memorized the Queen Mab speech for a project. He's a true friend, smart, witty, wily and cool. I have a feeling he was hot, too. Even in tights.

4.) Eric Northman from Charlaine Harris's bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels. (Okay, Alexander Skarsgard playing Eric Northman.)

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So he's a 1,000 year-old Viking vampire with no regard to human life or suffering. He's big, he's badass, and he doesn't care who knows it. (I do miss the long-haired Eric.)

5.) Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart.

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I saw this movie in high school in the theatre with two big, tough guys who are practically my brothers. We all cried at the end. And I know Mel has since lost his marbles. Despite this, my love for him as Wallace will never die. The craggy face. The scraggly hair. The courage. The kilt.


6.) Doc Holliday. Doc Holliday in the Wyatt Earp dime novels. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone.

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 Scrawny, pale, and consumptive... it doesn't matter. He's funny, charming, with a Southern accent that could melt butter. And he's a card shark who can shoot. Plus, there's the loyalty to Wyatt. You can't underestimate loyalty.

Tombstone's also got Sam Elliott. In a black trench coat. With a gun. And the mustache. Yowza.

7.) Uncas. From any version of James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales: the novel itself, Sara Donati's version Into the Wilderness, and the movie The Last of the Mohicans.

Eric Schweig as Uncas
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Uncas is brave, strong, handy with a weapon, and oh-so mysterious. In The Last of the Mohicans, he's willing to fight hand-to-hand on a cliff to save a young woman that he may love. All I have to do is hear any song from this movie, and it gives me the chills. Still, after all these years.

It doesn't hurt that Eric Schweig is gorgeous. He set me on a preteen obsession with Native Americans that I've yet to shake.

8.) Paul Newman. In any movie, really, but especially as Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

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Some may vote for Redford in this film, but for me it's always been Newman. The blue eyes, the big heart, the cocksure grin, the wily plan to rob a bunch of banks. Love him.

9.) Toby Ziegler on The West Wing. Okay, Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler on The West Wing.

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Sure, he's surly and stubborn and sometimes cold. But he's also uncompromising, idealistic, and smart as hell. And he's a great writer who loves his country more than life itself.

Again: Sigh.

10.) My own, personal, real-life list of "bad" boys. From the rock climbers/ mountain bikers/ paddlers/ Alaskan fly fishing guides/ regrettable frat boys to the 8th grade Lothario who wrote something very inappropriate in my middle school yearbook.

You all know who you are.

We had some good times. I'm glad they didn't kill me.

So, the "bad" boys. Irresistible, unstable, rakish and rascally. They're fun to dally with, fun to dream about, and certainly fun to write about. They appeal to the danger we harbor in our ordinary souls. To our wild sides.

The appeal of the "bad" boy, however, is temporary. It burns bright for a while, and being with them can exhilarate just as it hurts like hell. But men are at their best, I think, when they've shaken off the arrogance of youth and the shallowness of surface things.

As for the bad boys, they sure do make for a good story every once in a while.

So I'm interested, because I know I've missed more than a few: Who are your favorite "bad" boys of summer?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summertime, Summertime

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.
~ L. M. Montgomgery

Summer is here, summer is here, summer is here! For me, there is no real dilineation of the season except for the letting-out of school, the thick mist low on the bottomlands, the emergence of green corn, and the appearance of the lightening bugs. I still feel summer like a child does, like a glow low in my abdomen, spread out to the edges of my appendages, sparking at the fingertips and bare feet. It is, as it always was, a gorgeous, magic, infinite time of year, no matter how old I get or how my life changes.

This past week I abandoned the Internet for a week at my family's lakehouse in the South Carolina foothills. This, and my willful, lazy embrace of summer, are the reasons for my not writing in a while, here. I don't have a good excuse.

The lakehouse is a special place for me, with a honing beacon that pings and lights no matter how long or far away I go from it. I could fill a book with the memories made there. But this past week, I was there because my husband was out of town on business, my daughter is out of preschool, and I'd just finished the last packet of my first grad school semester--30 pages plus 20 more for my summer residency mailed off--and for the first time in several months, my reading material was my own.

I packed an extra bag full of novels, biographies, new magazines, and DVDs, certain I'd wake early and stay up late, just to soak it all in. I took my laptop, thinking I'd be so inspired by sunrise over the lake and blue mountains that I'd be up every morning long before anyone else, typing away as I used to there as a teenager, so easily inspired. 

My soon-to-be three year-old, whom I was solo-parenting for the week, obviously didn't get the memo that Mama was going to be reading. And writing. She woke every night between 3 and 5 a.m., and only took a nap on the first and last day we were there. I spent days chasing her up and down steps, pushing her on the swing her Grandaddy installed at his Tiki Bar, just for her, and funneling her away from the edge of the dock. It also rained for three days straight. At the end of the week I looked about ten years older, and not tan. So not tan.

But still, it was a good week away from my house, my desk, my work worries. Sometimes you simply have to physically remove yourself from those things to disconnect. And, I had good friends visit, time with them and their kids, time--even if only snippets of it--to talk, to share, to laugh, to simply be. And this is priceless.

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Navigating motherhood alongside being a writer (and now, again a student) has been nothing but a challenge: an obstacle course like one of those mud runs, where you get to leap over fire and scale slippery walls and climb under barbed wire. You know the ones: where you come up utterly exhausted, your clothes trashed, with muck in your mouth and in your nose but a huge grin on your face.  Yep: motherhood is like this.

Thank God I like to get muddy.

Since it is summer, and the ferns are green in the woods, the crickets sounding their thrum at night, I vow to soak it in. To breathe. To go barefoot, eat a popsicle, ride a bike, and get dirty. I may be doing all these things with an almost three year-old in tow, and on very little sleep, but they'll happen. For it is summer (my, what a word!), and it doesn't get much better than this.