Michelle Obama describes a scene from her first day of school in which the teacher asks each students to try to read flashcards that have color words on them, such as blue, green, orange, and white. Competitive and proud, the young Michelle reads one after another until she gets stumped on white, even though she knew she knew it. Back at home, she studies up on the color words. The next day, she asks the teacher to test her again. This time, she doesn’t stumble but gets all the words just right.
This story is extraordinary. I don’t think most students would be capable of demanding to be re-tested like that. (At least, I don’t think I would have the wherewithal to speak up like that.) In effect, her act was an assertion of self against the power dynamics of the classroom in order to bolster her own position within those very power dynamics. How was she able to do that? That question hovered over her memoir. Is this an intrinsic part of her character? Or was she taught this? I’m not sure the book answers this questions directly, though Obama also tells the story of how she jumped ahead of her piano lessons to tackle more difficult works, much to the chagrin of her teacher. She also says numerous times about how she is a list-maker and box-checker. That is she believes in herself, is smart, and likes order, and has been that way pretty much all her life. So was asking for the retest an attempt to reclaim that sense of order, by reasserting before others that how she thinks about herself is truly how she is.
A clue to that girl’s tenacity can be found in an episode much later in the memoir, which she describes as having “to use what power I could find inside a situation I never would’ve chosen for myself.” That situation was the media and public’s fixation on her looks when she was First Lady; however, that sentiment could also be seen as the kind of thought process that powered the young Michelle to ask for a new test — her power was to ask the teacher, the situation she never would have chosen was to be seen as less than capable at spelling and color words than she knew she was.
Have you read or listened to “Becoming?” Let me know what you think.
My short story “Slalom” has just been published in The Sunlight Press, edited by Beth Burrell and Rudri Bhatt Patel. Check it out.
I enjoyed reading “The Passage” (as well as “The Twelve” and “The City of Mirrors,” which I wrote about here), and it has been long enough since I read those books that I could approach the new Fox drama with a fresh perspective.
But after three episodes, I’m not sure if I need to see any more. There’s both too much (too many characters, too far-fetched situations, too quick moving, especially in terms of Amy’s swift move through the foster system), and not enough — not enough character development, not enough at stake between Amy and Brad, actually not enough reason for me to understand or care that much about Brad at all.
One thing that struck me even before seeing the show is that I thought I would find it on FX, instead of Fox. FX is where the edgier shows are. Show that I watch, like the first season of “Legion” and “Fargo” and, yes, “The Strain” (which starts with a mystery — what happened to these people on that plane? what’s about to happen to everyone else?). Fox, meanwhile, is home to shows that I might try and quit, like “The Orville.”
Remember “Lost”? Remember how much time was spent, at least in that first season, with flashbacks that helped us get off the island and to get to know the characters. It is always a sign that This Character Is Important. So far it seems the longest extended flashback is of Babcock — one of the death-row inmates turned into a viral. Is she that important? Is she more important than Brad or Amy?
One thing I can’t tell yet is whether the TV is slow or if it just feels slow. Sure, lots of things are happening — chases and stuff — but if feels slow because I think I keep waiting to feel a connection with a character, especially with Amy.
Part of the problem might be Amy’s voice-over, which just raises the questions of where is Amy now and to whom is she talking?
Another issue might just be the cinematography. So much of the show looks too bright and clean to be dark, creepy, and scary.
Or maybe its because there isn’t much mystery to it. Everyone knows they’re made vampires, as one does to counter a bird flu epidemic. There are moral quandaries about it. What could be the central tension is showing the actions needed to exploit the virals for a health cure, while at the same time showing people doing things to mitigate their fearsome bloodsucking. Instead, it looks like the holding areas of the virals are well established and protocols are in place, and every now and then mucketymucks sit at a conference room table and confer. Worse yet, even as the scientists are slowly realizing that the virals have psychic abilities, they are doing nothing yet to see if that is true or to try to stop them.
There are long moments when Richards, who seems to be the head security guard for the bad-guy scientists, is utterly frozen in place and staring dumbly nowhere as the viral Babcock plays her melodramatic backstory in his mind. After three episodes, that seems to be a good analogy for “The Passage” as a whole, so much inaction in the face of melodrama.
Are you watching the show? Are you sticking with it?
We rescued Vesta when she was 7 years old in 2009. She never liked having her photograph taken (she often ducked her head or walked away when a camera came out), so this is a rare portrait of her sitting calmly. We named her Vesta, the Roman goddess of hearth, home and family, for she was the warm center of our home life. Though we most often called her “Vesta,” and we didn’t correct people when they called her “Vespa,” we also called her “Vester,” “Vestela,” “Vesta-girl,” “Wag-a-muffin,” “Good girl,” “Little One,” “Wagster,” and many more. And though these words can’t say enough, she was a good dog, a close companion, and loving friend.
We’ve all heard of the 10-year challenge. Here’s my own version — what I was looking at five days ago on Playa Mujeres, Mexico, versus what I was looking at this morning during my commute in Albany.
Best lines so far, from “My God, It’s Full of Stars”:
We saw to the edge of all there is—
So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.
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